War Through The Eyes of Anne

Frontline Hero: The Inspiring True Story Of An Australian Nurse At Gallipoli25 April 1916 

‘There was a memorial service at 9am at the Anzac Hostel in Cairo. After the service there was a procession to the Cairo cemetery and the flowers were taken and placed on the soldier’s graves. 

I glanced up and saw one young laddie quite overcome in the gallery, but sad as it all was, one came away with the feeling of being drawn much nearer to those who gave their lives twelve months ago, that they were richer by far, and that their deeds are a lesson for all time.’

– extract from Anne Donnell’s diary, written on the day Anzac Day was commemorated for the first time, on the first anniversary of the landing in Gallipoli.

In November 1914, Anne Donnell watched as a train loaded with Australian troops approached. ‘Hullo nurse, wish us luck; we’re off to France.’

Anne turned to her companion and said, ‘Who will look after our young men if they get injured? I too must go, to do my bit.’

On Thursday 20 May 1915, aged 39 years and seven months, Anne Donnell enlisted in WW1, joining the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) as a staff nurse of the 3rd Australian General Hospital.

Anne sailed on 26 May 1915, on the ‘Mooltan’ going first to England, then back to Egypt via Malta. Anne’s war service took her to Greece, Egypt, France, and England.

As war raged around her, Anne endured the heartache of loss, despair and illness whilst forming lifelong memories of travel, camaraderie, and friendship.

Anne wrote her personal thoughts, fears, and firsthand experiences by candlelight, often huddled up in her long coat, gloves, and balaclava with her frost-bitten toes curled underneath her.

Stored away in a suitcase for decades, Anne’s diaries have now been published uncensored for the first time.

Deeply personal and eloquently crafted, Anne’s words offer a real-time perspective of the Great War, from Gallipoli to Western Europe, and the mateship, courage, and resilience of nurses on the frontlines from 1915-1919.

Frontline Hero: The Inspiring True Story Of An Australian Nurse At Gallipoli

Transcribed by Jan Leader and Graeme Mitchell


Graeme Mitchell and Jan Leader

Graeme Mitchell and Jan Leader

About the writers:

Redland Bay resident Graeme ‘Mitch’ Mitchell is the son of Anne Donnell’s adopted daughter Yvonne Annear. He has Anne’s full set of original diaries and recognised the importance of publishing them in full and uncensored.

‘Sometimes things happen that change your life, the discovery of an old set of diaries certainly changed mine,’ said Mitch.

‘Realising we had a major piece of women’s history temporarily in our safekeeping, meant we also had the responsibility to ensure generations of young Australians had the chance to pay their respects.

‘Australia has a handful of remembered heroes and thousands that lie quietly, gently embraced by the earth in lands faraway. They might lie quietly but we have most certainly never forgotten them.

Because we focus on a few, does not mean we overlook the many.’

Mitch’s partner Jan Leader diligently transcribed the diaries over the past eight years, and from the diaries she has also produced a well-regarded children’s book ‘Anne Threw A Streamer’.

Formerly of the Sunshine Coast, Jan has fond memories of Rainbow Beach over the years.

‘My boys (her two sons) and I have spent many a holiday at Rainbow Beach,’ she said. ‘Surfing, camping, driving on the beach – and of course getting bogged at Double Island Point!’

Jan took her role very seriously in bringing Anne’s words to life for a wider audience, and after spending the better part of the last decade carefully typing up the precious diaries she is proud to be able to now share Anne’s incredible story with the world.


We have a signed copy of Frontline Hero to give away to one lucky reader.

Simply email info@rbcn.com.au with the subject line: Frontline Hero.

Closes 5pm Thursday 27 April 2023. Winner will be notified by email and announced in the May issue.

Open to Australian residents only.

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