WAR HERO: Sister a woman of constant bravery
NURSE Constance Mabel Keys was a woman of supreme bravery and sacrifice throughout and after World War I.
In her early 20s the young Mt Perry-born girl enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Services and left the nation she called home for Egypt in 1914.
It's the way in which she cared for as many soldiers as she could and the lives she saved that stuck a chord with Bundaberg artist Ross Driver, and one of the many reasons she features in his exhibition, Road to Victory.
"Constance would have to be one of the longest-serving military people during that war," Mr Driver said.
"She left in 1914 and she didn't get back until nearly 1920. She spent six years of her young life overseas, in the war, nursing in all these terrible places.
"She won the Royal Nursing Cross, there's the Royal Nursing Cross class one and class two, and she was awarded both."
Mr Driver said it wasn't just our boys she was looking after; her care for the Germans had her their favour too.
"Constance was on the first convoy to England on a hospital ship and she looked after surviving German soldiers of the (ill-fated) SMS Emden," he said.
"She nursed them all and the German sailors thought so highly of her, that she was so good to them, that one of them gave her his cap with the SMS Emben written on it."
Mr Driver said after a short stint in England, she was sent to France where she served "nearly all" of her nursing career at the front line in casualty clearing stations and general hospitals on the front line.
"She saw a lot of action over there in the final parts of the war, when the war got bitter," he said.
"As the Germans were losing, they targeted the casualty clearing stations. The idea was to break the morale of the soldiers - if you knock of your nurses, doctors and medical people looking after you, that must be very demoralising.
"That's what made their job very dangerous, because a lot of nurses were killed in casualty clearing stations by artillery."
When the war had ended, her job wasn't over.
"After the war finished in 1918, her job wasn't finished, everyone else was starting to come back but not Constance," he said.
"Constance was kept there because of her nursing skills, she helped the French when they had an outbreak of Typhus - she looked after a lot of French people and civilians.
"The people thought so highly over there they didn't want to let her go, the English didn't want to let her go, the French didn't want to let her go and the French actually gave her the Medal of Honour (Medaille d'Honneur des Epidermis in Gilt)."
Mr Driver holds the memory of the head nurse with much regard and got emotional upon completing his artwork of her.
"She was an unbelievable lady. I'm very proud of that lady and what she did," he said.
"You think about it, she never ever got away from the war, she had to deal with it day in and day out. She saw the most terrible things modern warfare could do to a human body and she and her other nurses went down everyday and looked after people.
"She probably saw more horrible things in their lives than those did out on the front line."