Matron Paschke Memorial

Many of our students have exemplified our school's motto, some are quite well-known people. In our school grounds we have a memorial sundial to one such person, Matron Olive Dorothy Paschke. Each year, around ANZAC Day, the story of her life and heroism is read to the school's students.


Image from the
Australian War Memorial

Dorothy Paschke was born in Dimboola in 1905 and educated at the Primary and Higher Elementary Schools. As she grew to womanhood she began to display those qualities and gifts which distinguished her in later life. She possessed enthusiasm, energy, keenness and efficiency. Beauty and charm of manner were hers. Moreover she was very fond of sport, excelling at tennis and golf. She endeared herself to a wide circle of Wimmera people. Adopting nursing as her profession, she completed her training and in course of time returned to Dimboola as matron of the Airlie Hospital. Her four years of service in this position enhanced her prestige and strengthened the affection in which she was held by the public. Then came the call of war...

Having volunteered for service abroad, she went to Malaya with the 8th Division and in 1941 was placed in charge of the 10th Australian General Hospital. In this position, her energy and organising ability were an inspiration and an example to all.

The rising tide of Japanese invasion made it necessary to move the hospital south to Singapore. In this difficult and confused period the Matron achieved miracles of improvisation. In two days she converted an abandoned Chinese school into a spotlessly clean 200-bed hospital. The quickening tempo of the fighting soon filled every bed with casualties. With an unabated energy, the Matron converted to hospital use a number of other buildings, guest houses, garages, private dwellings. She seemed equal to any challenging situation; she was prepared for any sacrifice. On one occasion during an air attack she lay beside a helpless soldier to protect him with her body from pieces of shrapnel which were hurtling through the window. One piece went through her hair. Her distinguished services in this crisis brought to her the most coveted honor of the nursing profession - the Royal Red Cross.

Eventually the authorities decided to evacuate the nursing staff and Matron Paschke embarked with 65 nurses and 250 civilians on a small ship called the Vyner Brooke. The first stages of their dreadful journey were fraught with anxiety, for the skies were filled with hostile aircraft. The Matron prepared for probable dangers by assembly first aid kits and organising boat drill. By her orders, nurses were to give priority to civilians in case of the evacuation of the ship.

With dramatic suddenness the ship was attacked by swooping enemy planes which riddled with machine-gun fire all lifeboats but one. Then, when the Vyner Brooke was ten miles off Banka Island, the bombers came. A direct hit was made and the stricken vessel began to sink. The fearless Matron supervised the evacuation, directing the wounded to the sound life boat and allotting civilians to rafts and pieces of wreckage. Athough a non-swimmer, she ordered all the other nurses over the side before she herself lept into the sea.

Eventually a place was found for her on a small raft that already bore seven other nurses and a few civilians. By desperate paddling with two small boards the occupants of the raft drew near to the shore of Banka Island, but encountered a firm current which swept them steadily out to sea.

Though they knew it not, this current saved them from the fate of 22 other Australian nurses whom the Japanese forced to walk out into the sea, there to be machine gunned in the back. Only one nurse Sister Vivian Bullwinkel, survived this cruel massacre.

Matron Paschke's raft drifted on at the whim of the tropical currents. A second and third time she and her companions were to suffer cruel disappointment. Once they came within a few yards of a lighthouse, but the currents swept them relentlessly by. About dusk they paddled hopefully towards some big black rocks, only to find that these were ships of the Japanese fleet sent to capture Banka Island. But not for a moment did fate or disappointment shake the spirit of the Matron. She remained cheerful and her encouraging words and calm demeanour inspired all on the raft. In a desperate situation she kept alive the flame of hope.

Eighteen hours later all were becoming considerably weaker. In a desperate attempt to lighten the raft for paddling, two nurses and Malay sailors slid into the sea and swam beside it. This plan worked well and for some time progress was made toward the shore.

Then came one of those curious twists of fate which defy explanation. The raft began to drift away from the swimmers! It was caught by a current that had missed them. To their horror they saw their comrades bourne steadily away from them, out to the open sea. Despite their best endeavours Matron Paschke was carried away beyond their cries. Somehow, somewhere out there, the hand of God took her.

One occupant of the raft survived to tell the story. Sister Betty Jefferey, well known to many Dimboola people, reached the shore; the bones showing through the flesh of her hands. After imprisonment by the Japanese, she returned to Australia.

In this manner and under these dire circumstances did the heroic Matron pass from human ken. But though our eyes may no more behold her, our minds will long retain her memory, in perpetuation whereof a monument has been placed in front of the school she attended as a girl. And in Australian minds she takes her place with those other two British heroines whose names shed lustre on the annals of nursing and whose spirits ennoble our national tradition - with Florence Nightingale and Edith Cavell.



 

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post PO Box 40 | Dimboola | Victoria, 3414
phone 03 5389 1460
facsimilie 03 5389 1981
email dimboola.memorial.sc@edumail.vic.gov.au
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