‘An account of time served in Fremantle Public Hospital, and the greater Fremantle area; 1919 – 1920; Dr. Jean (John) G. Peel, Surgeon-Major (retired).’
It had become apparent at age 12, that if I were to remain for all the world to see as a woman, never would I progress further into meaningful studies and profession. Specifically through a lack of University qualification, as a direct result of ridiculous and archaic doctrine precluding women from entering, and undertaking, higher learning with the notion of procuring a noteworthy education and degree.
My deception essentially began at that point in my short life. My mother, une jeune fille de Normandie, would not be part to my cunning ruse, insisting upon dresses and a future of a more matrimonial life, one, as far as I could deduce from those ladies around me, of servitude. They could burn that boat, as far as I was concerned. Father, a stout highland Scot, was wholly for my deceptive ploy, seeing no reason why I should not make good my pursuits. In his rich brogue he said to me, “ the game is afoot lass”, and away we went.
Nature and genetics worked well in my favour. Being slight of build, with a body shape more in line with an adolescent male, than the more voluptuous and shapely females of my age, it was a gift. The wearing of trousers by women was, and remains, illegal in Britain. Father stepped into the breach somewhat, and entered me into a distant public boys school in Scotland when I was thirteen. Obviously I was to dress and act as any other boy of my age. So well did I perform this masquerade, that I received colours in Rugby, playing ‘Fly Half’ for the First XV, and for successfully Coxing the First VIII to a win for the Head of River.
Had I not been christened Jean H. Peel, the deception would have been all the more delicate. However, as ‘Jean’ is the French equivalent of ‘John’, and I spoke with the lilt of my mother’s native tongue. Little consideration was given to the ‘Jean’ by the time I was admitted to the University of Glasgow School Of Medicine. So to, the ‘G’ as the initial for my middle name, I falsely confessed it as ‘George’. In truth this is wildly inaccurate; it does however serve its purpose nicely. In conjunction to this, and after many years of daily attendance, I had managed to grow a moustache. Not much of a moustache, but a moustache nonetheless.
Now, with my Medical Degree secured, coupled my desire to escape the cold confines of the British Isles, I embarked on a journey to Fremantle, a place in the wilds of that post-colonial settlement of Australia. My idea was simple, a post degree holiday, and exploring the notion of entering my profession proper in that far away place; I arrived in Fremantle on the 14th of May, 1914. This was to be a short lived adventure.
With the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austria-Hungary throne, on the 28th of May, 1914, the Great War followed close after. Being so far from home, I naively entered the Australian Imperial Forces as soon as the recruiters opened their doors. Subsequently I was to serve with the 1st Division, 3rd Brigade in the 11th Battalion as a Surgeon.
With all events being public record, I do not see the need to recount my activities, and the activities of my Battalion within this recorded snippet of my life. However, one specific incident requires inclusion. Whilst receiving casualties I was shot twice by a Turkish machine gunner with a heady dislike for Australian’s and any other allied force during the Battle of Lone Pine. The first round took me in and out through left the shoulder. The second took me through my right heel as I fell. Corporal Murray, my stout and steadfast medical ‘offsider’, as the Australian would say, showing complete disregard for his own safety, raced out, scooped me up, threw me over his shoulder, and lumped me back to the casualty clearing station. Tragically, after placing my in the long line of wounded men, Murray was shot as he stood from placing my broken body on the ground, falling dead upon me. Without that man’s gallant actions I am sure I would not be here today, that said, if he had not made such a brave attempt a saving my life, he may well still be with us today. Such is the way of war.
Obviously in great pain, it was not until later I was to discover my scapula shattered, and my heel reduced to three jagged pieces. Fortunately, the bullet to my shoulder had missed my pleural cavity, therefore my lung, so my injuries were not immediately life threatening. Thank goodness for poor diet and hard living, leaving me as flat chested as a board, offering my surgeon, two days later, no surprises as he patched me whilst I was rendered unconscious.
In the six months it took me to recover, mostly from the injury to my heel, rather than that to my shoulder, I went on to return to my Battalion, on the Western Front. Again this is all on Public Record, so I shall save my ink, and not dwell.
I was returned to Australia immediately upon cessation of hostilities in Europe, as there was, allegedly, a chronic lack of qualified doctors and surgeons in Australia. Sadly, this was not what I was to encounter within a day of stepping off the ship, and onto Victoria Wharf.
My return to Fremantle, whilst wholly welcomed by me, was to find a ‘Discharge – Hon. Medical’ from the Australian Imperial Forces for Surgeon Major Jean (John) G. Peel waiting. I was now without home, income, or decent health; hard living and the stresses of war had taken their toll upon my body and spirit.
To the side, I decided there and then, standing on the sun drenched corner of Marker and High Street, that this great southern land was to be my home for the foreseeable future. I could think of no place further from the war, and I needed warmth in my bones.
Coincidentally, the same day I was freed from my military service I had taken lodgings and was seated at a rather worn table within the confines of Oddfellows Hotel. A public house with clean rooms, decent beer and an admirable menu located on Norfolk Street, wondering what to do next. As a game of football was being played at the Recreation Grounds a hundred or so yards to my east, with the roar of the crowd wafting through the open windows, Lady Luck smiled down at me. An old university confederate, Earnshaw, happened along and was good enough to put me into contact with a contact of his at Fremantle Public Hospital, enabling me the opportunity of securing work; even if of a temporary nature. He had returned from the front eighteen months earlier.
More than happy, yet indebted by Earnshaw’s kindness, this still left me without lodgings of a more permanent nature. Once again, that fair and elusive Lady known as ‘Luck’ smiled upon.
The afternoon following my fortuitous encounter with Earnshaw, I was back at Oddfellow’s once more, and ran into him again. Although on this occasion, he came specifically seeking me. This time he told me of a war widow, one ‘Mrs. Fox’, and due to the loss of her husband, she was seeking a lodger to help make ends meet. Whilst the address was not the most salubrious in Fremantle, it was far from the worst. John Street would suit my circumstance nicely as it was no more than a ten minute walk from the Fremantle Public Hospital. Added to the geographics, the rooming fee was not exorbitant. Earnshaw and I chatted together over a dram, and after some discussion, he sent a lad off to Mrs. Fox, with word that she had found her lodger. An hour or so later, stick in hand, I took a walk to her abode. After two very good cups of tea, we found each other to be well enough suited and that I was to move in sometime the next day. Moving out of the room I had taken up at Oddfellow’s, now with a roof over my head, and the ministrations of my landlady, the good Mrs. Fox, my convalescence was relatively shorter lived than I had envisaged, and I was able to return to work all the sooner.
It must be said now in the remainder of this recount of events that for the first time in my adult life, three greater deceptions, all equally as deep as the next, must come to light.
A horror like no other unrolled before me, and wrapped me in its ghastly and bloody clutches.
Hell followed, Satan ascended, and nothing could stand in my way.
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