Sister Isabel Pinkerton and Sergeant Archie Burchall in the Middle East, 1941. Image: The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate [1]

Isabella Mary Pinkerton who mainly went by the name of Isabel, was born in 1913 as the youngest daughter to Robert and Sarah Pinkerton. After finishing school, she attended the Parramatta Domestic Science School and then a business college and was in the process of developing a promising business career when she decided to change careers and become a nurse. She completed the majority of her training at the Parramatta District Hospital, and became the first Parramatta Hospital graduate nurse to enlist in World War Two. [2] Isabel was working at Goulburn Hospital when she received the call from the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) that she would be serving her country overseas.

Before leaving Sydney in August 1940, Isabel who at the time was a resident of Wentworthville, was farewelled by a large crowd at a ceremony at the Wentworthville School of Arts. She received a wristlet watch from the Wentworthville Patriotic Committee, from the Commandant of the Wentworthville Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) Mrs Allen she received a handbag, and from the residents of Jordan Street, where her parents lived, she received a travelling case. [3]

Isabel sailed with a contingent of the AIF as nurse but was quickly promoted to Sister. She served with the AIF in the Australian Army Nursing Service (ANNS). At the beginning of World War Two, the AANS was the only was the only women’s nursing service, with the Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Service (RAAFNS) and the Royal Australian Navy Nursing Service (RANNS) forming later. The AANS however for the duration of the war remained the largest Australian nursing service, and represented the majority of nurses who served overseas. [4]

Whilst overseas Isabel served in both the Middle East and New Guinea. Throughout 1941 she was stationed at the 1 Australian General Hospital in Palestine. In May 1941 she was under a blanket burrowed in the desert sand with four other Australian Army Nursing Sisters, whilst enemy raiders rained down incendiary bombs all around them for five hours. [5] During this period Isabel wrote to her parents:

 When I see how daring and brave our boys are, and how they stick at nothing in the course of their duty, it makes me proud to be an Aussie. [6]

She also added that all the nursing staff working at the hospital were in excellent health, happy and in good spirits, and she paid tribute to the Red Cross, whom she said were doing excellent work.

After two years’ active service overseas Isabel returned to Australia. In June 1942 Isabel received a welcome home party at the Wentworthville School of Arts where she said “I wouldn’t have missed the trip for worlds”. [7]

She also added:

Wounded Germans with whom I talked said that they soon face anything rather than the bayonets of the Diggers.[8]

In April 1944 Isabel married Colin Roland Coutts at Scots Church in Boort Victoria. Colin had also returned from the war serving as a gunner for the AIF in both the Middle East and New Guinea. A few months later Isabel received a formal reception and a Certificate of Honour from Holroyd Council for her contribution to the war. [9]

On the 17 March 2001 Isabel died at her home in Boort Victoria aged 87, survived by her two children Jocelyn and Robert. She is buried at Tarnagulla Cemetery in Inglewood, Victoria.

Caroline Finlay, Regional Studies Facilitator, Parramatta Heritage Centre, City of Parramatta, 2020

[1] Comrades in Arms in Middle East – Digger and Nurse from Wentworthville. (1941, November 5). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate. p. 4. Retrieved 13/05/2020 from
[2] Graduate Nurses’ Association. (197-?). A History of Nursing in Parramatta. Parramatta, NSW: Author. p. 62.
[3] Nurse and Naval Stoker Farewelled. (1940, August 28). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate. p. 8. Retrieved 14/05/2020 from
[4] Australian War Memorial. (2020). Second World War nurses. Retrieved 14/05/2020 from
[5] Was Bombed for Five Hours – Ordeal of Army Nursing Sister. (1941, May 28). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate. p. 1. Retrieved 14/05/2020 from
[6] Western News – Proud to be an Aussie. (1941, April 2). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate. p. 3. Retrieved 14/05/2020 from
[7] Welcome to Sister Pinkerton. (1941, June 10). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate. p. 6. Retrieved 19/05/2020 from
[8] Nursing Sister back from Overseas. (1941, June 3). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate. p. 5. Retrieved 19/05/2020 from
[9] More Certificates of Honour Presented. (1944, September 6). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate. p. 3. Retrieved 19/05/2020 from