Flowers on the white magnolia tree facing the Anglican rectory on Waterfall Way have bloomed just in time to mark the birthday of Bellingen-born Sister Margaret Augusta De Mestre, the first Australian nurse to be killed in action during the Second World War.
Four symbolic white magnolias were planted in 1946 on what was then called River St.
Three of them marked the service of local Army Sisters who had survived the First World War: Annie McNally (nee Murray, 1878-1966), Clementine Marshall (1879-1961) and Elizabeth Hamilton (nee Hope, 1866-1970).
The fourth commemorated Margaret De Mestre, who died aged 26 in the Second World War.
Margaret was born in Kalang on St Margaret’s Day, 16 November 1915, and grew up on the family’s dairy farm as the eldest of four girls and two boys.
From 1935 she trained to be a nurse at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, and in 1940 she enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Corp.
She sailed to the Middle East twice on hospital ship HMAHS Manunda, and was aboard when it was attacked while anchored in Darwin Harbour on 19 February 1942.
The bombing of Manunda was part of the first Japanese air raid on Darwin, which saw eight ships sunk, 350 wounded and 243 killed.
Twelve members of the Manunda crew and hospital staff died, including Sister De Mestre, and 47 others were wounded.
Margaret died of shrapnel wounds received to her back and abdomen.
She was the first Australian Imperial Force nurse to be killed in action on Australian soil.
Her significant involvement and sacrifice during WWII is acknowledged by a commemorative chair located at Christ Church Cathedral, Darwin and by a plaque in St Margaret of Scotland’s Anglican Church Bellingen.
On Thursday November 16, the Christ Light tree in the grounds of St Margaret’s will be lit to join the white magnolia in honouring Margaret De Mestre’s birthday.