Dispatches from the Frontline is a performed reading by Geraldine Cook-Dafner of excerpts from the diary of Sister Annie Victoria Clarabel who was born in Coleraine, Victoria in 1884 and who served on the battlefields of France during four gruelling years of the First World War. The performed readings are based on her actual diaries from 1914-1918 and include historical photographs and an accompanying soundscape.
Performed by Geraldine Cook-Dafner
Directed by Naomi Edwards
"Moving, real, vivid and powerful. The performance was perfect”
“Listening to what that First World War nurse went through just brought me straight back to ICU where we have struggled for the past year. The language and experiences of this nurse resonated so much with what we’ve been through”
During Melbourne's first lockdown I started to record the diary of Sister Nan Reay, every night for half an hour at dusk. It was strange listening to the language of war to describe our fight with the pandemic, as I recorded a diary of a young Australian woman at the frontline 103 years ago.
When reading the diary, it seemed that our language has not changed in over 103 years. In fact, the practices of keeping people alive – good hygiene, quality care, respect for knowledge and each other, tolerance and humour are enduring human qualities to help us survive.
The diary takes us to the most tragic aspects of the war, but also includes light hearted moments of camaraderie and humour. I believe it resonates so directly with the lived experiences of frontline health workers across the world during the Covid crisis.
About Nan Reay
Annie Reay was born in 1884 at Coleraine, Victoria. Auntie Nan, as she was affectionately known, trained as a nurse at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and became a Member of the Royal Victorian Trained Nurses Association. Nan nursed privately in Australia and London until the outbreak of the First World War. On the outbreak of war, Nan was one of the original 17 nurses to enlist in the Australian Voluntary Hospital and took up her appointment as a Sister. She was later appointed as an anaesthetist to relieve medical men at the front. During the four years of the brutal war, Nan Reay managed to write a daily journal. Her accounts were sparse and efficient but nevertheless evoke an atmosphere of the true horror of what she must have seen and endured as she tended the dying near the front lines.
“Listening to what that First World War nurse went through just brought me straight back to ICU where we have struggled for the past year. The language and experiences of this nurse resonated so much with what we’ve been through”.
"I was riveted by your reading. You were that fine nurse Miss Reay, transformed into someone other. It also made me think a lot about how, despite all, despite the anti war, that adrenalin filled experience of utter purpose might never be matched afterward. And, of course that made me think yet again about my loved one’s experience. How do you come down, come out of that? Thank you for the reading. I thought it wonderful. What a woman”.
“Wow, we couldn’t stop talking about the reading. We thought it was moving, real, vivid and powerful.
The performance was perfect”
“It was a privilege to learn about the life and times of a woman like Nan Reay. This performance has really stayed with me. Here was a young woman who with great selflessness stepped up when the times asked it of her. And nurses continue to do this across the globe. As part of the performance tribute was paid to the ongoing courage of the nurses who continue to risk themselves in the unknown situations they have faced with COVID. Geraldine gave a restrained and nuanced reading which really allowed the personality of the writer to shine through. It’s both moving and inspiring. I highly recommend this performed reading. Geraldine has done a remarkable job in selecting the pieces that bring Nan Reay to life and presenting her through this compelling reading."
This performance is available for presentation. It is flexible in its staging requirements and will work in a variety of settings.
If you are interested in finding out more about presenting Dispatches From The Frontline please contact us below.