Sister Constance Mabel Keys – her life in the First World War and beyond.

Provisional Allotment List for the A5 Omrah

Discovering the heritage value of records at Queensland State Archives can be convoluted. This was the case when the State Library of Queensland Distant Lines exhibition prompted research into an esteemed military nurse who survived the First World War: Constance Mabel Keys.

Born in Queensland in 1886, Sister Constance Mabel Keys became one of the most highly decorated nurses in the Australian Army Nursing Service. She was gazetted as a nurse in the Queensland Government Gazette on Saturday 1 February 1913. Newspaper reports confirm Constance was one of four Queensland nurses who enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces in 1914.

A photograph of Constance and the other three nurses is available on the Australian War Memorial website.

From the 1914 roll for the Electoral district of Bulimba

On her attestation papers, Constance gave her father, James Keys as her next of kin. We discovered that James Keys’ address is recorded as Galloway Hill, Norman Park in the Bulimba electoral district..

Constance and her nurse companions sailed on the troop transport, the A5 Omrah in 1914. We can only presume they were listed under the heading “Others” in this provisional allotment list for the A5 Omrah.

Provisional Allotment List for the A5 Omrah
Provisional Allotment List for the A5 Omrah

From treating the sick and wounded to her work with French refugees, Constance earned two mentions in dispatches (1 December 1916 and 31 December 1918), the Royal Red Cross, Second Class (29 December 1916) and First Class (3 June 1919) and the Médaille des Epidémies. If you’re interested to read more about Sister Constance Mabel Keys’ view her war service in her military service dossier.

After the war, Constance returned to Australia. She married Lionel Hugh Kemp-Pennefather. The couple moved from Brisbane to Southport in the 1950s. The following page from the Southport electoral roll records their occupations as housewife and clerk in 1958.

From the 1958 roll for the Electoral district of Southport

If you want to read more about the Pennefather’s working lives, go to the entry for Constance in the Australian Dictionary of Biography .

Constance passed away on 17 March 1964. A copy of her historical death certificate can be ordered here.

As the entry in the Australia Dictionary of Biography concludes:

“Connie Keys was a gentle, compassionate and fearless woman whose courage is amply attested to by her decorations.”

If you are interested in finding Queensland public records about other nurses and nursing in general, we suggest you start by reading the Queensland State Archives’ brief guide 53 available on the website at .

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1 Response

  1. Julieanne Mary Sandeman

    My name is Julieanne Sandeman nee Keys, my father Richard Pelham Keys was Connies nephew. Connie was my grandfather Neville Pelham Keys Snr.’s sister.
    I have followed Connies life through the eyes of her daughter my 2nd cousin Margaret Grace Thorsborne (Cardwell) who I believe was a carbon copy of her mother. Gentle spoken but oh so strong and stand up for what she believed was right. Margaret passed on the 16th Oct 2018 aged 91yrs.

    The love all humanity was instilled in both Connie and Margaret and my father too. They loved all living things. I and my brother Neville Thomas Pelham Keys could not be more proud of our passed family for the gallantry they all showed in their lives. James and Margaret Keys great grand parents of mine were the roots of the strength, humanity and great love of nature,

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