War nurses in focus in new ABC drama Anzac Girls

Laura Brent, Caroline Craig, Georgia Flood, Anna McGahan and Antonia Prebble in Anzac Girls.
Laura Brent, Caroline Craig, Georgia Flood, Anna McGahan and Antonia Prebble in Anzac Girls. Matt Nettheim

LETTERS and diaries of Australian nurses give a unique insight into the trials of war in the new mini-series Anzac Girls.

The six-part drama follows five Aussie nurses who volunteer for the Army Nursing Service and sail to Egypt during the Great War.

House Husbands' Anna McGahan plays Sister Olive Haynes, whose diaries and letters published in the book We Are Here Too formed the foundations of the script alongside the book The Other Anzacs.

"The more devastating the circumstances become, the harder she fights them," McGahan said.

"She's so buoyant and spirited throughout the entire ordeal.

"There's a real humour to Olive; she's a larrikin. She was constantly stirring the boys and cracking a joke. She has a real selflessness to her. She made sure everybody else could and would be in good spirits."

After working in a tent hospital in Cairo Haynes volunteered to transfer to Lemnos, which received injured diggers straight from the front at Gallipoli.

"They didn't expect it to be as difficult as it was," McGahan said.

"They didn't have a hospital. Men had been lying for days without treatment on the beach. It was an impossible situation.

"But (from her diaries) there's this sense of this woman who would not be beaten down despite the circumstances. She had an incredible, encouraging spirit."

The trials of war didn't stop the young women from pursuing love, with their romances forming a central feature in the mini-series.

"In the beginning they were all on this girlish search for adventure," McGahan said.

"You can't forget from the moment they left they didn't expect the war to go as long as it did.

"A lot of them fell in love, but so much tragedy came from that."

Olive was one of the lucky ones. She fell in love with Pat Dooley (Brandon McClelland) in France and after both survived the war they returned home, married and had seven children.

"Some of our lines are straight from the diaries, word for word," McGahan said.

"You feel this eerie beauty about it.

"It's one thing to represent a real person or interpretation of a real person, but it's another thing to represent a real love story."

Anzac Girls debuts on ABC 1 on Sunday at 8.30pm.

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