Marie Craig, RAAF Nurse in the Battle for Australia.
Marie Craig was born in Balmain in 1914 to Alexander and Jessie Craig of Drummoyne. She had 3 brothers and 1 sister. In 1938 when Marie was 24, she began her nursing training at Royal North Shore Hospital. After completing four years, followed by a year’s experience, she joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Nursing Service in May 1943.
She spent some time in camp at Janefield in Victoria doing the pre-embarkation course for the Medical Air Evacuation Transportation Unit (MAETU). As a normal pre-requisite she first had to learn to march, and attend lectures on tropical diseases, biting insects, physics and hygiene. A friend in her unit recalls 'She was a character and had a marvellous sense of humour. She was a vital person, always full of energy, laughter and empathy'. They were posted to Morotai, an island south of Borneo, where Marie, a devoted nurse, spent months on Aero-medical evacuation (AME) duty flying with the wounded between the Islands and Australia.
On the morning of 18 September 1945, the Moratai dawn was the typical still, humid precursor to a hot uncomfortable day. The war had ended but medivacs were continuing for the many casualties from the Borneo Campaign. On that morning, 17 stretcher patients were loaded onto Douglas Dakota Transport A65-61 VH-CUT. Also, on board were walking wounded, a 38 Squadron crew returning home and a young soldier 'hitching' a ride to Townsville. Marie was the sister-in-charge of the patients assisted by a medical orderly. Both were looking forward to a few days leave with their respective families. The flight path was the usual Moratai to Biak, a small island off Indonesian Papua, then down to Australia via Merauke, Horn Island and on to Townsville. The Dakota never arrived at its destination and in spite of intense searches its whereabouts remained a mystery for 23 years. When discovered in 1968 it was established that the aircraft had crashed into Mount Carstens in the Nassau Ranges of West Irian and exploded. The human remains were removed in 1970 and buried in the Bomana War Cemetery in Port Moresby.
There are two memorial plaques naming Sister Marie Craig with four other RAAF Nurses who died in action in World War II, one at RAAF Laverton in Victoria and the other in Westminster Abbey.
Royal North Shore Hospital commemorates Marie Craig and fellow graduate Nancy Harris (an Army Sister killed on Bangka Island following the fall of Singapore) with a plaque in the hospital Chapel.
Major Eileen Henderson OAM RFD (Retd)
(Written using a compilation of records from Royal North Shore Hospital, family of Marie, the AWM and the RAAF book on the Nursing Service)