Edith Blake was the only Australian nurse to die in World War I as a direct result of enemy action. She was believed drowned on 26 February 1918, when the British hospital ship Glenart Castle was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in the Bristol Channel as it was en route to France to collect wounded soldiers. Blake and seven other nurses were among the 150 people who lost their lives in the attack.
Edith Blake trained, worked and lived in the nurses quarters at Coast Hospital (later Prince Henry Hospital) in Little Bay, near La Perouse. She was a junior sister when she responded to the call by the British Army for Australian nurses to enlist. Blake joined Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service on 4 April 1915, along with fellow Coast Hospital nursing sisters Elsie Graham and Eva Copeman.
From 1915 to 1917 Blake served in several hospitals in Egypt, including the 17th British General Hospital in Alexandria, and on-board the hospital ship Essequibol. From May 1917 she was assigned to Prisoner of War Hospital in Surrey, nursing captured German soldiers. In her personal diary, now held by the Australian War Memorial, she recorded the ‘mixed feelings of the nurses as they carried out their duties.
Blake had been serving aboard the Glenart Castle for just three months, when the torpedo attack ended her life. Her will, signed on the day before she joined the British service, shows that she bequeathed her life policy, wages due and all her personal belongings to her mother.