Commander Patricia Vines

Patricia Catherine Vines was born in Fairfield, Melbourne on 5 September 1925. Educated at the Catholic Ladies College, East Melbourne, on completion of her Intermediate Certificate, Vines undertook secretarial training before working at the Department of Aircraft Productions and then the Gun Turret Factory at Fairfield where she was still working when World War II ended in 1945. It was while she was working in the X-Ray Department at St Vincent’s Hospital that she decided to become a nurse, beginning her training in December 1948 and becoming a Registered Nurse in 1952, and a qualified midwife two years later.

In 1959, in search of something different, Vines applied for a civilian nursing role at HMAS Cerberus, Flinders Naval Depot where she was employed until leaving to travel to New Zealand, Canada and the United States in 1962.

While overseas, the RAN made the decision to reinstitute the Royal Australian Navy Nursing Service (RANNS) which had been disbanded at the end of the war. Certain she would want to join, her father submitted an application on her behalf and on her return from the United States she had just one day to digest the news and prepare for an interview.

The RANNS officially reformed on 2 November 1964 and following a two-week indoctrination course at HMAS Creswell, Patricia was appointed a Senior Sister (Lieutenant) at the junior recruit establishment at HMAS Leeuwin in Fremantle, Western Australia. There she joined a doctor and four medical sailors as the solitary uniformed female on the base and the first Navy sister to serve there. The recruits, entirely unfamiliar with female officers, called her ‘Sir’.

After 12 months at Leeuwin, Patricia was posted to HMAS Tarangau at Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Again, she was the only nursing sister on the medical staff comprising one doctor, two RAN medical sailors and four Papua New Guinean medical sailors. In that role she worked in both the European and the Native hospitals, caring for both the sailors and their families. As a qualified midwife, a prerequisite for the posting, Vines delivered a number of babies to the native women while negotiating the challenges of being a single female in a very different culture.

In 1967 Vines was posted to HMAS Harman in Canberra where she was promoted to Matron the following year before joining the Balmoral Naval Hospital HMAS Penguin for three years.

After attending the Australian College of Nursing in 1973 and gaining a Fellowship of the Royal College of Nursing Australia, Patricia later relieved the Principle Matron and Director of Nursing (Navy) on her retirement. Promoted into the position she subsequently served as Matron, RAN Hospital HMAS Cerberus and on the staff of Director of Navy Health Melbourne until 1978 when she moved with the Directorate to Navy Office in Canberra.

Commander Vines was presented with a Royal Red Cross in early 1972. The medal, presented by the Governor of Victoria, Sir Rohan Delacombe, was awarded for ‘exceptional competence and devotion to duty’. Also awarded were Sergeant Leslie Bending of the Naval Police (left) who received the British Empire Medal for dedicated service, and Lieutenant Commander Winston James (right) who received the Distinguished Service Cross in recognition of outstanding leadership and bravery while serving as commander of the RAN Helicopter Flight in Vietnam.

During that time (1971-1980) she was also appointed an Honorary Nursing Sister to Queen Elizabeth II. In 1972 Patricia was awarded a Royal Red Cross (RRC) 2nd Class in the New Year Honours List and in January 1981 this was upgraded to a Royal Red Cross 1st class. The awards officially recognised her exceptional devotion and competency in performance of nursing duties in the RAN.

Commander Vines shares a light-hearted moment with Miss IA Laidlaw, the first Matron of the Royal Australian Naval Nursing Service at the RSL Home for retired service nurses in St Kilda, circa 1975.
Commander Vines shares a light-hearted moment with Miss IA Laidlaw, the first Matron of the Royal Australian Naval Nursing Service at the RSL Home for retired service nurses in St Kilda, circa 1975.

Following a 16-year career in the Navy and having reached retirement age, Patricia Vines retired from the RAN in 1980 and ran her own nursing business in Melbourne until 1995.

Patricia Catherine Vines passed away in Melbourne on 15 February 2010, aged 85 years.