Mary Elliott

Mary Elliott

Mary Elliott pic (head on hand late life)

22 APRIL 1914 – 19 MARCH 2005 *

Mary Elliott, – double ‘l’, double ‘t’, no middle name, – was the first daughter of Charles John and Rosina Elliott, first grandchild of James & Mary Clarke and William and Ann Elliott.  She was born on the 22nd April 1914 in Rugby, England.  Her sister Joan was born 3 years later in 1917 and her brother William in 1920.

Mary’s life fell into 3 parts – a sort of “The Mary Elliott Trilogy”.  Three times her career ended because of social changes or reform.  The reforms she had worked towards were accomplished, leaving her to turn towards new avenues of work.

Part 1 takes place in Africa during WWII Mary served as a sister with the Territorial Army Nursing Service.  At 18 she had trained as a nurse at Birmingham General Hospital, did her midwifery in Aberdeen (because it only cost 5 pounds there) and went as a Ward sister to open the all new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in 1935, with all the mod cons.

Mary was called up at the beginning of the war and went to France for a few days, getting out just before Dunkirk – their luggage, being not as fortunate, was lost and never seen again.  After re-equipping, Mary was posted to Ismailia, in Egypt living and nursing in tents.  She shared accommodation with Joyce, a nurse from Australia, and they nicknamed their tent “Colney Hatch”.  This was a humorous reference to the state of mind of the 2 occupants since a hospital in England of the same name cared for the mentally ill.  There she met and fell in love with Dick Philips, a soldier with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, formerly a leading sheep farmer in the North Island.  He fought at Crete where he was wounded, he recovered and was given a commission.  Shortly after that he was offered a staff job which he refused.  He was then again wounded at El Alamein in Sept 1942.  Mary wrote in her diary, “Capt McDonald told me he was near Dick in the action and it is known he had his leg blown off and possibly tummy wounds.  He caught the greater part of a mortar bomb.  They were only 50 yds from the Germans. Lochie told me later that the war graves people have been cleaning up that area and so far nothing of him has come to light… That is a thin thread of hope.”

For 2 years Mary waited with hope thinking “If only I knew where he is and that he is still alive the waiting would not seem so bad.”  News finally arrived in May 1944 that Dick’s grave has been found.  She continually wore a medallion which belonged to Dick on a chain around her neck – such was her love for him.  This explains why she never married.

Mary was also posted to Tripoli for a short time, back to England, on to France and to Luneburg to set up hospital in a huge German Barracks . “When we got there, about 3.30pm.” she writes, “History was being made on the moor behind the barracks.”  Montgomery accepted the surrender of the German forces in the north in a tent on Luneburg Heath at 18.30 hours on May 5, 1945.  With the German surrender on Luneburg Heath, the British Empire’s part in the European War was over, and the war itself was almost finished.

A busy time followed – patients from concentration camps and POW camps and displaced persons.  Mary nursed Himmler before his suicide.  Mary marvels in a letter “So we were in at the end after all.”  She was in from the beginning of the war to the end.

The second part of the trilogy takes place back in England.  After the events of the war Mary felt called to change her direction and train as a moral welfare worker.  As a girl, she had heard talk, as you do, of some awful girl who had done this and that; something very hush, hush yet never anything about what the boys had done.  She felt it very unfair that all the blame should go on the girl and determined to do something about it.  At that time she was too young and the course too costly but now the opportunity was ripe.  She trained at the Josephine Butler Memorial House in Liverpool.  This training included a practical placement along with subjects in Theology.  Josephine Elizabeth Butler was a Victorian era British feminist and social reformer who was especially concerned with the well-being of prostitutes.

Mary’s first job in her new career, was as an outdoor worker, based on Buxton, Derbyshire.  It was there that she met May Street who became her co-worker.  After Buxton, they took on indoor work at Rugby, running Hamilton House, a mother-and-baby hostel.  Then she ran St Hilda’s another mother-and baby hostel in Liverpool and them to Dudley doing outside work again.  All this inside/outside work, what did it entail?  The work called for knowledge of legislation concerned with matrimonial causes, children, education, housing and public health.  Any young woman in trouble could go to Mary’s office and find immediate, practical help.  The hostels were places where single mothers could live and go out to work knowing that their babies were in safe hands.  These hostels were fully financed by churches and charity.

Moral welfare workers lived in a rapidly changing world.  They themselves played an important part in bringing change about, by helping to convince authority that the whole community was responsible for much that had previously been left to charity and chance.  The development of social services, Child Care centres, law reforms and single mother pensions reduced the need for moral welfare workers and after 18 years, it was time for Mary to redirect her life once again.

The third part of Mary’s journey takes place in East Perth,  Western Australia.  At the age of 50, Mary and May received an invitation from Archbishop George Appleton and Rev E.C. King, to work with the South West Anglican Mission among Aboriginal people.

Mary had had a taste of Western Australia when she was 11 years old.  Although Mary’s mother, Rosie had married, remaining in England, Rosie’s parents and siblings had emigrated to Bruce Rock in 1910.  When Mary’s grandfather died, Rosie took Mary, Joan and Bill out to Australia for a 12 months visit.  This was where Mary got her love of Australia.  To come back to Australia at 50, was for Mary a dream come true.  At first immigration was delayed because May was diabetic; when they eventually arrived in Fremantle, they were met by 50 Clarke relatives.

In 1965, the South West Anglican Mission acquired a house at 2 Norbert St, East Perth.  Mary Elliott and May Street converted this house via essential repairs and painting into The Family Centre and a third staff member joined them – Sister Connie McDonald of the Church Army. Later on due to the growth of the work they also acquired 4 Norbert St and an adjacent barn.

“Where to and what to do?” was the question, because nobody gave instructions to these three workers, but just told them to find out what the need was!  After talking to Aboriginal people in the area, the picture of “want” became apparent.

The first essential was for hot baths, and so each day after school came 20 – 30 children for a bath.  Soon to follow were the mothers and eventually the men.  With assistance from Bruce Rock Mothers’ Union and the Girls’ Friendly Society soap and towels were supplied.  Following the baths came the essential need for care and feeding of the children together with immunization.  The Sister in Charge of the Infant Welfare Central Clinic offered help there.  A further part of the work was for kindergarten training. After discussions with the Little Citizen’s Kindergarten staff and The Native Welfare Department, the 5 year olds attended 4 mornings a week and the 3 ½ – 5 year olds attended 3 afternoon sessions.  They also took people to hospital clinics and casualty.

During the work there Mary also went to speak to Mothers’s Union groups and similar organisations about the work, part of this presentation included a slide show.

Much of the rental housing available in East Perth was in very poor condition.  Mary actively campaigned about these conditions the government began to address the housing issues and the need for her assistance grew less.  Once again Mary was out of a job.

Slum cutting (circa 1966)      Slum cutting (8.12. 1966)    EAST Perth Editorial 17 Dec 1966


In 1973, Mary renewed her general nursing registration and began work at the old premises of St George’s Nursing Home.  Two years later she became warden of the Marjorie Appleton Retirement Village in Menora.  This she did for 11 years, though she operated the residents’ shop at the village (including stocking and banking) for 25 years.

Mary was also a member of St Alban’s Anglican Church, Highgate,  throughout her time in Perth.


norbert tree cropped

Miss Street and Miss Elliott were a part of my childhood, in that they lived just around the corner from my family in Lincoln St, Highgate; they both attended St Alban’s Church and also came to a weekly bible study in our home.

I had some memories of the work they did in Norbert St, East Perth and recall visiting the premises with my Father.  I now work in East Perth and walk along Norbert St almost every morning and afternoon. This tweaked vague memories and my curiosity.  I knew the Centre they ran was an Anglican outreach of some kind; but I didn’t know much more than that. I made three phone calls and tracked down Eleanor Le Coultre (whom I had known around 30 years ago).

Eleanor had got close to Mary towards the end of Mary’s life and eventually wrapped up all of Mary’s affairs after she died.  This also resulted in Eleanor holding all of Mary’s documents; literally, a suitcase full of photographs, books and documents that belonged to Mary.  Eleanor has carefully organised these papers and has written up all of Mary’s letters and diaries from her service in WWII.  I visited Eleanor later that day and she has kindly lent me all the documents from the Norbert St period.

As time proceeds I plan to build those documents into this website, as they form an important part of the history of the Anglican Diocese of Perth’s engagement with Noongar people, furthermore they give some sense of East Perth in the mid to late sixties when many Noongar families lived there.

  • With thanks to Eleanor Le Coultre who drafted this as a eulogy to Mary.


Stephen Hall
Stephen Hall
Lives in Perth, Western Australia.

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