What is RSL Life Care? Find out
Outside-Tent-Gaza-1941-cropped | RSL LifeCare - provide care and service to war veterans, retirement villages and accommodation, aged care services and assisted living
March 07, 2019

Una Keast’s Story

As a young nurse keen for adventure, Una Keast signed up to serve as soon as war was declared in 1939. She didn’t have to wait long, sailing with the 2/5th Australian General Hospital (AGH) to the Middle East in 1940. During the course of WWII Una nursed under canvas in the warzones of Greece (narrowly escaping German invasion), in the trenches in Crete, in the dust in the Middle East and in the jungles of New Guinea. Una lived at RSL LifeCare from 1997 to her passing in 2016. She was a tenacious, fiercely loyal woman with a direct approach to life and a smile that could light up a room.

I was born in 1915 in Tottenham in Central NSW. I was the middle child of eight and I always wanted to be a nurse. At 18 I studied at Orange Base Hospital and then worked at Griffith.  I was called up six months after war broke out and I was very glad to do my duty for King and Country.

On 19th October 1940 we sailed on the Queen Mary to the Middle East, where we learned to nurse in a canvas hospital in Palestine. We had to adapt to nursing under canvas: for example we didn’t have steam for sterilizing, there was an old fashioned primus which you pumped and the sterilizer was a petrol tin cut in half. You put the instruments in and boiled them for 20 minutes.

Photo: Una in Gaza Ridge 1940

We were the 2/5 AGH. We were sent to Greece but after 4 weeks had to get out because the Germans invaded. We could hear the gun fire at night and see the lights in the sky from the fighting. When we left, we were jammed into trucks and we took what we could carry. One morning we made a dawn toilet stop – all the nurses were in the field and suddenly a man’s voice spoke! The Yugoslavs were in there too! They were also escaping and, we found out later, they were smuggling the crown jewels to safety.

Photo: Prior to Departure for Greece 1941 25 nursing and physio staff

HMAS Voyager rescued us and took us to Crete. Things were burning everywhere. We got around on our knees, nursing in amongst the fighting, but the Germans were coming so we had to leave. We managed to get back to Egypt and then to Palestine. Then we were called home because of the advance of the Japanese forces. We were sent to Armidale where we lived on the racecourse during winter, waiting for equipment to be collected. And from winter in Armidale they sent us to New Guinea!

New Guinea was very hot, very humid and we were very busy. We had to climb up through the mud to our tent and it was very noisy, with aircraft zooming around all the time. I’d been given a bottle of whisky and I took it to the tent and I said “Girls this is purely medicinal!” So we’d have a little nip to help us sleep.

“New Guinea was very hot, very humid and very busy. We had to climb up through the mud to our tent and it was very noisy, with aircraft zooming around all the time.”

It was much heavier nursing than Greece or Palestine. We worked longer hours and the casualties were heavier. There was a lot of malaria and dysentery – but I loved my nursing, I really did.

After 18 months in New Guinea we were sent back to Australia, to Goulburn – in the middle of winter! Then we went to Morotai, where we established a hospital. I was there on VP (Victory in the Pacific) Day – what a celebration! I was also selected to be present at the formal surrender of the Japanese Army.

Photo: Una in the Pacific Campaign on Morotai Island, 1945

After the war ended I went to Melbourne to study midwifery because I wanted to get away from men for a while! It was marvellous, but it was hard to settle so then I nursed in Canada for 3 ½ years.

When King George VI died in 1952, I applied and was granted an outside seat at the Coronation. I had a wonderful view. It was one of the highlights of my life. I then spent 18 months nursing in England.

Once home I nursed at Royal North Shore, but the country beckoned and I moved to Taree where I met a childhood friend, Jack. We married and lived at Hallidays Point. It’s been 18 years since he died.

In 1997 I moved in to RSL LifeCare ANZAC Village Narrabeen – “the War Vets”. I love my house here and the sense of community is wonderful. I’m very fortunate, I’ve got some old mates here; they do my shopping for me. I’ve had a happy and healthy life – but I’d say to anyone, “If you have an opportunity to get into the Services, that’s the way to go”.

Photo: Una outside her villa at RSL ANZAC Village, Narrabeen, 2013

Words: Helen Johnston

Blog Posts

Help for Vets in Need

Veterans’ Services

Find out more

Latest News

array(2) { [0]=> int(175) [1]=> int(41) }
Joan Herringe

Joan’s Creative Pursuits: Knitting, Puzzles, and Cherished Moments at RSL LifeCare​

Many residents at RSL LifeCare love to participate in a variety of hobbies that keep their minds and hearts engaged. One such resident is Joan Herringe from RSL LifeCare Connie Fall. One...

Read more

Positive impact of Intergenerational Relationships

The power of intergenerational relationships has been demonstrated on ABC's Old People's Home for Teenagers, featuring residents from RSL LifeCare's Le Hamel Retirement Village and students...

Read more
Veteran Wellbeing Centre community event

RSL LifeCare secures $1.7 million funding to establish Central Coast Veteran and Family Hub and $243,000 for a centre at Bardia Barracks

RSL LifeCare has received $1.7 million in funding from the Albanese Government’s Veteran Wellbeing Grants One-Off Program to establish a veteran and family hub-like experience...

Read more

RSL LifeCare awarded $520,341 in government funding to enhance Veteran wellbeing services in Riverina

RSL LifeCare has secured $520,341 in funding from the Albanese Government’s Veterans Wellbeing Grants One-Off program that will be used to expand its services and...

Read more

George Carpenter’s Inspiring Dedication to Preserving Military History

George Carpenter, an 87 year old resident of RSL ANZAC Village in Narrabeen, has been volunteering at the RSL LifeCare War Museum for three years...

Read more

RSL LifeCare Nowra Community Unveils Visionary Expansion, Elevating Retirement Living to New Heights

RSL LifeCare has today announced Stage 2 release of its Dumaresq Retirement Village at RSL LifeCare Nowra Community. The expansion brings an array of new...

Read more

From Stables to Retirement Living: Tim Cooke’s Life Journey

"My journey kicked off when I was just 14 years old. The year was 1963. I waved goodbye to school and hello to an apprenticeship...

Read more

Journey Through 102 Years: The Life of Helen Lea

"My name is Helen Lea, and I've been lucky enough to reach the grand age of 102. I've always felt pretty good for my age....

Read more

Honouring Malaya & Borneo Veterans: A Story of Sidney Peter Bryant

Today, on August 31, we commemorate Malaya & Borneo Veterans Day and take a moment to pay tribute to those who served in the Malayan...

Read more

Federal Government grant awarded to RSL LifeCare

RSL LifeCare has been awarded a $50,000 grant by the Australian Government to support the development of a business case to establish a Veterans’ and...

Read more

RSL LifeCare a finalist in Best Graduate Development Program – Australian HR Awards 2023

August 2023 – RSL LifeCare’s Graduate Registered Nurse Program has been announced as a finalist in the Australian HR Awards 2023, Best Graduate Development Program...

Read more

RSL LifeCare successfully moves to the second stage in becoming the provider for a Veterans’ and Families’ Hub in both the Tweed-North Coast region and Queanbeyan.

RSL LifeCare has welcomed the opportunity by the Federal Government to submit a business case to deliver a Veterans’ and Families’ Hub in these critical...

Read more

Download a brochure

We'll never share your email address and you can opt out at any time, we promise

Career Application Single

  • Accepted file types: docx, doc, pdf, Max. file size: 50 MB.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Contact Veteran Services

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Are you ready to explore a new operations role with extra benefits?

Take your career in a new direction RSL LifeCare.

Search for an operations role at an RSL LifeCare Residential Aged Care facility in the Southern NSW region. Take a look at all our current positions here.

1. 100% funding on participating certifications

Undertake a participating certification through the RSL LifeCare Earn and Learn Incentive Program1 and you could be eligible to have your learning fully funded.

2. Cash bonus of up to $1000 (less income tax).

Through the RSL LifeCare Sign-on Bonus, you could be eligible for two split payments of $500 (less income tax), when you start a new role with us.

Contact Homes for Heroes today