Eric proposed marriage early on, but for several years Daidee didn’t reciprocate the depth of his feelings. In her first letter, written some time before war broke out in 1914, she wrote:
… thank you for the handkerchiefs. They were very pretty and it was good of you to send them; but I don’t know if you realise that you are making me have to be very careful what I say when you are here. This is the second time you have given me something I mentioned I would like, and if you don’t mind I would rather you didn’t go spending your money on things for me …
But Daidee offered Eric friendship, which he accepted with a view to his longer-term hopes. The couple picnicked together, took day trips to Narrabeen on Sydney’s northern beaches, toured Centennial Park and went on boating excursions. At the hospital, Eric was able to meet up with Daidee casually, escort her out on her days off and help her with her studies.
In 1915, in return for an early graduation, he volunteered to join the British Army as a doctor. Daidee and Eric’s correspondence, of which only her letters survive, began in earnest.
Daidee’s early wartime letters were full of gossipy news about the hospital, friends and family members. She bemoaned the dreariness of cookery classes, made fun of her teachers, grumbled about punitive nursing sisters, and complained about her workload, especially during prolonged stints of night duty. She asked for Eric’s thoughts about the nurses and doctors they knew, and derided ‘catty’ colleagues who ‘think they are upper class … when really a lot of kitchen maids wouldn’t lower themselves by talking as they do’.
While Eric was running field ambulance units in the trenches of France and Belgium, Daidee kept up an active social life in Sydney: in the hospital common room, on the tennis court, on wildflower excursions, on day trips to Sans Souci, and at morning and afternoon teas at Farmers’ department store. She attended public talks about the war and queued for hours to buy half-price tickets to hear Dame Nellie Melba. She visited Sydney landmarks: the Royal Botanic Garden, the Art Gallery of NSW, and the newly opened Taronga Park Zoo. She enjoyed holidays with friends to Avoca, Palm Beach and the Blue Mountains. In between, she studied, read, played music, and sewed almost all her own clothes, as well as gifts for friends and family. And she knitted socks for soldiers.
On the fashionable topic of spiritualism she reported heated arguments within her family, and she was also sceptical of the miraculous cures promised by Christian Science. In 1917 she complained about the General Strike, which she called the ‘tram and train strike’. Later that year, she attended a public meeting at Sydney Town Hall about the second conscription referendum, addressed by Prime Minister Billy Hughes. She hoped sincerely that the ‘yes’ vote would come out ‘on top’ because she was worried that too few men were doing their patriotic duty, as Eric was.
But as she developed, both as a nurse and a young woman, her natural exuberance was softened by life’s experiences. After the death from septicaemia of a young patient, Thelma, she asked, ‘Why have little things like that got to suffer so, it seems so wicked.’ She recounted the profound grief experienced by the parents of a three-year-old boy whose malignant eye tumour meant certain death. And she prayed for the hasty demise of a male patient because he would be released from unbearable pain.