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SERVICE RECORD - Elsie Clare Pidgeon

26th April 1915 Enlisted at Sydney
15th May 1915 Embarked for Active Service Abroad on board "Mooltan".
27th Jan 1916 Disembarked Mudros from Alexandria. Date of return to Alexandria not shown.
25th September 1916 Embarked for overseas to join British Expeditionary Force ex Alexandria
With 3rd A.G.H. in Lemnos
5th October 1916 Arrived in Brighton, England with No. 3 Australian General Hospital
19th February 1917 Granted leave
4th March 1917 Rejoined No. 3 A.G.H., ex furlough
11th April 1917 Proceeded overseas to join B.E.F. ex Southampton
10th May 1917 Attached for duty with lst South African General Hospital at Abbeville.
1st June 1917 Rejoined 3rd A.G.H., Abbeville, ex att. duty
5th June 1917 Detached for duty with No. 1 Australian Casualty Clearing Station
13th July 1917 Detached to 10th Stationary Hospital
28th July 1917 Rejoined 1st A.C.C.S. from 10th Stationary Hospital
5th November 1917 To 3rd A.G.H. for duty
1st February 1918 Proceeded on leave
17th February 1918 Rejoined 3rd A.G.H from leave, Field
6th June 1918 Reported for duty with 1st A.C.C.S., Field
Awarded the Royal Red Cross 2nd Class
29th August 1918 To England on leave from Abbeville
14th September 1918 Rejoined Unit from leave
12th March 1919 To U.K. on leave
28th March 1919 Rejoined ex leave
21st May 1919 Proceeded to report to Matron in Charge, A.A.N.S., London.
22nd May 1919 On leave ex 3rd A.G.H. from London
12th June 1919 Attached to 3rd A.A.H., Dartford, for duty from 3rd A.G.H ex leave.
4th July 1919 Detached from Attached duty with 3rd A.A.H., Dartford on marching out to the 37th Holland Park (for return to Australia)
23rd July 1919 Embarked for return to Australia per "Main" – Sister in Charge of Nursing Staff.
15th October 1919 Disembarked Sydney
14th December 1919 Discharged from the A.I.F. at Sydney
Termination of Period of Enlistment
1914 1915 Star.jpg (11091 bytes) British War Medal.jpg (15389 bytes) Victory Medal.jpg (19064 bytes) Royal Red Cross Medal.jpg (11074 bytes)
1914-1915 Star British War Medal Victory Medal Royal Red Cross

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 Lemnos No 3 AGH [Return to Top]

This hospital unit left Sydney in the Mooltan on 26 May 1915, at the height of the Gallipoli campaign, expecting to be sent to Egypt to assist in the mounting casualties arriving there from the Dardenelles. However, they were diverted to England, then back to Egypt where they arrived on 25 July. Matron Grace Wilson and her nurses were understandably upset at the confusion and the waste of valuable nursing skills at a time when they were badly needed. But worse was to come.

They had arrived in Egypt when plans were afoot for a new offensive against the Turks, an assault on the Sari Bair Range from Suvla Bay and Anzac Beach. An estimate was prepared for some 30,000 casualties, spread over three days! Thirty hospital ships and 9,000 beds on Lemnos was an impossible target at short notice. The plan for medical evacuation of casualties was ill-prepared and left little time to establish the medical facilities for such a colossal campaign. From Suvla Beach to Kephalos Bay on Imbros was a mere seventeen miles, Anzac Beach only fifteen miles, so this task was given to "white" hospital ships which could ferry the wounded back and forth. This was a staging post for a quick sorting out of the wounded. Those likely to be returned to their unit within twenty-eight days were shuttled to Lemnos (fifty miles). The more serious cases were evacuated by "black" ships from Lemnos to Alexandria (650 miles) or to Malta.

During July, four Stationary Hospitals had been established on Lemnos - two British and two Australian and suddenly these were ordered to expand from 200 to 1,000 beds, without extra staff! While it was intended to bring 3 AGH to Lemnos the first movement order had to be cancelled because there was no place for them on the island! This order was again changed and the male staff of 3 AGH arrived on Lemnos in the transport Simla on 29 July, only a few days before the operation was to be launched. Their equipment, sent from England on another ship did not arrive until three weeks later. The nurses arrived on 7 and 8 August, although the military offensive began on 6 August. The main body of the hospital landed on a bare and roadless hillside in circumstances without parallel during the war, but still the nurses waited off-shore for the signal to start work in the hospital.

Matron Grace Wilson was very critical of the inefficiency and lack of organization. In a letter home she wrote:

Things are just too awful for words. It is dreadful to think we have done nothing yet. . . This is about 40 miles from the firing line. We are the first women to come so far, except for the Sisters on the hospital ships. This waiting exhausts our spirits and roughing it will be beyond description. If you can imagine at present a bare piece of ground, covered with stones, from the size of pebbles to boulders - the men in their clothes lying on it - waiting - and we Sisters imprisoned on a ship opposite, also waiting and doing nothing - and you have 3 AGH after touring for eleven or twelve weeks.

Accounts from nurses' letters of that time reflect their criticism of the bungling that went on while casualties waited for proper treatment.

Sister Lilian Leitch:

Mismanagement in England put our equipment on another ship and this did not arrive until three weeks later. This was unfortunate as we had to rely on the barest essentials. The Nursing Staff had included in their kit a few odds and ends such as small methylated spirit stoves, methylated spirits, cotton wool, bandages, and a few instruments. . . Our patients were nursed on the ground in the open and it was on this ground that the staff slept. How we longed for a hole for our hips!. . . Conditions which the nursing staff worked under on Lemnos were more crude than anything experienced during the war.

Sister Selwyn-Smith:

The next night 40 of the Sisters went ashore (from the Simla). I shall never forget that experience. We were met at the pier by a staff-sergeant with bagpipes playing us into camp! The only person in sight was an English Tommy standing beside a pile of onions! Equipment in the hospital was very scanty but we managed to get a few beds for the very sick. . . The wind was very strong sometimes and the bread and jam were frequently blown off the plates.

A vivid description of life on Lemnos comes from Sister N.A. Pike, of 3 AGH.

Sometimes the men arrived via a hospital ship on which they had been cleaned and had their wounds dressed before reaching us in the hospital, but those brought in on the stretchers were filthy, bloodstained and in pain. Some arrived almost completely paralysed, perhaps from being knocked down by a bursting shell and buried with rock and debris. We treated numerous cases of gangrene - the rotting of flesh when a wound was too long untreated. Even light shell and shrapnel wounds were complicated by much bruising and the surrounding tissue. The seriously sick were often delirious and talked in a disjointed or wild way about incidents on the peninsula. We could do little for some soldiers, except to help them die decently.

Our water came from the warships until a condenser was built on the island to convert salt water into fresh. No bread was available, only tough army biscuit. Later our rations improved, but by the grace of the Red Cross, not through official army issue. The Red Cross provided the patients and nurses with powdered soup, with Huntley and Palmer's digestive biscuits and Ideal Milk; these issues kept us alive.

As with all soldiers serving in the Army, the sisters too, often wrote about food and dreamed of the food that mother cooked back home. They complained about the flies and the food and in their letters home they wrote feelingly and descriptively. Sister Davies, when on Lemnos wrote to her mother:

We are still swatting flies, Mum they are fearful, nothing can be left uncovered. It is quite common to see each Sister with her hand over her tea-cup (we do not indulge in the luxuries of saucers). If flies do happen to get in we fish them out quickly and swallow the tea to get in first. Fancy doing that at home! I'd just love one of your apple dumplings or roly poly puddings, with cream, mummy dear. It seems funny to be talking so much about food, but I haven't really enjoyed a good wholesome meal since I left home.

Lemnos was a tragedy for the army medical service but a triumph for Matron Grace Wilson and her nurses. It was the first time they had been so far forward and they proved their worth under the most primitive conditions. While not under fire from the enemy, they had to fight for survival, without much help from the army authorities. They had to improvise when essentials were lacking, as they had done before in country hospitals back in Australia. If there was no electricity they used hurricane lamps or candles; when there was no fresh food, they existed on army biscuits and bully beef; when the frosts set in they discarded formal uniforms for men's woollen socks, gum boots, sheep skin coats - whatever would keep out the cold and the wet. Through it all, they never forgot their prime duty was to care for the sick and wounded, whatever the cost to themselves. The nursing profession emerged with great honour from Lemnos.

In his official history Butler summed it up thus:

It is clear, however that the training in the nursing profession, severe beyond most in its standard of toil, self-discipline and resource in compelling order out of chaos, enabled these trained women to adapt themselves to circumstances, bend to clearly recognized ends such means as could be found, and in a short time obtain a comparative mastery of the situation. In the wards and operating theatre the medical officers soon found that, while some of the amenities which they had been accustomed to require for their cases were perforce lacking, the essentials of nursing had been carried out, to wit, cleanliness, care of the skin, attention to the calls of nature, careful feeding, dressing of wounds, and withal, the ward discipline that makes effective ministration possible.

All the reports heaped high praise an Matron Grace Wilson, former Matron of Brisbane General Hospital, for her inspiring leadership under such appalling conditions. Two assessments, one from a member of her nursing staff, one from the DGMS, tell the same story, perhaps in different words.

Sister Selwyn-Smith:

At times I think we could not have carried on without her. She was not only a capable Matron, but what is more a woman of understanding. She saw and understood many thing without having to be told - and she was very human too.

The DGMS:

She was the best of all our Matrons, was Miss G. Wilson. . . I believe the Hospital would have collapsed but for the Nurses. They all worked like Demons and were led and guided by Miss Wilson and one or two others. Every one of these Nurses deserves the greatest credit.

Their ordeal ended in January 1916 when they were evacuated to Egypt, after almost six months of the most difficult nursing conditions most had ever experienced. The irony of it was that as they were leaving, construction began of a new hospital, the 27th British General, now no longer needed. Another example of too little, too late.

Source: Our War Nurses; The History of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps 1902 – 1988 by Rupert Goodman ISBN 0 86439 040 8 - Gallipoli, Lemnos and the Middle East, pp 41-44

 

 

The eighty nurses for the 1040-bed No. 3 AGH left Sydney on the Mooltan in mid-May 1915 and arrived in England at the end of June. After two weeks `seeing the sights’, the nurses discovered that their destination was not to be France, as they had expected, but Lemnos, where they were to nurse patients from the Dardanelles. They eventually arrived at Mudros harbour in early August, having sailed from England via Alexandria.

On 6 August six of the nurses were given ten minutes' notice to board the French ship Formosa, the crew of which spoke no English. Between then and 15 August, when the six nurses returned to No. 3 AGH and were replaced by British nurses, the Formosa made three trips to Suvla, and seven to Anzac Cove, collecting patients. Sister Ilma Lovell later described the 'rather startling scene' off Suvla Bay on 7 August, one of the occasions on which they came close to the fighting: 'Our own warships were all round & firing salvos at the enemy, while enemy shell & shrapnel was falling fast & the wreck of the first landing boat...was lying nearby.' She also described the wounded collected soon after, who were to become No. 3 AGH's first patients on Lemnos:

We were receiving wounded all night & terrible wounds they were-the majority of them were ten days old, flyblown & septic. All were operated upon on admission & the little theatre was kept busy all night,-limbs, had they been able to have been treated before & would have been saved, had to be amputated.

Meanwhile, forty of the nurses had gone ashore on 8 August, the remainder the following day. The second group's arrival provides another example of a clumsy attempt by a CO to impose military ways upon the nurses, and the nurses' generally scornful attitudes towards such attempts. The CO of No. 3 AGH, Colonel Thomas Fiaschi, who had served with the New South Wales Army Medical Corps (NSWAMC) in the Boer War, was, according to one of the nurses, `nothing if not a military man'. She went on to describe the scene: 'we were met at the pier of West Mudros by a staff sergeant with bagpipes!! to play us into camp.' They were lined up in rows of four, with the piper, Colonel Fiaschi, and their Matron at the front, beside the pier where a lone soldier stood guarding some onions. 'I must say we made a hash of the job', she continued. 'We had forgotten whether the odd or even numbers moved so to be on the safe side we all moved!!' Dogs barked and men cheered as the nurses marched, in their ankle-length uniforms, across several kilometres of rocky ground to their hospital site.

The rest of the hospital's staff had arrived several days before the nurses, but, symptomatic of the weaknesses in the organization of medical services for the Gallipoli campaign, the hospital's equipment, sent separately from England, did not arrive until 22 August. Entries in the diary of Miss Grace Wilson, the Matron of No. 3 AGH, provide some glimpses of the conditions under which the nurses at first worked:

(9 August) Found 150 patients lying on the ground-no equipment whatever-did best we could-have tents ourselves but no beds or mattresses. Had no water to drink or wash.

(10 August) Still no water, had some tea, could not wash or brush teeth-had a bathe but water is very dirty. Convoy arrived at night & used up all our private things, soap etc, tore up clothes etc.

(11 August) Convoy arrived, about 400-no equipment whatever-Just laid the men on the ground, and gave them a drink. Very many badly shattered, nearly all stretcher cases.... Tents were erected over them as quickly as possible.... All we can do is feed them and dress their wounds.... A good many died... It is just too awful-one could never describe the scenes-could only wish all I know to be killed outright.

On 1 August, while in Alexandria, she had received the news that a sniper had killed one of her brothers at Quinn's Post.

Until about mid-September large numbers of wounded men continued to arrive at No. 3 AGH, and the other hospitals established at West Mudros, including No. 2 Australian Stationary Hospital (ASH), which borrowed some of No. 3 AGH's nurses at first, not having any of its own. As time went on, sick patients, including ones from the rest camps established on Lemnos, came to outnumber the wounded ones. Typhoid and dysentery were rife. Some of the nurses' most heartbreaking cases were the so-called "Blizzard" casualties, caught in the freezing weather on Gallipoli in late November and early December: 'Little did we realize their sufferings until the wind abated and they began to arrive with their poor feet and hands frost-bitten.... some we have in Hospital are losing both feet, some both hands.' Sister Anne Donnell herself had chilblains and two frost-bitten toes.

By mid-November, all but three of the hospital's thirty-six medical officers had also been ill. The nurses remained much healthier, apparently because they practised better hygiene, according to a contemporary inquiry cited by Butler. Those nurses who did become ill, here and elsewhere, were often reluctant to take time off. Sister Mimie Proctor, for example, wrote home from Lemnos on 24 August: `I am in bed to-day-have had dysentery for about three days but am feeling all right this afternoon so will be on duty to-morrow, thank goodness.' On 8 September Miss Wilson recorded in her diary that a Canadian nurse had died the previous night, but that an Australian one with `this wretched "Lemnositis"' had improved. `It is most distressing to see so many of the Officers and Sisters looking as wretched as they do', she wrote. On 25 September she attended the burial of Mrs Jaggard, the matron of No. 3 Canadian General Hospital. She herself was confined to bed about a week later with an illness diagnosed as paratyphoid.

Keeping clean required considerable effort. Some nurses, like Sister Louise Young, cut off their long hair. `My hair was full of burrs also my clothes, so in the end I cut my hair, some others doing likewise, this saved a lot of trouble, but centipedes etc. were very bad.' Water continued to be in short supply. Some nurses finally had their first bath in months, at their own expense, in the hot springs at Therma, about eight kilometres from West Mudros. The nurses' uniforms were woefully inappropriate and inadequate as winter approached. The nurses had been required to take with them one grey outdoor uniform, one grey outdoor cloak, two red capes, one outdoor bonnet, six linen collars, six cuffs, two pairs of ward shoes, one set of light underclothing, one set of heavy underclothing, one macintosh, four white military caps, three grey indoor uniforms, four grey aprons, eight white aprons, one pair of wellington boots, one pair of galoshes, and one pair of lace-up boots. They had, of course, torn up many of these items to make bandages and washers in their first weeks on Lemnos. `We are nearly frozen, even in our balaclavas, mufflers, mittens, cardigans, raincoats and Wellingtons’, Sister Donnell wrote on 21 October. The authorities eventually issued them with an odd array of extra garments, which caused considerable hilarity. `We are being supplied [with] Riding pants, tunics and gum-boots, golly! won't we look tragic?', wrote Sister Evelyn Davies on 12 November. Boots were a particularly sore point with the nurses, as Sister Davies explained in a letter to her mother asking for more to be sent: `I am afraid of being stumped for boots as the rough ground here is fearfully hard on them & there is no way of getting them mended, soldiers can so easily draw new pairs, Sisters are not considered in that respect.

The nurses' tents, as well as the hospital ones, also proved to be inadequate. The nurses' diaries, letters, and narratives are full of stories of tents being blown down. On 21 October Sister Donnell wrote: `Last night five tents blew down, one ward tent and four Sisters' tents.' Referring to the period around Christmas, when she was on night duty, Sister Young later wrote that:

hardly a night or day did not pass that a tent did not collapse somewhere... I don't think that I shall ever get over my dread of wind again, night after night, every bit of canvas creaking, shaking & straining & your mind always wondering which would collapse next.

Food for staff and patients alike was poor and inadequate, especially when the nurses first arrived. `We all know what it is to be actually hungry and thirsty', Miss Wilson recorded in her diary on 18 August. The quantity increased as time went on, but the quality did not improve. The nurses on Lemnos, according to Fetherston, `had often to live on Tinned Meats and biscuits'. Sister Davies wrote about the latter, which she thought were like `plaster of Paris', in a letter to her sister: `honestly you have to bang them on the table to break them, & they don't always break, you gnaw small pieces of the corners, girls were breaking their teeth wholesale...'. The nurses' mess, according to Sister Young, was in a `terrible state': `the travelling kitchens would burn on windy days & we had tea like dishwater & sat on the ground to eat our food... the dirty coloured Greek bread giving us dysentery...’.

The curious combination of resentment and neglect shown by various medical officers, including Fiaschi, towards the nurses of No. 3 AGH, who were the first army nurses to arrive on Lemnos during the War, exacerbated such problems. Miss Wilson wrote in her diary on 17 August that: `The Colonel is very hard-declares the sisters are all too soft, and to my astonishment, announced that he fully expected half of them and almost half of the Officers to die-he has no consideration whatever for his personnel.' Fiaschi's antagonism towards the nurses may well have been caused in part because he was `very upset' about having to leave his pregnant wife, Sister Amy Curtis of No. 3 AGH, behind in Egypt on the orders of Surgeon General W. Babtie, the recently appointed (British) Principal Director of Medical Services for the East. He was, however, not the only commanding officer at Mudros to resent the nurses' presence. Sister Nita Selwyn Smith, one of the nurses who was lent to No. 2 ASH for a few days in August, later wrote: `They afterwards got their own Sisters [about twenty-five of them]-I believe the O.C. said he would rather have a hospital without sisters...'. The chauvinistic traditions to be found in army medical circles, as seen in the Boer War, obviously died hard. The nurses' accommodation, in particular, was affected by such attitudes, as Sister Young later noted: `our medical officers were so neglectful, they having their smoke & recreation tent up, while we did not even have a bath tent, much less a recreation tent.' The nurses were at a considerable disadvantage because they did not have batmen. When Lieutenant General R. H. J. Fetherston, the Director General of Medical Services, visited Lemnos in October 1915, he was disgusted by Fiaschi's treatment of the nurses. After an interview with Fetherston on 15 October, Miss Wilson recorded in her diary that: `He is very angry about the accommodation for the sisters, and will, I know, do all he can for us...'. Fetherston arranged for huts to replace the nurses' tents, warmer clothing (presumably including the riding pants), and other changes in the messing, but the changes came too late. The huts, for example were ready just before the nurses left Lemnos.

Miss Wilson was largely responsible for saving the administration of No. 3 AGH from suffering the same kind of debacle that occurred at No. 1 AGH. Born and educated in Brisbane, she had nursed in England and France before becoming Matron of the Brisbane Hospital (where she had originally trained) in June 1914. She had become Principal Matron of the AANS for the First Military District at the beginning of the War. Fetherston later wrote of Miss Wilson's efforts on Lemnos:

Had a desperately hard time at Lemnos with food, tents, mud and sickness, as well as great trouble with Colonel Fiaschi who treated Nurses shamefully-No consideration whatever, all Doctors with him badly [sic]. I believe the Hospital would have collapsed but for the Nurses. They all worked like demons and were led and guided by Miss Wilson and one or two others... None of our other Nurses had to work like they had to.

The nurses in general held similar views about Miss Wilson: `Our matron, was very good to us in every way, doing her best in all our interests and I believe had a very uphill task of it, but she generally managed to get there in the end.’

The nurses' `unconventional freedom' and 'unique experiences' on Lemnos as well as the satisfaction that they derived from their work there, however, meant that many of them were sad to leave the island in January 1916, following the withdrawal of the Allied troops from Gallipoli. They had enjoyed the concerts and entertainments which they had attended after the establishment of rest camps on Lemnos for soldiers from the peninsula, and their visits to Kastro and some of the other little villages dotted around the island.

Kastro is larger and cleaner than the other villages. It nestles in a sheltered spot by the sea with the forts on one side and the rugged mountains on the other. We had dinner at a small hotel; it consisted of a small fish, a little meat and potato, an orange, and a cup of tea, in all 3/9 each. We reached home in time for me to have an hour's sleep before going on duty. But even that change refreshes one wonderfully.

The nurses, here and elsewhere, like so many other people engulfed in the Great War, frequently sought refuge in nature, for, as Paul Fussell argues, `the opposite of experiencing moments of war is proposing moments of pastoral.'86 Sister Davies wrote to her mother, who lived on the outskirts of the Victorian town of Healesville, in an undated letter from Lemnos:

Am wonderfully well Mum & am liking this life, it is tiring but full of interest & we get plenty of air, and the Glorious sunsets would alone compensate for everything Mum, they are quite different from ours at home the mountains are deep Purple with a shading of tints behind from pale yellow to a delicate shade of Salmon or Rose pink. Perhaps I spoke of this before but you'll overlook it as I know how you love nature. There is a wonderfully bright star to the East, like the star over Mount Juliet, supposed to be the North Star, I have never seen so many meteors, some leave quite a well defined track, any night one can see them.

The nurses' departure was as disorganized as their early days on the island. On 13 January 1916, four days after their patients had left, they sat in the cold on the pier for three hours, waiting in vain for a lighter, and then had to walk back to the hospital, which had been packed up. They had more success the next day, finally embarking on the HS Oxfordshire. They did not look very much like members of a military service. Sister Selwyn Smith, who thought they `looked a motley collection of females', later described their: `weird and wonderful headgear. Our hats by that time being mostly "genuine antiques". One Sister had a wonderful affair of black velvet & cerise which looked so well with uniform!!' However, mindful of looking like ladies, they did their best' to comply with Miss Wilson's order that they wear panama hats or white helmets for their arrival in Egypt.

The new year was to bring many changes for them and their colleagues as Fetherston's reorganization of the AANS, part of a wider overhaul of the Australian army medical services following the fiasco in Egypt, began to come into effect.

Source: Guns and Brooches; Australian Army Nursing from the Boer War to the Gulf War – Jan Bassett, ISBN 0 19 553380 1; Chapter 2 – A disconnected body, pp 44-52

 

 

3rd Australian General Hospital Abbeville 1918 - Arthur Streeton.jpg (21205 bytes)

3rd Australian General Hospital Abbeville 1918 - Arthur Streeton

No 3 AGH Abbeville [Return to Top]

When No 3 AGH arrived at Abbeville to reinforce the Australian hospitals on The Western Front in April 1917, it came with a reputation as one of the most efficient medical units of the war. Its initial reputation was made at Lemnos, then in Egypt catering for Light Horse casualties and more recently in England at the Kitchener Hospital, Brighton. Some of its strength was due to the fact that much of the nursing staff had been held together under the able leadership of Matron Grace Wilson. She became recognized as the doyen of Matrons, for a time Principal Matron AIF in France, and for a time Acting Matron-in-Chief, AANS at Horseferry Road.

Another feature of No 3 AGH at Abbeville was that for the first time some planning went into the layout of the hospital and in fact it worked closely in association with the adjacent No 2 British Stationary and the South African General Hospital to form a vast medical complex. Two important features were built into this complex - the proximity of a railway siding for the receipt of ambulance trains and reasonable proximity to an embarkation port for evacuation of patients to England. These facilities made it a much more efficient organization in the rapid sorting out, treatment and onward movement of patients. The nursing staff were heavily committed in these procedures, not only for treatment but for the large amount of clerical work involved in writing up "Tally Cards" for patients being evacuated including the essential data - name of ship and destination.

In the layout of 3 AGH, regard was had to nursing accommodation with huts rather than tents; including mess, bath-house and cook-house. Nevertheless, there were complaints made to Matron Grace Wilson during the winter of 1917 at a time when she was Acting Matron-in-Chief. These complaints were in the main on the matter of warmth - or lack of it in these huts. Miss Wilson reported to the DMS, AIF:

Certainly the base hospitals were cold during the severe weather but all have stoves and comfortable mess rooms. In the sleeping huts it would be desirable to have more stoves. At No 3 Australian General Hospital, where I believe the complaint originated I saw both the OC and the QM who assured me every effort was being made to obtain more stoves. None of the hospitals have sleeping huts entirely without stoves, though in some cases there may be only 1 or 2 in a hut containing 12 bedrooms. I cannot feel that the comfort of the Sisters is overlooked.

An outstanding contribution to medical research in the aetiology of dysentery was made by a team from 3 AGH, including LtCol C.J. Martin, AAMC and Sister F.E. Williams. This work in pathology was an unusual field of specialty for a member of the nursing service. This work begun in Lemnos and carried on in Rouen brought high praise from Dr Butler, who claimed that it "ranks among the most valuable contributions in the medical researches of the war". For her contributions in this field Sister Williams was awarded the ARRC.

A major task of the hospitals was to see that the evacuation of patients to the hospital ships operating out of Boulogne was carried out smoothly and consistently. As the hospitals would sometimes fill and empty three times in twenty-four hours this demanded tireless duty from medical and nursing staff, up to sixteen hours a day. Matron Gould, in her report, commented favourably on the work of the Australian sisters.

Day in and day out they worked unselfishly and cheerfully. The constant rumble of heavy guns, the occasional airraid scare, the train load of coo-ees passing up and down near the hospital all contributed to the general efficiency.

 

Source: Our War Nurses; The History of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps 1902 – 1988 by Rupert Goodman ISBN 0 86439 040 8 – England and the Western Front, pp 62-63

 

 

No. 3 AGH did not open in France until May 1917. In the meantime, its ‘shabby Sisters with the bright colour’, those who had been at Lemnos, had first found themselves living in an old harem near the Abbassia barracks, on the outskirts of Cairo, where No. 3 AGH was situated for about eight months from January 1916. The hospital now had ‘large, lofty and well-ventilated’ wards, and the work was much lighter, most of the patients being medical cases from the desert. There was much to do during time off, pyramids to climb, tombs to visit, feluccas in which to sail down the Nile, camels and donkeys to ride, Luxor and Aswan to see, but the nurses chafed against the new restrictions placed upon them. `Life in Cairo is very gay, you would never think there is a war at all’, Sister Proctor wrote home, `but lots of restrictions are put on the Sisters now, no late passes without special permission from the Matron in Chief, and lots of things like that.’ Work was also light for the nurses on the staff of No.1 ASH when it was operating in a former French convent at Ismailia from February to August 1916, with the exception of one period. Sister Amy McNulty later commented that: 'until the Romani stunt [the battle of Romani, 4-5 August 1916], most of the work was from the troops on the desert, but during the stunt we got the severely wounded.’

On 5 October 1916, No. 3 AGH took over the Kitchener War Hospital at Brighton on the English coast, an odd collection of buildings, some hundreds of years old and extremely inconvenient, which had housed an infirmary before the war. The work was `very heavy... and the cases [victims of the Somme] were very difficult’; the nurses lived in `fearfully cold’ quarters at a nearby school, and the `walk from the home to the hospital was a nightmare, many slipping on the frozen ground’; but in spite of such difficulties, according to the Matron, the nurses spent some `very happy and busy months at Kitchener’, before handing over to a Canadian staff.

Finally, No. 3 AGH operated in tents and huts near Abbeville in the Somme area between May 1917 and May 1919. Its work during 1917, according to Butler, was 'routine'. Although designated a centre for 'gassed' patients, it admitted rather than treated them. Butler notes that little was done for `gassed’ patients at French bases until 1918 and that No. 3 AGH's records show `little but deaths and transfers’. On 27 March 1918 the hospital received orders to act as a casualty clearing station (CCS). Most of the nurses had been evacuated and the remaining twenty-four were ready to go on 6 April:

when all the big cases [from the retreat from Amiens] came pouring in, and we had 1800 men and only twenty-four sisters.... The men were sent down with only their fielddressings... We were bombed every night on and off and that made our work doubly hard, as some of the patients were very difficult to control in their weak state.

The nurses had little or no time off during the most chaotic period, and reinforcements did not arrive until four weeks later.

Some of the nurses who had left Australia in bonnets with trailing ribbons were wearing tin helmets by 1916. The introduction of Australian nurses to the staffs of CCSs during this period of reorganization was a very significant change. It was not due to any newfound enthusiasm among senior AAMC officers for women close to the front; but to the changing function of CCSs from transfer to treatment, to civilian pressure, and to British precedent, QAs having been introduced to CCSs soon after the War began. Colonel Barber (who went on to become Deputy DMS, Australian Corps), for example, was, in Butler's words, `strongly opposed’ to the use of female nurses in stationary hospitals and CCSs. Some of the orderlies, too, at least initially, resented the presence of female nurses in CCSs. `Naturally, after doing all the nursing in Egypt,our orderlies were rather hurt at having nurses take charge, the CO of No.2 Australian Casualty Clearing Station (ACCS) later remarked.

Seven members of the AANS first joined No.1 ACCS, then located in a convent and tents at Estaires, in late May 1916.(Numbers of nurses at CCSs usually ranged from seven to twenty.) Constant references to shrouds in the sister-in-charge's letters to the Matron-in-Chief of the BEF during the Battle of the Somme say much about the situation facing the nurses:

[24 August 1916] Of course the patients are buried in blankets here so I could not spare pyjamas for so many. Do not like the idea of no shrouds.

[30 August] I certainly would like them [the shrouds] please.

[26 September] I had a letter... saying a bale containing [the shrouds] had been sent.

[4 October] The shrouds arrived. I'm very glad to have them.

The nurses were particularly busy again during the Battle of Messines, in the second week of June 1917, by which time No.1 ACCS was occupying a school and tents at Bailleul. In September 1917, while No.1 ACCS was at its next site, between Bailleul and Outtersteene, Sister Rachel Pratt was severely wounded during a bombing raid, receiving a wound to her right shoulder. She was awarded a Military Medal (MM) for her bravery under fire.

Sister Bessie Walder joined No.1 ACCS at this site during the following winter, while the unit was acting as a corps rest station:

Needless to say, I had like many others longed for some of the real work & experiences & at last I was to have them. [Wounded] began to pour in steadily from about 11 p.m. 0n the 9th April [six days after No.1 ACCS had moved to Ana Jana siding near Hondeghem], some walking,others dying on admission, some never getting to us at all that were on the way. [Three days later No.1 ACCS had to be evacuated as the Germans advanced]... by degrees all cases were got away but everywhere there were dead & dying horrible wounds & gaping.... We had to leave this [sic] men & go to St.0mer which was a very hard thing to do.’

The nurses, who had to leave most of their possessions behind, slept in a cellar that night in St Omer. No.1 ACCS moved to `a dirty dusty camp consisting of several very long tents and a couple of huts for Theatre and X Ray' at Blendecques, which it occupied from April to September of 1918. The nurses’ patients included `many gassed cases, principally mustard gas, which is a brutal torture, Chest cases & all sorts of horrible wounds’. Several additional surgical teams worked with No.1 ACCS at this time, as did three British nurses with some training in administering anaesthetics.

The British ran two courses in 1918 to train nurses to administer anaesthetics because of the shortage of medical officers. (Some American and Canadian army nurses were already administering anaesthetics in their own units.) Nine members of the AANS were among the seventy-six nurses who began the first course, which started in January and comprised two months’ training in a base hospital followed by one in a CCS. Sister Elsie Tranter, a staff nurse, was one of the six Australians who successfully completed the course. She and two other Australian nurses did their first two months' training with No. 2 American Base Hospital (New York Presbyterian Hospital Unit) in Etretat, then were sent to No. 29 British Casualty Clearing Station (BCCS) at Grevillers (near Bapaume) in mid-March, but were evacuated to No. 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital at Doullens on 23 March. Sister Tranter’s diary records the intense pressure under which they worked at both Grevillers and Doullens, especially the latter:

[28 March 1918] Everything here is unutterably sad and awful. Thousands coming in day and night. We are in the theatre from 7 a.m. till 8 p.m. then work in the chapel attending to the new admissions till any hour in the morning.

[2 April] Yesterday we had a very heavy day's work. I was just getting to bed when I was called back to the theatre and had to give anaesthetics till eight o'clock this morning.

[14 April] this is the 24th day since the Retreat [from Amiens] started-it has seemed like 24 years. So far I have given 179 anaesthetics and no casualties so far. Although this work occupies about 12 hours at least of each day we are by no means cut off from our other work. We all have a fair share of work in the dressing station-also pre and post operative nursing.

[17 April] Very tired but very proud tonight. I have been giving anaesthetics all day for Col. Gray, Chief Surgeon to 3rd Army.

[24 April] so far I have given 227 anaesthetics. It is very tiring and trying work, for most of the men are badly wounded and give us a lot of anxiety.

[24 May-a day or two after the Australian nurses had been sent to Dieppe] Our last night on duty there [at Doullens] was indeed a dreadful one. Sixty-four bombs were dropped in the vicinity and there were several casualties.

After leaving Doullens the nurses discovered that Howse had now decided not to allow members of the AANS to work as anaesthetists. Sister Tranter, who had taken great pride in her new work, described by the Americans as `slinging the slumber juice’, was both disappointed and annoyed. On 24 May she wrote:

After letting us volunteer for special work, pass our examinations and work away for two months during the retreat the `Pow-wows’ of the A.I.F. have decided that they will not allow their nurses to give anaesthetics any longer. We are hoping this decision will be revoked-for we found our work although strenuous most interesting.

The decision was not revoked, and no Australian nurses took part in the second course.

The No. 1 ACCS nurses continued living like nomads as their unit moved back to Ana Jana siding for a couple of weeks in September 1918; then for a few weeks in September and October to a partly destroyed asylum at St Venant where the nurses in the main surgical ward `could look through a shell hole in the floor and see what was going on in the wd. Below’; then to Fretin (near Lille) where the unit was `perched in an open field’ until the armistice; then to a former German hospital at Tournai in Belgium; and finally to part of a convent at Hal (near Brussels), where the unit remained from late December 1918 until early March 1919. Their work continued to be heavy even after the War ended, especially when influenza and pneumonia took their toll on both nurses and patients. Sister Brown recalled:

I was alone in ward of 22 beds all pneumonias, mostly mad, and had about 3 deaths in every 24 hours. I was there [in that ward] 3 weeks without relief for one hour. The depression which settled on one watching these men die in spite of all you did for them was awful...

 

Source: Guns and Brooches; Australian Army Nursing from the Boer War to the Gulf War – Jan Bassett, ISBN 0 19 553380 1;  Chapter 3 – "From Bonnets To Tin Helmets" pp 58-63

 

Casualty Clearing Stations [Return to Top]

The evolution of the casualty clearing station (CCS) was one of the most important contributions to military medicine during World War I. This has been well described in medical history. British army medical strategy on The Western Front saw the CCS firstly as a hospital, secondly an evacuating centre and thirdly a sorting out centre for those likely to be able to return to their unit within a few days. The concept of a hospital, able to give operative treatment to wounded close to the front line was only possible with the establishment of surgical teams brought up from base hospitals. Initially, this created gaps in the surgical staff of base hospitals and their CO's were quick to point this out. Inevitably, the war establishment of CCS's had to take account of its new role.

The question whether nurses should be attached to CCS's was hotly debated in military and medical circles. Col. Barber and Col Giblin were strongly opposed. The risk of death or injury to nurses was too great, the possibility of them being taken POW was not overlooked. The nurses themselves were not of one mind, Sister I. Lindsay thought the services of a highly trained nurse were wasted at a CCS, Sister B. Belstead on the other hand was strongly of the view that sisters were necessary at a CCS. Medical staff, who had worked with AANS in other theatres of war, were generally in favour.

While surgical teams with British CCS's included nursing sisters in their establishment, Australian CCS's, on arrival in France, did not include nursing sisters. Inevitably, this had to change and the change had significant medical and military implications. Dr Butler asserted,

The change in the military status of the CCS from a clearing house to the forward centre for scientific treatment is held officially to date from the allotment of female trained nurses.

 

No 1 ACCS [Return to Top]

Three Australian CCS's were involved in three great allied offensives on The Western Front during 1916 and 1917, in the period when casualties, especially Australian casualties, were unbelievably high. These werc the Battles of the Somme, July - November 1916, the Battles around Arras May 1917, and the Battles in Flanders, June - October 1917. In the Somme and Arras battles No 1 ACCS was involved at Messines in 1917, No 2 ACCS at Ypres and in the final offensives of 1918 No 3 ACCS was in the centre of the action, although it may be said in truth that all three ACCS's were never far from the action on The Western Front. The unit war diaries faithfully recorded the day by day events of these medical units.

Source: Our War Nurses; The History of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps 1902 – 1988 by Rupert Goodman ISBN 0 86439 040 8 – England and the Western Front, pp 63-64

 

3 AAH Dartford [Return to Top]

This hospital was also established for a definite clinical purpose - the treatment of psycho-neuroses and mental disorders, "shell-shock" and similar cases, requiring specialist treatment. Within a few months the bed state grew to over 1,000 with a nursing staff of sixty-three AANS. The medical staff were very critical of the short stay of patients requiring prolonged treatment, as pressures mounted, under the "six months policy", to have many of them invalided back to Australia on hospital ships. However, it was an auxiliary not a general hospital, and its purpose was to act as a clearing house, with the secondary effect of becoming a convalescent centre or of evacuating to convalescent centres those who might recover in time to be returned for duty. In keeping with the social customs of the day separate convalescent hospitals and centres were established for officers and nurses. Australian Officers were usually treated at No 3 London General Hospital at Wandsworth, frequently nursed by attached AANS staff, then moved on to convalescent homes at Welwyn Hall, Cobham Hall, Holland Park, Moreton Gardens or to private nursing homes.

The ultimate disposal area for convalescents was the No 2 Command Depot at Weymouth which grew to over 8,000 inhabitants, with eleven members of the AANS attached for Australian patients.

One of the advances in surgery at this time was the establishment in 1917 of an Australian facio-maxillary unit attached to the Queen Mary Hospital at Sidcup, in Kent, in the grounds of Frognal. (This was once the country seat of the first Viscount Sydney after whom Sydney, NSW was named.) While the hospital catered for the injured of all dominion forces, Australia developed a unit with its own medical and nursing staff who gained great experience in the plastic repair of faces and jaws, a skill which was in great demand in the postwar years. While many members of the AANS served at Sidcup, the greatest honour went to Matron Jessie Kennedy, who was awarded the RRC, bestowed on her personally by Queen Alexandra, widow of King Edward VII. Another who served with distinction was Sister Gertrude Moberly, later Matron of 6 AAH, Moreton Gardens. She wrote feelingly of her impressions of Sidcup.

I thought my heart would break when visiting the Sidcup Hospital. There were 600 men and not one with a whole face. Some of them had had as many as thirteen operations, I shall never forget. I was shown photographs of before and after. My stomach turned sick and I left hurriedly. As soon as I was out of sight of the building I sat by the roadside and cried and cried.

Source: Our War Nurses; The History of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps 1902 – 1988 by Rupert Goodman ISBN 0 86439 040 8 – England and the Western Front, pp 54-56

 

 

 

EXTRACT FROM STANDING ORDERS

Syllabus of Qualifications necessary to become Members

of the Australian Army Nursing Service

Qualifications of candidates. 198. A candidate for enrolment as a Sister must be between twenty-one and forty years of age, single, or a widow, and have not less than three years' training and service in Medical and Surgical nursing in a duly recognized civil General Hospital. She must be of British parentage or a naturalized British subject. The candidate will be required to fill in the declaration Form (C.M. Form 1). II.), which will be supplied to candidate by the District P.M.O., and to produce the following documents:-

(a) Certificate of registration of birth, or, if this be not obtainable, a declaration made before a magistrate giving the date of her birth.

(b) Certificate of training (in the original).

(c) A recommendation from the Matron of the civil hospital at which she was trained.

(d) A certificate from a duly qualified and registered medical practitioner that she is in good health and physically fit for duty in the Australian Army Nursing Service.

Age of retirement. 200. Members of the Australian Army Nursing Service will be retired on reaching the age of fifty five years, but in special cases the age for retirement may be extended for a period not exceeding two years.
‘Efficient’ and ‘non efficient’ 201. Members will be classified as ‘efficient’ or ‘non efficient,’ to be reckoned from lst July each year until 30th June following.
RequirementsEfficiency. 202. In order to be classified as efficient, each member will be required to

(1). Qualify in first aid.

(2.) Attend annually three out of the four lectures on Organization of Military Hospital, Hygiene, and Military Surgery.

Certificates. 203. Certificates of efficiency will be issued by the District P.M.O.
Discharge. 204. District Principal Medical Officers are required to bring forward for discharge such Sisters as they may consider to be medically or otherwise unfit for service.
Pay and allowance 205. Rates of pay and allowance for members of the Australian Army Nursing Service, when called up for duty, will be as laid down in Financial and Allowance Regulations.
Uniforms. 206. Uniform, in accordance with Standing Orders for Dress and Clothing (Citizen Forces), will be worn upon all military duty, and for which a capitation allowance of 1 per annum may be granted to each ‘efficient’ during the financial year in which payment is made, subject to provision being made by Parliament.
I.iabilities for service. 207. The Australian Army Nursing Service, or any portion thereof, may be called up for duty in case of emergency, and shall thereupon become subject to the like conditions as those prescribed for the Australian Military Forces, and remain subject to those conditions so long as they continue on active military service.
Supernumerary list. 208. Members of the Australian Army Nursing Service who are unable to comply with the requirements for ‘efficiency’ through residence in the country, but who have previously complied with the Standing Orders, may, if they so wish, be placed on a supernumerary list as supernumerary to the Establishment. Vacancies so caused to be filled up by Nurses residing in the Metropolitan Area.

The following Orders are issued for the Australian Army Nursing Service, First Military District, in extension of Standing Orders for the Australian Army Medical Service, 1914:

Adrnission. (l.) Candidates for admission will be medically examined by the P.M.O. or a medical officer duly appointed by him. No standard of height or weight is required, but applicants must be of sound health and capable of doing hard work and undergoing fatigue.
Duly recognised hospital. (2.) A duly recognized civil General Hospital will be taken to mean a hospital of eighty or more beds, in which lectures are systematically given to the Nurses.
Change of address and position. (5.) Every Sister shall notify the Principal Matron of any permanent change of address position.
Leave. (6.) No Sister of the Active or Supernumerary List shall leave the District without obtaining leave.

A.M. McINTOSH, M.AJOR,

Acting P.M.O., lst M.D.

 

Conditions for enlistment AANS 1914.

Source: Our War Nurses; The History of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps 1902 – 1988 by Rupert Goodman ISBN 0 86439 040 8 - The Foundation Years Prior to 1914, p15

 

 

Enlistment Form [Return to Top]

Elsie Clare Pidgeon WW1.jpg (195156 bytes)

 

Last Updated - 27 August, 2009