FIRST AUSTRALIAN GENERAL HOSPITAL
The formation of the Hospital as an A. A. M. C. Unit of the A. I. F. was sanctioned by the Commonwealth Defence Department in August 1914. One of the aims in the recruiting of the original personnel of the A. I. F. General Hospitals was to form them as Federal Units. Of the original staff of the First Australian General Hospital, the Medical Officers were recruited from different States of the Commonwealth, the N. C.O’s and Men were chiefly recruited at Bowen Park Camp, Brisbane, Queensland, the Nursing Sisters were recruited from different States.
The unit left Australia as a General Hospital of 520 beds. In Egypt, during 1916, the establishment was increased to 750 beds and later, in France, in 1916, it was increased to 1040 beds.
The staff and equipment embarked on board the S. S. “Kyarra” along with four other Medical Units of the A. I. F. viz : N° 2 Australian General Hospital, N°s 1 & 2 Aust. Stationary Hospitals and N° 1 Australian Casualty Clearing Station, and sailed for Egypt on 2ist November 1914.
Arriving in Egypt on January 14th 1915, the 1st A. G. H. wns accomodated in a building and tents at Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo. The building was very large and palatial, and is well known as the Heliopolis Palace Hotel. On January 24th 1915 the Hospital was opened for the reception of patients. The patients received consisted of all ranks of the A.I.F., and all classes of cases were treated. After a short period, and owing to circumstances, the hospital took over other additional premises for the treatment of different classes of cases. Amongst such were Aerodrome; The Luna Park; The Atelier; The Sporting Club buildings and grounds at Heliopolis, and The Artillery Barracks at Abbassia Depots, and they were attached to and within the command of the 1st A. G. H. Subsequently, however, all of these Auxiliaries, with the exception of the Aerodrome which was closed in April 1915, were made into separate A. A. M. C., A. I. F. units, each with its own personnel and equipment. They became respectively the N° 1, N° 2, N° 3 and N° 4. Australian Auxiliary Hospitals in Egypt, each of which has a history of its own.
The 1st A.G.H. had a most useful career from fourteen to fifteen months in the land of the Pharoahs, having served there from January 1915 to March 1916. During that period the hospital attended to its full share of patients from A.I.F. troops serving in Egypt, also its share of. Australian sick and wounded soldiers who had served in the Gallipoli Expedition in 1915.
In March 1916, following upon the decision that the A.I.F. should serve in France, the various A.A.M.C. units were ordered to close and pack up, their patients being transferred to the Auxiliary and other Hospitals.
The 1st A.G.H., after a hurried departure from Heliopolis, with personnel and equipment for an establishment of 750 beds, embarked at Alexandria on 29th march 1916 upon H.M. Hospital Ship “Salta”. This vessel has since been sunk by enemy action.
Arriving at Marseilles on April 5th the unit disembarked, and after a few days waiting for orders, proceeded by rail and arrived at Rouen on April 13th 1916; and the hospital was opened for the reception of patients on April 29th 1916. The 1st A.G. H. has thus been receiving patients in France for considerably over two years. The patients received have been from all ranks (except officers) of the British Armies in France viz : English, Irish, Scotch. Welsh, South African, Canadian, New Zealand, and our own Australian soldiers, etc. No distinction are made. Recently some U.S.A. soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force have also been received. All the patients are treated equally conscientiously and well, and it is a privilege, an honour and a pleasure to be able to do anything to help them in the great cause in which we are all engaged.
Following the cessation of hostilities on Nov. 11, the hospital ceased to receive patients in France on Nov. 30 1918 preparatory to its transfer to reopen at Sutton Veney near Warminster, England.
The 1st A. G. H. is now in the fifth year of its Active Service and there are very few of the original members amongst its personnel at present. Many changes have taken place owing to the original members and many of their successors having been transferred to other A. A. M. C. units. Several have gone home. Some have been invalided to Australia, and some have “Gone west”.
J. A. D.
The Jackass, Christmas 1918
1AGH opened for cases on 25 January 1915 at the Heliopolis Palace hotel, where it became the centre of medical activities. The rush of sick and wounded from the Dardanelles necessitated the adjoining Luna Park, “Atelier” and Sporting Club being taken over for beds as auxiliary hospitals. The Al Hayat Hotel at Helouan was hurriedly equipped for 500 convalescent cases. The conditions were rough, often “deplorable” (Butler, 270).
No. 1 Australian General Hospital was criticised publicly for its administration — HOSPITAL MUDDLE. Outspoken Article from Egypt. being one example of what was printed in Australia. “Through the unhappy fate that seemed to overshadow that hospital from its inception,” said Sister Jane Bell, “the splendid service rendered to Australia and the Empire by its nursing staff has been somewhat obscured.” Bell had been Matron of 1AGH but was lost to the unit through maladministration. An inquiry led to a reorganisation of the system of command; “it was fortunately the first and only ‘medical scandal’ in which the service was involved” (Butler, 405).
In March 1916, the base hospitals 1 and 2AGH were ordered to close and follow I Anzac Corps and the Second Division to France.
The First Australian General Hospital is installed in the magnificent premises of the Heliopolis Palace Hotel. The building is said to be the most gorgeous hotel building in the whole world, but to day it is filled with the manifold activities of a great general hospital. The figures themselves are large, accommodation for 1,000 sick, but when you pass along corridor after corridor, every door opening on the neat white beds in every room, when you find the grand dining-hall converted into a great convalescent ward with 100 beds, then you begin to understand something of this great institution, filled alas, to-day with the flotsam of youth being prepared for war. For there are no wounded in our 600 sick, only the toll being paid to pneumonia, rheumatism, influenza, and the obscure diseases of this Eastern land. No, it is not a hotel to-day, for grey-robed nursing sisters from Australia move quietly around, cheerfully doing heroic service, and khaki-clad orderlies carrying stretchers or filling their multitudinous duties, pass along the halls and passages. Truly motors constantly come and go, at the front entrance, but they are painted white or grey with the big red cross on sides and top, and their passengers more frequently than not are carried up the marble steps into the spacious entrance hall. And sometimes, alas, the slow march of troops is heard, and the tramp of horses’ feet, the grinding of the wheels of the gun-carriage, for a party of men have come to take away, and pay last honours to the comrade who has died. Within these walls great fights have been, are being fought, medical skill and attention beyond all praise, nursing that fails not, day or night, against the disease that would destroy. Great victories have been won. A haggard man will tell you that he has lost a month of memory. A few months will fill again the wasted cheeks, and build again the muscular limbs, but that lost month of his was spent by nurses and medical officer in an apparently hopeless war against pneumonia and typhoid combined. Again and again defeat seemed inevitable, but the Australian nurses nursed to the last, and victory was snatched, out of apparent defeat. Peace hath victories more wonderful than war. But there are sad things here — too sad for words. Let all who in the Homeland are mourning their dead lying in Egyptian graves know this — that nothing can surpass the tenderness and care with which our Australian women ease the last moments of our boys who die here.
1915 ‘Echoes of the War.’, Spectator and Methodist Chronicle (Melbourne, Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 18 June, p. 882, viewed 13 September, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article154169500
No.1 Australian General Hospital arrived at Marseilles from Egypt with a nursing Staff of 117. They disembarked on 6.4.16, and after a few days’ rest, proceeded to Rouen, where the unit took up the site on the racecourse vacated by No.12 Stationary Hospital. Fifty members of the Nursing Staff proceeded with the unit to Rouen, where they were temporarily accommodated in Imperial units pending the preparation of their quarters. The remainder were distributed temporarily in the Havre, Etaples, and Boulogne areas, but were to rejoin No.1 Australian General Hospital as soon as accommodation was ready for them. As however, the hospital had at first only 750 beds, it was found that a Nursing Staff of 75 was ample, and authority was requested to employ the remaining 47 members temporarily in British units. D.G.M.S. sanctioned this, and the surplus nurses remained for some time in Imperial units. Amongst the Nursing Staff of No.1 Australian General Hospital were two certified masseuses (not trained nurses) and 3 Red Cross ladies accompanied the unit from Egypt and remained with them at Rouen, where they were billeted out and attended the Hospital daily.
The Matron of No.1 Australian General Hospital on its arrival in France was Miss M. M. Finlay A.A.N.S. In January 1918, she was recalled to England and was replaced by Matron E. Cornwall A.A.N.S., who however, did not arrive until 21.2.18 owing to illness.
On 7.12.18 the Hospital at Rouen was closed, the whole unit being under orders to proceed to Sutton Veny, England, where it was re-opening.
REPORT ON THE WORK OF THE AUSTRALIAN ARMY NURSING SERVICE IN FRANCE – E. M. McCarthy, Matron-in-Chief, British Troops in France and Flanders, Headquarters, 31.7.19
The Jackass was the hospital’s magazine, published 1918 in Rouen. There are 6 copies held at the State Library of NSW – June, July, August, October and Christmas 1918. The magazine is illustrated by Cyril Leyshon-White.
ARTISTS ON GALLIPOLI — THE BAYONET AND THE BRUSH
The artist is supposed to wield nothing more formidable than a palette knife, but on Gallipoli were many Australian artists who, while not neglecting their craft, used a bayonet and a bomb as expeditiously and with as artistic result as the mere inartistic Anzac. Some were, indeed, enthusiastic soldiers …
— Leyshon-White, Scene Painter. —
After four years of war Cyril Leyshon-White is in Rouen awaiting instructions to proceed to Julien’s Academy in Paris. Leyshon-White studied at the Melbourne Gallery, and was one of the illustrators of “The Anzac Book.” While other artists of that historical volume were able to get away to tranquil Imbros, Leyshon-White had to get his drawings done at Anzac. Recommended for the D.C.M. for good work on Gallipoli, he was eventually rewarded with a M.M. upon reaching France. Among the countless jobs he undertook with pen and brush, he is remembered most by the “diggers” as the producer of scenery for the “Sundowner” 2nd Australian Division Concert Party, the New Zealand Concert Party, and later as illustrator for The Jackass — the organ of No. 1 Australian General Hospital.
1919 ‘ARTISTS ON GALLIPOLI.’, The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901-1929), 6 August, p. 9, viewed 19 June, 2011, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62319622
We're pleased that people are using this website as a source for locations, quotes and other primary source material. It's why we published our notes on the web. But we'd very much appreciate a footnote or credit. Much of the hospital (and other) location information for Lemnos and the Western Front is original research -- thank you, from Bernard & Cheryl