Lemnos 1915: Then & Now — large format photo book now available for sale

No. 3 Australian General Hospital

The 3rd Australian General Hospital, commanded by Thomas Henry Fiaschi, left Circular Quay on the RMS Mooltan on 15 May 1915. The embarkation roll shows that the hospital’s staff were mainly drawn from Sydney—familiar suburbs like Mosman, Randwick and Darlinghurst appear more than once on the roll—with several from country NSW and farther afield. Reinforcements came from Victoria and South Australia.

The unit arrived in England on 27 June 1915, expecting to be posted to France. However, on 1 July, the commanding officer was informed that they would instead be deployed to Mudros, on the Greek island of Lemnos, where they would nurse the sick and injured troops fighting in the Gallipoli campaign. Lemnos was only 50 miles from the fighting, whereas the hospitals in Egypt were over 650 miles away, a journey of 1½ days.

When 3 A.G.H. first started admitting patients, the majority were wounded men from the August offensive, and it was these patients the hospital had been set up for, with operating theatres and surgeons on the staff. In later months, nearly all the patients were ill with either dysentery or paratyphoid. The staff of the hospital also fell ill, though the nurses suffered less, probably by practising better hygiene. in late November and December, the casualties changed again – troops were caught in freezing weather on the Peninsula without adequate clothing, and many were admitted to the hospitals on Lemnos suffering from severe frostbite.

The last Australians were evacuated from Gallipoli on the night of 19/20 December, and many spent Christmas on Lemnos while waiting for further orders. The whole evacuation of allied troops took three weeks. In spite of earlier predictions that up to half the remaining forces could be killed, the evacuations were so well planned that there were minimal casualties, which was a relief to the hospital staff who had been prepared for casualties. With the end of the Gallipoli campaign, the hospitals on Lemnos were disbanded. The nurses boarded the hospital ship Oxfordshire on 14 January, and sailed out of the harbour at Mudros on 17 January, bound for Egypt.

We have just seen the last of Lemnos. Of course we are glad, yet there are many things we will miss; the unconventional freedom and the unique experiences we had there… Goodbye Lemnos. We take away many happy memories of you. I would not have liked to miss you, yet I have no desire to see you again. —Sister Anne Donnell

3 A.G.H. was re-established at Abbassia in Egypt in early 1916 in an old harem, where it operated for approximately eight months. The staff then operated the Kitchener War Hospital at Brighton, England from October 1916 before moving to Abbeville, France, from May 1917.

Florence James Wallace: Gallipoli Nurse – Penny Whiteway, Fryer Folios September 2008

Lemnos, Greece

May 1915. Portrait of Matron Grace Margaret Wilson (later Mrs B Campbell) outside her ‘office’ at No 3 Australian General Hospital. Matron Wilson served as a senior matron during World War I and Matron in Chief during the early part of World War II. AWM A05331

3 A.G.H. was landed on Turk’s Head, West Mudros on 5 August 1915 …

… on a bare and roadless hillside—without tents or equipment, without water-supply other than the tank ships and with only one water-cart each, with no sanitary provision whatever and with little transport other than hand carriage—to prepare for the vast operations timed for the 6th.

Butler’s official medical history, Vol I, p286

The sisters were landed a few days later, on the 7th and 8th.

The Matron was Grace Wilson.

The hospital’s fine laboratory equipment, together with the great bulk of its general hospital equipment, was not sent on by the War Office for three weeks. Its equipment had been put in another transport—“with disastrous results” (Butler, p226).

West Mudrossee also Lemnos Island,Portianou,Therma

Abbeville, France

23 June 1918. A ward in the 3rd Australian General Hospital. Left to right: Staff Nurse McKay (standing, left, rear); unidentified patient; Sergeant Sewell, patient (leaning on wall); unidentified patient; Corporal A. Mallinson (in white coat); four unidentified patients in bed. AWM E02602

No.3 Australian General Hospital arrived in France on 27.4.17, with a nursing staff of 91, with Principal Matron G. M. Wilson A.A.N.S. as Matron. They were temporarily accommodated in the Abbeville and Treport areas until the unit, which was opening on a new site at Abbeville was ready to receive them.

By the first week in June the Sisters’ quarters were completed, and the whole staff rejoined.

In September 1917, Principal Matron G. M. Wilson was recalled to Headquarters, London for temporary duty as A/Matron-in-Chief A.I.F. during the absence in Australia of Miss Conyers. This necessitated several other changes in France. Matron J. Miles Walker AANS (5 Staty) took Miss Wilson’s place at No.3 Australian General Hospital, whilst Head Sister P. Boissier became Acting Matron of No.5 Stationary Hospital.

During the last week in March 1918, the Military situation was considered sufficiently critical to cause all Hospitals in the Abbeville area to be reduced to a number of Nursing Staff sufficient for Casualty Clearing Station duties. On the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of April, 60 A.A.N.S. Sisters were sent in groups of 10 or 20 by passenger or Ambulance Train to Boulogne, so that by April 4th, the staff was reduced to 26 trained Nurses, and 2 Red Cross workers.

Ambulance Trains were obliged to continue unloading at Abbeville and the convoys admitted to the Hospitals were very heavy ones, so that it was very shortly found necessary to increase the Staff, and as the Military situation improved, it was brought back to its full strength.

No.3 Australian General Hospital closed for admissions on 16.4.19, and was instructed to be ready for withdrawal from France by May 20th. The Nursing Staff returned to England in parties of 10, beginning on 17.5.19, and the last party with Principal Matron G. M. Wilson proceeded on 23.5.19. Fourteen members of No.3 who were due or overdue leave were given leave warrants to their destinations before proceeding to the United Kingdom.

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

Abbeville

Nurses

July 1915. Probably London, England. Group portrait of nursing sisters of the 3rd Australian General Hospital (3AGH). The matron, Grace Wilson, is in the front row, seventh from the right. AWM A05411
NOTE: Sister Anne Donnell writes in her book “June 30th … had our photos taken at 10 a.m. in indoor uniform on the steps of the British Museum for the British-Australasian newspaper …”

Staff of the 3rd Australian General Hospital, Lemnos Island, Greece, taken on Christmas Day 1915. The University of Queensland, Fryer Library

[Abbeville, 23 June 1918] A group portrait of the Matron and Sisters of the 3rd Australian General Hospital (3AGH). Back row, left to right: Sister (Sr) Hazelton-Heard; Sr Huxley; Staff Nurse (SN) P. Marsh; Sr Charter, Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (Reserve) [QAIMNS]; Sr Skelly; SN Vicars Foote; Sr Ethel Smith; Sr Callander; Sr D. Thompson; Sr M. Thompson; Sr Gallagher; Sr Linehan; Sr Slater; SN Marquardt; SN Adams; Sr Warne; Miss Bell; Miss Birdwood, a member of Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD); Miss Murdock, VAD; Sr Fisher, TFNS. Middle row: Sr Cavanagh; Sr Soden; SN Everard; Sr Eulalie Margaret Hamersley; Sr Malster; Sr Sweeney; Sr J. Hall; SN Lindsay; Sr Willock; Sr Elsie Clare Pidgeon; Sr Pierre Humbert; Sr Foxall, TFNS; Sr McFadyen; Sr Winter; Sr M. K. Brown; Sr L. McIntosh; SN M. D. Smith. Front row: SN G. Trebilco; SN M. McKay; Sr A. Linklater; Sr V. Drewitt; Sr Chataway; SN Webb; Sr Burbury; Sr Greig; Matron Grace Wilson (in the dark uniform); Sr Andrews; Sr De Mestre; Sr Fitzgibbon; Sr Steele; Sr Duddy; Sr Belstead; Sr Leslie Smith; Sr Moir. AWM E02578

A.W. Savage

Included in the embarkation roll is Albert Williams Savage of Moore Park, occupation photographer.

His images of Lemnos provide an outstanding documentary record of the hospital’s time in Greece.

Why don’t we have such photos from Abbeville? Savage had moved to the Australian Flying Corps, becoming an air mechanic. A war diary entry for 27 May 1919 also suggests the unit’s camera was kept from the hospital:

The question of a Camera for Scientific and Record purposes in this, and other General Hospitals, has been a very burning one. Scientific Records have been materially disadvantaged by not being allowed or provided. The Camera above referred to, was one brought from AUSTRALIA, used on LEMNOS, and taken over by D.M.S. A.I.F. pending inquiry for ownership, and permission to use, both of which stopped short.

The war diary for April 1918 states:

No Officer, soldier, or other person subject to military Law is permitted to be in possession of a Camera or to take photographs.

Dr Herschel Harris

Lemnos Nov. 1915. In the foreground the tents are those of “Sarpi” the Australian Rest Camp. In the background can be seen No. 2(?) A.G.H. at Turk’s Head. SLNSW PXA 403

Dr. Laurence Herschel Harris was a radiographer of world-wide repute. He was one of the first medical men from Australia to enlist in the Great War. He joined the 3rd Australian General Hospital at Lemnos.

Dr Herschel Harris also left some excellent photographs of Lemnos, some of which are held at the State Library of NSWDr. Herschel Harris war photographs in France and Lemnos.

During his active service Dr. Harris obtained a very fine collection of photographs, which he had converted into lantern slides. These he presented to the committee of the Edith Cavell Memorial Fund, of which he was a member. Their display in the interests of the fund yielded a useful sum of money.

“DR. HERSCHELL HARRIS.” The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) 14 Sep 1920: 8. Web. 23 Jan 2012 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15906910>.

Dr Thomas Anderson

An album of Major Anderson offers a number of photographs and ephemera relating to the 3rd Australian General Hospital in Egypt, Lemnos, England and France.

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Further reading

Published Saturday May 21, 2011 · Last modified Wednesday December 30, 2015
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia Licence

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