No. 3 Australian General Hospital was based at Abbeville from June 1917 to April 1919.
Abbeville was headquarters of the Commonwealth lines of communication and a number of hospitals were located here.
Most wounded came in by train, some seriously wounded on barges. During the German offensive, 3AGH worked as a Casualty Clearing Station with some wounded arriving direct from the front on motor vehicles and other transport.
Three hospitals formed the medical base at Abbeville – No.3 A.G.H, the South African General Hospital and No.2 British Stationary Hospital.
View WW1 Australian hospitals on the Western Front in a larger map
The war diary of No.3 A.G.H. talks of the Doullens Road (Appendix 14) as one boundary while the South African history talks of a metalled road giving access to the Amiens Road. (A 1913 map suggests this area was outside the town, although the 1916 map excerpted below does show some buildings.)
Perhaps the hospitals were located in the triangle formed by the present-day Route Doullens, Route d’Amiens and Av. Robert Schuman.
The cemetery is, however, some two or two and a half miles from this location.
Account of the South African General Hospital in Abbeville:
Here it was found that the hospital would be established next to No. 2 Stationary Hospital, an Imperial unit which had been there for some time. The necessity for not interfering with the ripening harvest considerably curtailed the choice of a site, the ground allotted being a ploughed field on the slope of the hills overlooking the valley of the Somme. Abbeville itself lay about a mile away in the valley, but the railway station and “triage” were on the far side of the town and must have been nearly three miles from the hospital.
The nurses’ camp [initially] had to be pitched in the wooded ground of a chateau some little distance off… [Chateau, Bois de l’Abbey?]
Abbeville 1916 – McMaster University Libraries
For the first few months all traffic to the hospital had to pass through a neighbouring hospital — No. 2 Stationary, R.A.M.C. — this being not only inconvenient, but leading to congestion. Later, a metalled road was made through the South African Hospital leading to the Amiens road and looping within the hospital.
The necessity for a special railway siding for the three large hospitals in this area to avoid the long, rough, and frequently interrupted journeys by ambulance from and to the main station was also met.
The History of the South African Forces in France by John Buchan, 1920
This photo was taken at the junction of Birdwood & Howse Roads (identified via street sign in photo). If 3 A.G.H. was located in the north-east quadrant, with its entrance on Route Doullens, this photo would be looking roughly west. The higher ground in the distance seems to match a contemporary Google Earth view from this point. The spire just visible beyond the road’s end appears to match the contemporary view of the Saint-Gilles spire (which no longer exists). The scale of the Engineer’s plan suggests this ‘triangle’ could have encompassed the three camps.
The Sisters Mess is probably the best in the A.I.F.; the walls being decorated with particularly good Fescoes, by two Unit members, Privates SHARPEN and WOOLCOTT, now working as Artists for A.W.R. Section. This Mess has played quite an interesting part in the social life of the Australian Corps, being the rendezvous on Sunday afternoons, for all ranks, from Generals to Privates while the Corps was in the neighbourhood, during the 1918 fighting.
Australian nurses, wherever they went, were courageous and tactful standard bearers of Australian democracy; and highly illuminating is a social gesture and experiment—militarily impudent perhaps, but “put over” with a success that has made it part of A.I.F. history—carried out by the nurses of No. 3 A.G.H. The hospital, it will be recalled, was at Abbeville on the Somme. It was specially constructed and was held to be one of the best laid out in France. The sisters’ mess, as fitted out by the Red Cross and adorned with original frescoes by two of the “orderlies”, was spacious and attractive. Hither, on a general invitation, during the fighting of June to September, assembled on Sunday afternoons irrespective of rank or any other distinction, a complete cross-section of the A.I.F. meeting on equal terms, drawn by the same nostalgic impulse that desired the Australian atmosphere.
Butler’s official medical history, Volume III, pp556-557
Every effort has been made by the Sports Committee to do all that is possible for the recreation of the Nursing Staff both mental and physical. Hockey matches have been played against other units in which the Sisters have shaped very well, having come off victors on several occasions…
Matron’s report, 3 A.G.H. war diary for February 1918
15.7.1917 We arrived at Abbeville at 10.45 a.m. and had three and a half hours in which to amuse ourselves there. We first went to a cafe for some omelettes and coffee, then spent the rest of the time sight seeing. We visited the cathedral (St Vulfran’s), gazed in the shops, then went for a delightful walk along the Somme. Here there is a lovely avenue of trees casting a cool shade over the sloping grassy banks. We sat down on the grass to rest and dream-to dream of all the future held for us and of what was happening further along this same Somme. The barges coming down so slowly and peacefully called to our imagination no picture of a war but rather, a picture of a dream world where all is peaceful and beautiful.
Elsie Tranter, In all those lines
Ward after ward was taken for these patients [from 9 September 1918], till in October we had in H Block one ward of 30 beds and 4 wards of 44 beds each full of broncho-pneumonia patients… On September 29th there were 1,647 patients in the hospital. In October two more large wards—Adrian huts of 48 beds each—were taken and filled with cases of broncho. During December the numbers decreased a little, but it was not til January 1919 that the numbers became small, and, though there have been a few recurrences, it has not been necessary to isolate more than two wards at a time.
When the epidemic was at is height the whole staff had to work hard, the Sisters hardest of all…
Major F.B. Lawton, 3 A.G.H., in Butler’s official medical history (pp200-201)
Nursing staff (L-R): Sr H M Steele; Sr A M Linklater; SN M Marquardt; Sr P Pierre-Humbert; SN M E Chataway; SN M D Soden; SN M Thompson; SN R L Smith; SN M McKay; SN E L Slater; Sr N P Fitzgibbon; SN R C Everard; SN A A Webb; SN M Winter; SN M G Cavanagh; Sr E Smith; Sr B Belstead; Sr E Greig; Sr S M DeMestre; Principal Matron G M Wilson, Sr M G Burbury; Miss N Birdwood, VAD; SN D Wearne (53; Miss P Murdock, VAD; SN B Glasson; SN S Malcolm; SN G Trebilco; Sr J A McFadyen; Sr J G Sweeney; T/Head Sr G J Andrews; Sr L MacIntosh; SN W Willock; SN I Lindsay; Sr L Malster; Sr E Hammersley; SN O S Hall; SN M D Smith; SN E Vicars-Foote; SN N Callender; SN E Gallagher; SN M W Moir
The nurses talk of frequent bombing raids by German aeroplanes but 3AGH was not hit. The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps were not so lucky. Nine WAACs were killed when their trench received a direct hit in May 1918.
Staff-Sister Amy L. Faulkner, writing to her mother from the No. 3 Australian Hospital at Abbeville, in France, gives a description of the desolation of the surrounding country (says the Sydney “Daily Telegraph”).
“Driving along the Amiens road and on to Villers-Bretonneux,” she says, “we passed through village after village in ruins, thousands and thousands of dug-outs and trenches and debris, miles and miles of barbed wire, and so on through Cambrai to Albert.
“The Cathedral here is nothing but ruins. The famous figure of the leaning Virgin and Child is now removed, in a battered condition, to Amiens Cathedral for preservation.
“We wandered about in Albert, and picked up souvenirs from among the broken furniture and bricks and rubbish. One sister was getting back to the motor with her cherished souvenir, when the colonel noticed that one was an unexploded Mills bomb—a Mills bomb is shaped like an egg and about twice as long, and the only thing that keeps it from exploding is a small pin, five seconds after the removal of which the bomb explodes.
“These bombs may have been two years on the field and the pins were nearly rusted through; so the colonel seized the bomb and flung it as far as possible over a heap of bricks that had once been a house. Next he snatched a bomb-stick from another sister, and that went after the Mills; a few nose-caps followed suit, until we feared the filching of all our treasures. But we kept some German helmets, shell cases, chunks of marble and Mosaic from the Cathedral ruins, and other harmless mementoes.
“Through miles and miles of ruined country, passing nothing but dugouts, barbed wire entanglements, trenches, shell-holes, heaps of bricks and debris, we passed on to Pozieres.
“Here we alighted, and, standing under the cross erected to the memory of the 2nd Australian Division boys who died in the first battle of the Somme in 1916, we listened as Colonel Chelsea, who was commanding officer of artillery, described that historic battle.
“There is not a brick, a tree, a piece of wood, a hut, nor a living soul anywhere, to show what was once a thriving pastoral town of 2000 souls. The soil is nothing hut shell-holes—for the most part filled in—and acres of crosses placed thereon to indicate the dead who slumber there, and the ground has been churned over and over again with the heavy guns, until not the faintest trace of a tree, or a brick even, is left to tell of the village of Pozieres.
“One knows now what is meant by the ‘abomination of desolation.’ The huge shell-holes, the immense craters—once the German front lines, which were blown up by tons of dynamite—the old, disabled tanks stuck in the mud, and the innumerable tiny crosses, which show that Australians, British, and Germans alike lie there – nothing growing, nothing living : just death and desolation!
“It was the saddest and most heart-breaking of scenes, eclipsing by far the miles of wrecked villages still showing amidst the bricks; a broken bed here, there a chair, a sofa, a piece of a broken piano, a child’s toy, battered books, music, and old clothes – all half-buried under fallen timber.
“Somehow there still seemed something human about these ruined villages – but Pozieres – “
“A dreary, drizzling wind and rain prevaded everything like a lament. We were glad to climb into the chara-a-banc and move towards home again, through those dead and crumbling villages, we went wthout shaded lights or fear of hostile aircraft, but with the memory of ruined Pozieres ever in the mind.”
1919 ‘RUINS OF POZIERES.’, Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888-1954), 31 May, p. 12, viewed 12 June, 2011, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article45485134
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