West Mudros describes the western shores of the harbour named after its principal port and town Moudros (Greek: Μούδρος) on the Greek island of Lemnos.
On 4 August 1915, No. 2 Australian Stationary Hospital and No. 29 British (Lowland) Casualty Clearing Station were landed at West Mudros, followed by No. 3 Australian General Hospital the next day (the sisters arriving a few days later, on the 8th and 9th). On the 17th August Nos. 1 and 3 Canadian Stationary Hospitals (with female nurses) and No. 18 British were landed.
Further development of Lemnos as medical centre
On August 22nd there was accommodation on Lemnos for 5,050. By the beginning of September the hospital site on “Turk’s Head” was beginning to assume the appearance proper to a large hospital centre. Roads had been built by Egyptian labour, a condenser had been installed and a reservoir built, and the hospital water-carts now met a water main advancing to reticulate the whole hospital area. Motor transport was arriving. In the Australian general hospital a pathological department had commenced, in a tent, work which was to become historic. X-Ray and ophthalmic departments were now “going strong.” But the surgical crisis had passed: the fine surgical staff and team had been almost wasted. A special “enteric block “ had by this time been opened, and the hospital entered on a period of important work in this department.
Sickness infests the island
Already, however, happenings ominous of future trouble are recorded. The hospital site had been grossly fouled by the Egyptian labourers before the arrival of the units. The sanitary arrangements at West Mudros, and perforce in the hospitals, were at first crude to the degree of futility—as a home of flies Lemnos was held by some to have surpassed Gallipoli. Writing on August 21st to the acting D.G.M.S., Australia, the officer commanding No. 3 General Hospital (Colonel T. H. Fiaschi) reported in that unit “an epidemic of muco-enteritis which seems to attack every person in this place.” By the beginning of September a number of the staff had been evacuated. It was by now recognised by the staff that the conditions on the island were anything but easy; as early as August 25th the Inspector-General of Communications had discussed with the P.D.M.S. preparations for meeting the winter conditions there, which were likely to be especially severe.
Work of the nursing sisters
The conditions under which the nursing sisters worked, both now and for some time later, at Lemnos, were more crude than any met with afterwards, perhaps than any in the war. The physical discomforts were great; the heat was intense. Bell tents they had, mattresses and bedding and “hard” army ration, but little else. Facilities for personal cleanliness were primitive. But it was chiefly in connection with their professional work that the women were tested to the utmost. Space will not permit of an account of the difficulties that were encountered before a standard of ministration approaching the ideal for the nursing service could be reached; but, in the almost total absence of nursing equipment, linen, and means of cooking, and the scanty supply of medical comforts, they are not difficult to imagine. 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 (as they have often before) to circumstances, bend to clearly-recognised 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. Whatever arguments may be adduced to urge the impropriety of placing so complex a unit under such primitive conditions, inability of the nursing service to rise superior to the circumstances is not one.
A.G. Butler, Official history of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914-1918, Volume 1: Gallipoli, Palestine and New Guinea, pp 336 – 338.
Sister Rachel Pratt, M.M., A.A.N.S., who describes here her experiences in the nursing of sick and wounded Anzacs from Gallipoli, left her work at the Melbourne Women’s Hospital in May, 1915, to join the A.I.F., going with No. 3 A.G.H. to Lemnos (via England). Later she served in Egypt, England and France, and on July 4, 1917, while working at Bailleul with No. 1 A.C.C.S., was severely wounded by a fragment of an aeroplane bomb. The award of M.M. was made in consequence of her gallantry and courage during the air raid.
After much delay, the 3rd Aust. General Hospital, to which I was attached, had been ordered to Lemnos. Our .O.C., Colonel T. H; Fiaschi, had preceded us some weeks before, as there was much pioneering work to be done on the barren island—marquees to be erected for the wounded, and also accommodation for the medical officers, nursing sisters, and orderlies—before our work could begin. As it was, the equipment for the hospital did not arrive in time, but we managed to commandeer some beds for the wounded officers. Worst of all, the daily supply of fresh water was limited, the condenser not being in proper working order.
Things were therefore in rather a state of chaos when the wounded began to arrive. Mattresses had to be placed on the floors of the marquees, and blankets used as pillows. Fortunately, little bed-covering was needed, as the weather was intensely hot, and our patients were clad in coarse calico shirts, and the clothing which they wore in the trenches.
Their dressings, which had been applied on the hospital ships, were saturated and covered with flies. It was pathetic to meet some of the soldiers who hardly more than a week before, had travelled with us on the transport from Devenport to Alexandria. One had lost an eye, and suffered other injuries; another arrived with shocking wounds to his arm and a compound fracture of the thigh. As there were no means of sterilising at this stage of our work, we prepared our dressing lint with antiseptic lotions, and each soldier who was able to walk had his dressings done there. Forms having been placed on either side of the tent and a table in the centre, a medical officer worked on one side and I on the other. It must have been a great relief to the men to have their soiled dressing removed – but, oh! the monotony of their surroundings. After having fought at Gallipoli, Lemnos was a most uninteresting place, except for the beautiful harbour at Mudros, on which numbers of ships lay at anchor. The island, covered with loose stones, contained no more than a few primitive Greek villages, with whitewashed cottages and thatched roofs. If the monotony (apart from the guns) of Gallipoli appalled them, there was certainly little change of scene at Lemnos.
I might mention in passing that we also had four enemy prisoners quartered in a bell tent, and it was my unique experience to dress their wounds under an armed guard. One of them was a German, very sullen, whose nose had been slashed off with a bayonet. The other three were Turks, one quite a youth, who could say only one word in English—“pain.”
At first the situation on the island had seemed hopeless. What could be achieved under such dire circumstances? But our outlook changed when our lost equipment turned up. Colonel Fiaschi, having previously served in war’s grim school, was no novice, and we now had everything necessary – beds, chairs, instruments, etc. A busy time followed, and we were able to make the patients really comfortable. In the operating theatres much wonderful and brilliant work as performed, for we had some very eminent surgeons attached to No. 3 A.G.H.
Red Cross stores also began to arrive. I cannot describe the joy we all felt when we were issued with pyjama suits suitable for hot and cold weather, sheets, etc.; no shortage of anything. The foodstuffs, which included cereals, condensed milk, soups, tinned fruits, and tinned chicken, were a source of delight. We were now able to vary the diet; instead of rancid bacon and sour bread for breakfast, bowls of porridge were handed around. It is true there was an absence of green vegetables, but to counteract this a bottle of stout was served to each soldier.
Dysentery was a scourge on the island, and this complicated matters, as many of the wounded fell a prey to the disease, and their diet had to be curtailed. A number of the medical officers became ill also; and one sister’s life was despaired of, but she eventually recovered and was invalided to England for a time.
The summer passed and some beautiful days followed. The harbour was delightful, the waters of the Aegean scarcely showing a ripple. Everything seemed still. The sunsets were glorious, indescribable, the colour ever changing and always beautiful. Winter, when it came, was severe. The roads that appeared to be perfect in summer soon dissolved into veritable slushy pools, and it was a difficult task to walk through the lines without falling – on night duty we had to tramp through mud and slush with a hurricane lamp. On one eventful night the bell tent containing dressings and instruments collapsed; there was no other alternative but to crawl under the debris and rescue the necessary articles.
This cold weather brought frost-bitten patients from the Peninsula. It was pitiable to see gangrene feet; in the case of one soldier who had both amputated, the result was fatal. The others responded well to treatment, and were afterwards sent to England. Despite the conditions, there was only a mortality of 2 per cent. – truly a wonderful achievement.
Then a rumour came that Gallipoli was to be evacuated. Our hospital was enlarged, to accommodate more than 1000 patients, and we had everything in readiness to receive the possible flow of wounded. But, as everyone knows, the force was, through a wonderful piece of staff work, withdrawn without loss.
In conclusion, I must commend the work of the nursing sisters of our unit, throughout these difficult months of active service conditions. They went smilingly through, not one of them ever complaining of her lot. They did exceedingly well in the most trying circumstances, and were naturally proud of their work among the courageous soldiers whom they nursed.
Sister Rachel Pratt, Reveille Vol 6 Issue 12, 1 August 1933
A considerable infrastructure was built up on West Mudros in a short time, including roads, jetties and a light railway. Following are links to our photos from 2011 that attempt to identify some of these features:
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