Sister Florence Elizabeth James-Wallace – a Queensland nurse from Wynnum – served with the A.A.N.S. from 26 April 1915 to 23 May 1919.
She was attached to No. 3 Australian General Hospital.
At the moment of the great German offensive, in March 1918, she was temporarily detached to No. 61 British C.C.S.
I found I was to be loaned to the B.E.F. and was very indignant until I found the whole Staff in 61 C.C.S. practically were Scotch. Had been with them since the 1st March and we had had a fairly quiet time. The C.C.S. was in Ham about 10 minutes walk from the Railway Station, with a Siding running right up to the Hospital. The C.C.S. had been a French Hospital and was beautifully laid out, all huts with electric light, made roads and garden plots.
There had been some rumours of a “push” but whether ours or the Germans’ no one seemed to know. The Officers in Hospital talking together said, “Oh, the Germans could never break through here“—impossible.
However at about 3 a.m. on the 21st I heard the engines of a good many German planes overhead, but could see nothing as a fog had been creeping up all night and was now pretty dense. I was on Night Duty with 2 other Sisters for the Hospital.
At about 4.15 a.m. a terrific bombardment commenced, like continuous thunder rolling, then I could distinguish shells screeching through the air and guns going off with a deafening crash the whole place shook and trembled. I had never heard anything like it before, felt quite excited, the Orderlies said “it’s something big, Sister”, I went out and found another Sister; she was quite mystified too as to what it all meant, we could not see the usual flash on the horizon from the guns the fog was so dense. The noise continued. The patients were unconcerned remarked that “those were heavies” when a shell whistled and crashed. Seemed quite content as they were out of it all and in Hospital. We got some wounded in, but they talked of a British raid and couldn’t tell us anything. I realized it was something unusual when I saw the M.O’s appearing at 6.30 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. with tin hats on, and tearing round very excited. They began marking up the field cards, and getting the bedded Wards empty by filling the hangars with walking patients. Went to bed about 10 a.m. with everything up side down in the Hospital. Up about 4 p.m. to find the noise even worse, and 3 Anaesthetists for our C.C.S., and 18 refugee Sisters from 41 C.C.S.—which was in the direct line. of fire. Everything in a turmoil and buzzing with excitement and patients everywhere.
Saw Miss Baird—our Matron—and asked for a job, she asked me to help in the Officers Ward. Found it overflowing, some dying, terribly smashed about, and a good many walkers, we worked hard till dinner time, when I went on my usual 8 p.m. Night Duty. Had the Chest Ward that night, we were full at M.N. of patients with penetrating wounds of the. Chest and a lot of them had other wounds as well. Went hard all night. Thicker fog and same commotion.
22nd. Off at breakfast time, and then went down the Ham-Noyon road to the next village, could only see a few yards ahead through the fog, met an A.S.C. boy, he told me the road further on had been shelled badly and lorries blown up and men killed. Still no one seemed to know what was happening. Slept soundly, too tired to be disturbed by noise.
About 2 p.m. wakened to the sound of “Girls! Get up quickly, you have to be dressed in 10 minutes, the train goes in 20. We have to leave everything.”
Who said so? We must pack. What is the matter? But we tumble out.
Miss Baird comes in to our Nissen Hut, “Are you up girls? The Germans are advancing, we have to leave everything. Train goes in 20 minutes, take what you can carry”. Exit all of us—with suit cases, boots, rugs, haversacks, dorothy bags in our arms, to see the rest of the Sisters in the same plight waiting at the Mess Hut. Dinner half eaten, I feel jolly hungry. Bright sunshine, clear sky. Troops, waggons, lorries, ambulances, gun-carriages, pack-mules all clattering down the road past the Hospital. One couldn’t take in all that was happening. Guns still crashing and shells whistling. Two big naval guns of ours near by, made a good deal of noise.
Some of the M.O’s meet us and we tramp down to the Station, feeling very disgusted at being sent off when we feel the patients need Us. We ask what is to happen to them. Why can’t we stay with them? Everyone asks questions and no one answers. We find one M.O. with 10 Orderlies and 20 Labour Corps men are to stay and get the Patients away. The M.O’s march off. We wait for the train and hear it is not to be in for half an hour.
After begging hard I get a reluctant consent from Miss Baird to go back to the Hospital and pack, promising to be away only 20 minutes. Mess Orderlies are carrying things down on wheel stretchers. Two Sisters come with me, and we tear up to our Quarters and pack madly helped by the boys, who work like trojans, perspiration streaming down their faces. They take my trunk and carry all and even roll up my bed and blankets, but I have no time to put my name on it, and that bundle I never see again. I dash into the Mess Hut and collect a little food, pack another Sister’s belongings and back to the Station by a short cut. It is now nearly 3 p.m. Lots of weary looking Tommies and some Poilus with tin hats and pack up at the Station. The 34 Sisters and what luggage they have collected—a good deal—is piled up on the Station.
Crash! A shell bursts about 200 yards away French and English Soldiers rush to see where it fell, then another crash a little nearer. Our two guns continue to fire. Crash! Crash! An earsplitting sound seemingly beside us, black dust rises in the air just behind the Station Shed, some falls on our hats. The R.T.O. hurls himself out of his office and shouts to us to run to the other side of the line, which the soldiers have already proceeded to do, we grab our suit-cases, haversacks, rugs, etc., and struggle over the line, in a few seconds the platform only holds our pile of luggage. I don’t expect to see, my collection of treasures any more. More shells fall round the Station, we are told to walk down the line to meet the train. We proceed very hampered with our heavy suit¬cases, the men come to our rescue and help to carry them. Suddenly 5 Bosche ‘planes come in sight. Our Archies open up. We are told to go in the dugouts along the line, but very few do, most of us sit on our luggage and watch the fun. They seem to be trying to find our 2 big guns, they go again after dropping a few bombs.
Some Canadians appear with 2 flat trucks on an engine and helped by some South Africans get our heavy luggage on, and invite us to ride too. They seem to regard the proceedings as a diversion and pile our luggage up about i mile away down the. line, we ride back with them and meet the rest of our party. (Two other Australian Sisters and 3-South Africans have been loaned to the C.C.S.) Some Officers come down the line too, their men carrying their kit. More shells burst down along the line, fall just a bit short. We watch the Hospital train go up for the Patients, the shells seem to burst very near it. The. line round to the Hospital is hit and 3 men killed where we went across from the Station. It is now nearly 6 p.m. and no sign of our train. The C.O. of 41 C.C.S. suddenly appears with the news that he has procured 5 lorries to take us all to Rosieres. Once more we pick up our baggage helped by some men and take it across to the road. Some Irish Officers of the Ulster Division talk to us as we board the lorries. They shout to their men to take cover as we see a fight between some of our ‘planes and the Bosche close by. We move on so don’t see the end of the fight. Pass lots of men and lorries and limbers and a few guns on the road, horses and guns by the road side, further on men marching towards us. Passed 2 dead Germans lying in the ditch, with the broken ‘plane not far off, they had been attacking the road and been brought down. Passed through Nesle, Roye, Marchlepot, Cbaulnes, etc., took the wrong road and nearly got to Peronne, past through very desolate country some all old shell holes grown over, and old trenches and rusty barb wire entanglements. Iron bridges blown up over Canals. Bright moonlight heard bombs not far away, it got very cold, we were covered in dust. We went through villages, nothing but a heap of bricks and a few stone walls, a few feet high, trees that looked like sentinels, just the charred trunks and a limb or two standing. Got to 47 C.C.S. Rosieres at 10 p.m. Equipment of other C.C.S,’ piled about all round it. Patients pouring in. Received very kindly and given tea and bread and butter. Found an old friend there on Night Duty and camped in her bed.
23rd. Found there were lots of spare Sisters about, so my friend and I decided to go and see some French and German Trenches about a mile up the road, the fields between the trenches were a mass of shell holes overgrown with grass and as far as we could see in one direction run¬ning in a semi-circle were rusty wire entanglements. Troops and lorries were running up and down the road by the C.QS. and refugees in streams. Was told I would go on Night Duty, so was off to bed when the call to be “Ready in 20 minutes to go” once more reached me. Miss Baird was to take 7 Sisters to a Railhead. Four of us w.ere Australians and one South African and a Scotch and an English Sister. We thought the Colonies were well represented! The Colonel of 61 C.C.S. Miss-Baird and 5 of us departed in an Ambulance, the other 2 followed in a lorry with our belongings. We found Villers-Bretonneux was our des¬tination. Got out at the Railhead Siding. Found we were to be an Entraining Centre and look after the wounded till they got on the trains. We were given a wooden hut which was being used by the sentries of a huge Petrol Dump which was a few yards away. The shed had some forms and 2 stoves in it. Major Grenfell paid us a visit; he had been in charge of the advance surgical supply depot in Ham. He sent us some Panniers and wool and gauze which w.e proceeded to cut up and get ready. We were supplied with plenty of wool, gauze bandages, safety-pins and splints, but very few instruments and lotions. Pot. Permang. and Iodine we used for everything. General Skinner paid us a visit. We were billeted in a large, school close to Fifth Army H.Q. (Gen. Gough’s) about 15 minutes walk and had our meals at a corner cafe, across from ‘the main station. Forty Orderlies arrived, mostly from 41 C.C.S. A good number of patients came through, but went on the train which went out in the evening. The last of us went to bed about I a.m. Two of us had been to bed and came on for the rest of the night. We found our school was being shared by refugees.
24th. Got to the shed about 7 a.m. to find about 500 patients, stretchers and walking cases. We fed them all and dressed the worst wounds. Abdominal and Chest cases we brought into the hut, the rest had to stay in the open. The Orderlies were awfully good, mostly Irish boys. They helped to cut up bread, open bully beef tins by the hundreds, biscuit fins; and made up the fires and had boiling water and helped with dress¬ings. Others were busy making boilers of tea and opening tins of milk. Wounded kept coming in all day. One train went out at night taking walking wounded. Got to bed late.
25th. Got to the Shed to find about 8,000 wounded. Fed them all and went on dressing as hard as we could, more kept coming in. The space on either side of the hut and facing the line was covered with stretcher cases for hundreds of yards; the back bit, the hut and field kitchen were for the walking wounded. Col. Turner and Capt. Marshall were the only M.O’s, they had some tents about 12 put up, two double dressing Tents. So three of us dressed the patients there, having the worst stretchers carried there to be dressed. The worst cases we kept in the Hut. Two of us were kept busy dressing outside and feeding the new arrivals. Later—More M.O’s and Orderlies came. We had a double Tent full of Officers some very badly wounded. About 10,000 had been through our hands and still they were pouring in in lorries, Ambulances, etc. Very few trains getting them away. Thousands of Indians and Italians (Labour Corps) were being entrained and sent down the line. The only complaint I heard from the wounded was that they—the Labour Corps—were going and they had to wait. The only Australians I saw, were men running the engines of the Goods Trains.
Going back to the School about 11 p.m. Bright Moonlight. Fritz started to bomb the town. We were nearly home when one seemed to fall beside us with a deafening splitting sound. We dived into an arch¬way, the air seemed full of fumes and gas, 2 other Sisters behind us fell flat on the pavement. However none of us were hit and we got to the School.
26th. We got down to find still more walkers and stretchers, they seemed to be everywhere and some were there from the day before, feeling the cold a good deal. They w.ere very thirsty, dirty and some covered with blood. We had a frightfully busy morning. Hospital trains came in, but could not cope with the numbers. At 12.30 we were sent up to the school to pack, had a hurried lunch at the Corner Cafe, finished packing the things in the Dressing Tents, heard a shout that the train was going out, ran down the hill, passed through the Hut where our very bad cases were as we had left our haversacks there. We were too hurried to think of the effect our leaving would have on them. I will never forget the expression on their faces when they saw we were going. “Oh they are leaving us”, “They are going”. I heard one man say. I went back to tell him we were going on a truck train and they would be going as soon as the Hospital train arrived. It didn’t seem to comfort him much. They looked as if they thought their last hope had gone, poor things, we hated leaving them, and it made us realize our being there meant more than the actual work we did. We just scrambled into the van. Miss Baird and one Sister missing it. It was a very long truck train full of walking wounded. We went very slowly and stopped just after nightfall. Brilliant moonlight and very cold. We, with the help of our Orderly—an excellent boy—piled all our kit bags together put our rugs on top and tried to sleep. About 10 p.m. we heard Fritz, and after that we had a terrible night of bombing. Fritz was over us, and driven off by Archies and back again and driven off and back, so on all night, A lot of the men went out in the fields. A dud dropped beside us, the line blown up in front of us. We heard in the morning we were in a cutting just out of Amiens and the town was bombed severely that night. It certainly was the most nerve racking thing we had been through, to hear Fritz’ engines above us all night, it was a relief to hear the bark of the Archies and the sing of the shells through the air, we could hear the bombs explode, they seemed all round us.
27th. We got into and through Amiens about 11 a.m. to see telegraph wires smashed and frame work in splinters and broken glass everywhere. Trains were going out of the Station loaded with French and English troops. We pulled up after going under a bridge and the boys found a Goods Train loaded for Ham—they helped themselves, but did not forget us, we were presented with bread, oranges, figs, milk, cheese, apples. We had tea and sugar which we gave the boys and they made their tea at the engine.
After some more travelling we stopped at a Station where there were a lot of New Zealand Gunners, they saw us and brought us tea and very good tea it was, they told us the 3rd Division (they thought) of Australians, and more, were down with them from the North, and were full of confidence, it was fine to talk to them.
Sister F.E. James-Wallace, in Butler’s offical medical history, Vol III, pp559-563
Sister James-Wallace donated her collection of photos of Lemnos (the familiar images taken by A.W. Savage) to the Fryer Library, Queensland.
Not all 165 photos have been digitised, but the ones that have are of excellent quality.
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