Trois Arbres is a small outlying locality of the French town of Steenwerck in Flanders.
No. 2 Australian Casualty Clearing Station was based here from 17 June 1916 until approx. 15 March 1918.
During the Spring  the work was normal, but in May and June 1917, it became heavier, and additional staff was sent up from No.2 Australian General Hospital, increasing the Nursing Staff to 14. In July, the Sister-in-Charge wrote that they had 3 operating tables in use throughout the day, and usually two at night. During July and August almost 2000 operations were performed in this unit alone. It was in July that the C.C.S. was bombed, and the 4 Sisters were awarded the Military Medal … At this period also the C.C.S. received many patients from the mustard gas attacks. The Sister-in-Charge wrote “Mustard oil shells are being used by the enemy, in consequence of which we receive many patients with burns therefrom, the eyes specially being much inflamed. At times, large blisters form on the body”.
In September the C.C.S. was under shell fire several times and once a large piece of shell pierced the roof of the theatre, and bent the operating table, but fortunately no one was operating at the time. Night bombing raids were also quite frequent. A bomb-proof shelter was built for the Sisters who slept there on moonlight nights. The heavy work continued up to the end of the year, and a great deal of night work was done, it being quite a usual thing for 2 or 3 surgical teams to work through the night.
On 11.3.18 hostile shelling was closer than usual, and orders were given for the unit to pack up preparatory to a move. All the patients were evacuated and the Nursing Staff left in motor ambulances for 10 Stationary Hospital.
No. 2 A.C.C.S. Lieut.-Colonel H.S. Stacy was allotted an undeveloped site at Trois Arbres near Steenwerck which it took over on June 17th. Here the unit built up de novo a station which, within a month of its arrivial, and ten hours after opening up, was able to deal with 900 wounded from the Battle of Fromelles.
“The laying out of the station; the erection of marquees on very rough ground; the making of an in and out road consisting of a solid plank track; the building of bridges and the sinking of wells to ensure a good water-supply – involved very hard work. Two large tanks were installed on raised platforms giving a sufficient fall to enable water to flow freely where needed. A large Nissen was erected to serve for the operating theatre and X-ray department. Two long rows of double marquees were erected, and duckboards placed through the camp.” (From a report drawn up for Colonel Stacy by Staff-Sergeant M. T. Baster. An excellent history of this station has since been compiled by Colonel Stacy and others [see this page].)
A feature special to this unit was its use of a light trolley railway for its internal lines of communication, the rails being carried in sections as part of the unit equipment.
“Right through the period at this site, the work of construction was continually going on. Huts were erected for the special departments of the station – mortuary, quartermaster’s stores, dental and staff quarters. At a later date, marquees were replaced by four large Latapee huts.”
Butler, A.G. – Vol II, p382-383
[The procedure for receiving the wounded began in] … a large marquee erected near the entrance much like a circus tent in its size. There the wounded were received, examined by an M.O., who ordered their further disposal. After he had examined their condition, they stripped of their bloodstained and dusty khaki – parts of which had often been slit up or cut away to allow the doctors in the forward areas to dress their wounds and give them injections of Anti Telamic Serum. Their various private belongings were collected into a Dorothy bag bearing their name and rank. The men were dressed in Red Cross Pyjamas and carried on stretchers to the dressing room and put on one of ten tables, which were constantly kept going during the days which succeeded the battle. Again they were seen by another Med. Off. who ordered their special dressing and often dressed them if time permitted, and sent them to different wards. I may say the wards were many and varied. Perhaps it was straight to the Operating Theatre – in case of haemmorrhage or abdominal wounds. Many of the boys coming in with a leg blown off. It was dressed in the Aid Posts, a Tourniquet applied to stop bleeding, and went hurriedly to the CCS in charge of an A. M. C. man, for immediate operation. Sometimes they died on the way, and never reached the hospital alive. Then we had a post-operative ward, a pre-operative ward, resusitation, chest, abdominal, jaw, multiple wound, and lastly a moribund or dying ward.
Sister Ada Smith, AWM nurses’ narratives
I was put in the theatre where operations commenced before everything was unpacked. There were no bed mattresses or pillows etc. only stretchers and blankets and as soon as a patient was operated on and put back on the stretcher it gradually sank in the mud. There was no time to remove the men’s clothes or boots. When we were just about full a hospital train came in and relieved the pressure. The stretcher bearers had a fearful time wading through the mud carrying the men to the carriages…
… the next busy time we had was during the Battle of Bullecourt between 3 and 15 May 1917, and we had a fearful number of casualties through. We had over one hundred and thirty deaths. Two other CCS then came up and we were relieved of much of the work. We were getting the men in at just over an hour after they were wounded. There were four tables going day and night in the theatre. The patients were first brought into the admission tent where their wounds were examined and marked accordingly A. B. C. or D. All …were urgent cases which were carried straight into the preparation tent where they were undressed and put into pyjamas if possible and from there they went to the theatre. All A cases were attended to first then the others in order. If the casualties were very heavy C & D cases were sent down in the trains without being operated on.
Sister Gertrude Doherty, AWM nurses’ narratives
20 July 1916. In twenty-six hours, 2,357 patients had been evacuated through the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station at the railhead at Trois Arbres. By July 21, 3,984 had been cleared.
C.E.W. Bean, Official History, Vol III, p437
25.8.1916. We had a bit of excitement the other morning picking up bits of shell and shrapnel which landed just outside the tent. Some bullets fell just beside one of my patients, who picked them up for souvenirs. The aeroplanes are always flying around here above us and, as soon as the Germans spot them, they open fire and we do the same when theirs appear. There is a huge gun (14 ins.) just near us. We went up to see it. It is all hidden and covered up, and when it fires the windows smash in the houses around and everything shakes. The Engineers who are looking after it live on a train and are awfully nice to us. They have us to tea on the train in one of the vans and do all they can. They always come to tea on Sundays if we are not rushed. You see, the work comes in rushes. We get them in and send them all on next day to the Base – the hospital train comes in, right up here; we are not supposed to keep patients, but be always ready to receive them. Just now the line is fairly quiet and we don’t get so many. There are always snipers and bombs, etc., going but still it is when they make an attack that they get such terrible casualties.
… the outpatients often told us what would happen “when we take Messines Ridge”. We had heard of that ridge so often, and the time it was going to be taken, that we only laughed when they spoke of it, and decided the day had not yet dawned for “that ridge”. However, when the Ridge was really to he taken we heard very little about it. Carpenters arrived one morning and immediately commenced working in various places. Our dressing room where patients had their wounds attended to, on admission was enlarged to accommodate 10 tables where it had previously held two. Our operating theatre was also made capable of running six different operating tables. Tents sprang up on all available space, with duckboards leading to them. All necessary equipment was installed in them. Primus’were issued, often an additional one in case of accident. Then splints, bandages, pyjamas, blankets and the hundred and one small things needed in a busy ward arrived, per motor transport, until we knew that ridge really was going to be taken. All patients able to travel were sent to the base, leaving us with practically an empty hospital with the exception of a few convalescents kept for light duty. Doctors, Orderlies, stretcher bearers arrived in large numbers and our staff of sisters was made up to 20, including 3 sisters attached to surgical teams. Of course we were used to bombardment, that the noise which preceded Messines Ridge Battle was little noticed. For the. bombardment had seemed perpetual for weeks and weeks. Shells had been bursting above us in the day time, and with the noise of bombs a short distance away, and anti air craft guns, we had little to learn of noise. I was sleeping in a tent at this time, and it was from here, I heard the noise of the mines blowing up, and felt the concussion of the earth which preceded the Messines Battle. We could not sleep after this wondering how the Australians and other troops were faring. Wondering if they had won the hill, or were being slaughtered, and knowing which ever way it happened, we were bound to have hundreds of wounded coming in shortly. About 7 a.m. we heard the Ridge had been taken with light casualties, and shortly after the first wounded started to arrive. I couldn’t see where the light casualties came in, as all those strong healthy men came in dead, dying, unconscious and moaning.
Sister Ada Smith, AWM nurses’ narratives [The Battle of Messines began on 7 June 1917]
On the 22nd inst at about 10-25 pm an enemy aeroplane flying low over the Station dropped two bombs.
The first fell at the rear of ward C.5 blowing a hole in the ground about 15 ft in diameter and 6 ft deep in the centre … The mortuary also was wrecked, the roof and two sides being blown out. Two patients and two orderlies were killed and many of the men in the ward were wounded.
The second bomb dropped outside the southern boundary of the Camp near the Cemetery.
The total casualties were 4 killed and 15 wounded – 1 seriously.
I am of the opinion that the attack was directed against a Kite Balloon Section of the R;F;C; [Royal Flying Corps] which takes up position in close proximity to the Station
Lt. Col. J. Ramsay Webb – 2 A.C.C.S. war diary, July 1917 – Appendix A
Sister Alice Ross-King arrived at No. 2 A.C.C.S. on 17 July 1917. Following are her brief diary notes:
Sent to No 2 17/7/17 Great excitement leaving. Roses. Miss Tunnelly. Train. Motor Hazebrouch to Steenwerck. Nice Hosp. Miss Stobo. Ramsay Webb. Duckboards, Dressing rooms etc. Armstrong huts.
A few days later, the Station was bombed.
22nd. Germans shell baloon just above us – Falling shrapnel good deal of damage. One piece shell case weighing 10 lbs Fell within 6 inches of one pats head in C.iv. Lots of torn tents. German plane 10.30 p.m. dropped 3 bombs. One landed near a tent full of pneumonias- 2 orderlies killed – Wilson & Cox – two patients killed 15 Casualties.
French house blown down. Shell shocked man. Staff Bennett. Conval. patient. Gilmore a pneumonia wounded in head – recoving
5th. 9 Bombs nearby – none in Camp. Spent most of the night in Slippers & Coat with the films in my pocket.
17 [August] Military Medal – letter from Birdie
Sister Ross-King wrote a more complete account of the bombing some days later:
I went along the duckboards on the way to the tent where Gilmore was when Fritz was caught in the searchlight just above us. Batty caught my arm & pointed up saying “doesn’t he look pretty Sister” Wilson walked on swinging a lantern. Then we heard the whurr of the dropping bomb “Get down get down” cried Batty & dived under the ward table – Though we had been ringed often before we had not been hit & I just ran on after Wilson expecting the bomb to hit the railway line but it fell ahead of me & was followed by 4 others. The noise was so terrific & the concussion so great that I was thrown to the ground & had no idea where the damage was…
Dorothy Cawood, Mary Jane Derrer and Clare Deacon did not write about their experiences on 22 July, but accounts by others who saw them say that they ran to the shattered tents to rescue patients, either carrying them to safety or giving those who could not be moved basins to put over their heads, and placing tables over their beds. They all ignored their patients’ cries to seek shelter in dug-outs. A month after the attack, the commander of 1 ANZAC Corps, General Sir William Birdwood, wrote to inform the four women that they would be awarded the Military Medal for their efforts that night. They were the first Australian nurses to be given this decoration, which had only been extended in June 1916 to include women “showing bravery and devotion under fire”. Dorothy Cawood displayed some diffidence about receiving the highest award for a woman, saying to her parents in a letter, ”Do not blame me for this. It is Fritz’s fault. He will do these dastardly tricks.”
Elizabeth Stewart, Nurses under fire (Wartime issue 50)
The site for Trois Arbres Cemetery was chosen for the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station in July 1916, and Plot 1 and the earlier rows of Plot II, were made and used by that hospital until April 1918.
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