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Discovering Lemnos' Australian Pier

Built by Australian soldiers, the pier was one of the first pieces of infrastructure erected on Lemnos by the Allies

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The Australian Pier today looking out to Mudros Bay, Lemnos. Photo: Dimitris Boulotis (2017)

11 August 2017

Looking out across the beautiful blue expanse of Lemnos' Mudros Bay is wonderful sight, especially on a summer day. A recent visit took to me a rarely used stone and concrete pier that juts into the bay to the north of Mudros Town. Today it has no name and, I am informed, is rarely used.

But 100 years ago nothing could have been further from the truth. In 1915 not only was it a hive of activity but it had a name – the Australian Pier. It was built by Australian soldiers and was one of the first pieces of infrastructure erected on Lemnos by the Allies as they began the transformation of the island into a huge armed camp. A proposal has now been made to recognise this significant piece of engineering history, connecting modern Lemnos to Australia and the Gallipoli campaign.

When the Allies came to Lemnos in early 1915 at the invitation of Greece, they began transforming the island into the advance base of operations for the coming Gallipoli campaign. Soldiers' camps and the location of field hospitals were marked out and erected, supply depots established, roads, piers, and harbour facilities constructed – even a small railway began operation at West Mudros!

Many of the features erected by the Anzacs on Lemnos in 1915 have faded and are only identifiable after serious research. Yes, the war cemeteries on the island where 148 Australians lie buried are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the location of the Australian and other field hospitals on Lemnos can be identified from photographs, but little remains. Some of the engineering work, often rusting and overgrown; can still be identified by the informed eye.

When you travel to Mudros on the eastern shore of Lemnos' Mudros Bay most travellers coming from the western side of the island will make their way through the town, pass the great cathedral of Agios Evangelismos and down to the small harbour front, where you can enjoy a traditional Greek lunch at any one of the local taverns.

Standing at the edge of the harbour, with its memorial to the Anzacs, many a commemorative tourist has imagined the scene in 1915 - when the harbour was filled with all manner of Allied shipping and Greek caiques – and the Allied troops made their landings close to where the tourists are now standing. And indeed many Allied troops did land here. But this is not where the first Australians set foot on Lemnos all those years ago.
Reading through the Anzac archives held in the Australian War Memorial and studying old maps drawn up by Royal Navy surveyors held in the British Library in London, I recently discovered the site where the first Australian troops came ashore in March 1915.

The first body of Australians ashore were men of the 9th Australian Infantry Battalion, soldiers from Queensland, who put ashore just to the north of Mudros Town, along with those of the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance.

It had been 'fine weather' when the Queenslanders had embarked at Brisbane on the 24th September 1914. Sailing around Australia, they had crossed the Indian Ocean with the rest of the first convoy to leave Australia for Egypt. After training in the shadow of the great pyramids, they were ordered to Lemnos in what would become the advance guard of the tens of thousands of diggers and nurses who went to Lemnos.

Commanding Officers of the 9th Battalion and the 1st Australian stationary hospital, with members of 9th Battalion about to break camp on Lemnos before embarking for Gallipoli. Lemnos, April 1915. AWM

According to the Anzac army diaries written at the time, the 9th Battalion and a section of the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance arrived at Mudros Bay and landed at 11am on Saturday 6 March, coming ashore to the north of Mudros Town. The latter contained Private John Simpson who would come ashore on Lemnos and would later be famed as the man with the donkey, before his death on the peninsula. A camp was marked out, both for themselves and the other Australian troops expected to land after them. And so began the transformation of Lemnos into an armed camp.

Lemnos' great Mudros Bay was an ideal location as the base for the huge Allied armada that would assemble for the campaign. Indeed it was easily protected at its narrow entrance and was located close to the Gallipoli peninsula. But one of its deficiencies was the lack of suitable landing stages, piers, and the sorts of harbour facilities a navy required. The Allied commanders surveyed the shores of Mudros Bay for the necessary enhancements they would have to construct, including piers.

The soldiers commenced the erection of the first of these around the 10 March. It was referred to as 'a new, rough stonework pier' and 'a stone approach to [the] new landing pier' and was completed by the end of March. The Australians also constructed a new road from new pier to the main road leading into Mudros Town. The pier would soon be joined by another erected to the south of Mudros Town, the construction of which was started by British Royal Naval Division soldiers on 16 March.

And as they completed their work on the pier, the first Australian field hospital arrived in Mudros Bay and began to land its nearly 200 tons of equipment by row-boat most probably at the same jetty and set up their hospital in an area near the 9th Battalion camp, to the north of Mudros Town, photographs from the time confirm. This all-male hospital, the 1st Australian Stationary Hospital – with a staff largely trained in South Australia - would be the sole army hospital on Lemnos prior to the arrival of the other hospitals in August later in the year.

All this work was done while Lemnos was swept by bad weather. Hurricanes blew down structures; rain fell across the island and gales from the north created such swells in the harbour that communication between the ships became impossible. Most of the troops were confined to their ships.

The poor weather would bring the first of what would become thousands of patients to the staff of the Australian hospital, mostly suffering from the deadly influenza. The first Australian to die on Lemnos was Private Alexander Jones of the 9th Battalion, who was buried at East Mudros Cemetery on the 11 March 1915. He had succumbed to the effects of an overdose of self-administered medication taken in a desperate effort to clear his congestion. Four other Australian soldiers died and were buried on Lemnos prior to the Gallipoli landings, their deaths caused by influenza or pneumonia.

A Google Earth map of Mudros, Lemnos clearly showing the pier on the shoreline to the west of Agios Pavlo.

These soldiers were the first of a huge multinational army that would come to Lemnos throughout 1915. They interacted with its people and transformed the island's infrastructure.

The name of the pier is revealed in a survey map of Mudros Bay completed by British Royal Navy officers in 1916. Located to the north of Mudros Town, near the outline of a small chapel, was drawn a solitary pier jutting into the bay – a pier named the Australian Pier!

And miraculously the pier remains to this day. No doubt it has been improved and reinforced, but its stone foundations were laid here by those Australian soldiers from Queensland in March 1915. The little chapel of Agios Pavlos stands nearby. Walking on this pier today you can imagine the first Australians who came ashore on Lemnos, bent against the rain and wind, as they set about creating the beginnings of the Anzac camps and hospitals on Lemnos.

This connection between Lemnos and Australia through Lemnos' Australian Pier will be in many minds of many Hellenes and others who will gather at the coming Lemnos Gallipoli commemorative service to be held in Albert Park next weekend.

This will be the first service to be held at the recently re-named Lemnos Square, the location of the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial. Following my submission on behalf of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee, and with the support of the City of Port Phillip, the Victoria government's geographic names authority has approved the formal naming of Lemnos Square. This is the first time since the naming of Lemnos near Shepparton in north-east Victoria in 1927 that a location in Australia has been named in honour of the role of Lemnos at the birth of Australia's Anzac tradition.

And so from Lemnos' Australian Pier to Melbourne's Lemnos Square, the Hellenic connection to Anzac has achieved greater recognition.

The naming of Lemnos Square in Albert Park will take place at 11.00 am on Saturday 12 August as part of the annual commemorative service held at the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial, Foote St, Albert Park, VIC by the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee. All welcome.

* Jim acknowledges the assistance of Dimitris Boulotis in the preparation of this article.

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