While we are all coping with the current coronavirus crisis and the lockdown, we all rightly thank those brave medical staff who are working everyday to treat those of us in the community suffering with this deadly disease. The care and dedication of our medical staff – doctors, nurses and orderlies – is truly amazing.
This Anzac Day we make a special mention of the Anzac medical staff who cared for the sick and wounded in Greece over one hundred years ago on Lemnos and across the Salonika Front.
Hundreds of Australian medical staff served on these two fronts. Three Australian hospitals served on Lemnos during the Gallipoli campaign – the 1st Australian Stationary Hospital which drew many of its personnel from South Australia, the 2nd Australian Stationary Hospital who drew its staff mostly from Western Australia and the 3rd Australian General Hospital whose staff came from across Australia – as well as other medical units and those who served on the hospital ships that plied the Aegean Sea transporting the sick and wounded to safety and care.
There were 130 nurses which served on Lemnos, along with medical officers and hundreds of orderlies. These include Captain Thomas Anderson from Geelong, Staff Nurse Evelyn Hutt from Tasmania and Staff Nurse Lucy Daw from Adelaide, who served on Lemnos from August 1915 to January 1916. They both left behind a great legacy for future generations in their photographic collections documenting their time on Lemnos. These hospitals brought state-of-the-art medical services to Lemnos and its people, with many local villagers being treated at the Australian hospitals.
Just as today’s medical staff face health dangers in treating their patients, so the staff at these fronts faced life-threatening dangers. Not only was the Island’s Allied base attacked by enemy aircraft, but many medical staff faced the constant danger of falling ill with the diseases that were rampant on the front – dysentery and pneumonia. Most of the Australian soldiers buried on Lemnos died of illness and not wounds. Many medical staff became ill and some had to be repatriated with their patients for care off Lemnos. While no Australian medical personnel died, two Canadian nurses did die of pneumonia and are buried on Lemnos. As part of Lemnos’ annual Gallipoli commemorative service, these nurses are honored each year by the local representatives of the Hellenic Red Cross.
Those hundreds of Australian nurses who served on the Salonika Front faced similar dangers – of enemy bombing attacks and disease.
There were 32 New Zealand medical staff – including 10 New Zealand nurses – that were among the 167 killed as their transport was torpedoed and sunk as it sailed to Thessaloniki harbour in October 1915. They have a special memorial at the city’s Mikra Military Cemetery – which also holds the remains of the only Australian nurse to die in Greece during the First World War, Ballarat’s Sister Gertrude Munro. She succumbed to pneumonia in late 1918, during the flu epidemic that swept the world towards the end of the war. Gertrude’s medals are on display at the Ballarat RSL and how fitting that last year Melbourne’s Hellenic community erected the George Devine Treloar Memorial in her home town.
The commemoration of the nurses who served in the First World was given special recognition on Lemnos a few years ago. In 2015 a new Nurses Memorial was unveiled by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission at the Portianos Military Cemetery, the driving forces behind this great initiative being the then Canadian Ambassador to Greece, His Excellency Robert Peck. It was my pleasure to assist the Ambassador in researching the Canadian nursing story on Lemnos and to guide him around the Island’s Gallipoli campaign sites.
Since 2015 major efforts have been made to recognise these medical staff in Australia. The Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial was unveiled at Lemnos Square in Albert Park, featuring a statue of an Australian nurse with a sick Australian soldier. This has been followed by other memorials to Lemnos in Adelaide and Sydney. An annual service is held at the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial at which the service of the medical staff on Lemnos is always acknowledged. And the Committee is so proud to have the family of Evelyn Hutt along with Ms Arlene Bennett, Australian Nurses Memorial Centre President, as members and Colonel Jan McCarthy, ARRC, (Retired), the President of the Victorian Nurses RSL as one of our patrons.
One of the anomalies of medical service on Lemnos I recently discovered is its exclusion from the awarding of the Gallipoli Medallion. This Medallion was instituted in the 1960’s by the then Holt Government for those who served in the Gallipoli campaign. Unfortunately the Government of the day excluded Lemnos (and Imbros and Tenedos) and the surrounding waters – and the Australian military personnel who served there – from the award of the Medallion. Last year, the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee made a successful submission for this condition to be reviewed. We are hopeful that this review will extend the Medallion to those who served on Lemnos (and the other excluded locations), including the 130 Australian nurses and many doctors and hundreds of orderlies who served there.
This year’s Anzac Day is special. There will be no public commemorations due to the need to keep our community safe. Our commemoration will this year be special – we will remember in private those who served. Some have suggested people stand outside their homes at an appointed time.
Let’s dedicate this Anzac Day to the medical staff who have protected our service personnel in time of war – and those who protect us today. So here are three cheers to the Australian medical staff on Lemnos and at Salonika – and those who serve us all today in the face of our current community crisis.
* Jim Claven is a trained historian, freelance writer and has been Secretary of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee since its establishment in 2011. He is the author of the recently published book, ‘Lemnos and Gallipoli Revealed: A Pictorial History of the Anzacs in the Aegean 1915-16’. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.