One of the Australian nurses who served on Lemnos during the Gallipoli campaign is the subject of one of the awards in this year’s Victorian Premier’s Spirit of Anzac Prize winners.
Every year the Victorian Premier’s Spirit of Anzac Prize is awarded to Victorian secondary school students in a competition overseen by the Victorian Minister for Veterans. They are awarded in recognition for their outstanding art and writing projects that build awareness of the contributions made by Australia’s veterans.
The program has been in operation since 2005 and has made awards to over 500 Victorian students. Prior to the current pandemic winners have been given the opportunity to take part in both overseas and Australian study tours connected to Australia’s Anzac story. This year 40 recipients were awarded $2,500 scholarships.
As the Veterans Minister, Shaun Leane, MP, stated in making the awards, “It is wonderful to see these young Victorians ensuring the sacrifices of our veteran community are never forgotten … [the] winners have produced remarkable work across a range of mediums – I congratulate them on their efforts. Students are our future, and it’s important we pass on the significant chapters in our country’s story for the next generation to commemorate.”
In congratulating the winners, Greek-Australian MP, Lee Tarlamis OAM, was particularly interested in the choice of subject by Norwood Secondary College Year 10 student Mai Brice. Mia chose to depict Victorian nurse Sister Rachel Pratt in her painting.
Rachel was born near Heywood in Victoria and completed her nursing training at Ballarat Hospital before moving to Carlton and the Royal Women’s Hospital prior to her enlistment in the Australian Army Nursing Service in 1915, aged 37. She departed Melbourne in May, boarding the transport Mooltan, joining her fellow recruits to the 3rd Australian General Hospital, on a voyage which would take her take her to the northern Aegean Island of Lemnos.
She came ashore in early August with the rest of the nurses and hospital staff on the Turks Head Peninsula, the spit of land jutting into the great harbour of Mudros Bay. Within days Rachel and the other nurses and staff were facing a flood of wounded soldiers from the battlefields of Gallipoli following the recent renewed offensives there.
As I recounted in my book Lemnos & Gallipoli Revealed, we are fortunate that Rachel was one of those Australians on Lemnos who have left an account of their experiences on the Island. Many years later, she recalled her experiences in a memoir published in the NSW RSL journal “Reveillle”.
She wrote of the “state of chaos” as the hospital staff struggled to cope with the increasing numbers of wounded soldiers. Four days after their arrival they were caring for more than 800 patients. It would be days before the hospitals full complement of equipment would arrive. Rachel remembered the lack of beds, mattresses being placed on the ground, blankets used as pillows. Water was in short supply and the food poor. The dressings of the wounded were saturated and covered in flies in the hot summer weather. As the months wore on, Rachel and the staff would see increasing numbers of seriously ill soldiers arrive. Soon dysentery ravaged the staff and then the winter cold brought frostbite injuries to the soldiers, Rachel recalling the sadness of one dying despite the amputation of his gangrene-affected feet.
Yet like many of those who came to Lemnos in those dark days Rachel was able to appreciate the joys of the Island’s natural Aegean attractions. In words that are familiar to anyone who has been fortunate to visit Lemnos, Rachel wrote: “…some beautiful days followed. The harbor was delightful, the waters of the Aegean scarcely showing a ripple. Everything seemed still. The sunsets were glorious, indiscernible, the colour ever changing and always beautiful.”
As the campaign wound to its end, the expected casualties from the evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula thankfully didn’t eventuate. Soon Rachel and her fellow nurses and hospital staff were leaving Lemnos, departing from its shores in January 1916, headed for Egypt. Later she would write of how proud she was of her service and that of her fellow nurses on Lemnos.
The war would take Rachel to France, where she would be severely wounded from shrapnel from an air raid in July 1917. She would recover and continue to serve at medical facilities in England until the end of the war. She would be awarded the Military Medal for her courage and gallantry in the field and promoted to Sister. She returned to Australia in 1919, continued to work in the nursing field but would suffer the ongoing effects of her war injuries. Rachel died at Heidelberg’s Repatriation Hospital in 1954.
How fitting that Rachel’s service has inspired young Mia Brice. In completing her painting Mia’s drew on her own research into Rachel Pratt’s story, her service and her injury in France, the colours of the uniforms of Australian nurses as well as the colours of her medal. Most importantly, as Mia said in her submitting her portrait of Rachel Pratt, “[she] wanted to depict [her] as herself: a humble, noble courageous, persistent woman who chose resilience over surrendering while suffering an injury.”
Mr Tarlamis said that as someone whose Hellenic heritage is on the Island of Lemnos he was very proud that the service of Sister Rachel Pratt was chosen by Mia in commemoration of Australia’s Anzac tradition.
“The service of the Australian nurses on Lemnos during the Gallipoli campaign is an important part of Australia’s Anzac tradition that should never be forgotten. They provided medical care to the wounded and sick Anzacs under what can only be described as awful conditions. Rachel Pratt was one of those nurses and Mia’s excellent creative work helps keep the memory of the nurses on Lemnos and their contribution alive,” he said.
Mr Tarlamis is looking forward to the opportunity to meet Mia to thank her personally for her great work. He encouraged students and schools to participate in this important community program. For more information on the Victorian Premier’s Spirit of Anzac Prize and the list of this year’s winners, visit the Premier’s Spirit of Anzac Prize website.
♦ Jim Claven is a trained historian, freelance writer and author of Lemnos & Gallipoli Revealed: A Pictorial History of the Anzacs in the Aegean 1915-16. His latest publication – Grecian Adventure: Anzac Trail Stories and Pictures – Greece 1941 – will be available early in the New Year. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.