• First Convoy Nurses - 1914

Official Histories – Medical, First Convoy P.36: The Director-General further obtained the permission of the Minister for Defence for nursing sisters of the A.A.N.S. to accompany the force: “on arrival in England, if not otherwise required, they could be handed over to the Imperial authorities for general duty.” The Principle Matron of No. 2 A.G.H. was placed in charge. The reason for this arrangement was that, whereas for British troop-transports there were always available fully trained medical orderlies, the medical personnel, ambulance and regimental, of the A.I.F. were but beginning their training, of which the voyage would form part. P.40: In those transports in which nursing sisters were in charge of a well-equipped hospital, ambulance personnel and the regimental medical detachments worked under them, practical training being supplemented by lectures. 25 Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) Nurses sailed with the first Australian (and NZ) convoy in 1914, distributed over 7 ships. As listed on the Embarkation Rolls: 1. HMAT A2 Geelong embarked Hobart 20/10/14 [with 12th Bn] (2) Sisters A. King and J. Ratcliffe [sic] 2. HMAT A5 Omrah embarked Brisbane 24/9/1914 [with 1st LH Supply Train] (4) Sisters E.M. Paten, J.M. Hart, C.M. Keys and B.M. Williams 3. HMAT A8 Argyllshire embarked Sydney 18/10/14 [with 1st FAB] (2) Sisters A.B. Pocock and C. Marshall 4. HMAT A9 Shropshire embarked Melbourne 20/10/14 [with Divisional Artillery HQ] (3) Sisters E.S. Davidson, M.M. Finlay and E.A. Conyers [Note: Lucy Creasy was also shown to be on board, but didn’t sail as she wasn’t passed fit, and didn’t rejoin until 1916] 5. HMAT A11 Ascanius (2) Matron K. Graham [sic] and Sister L. White embarked Adelaide 20/10/14 [with 10th Bn (2) Sisters Heath and Rogers embarked Fremantle 2/11/14 [with 11th Bn] 6. HMAT A14 Euripides embarked Sydney 20/10/14 [with 1st Inf Bgde HQ] (6) Matron Miss Gould, Sisters J.B. Johnson, J.N.M. Walker, P. Frater, A. Kellett and J. Twynam 7. HMAT A24 Benalla embarked Melbourne 19/10/14 [with 8th Bn] (4) Sisters H.R. Samsing, J.M. Lempriere, J.McH. White and A. Kitchen Nurses full names: 1. Alice Gordon KING and Janet Ella RADCLIFF 2. Eunice Muriel PATEN, Julia Mary HART, Constance Mabel KEYS and Bertha Mary (Billie) WILLIAMS 3. Mary Annie (Bessie) POCOCK and Clementina Hay MARSHALL 4. Ethel Sarah DAVIDSON, Mary MacKenzie FINLAY and Evelyn Augusta CONYERS 5. Margaret GRAHAM and Louise Ellen WHITE; Annie HEATH and Tessa Eleanor Nunn ROGERS 6. Ellen Julia (Nellie) GOULD, Julia Bligh JOHNSTON, Jean Nellie Miles WALKER, Penelope FRATER, Adelaide Maud KELLETT and Alice Joan TWYNAM 7. Hilda Theresa Redderwold SAMSING, Janey McRobie LEMPRIERE, Jessie McHardy WHITE and Alice Elizabeth Barrett KITCHEN [KITCHIN] Note: There were also 4 nurses on board the flag ship, Orvieto. These ladies were members of Dr Bird’s Unit – selected from his private hospital, he took them with him at his own expense. These nurses were: Doris Marion GREEN Adelaide Louisa HARTRICK Minnie Maud McNAB Muriel Alice ROBERTSON ***************** Sister Evelyn Conyers who was travelling on the Shropshire (with Sisters Davidson and Finlay), later recorded the following detail of the journey: I embarked on the 20th October, 1914, on the transport “Shropshire”, with 700 Artillery men, and 450 horses, the latter being carried on five decks. We proceeded to King George’s Sound, the rendezvous appointed for the troops to meet, escorted by the cruisers. We arrived there, and were detained for a week, waiting the arrival of ten transports, carrying New Zealand troops. At 8 o’clock on Sunday morning, the signal was given to lift anchor, and the forty-two vessels steamed out of King George’s Sound, and took up their positions in three divisions, two cables between each boat, and about half a mile between each division. They were convoyed by the “Minotaur”, “Ibouki”, “Sydney” and the ill-fated “Hampshire” brought up the rear. The “Melbourne” was also attached to the convoy, but we did not see her until the day she left us, when she steamed down the lines, with her signals flying a message from Captain Silver, “Good-bye, and good luck at the end of your Voyage!” The convoy extended for five miles and all the boats could be clearly seen. At sunset the cruisers drew in near the convoy, and at sunrise took up their positions on the horizon. As no boats could be left behind, the convoy had to proceed at ten knots an hour, that being the maximum speed of the slowest boat, the “Southern”, which was carrying horses. The ships were in total darkness at night, with the exception of a light on the aft mast, and a light hanging from the stern to show the following transport the position of the boat ahead of her. On the voyage the nursing staff of three were kept busy, assisting the medical officers with vaccinations, and inoculating the troops against typhoid. The Hospital, which had previously been the smoking-room, accommodated fourteen patients, and these beds were always full. Several major operations took place on the voyage, and the sterilizing had to be done with methylated spirit lamp. There was a permanent Hospital on the upper stern deck of the transport, which was used for infectious cases, and twenty cases of measles were accommodated there from time to time. The greatest care possible was taken with the horses, and where practicable, they were exercised daily, coir matting being spread on the decks to prevent them from slipping. The horses stalls were on the deck, and they had a narrow railing across the front, to which the food-bag was attached at meal-times. The leather halters were attached to either side of the stall by steel chains, and the horses slept with their hind-quarters resting against the back of the stall, and the head suspended in the halter. During the night, the horses were frequently heard to fall down, when a picket would immediately rush to the rescue, and the animal would be replaced on its feet. These horses were on their feet in the stalls, with the exception of exercising times, for seven and a half weeks. Twelve succumbed to ships pneumonia, but the remainder were landed at Alexandria in perfect condition, due to the care of Captain McDonald, the veterinary surgeon on board. On the 9th of November, much excitement was caused by seeing the “Sydney” clear her decks for action, stoke up, and disappear over the horizon. She was followed about half an hour later by the “Ibouki”, but the latter returned within half an hour to her former position. As was anticipated, the “Sydney” had received instructions to proceed after the German cruiser, the “Emden”, who had gone in the direction of Cocos Island, to take in coal, and destroy the cables. When the “Sydney” got into action with the “Emden”, wireless messages were transmitted from the wireless station of Cocos Island, and as the attack progressed, much excitement occurred on the forty-two transports of the convoy. There was great rejoicing when the message came through, “The “Emden” has been beached to save herself from sinking, and the “Sydney” is now chasing the collier”. Late that afternoon, the armoured cruisers, “Empress of Russia” and “Empress of Asia” made their appearance, the one to guard the prize, and the other to convey the wounded and German prisoners to Colombo. That night, a message was received up the lines that the “Sydney” and armoured cruiser would be passing the convoy at 4 a.m., but no demonstration was to be made, as they were carrying wounded and dying men. Three days later the convoy arrived outside Colombo Harbour late in the afternoon. When they were anchored, a five funnel Russian Cruiser called the “Bayak” guarded the convoy for the night. The following day the “Shropshire” proceeded into Colombo Harbour, where we saw the damaged “Sydney”. Permission was given for the medical officer, padre, and three members of the nursing staff to spend two hours on shore, and I need not say that the most was made of this opportunity, this being our first visit to the “Gateway of the East.” A motor-car was secured, and we travelled along the sea front, passed the Galle Face Hotel, through the Cinnamon Gardens and native quarters. No time was spent on lunch, and we then visited the bazaars, being on board the transport again, at the end of the allotted span of two hours. On the following morning, the convoy proceeded on her voyage, as we thought to France. There was a few hours delay off Aden, to take in water, and thence to Suez, where we were again held up, waiting to take our turn in passing through the canal. Each transport was fitted with a large searchlight on her bow, and the journey through the canal took eighteen hours. On the Sinai side of the canal were camps of Indian troops, under the charge of British Officers, at frequent intervals, guarding the canal. On arrival at Port Said, we were anchored for the night, and owing to this, large numbers of troops on board had an attack of ptomaine poisoning, due, it was thought, to the fruit and drinks they had purchased from the natives in the boats. On proceeding to the Mediterranean, the thirty-two Australian transports dropped anchor to allow the ten New Zealand transports to dis-embark first at Alexandria, they having been at sea about ten days longer than the Australians, and the Alexandria Harbour would not permit of more than ten transports dis-embarking at one time. Upon our dis-embarkation on the 3rd of December, we were notified by the dis-embarkation Officer that we were to proceed to Cairo by the 12 o’clock mid-day train..... [Source: AANS Nurse Interviews with Matron Kellett, 1919. AWM41 1072] In 1931 Evelyn Conyers again wrote about the journey on the Shropshire, which included the following detail: The second night after leaving Aden we had another taste of trouble. It was 4 o’clock, not yet dawn, when we were awakened by a tremendous crash. The Matron and the other Sister and myself thought we had been torpedoed. We jumped from our bunks, put on dressing-gowns and life-belts, and obeyed the siren that summoned us to boat stations. There came another crash, and the ship heeled over, while the propeller, lifted clean out of the water, raced disconcertingly. Here we had our second glimpse of what the discipline of these young civilian soldiers was, after just a few months of training. They stood in absolutely unbroken, perfect lines, not a man moving, while the lowering of the boats and the disembarkation was arranged. Two men who had been sleeping in hammocks slung from the forward guns were missing, and it was thought they had been swept overboard. The roll was called, and the missing men turned up. The Ascanius had rammed us, striking a glancing blow which stripped the boats from the davits. The well [sic] was sounded, and we were told we were safe. Our concern was largely for the horses which would have had to be left to perish, as it would have been impossible to extricate them. At the height of the disturbance up came the Hampshire and a stentorian voice called – “What the devil are you doing there?” The captain of the Shropshire was taken away by the admiral’s launch for an official inquiry, the result of which we never heard. I remember the incident, not for its own importance, but for the example of perfect discipline it served to show. [Source: The Herald (Melb, Vic), Sat 25 Apr 1931 (p.36)] Heather 'Frev' Ford
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