• C L Despard

  • British War Medal
  • Victory Medal
Stories and comments
    • Charlotte Letitia Despard
    • Posted by ResearchBuff, Sunday, 21 March 2021

    Born Letitia Charlotte on 25/2/1872 Mortlake, Victoria, to Samuel Doppin Despard (d1900 aged 96, Yarram, Victoria) and Ann nee Grogan (d1907 aged 81, Alberton, Victoria) who likely emigrated from Ireland around 1860. Siblings: William Francis b c1857 Kings County, Ireland; d1937 Northcote, Vic Joseph Grogan b1862, d1915 Alberton, Vic George Halahan b1864, d1959 Malvern, Vic Gertrude Sophia West b1866, d1937 East Coolgardie, WA Francis Greene b1867, d1867 aged 6mths, Vic Henry Michael b1869, d1959 Yarram, Vic Charlotte undertook nurse training and from 1906 she operated 'Nottingham House' a private hospital in Newcastle WA, resigning in 1910 to take charge of Perth Public Hospital (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/26301534). In 1913 she become the Matron at Toodyay, Beverley and Greenbushes Hospital, WA (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/159461515). Matron Despard was a dedicated nurse who was always willing to assist sick or injured community members, it is therefore not surprising that she wanted to nurse wounded servicemen (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/25684383; https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/34486684; https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/217998912; https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/217996885; https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/217999064). Charlotte enlisted with the AIF in April 1915 stating her age to be 39 years (she would have been 43). On call-up she was granted leave of absence from Greenbushes Hospital meaning that her position would be held open for her until she returned from service (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/210275556). With seven other nurses she set sail from Freemantle on the RMS Mooltan on 15/5/1915, with the expectation of sailing to England as they had been loaned to the QAIMNS-R. A shortage of nurses in Egypt meant that one month later on an extremely hot morning the nurses disembarked at Suez, and after a six hour wait, travelled by train to Alexandria. Here she was in charge of a 60-bedded surgical ward in the 15 British General Hospital (15BGH) (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/57794075) established in a former school building with the capacity for over 1000 patients. (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/15630450). Charlotte’s next working environment was the hospital ship Guildford Castle that transported the sick and injured from Suvla Bay to Egypt and Malta. Whilst at sea she became sick with malaria and biliary colic and therefore a six-month period of rest and home service at Colchester Hospital was recommended (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/159461515). Returning to Egypt in April 1916 she was posted to work at 17 General Mustapha camp, a convalescent hospital in Alexandria but recurrent illness necessitated her being invalided to Australia. Along with QAIMNS-R Sister Manson and former QAIMNS-R Staff Nurse Vicars-Foote they sailed on the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) steam ship Mongolia. Unfortunately, on the 23/6/1917 the Mongolia on which they were passengers struck a mine off the coast of Bombay resulting in some lives being lost (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/20166498). She recalls the event, "One June 23rd, at 12.15 p.m., we were sitting on the deck of the Mongolia. Some of the passengers were playing deck quoits, others reading or working, expecting to reach Bombay at 5 p.m. that evening. Suddenly there was a terrific explosion, follow-ed by another. Most of us were thrown from our chairs, others who were standing were thrown on their faces. One of the passengers broke his leg in the fall. A number of the passengers, ignorant of the fact, that there was a large box containing life belts on deck, rushed down to their cabins for them. It was almost pitch dark along the passage ways and in the cabins, and the hissing and roaring of the escaping steam was horrible. Also there was hot water dripping as we passed along. It has been said since that one of the main steam pipes burst in the explosion. We reached the boat deck, and all stood waiting for the boats to be lowered. There was no panic, everyone was outwardly calm, but each face looked the colour of death. The boats were lowered quickly, and ours got down without a hitch, one boat I believe upset in the launching, but the people in her were all picked up. The ropes of another boat had to be cut, but reach-ed the water safe and sound. The getting off of the boats was indeed highly creditable to the ship's officers and crew It was a very anxious time getting away from the scene of disaster, the danger of floating wreck-age being considerable. Of the behaviour of the Lascar crew, personally I am scarcely in a position to speak, as there were none in our boat only a few of the Genoese stewards, who seemed almost paralysed with fear, consequently of little use, but many of the men passengers told us that the Lascar crew worked well in launching the boats. The fact that the Mongolia sunk in 10 minutes from the time she struck, and considering the boats were all clear of her by that time proves that there must have been an efficient crew. It was sad to see the lovely boat sink in the waves. "Being the monsoon season there was a heavy sea, but we were fortunate in having men in our boat with a life-long sea-fearing experience, three of them belonging to the Mongolia, the bosun quarter-master and baggage steward. Also, among the passengers were men with similar experience, and who all worked with their might to man the boat. After some hours sailing we sighted land and made towards it. It was then getting dark, and on getting closer to the shore, there seemed to be a lot of reefs. It was a matter of choosing between two evils, spending the night on the sea, where the swell was in-creasing, or risking being dashed on the rocks. However, our 'wise old salts' decided on the latter, and I am thankful to say our boat got in with-out mishap. Some of those who followed us in, were not so fortunate, their boats being swamped and the occupants thrown into the surf. The beach on which we landed is said to be part of the mainland 45 miles from Bombay. We afterwards learned that the small village close by was called Velas. General Sir Robert and Lady Anderson, of Sydney, were among the party. General Anderson took charge of the party, and some of the men set out to look for a village further on. "We had plenty of ship's biscuits and water, but the natives seemed very loathe to have anything to do with us, perhaps it was their first experience of white people. As we had sick and injured people among us, some of the party managed to get some fowls and rice from the village. One poor fellow (a boiler maker) was so terribly scalded that he died about an hour after we landed. The advance party meantime had found the village of Digghi, and the Nawab of Jangorira very kindly supplied them with food and clothing, and sent wine and comforts back to our party, also arranging to send guides and litters for the sick and injured. On the morning of the 25th we set out for Digghi, 8 miles distant. It was a long walk, but through beautiful country, like one great garden, beautiful trees, palms, creepers and flowers. When we reached Digghi, the Nawah had sent his representative to meet us and we were given tea and biscuits, there was also wine, etc., for those who preferred it. We then embarked on a dhow, which look us aboard a mine sweeper. We were most kindly given food, and the officers put their cabins at the diposal of the women of the party. There were also doctors sent out with medical comforts for the sick. The next morning we left for Bombay about 6 o'clock, and arrived there at mid-day. There we were very well received and treated. The P. and O. provided each passenger with money for clothes, and ar-ranged for their accommodation at the best hotels." (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/159609401) After two years’ service with the imperial forces and a frightening seafaring experience, Charlotte arrived back in Freemantle via Melbourne per ss Dimboola on 14/9/1917 (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/27311444). Having lost all her belongings with the sinking of the Mongolia she resumed her former position at Greenbushes Hospital. By 1921 she was Matron at Yarloop Hospital (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/87051860) after which she undertook several relief matron and staff nurse positions for the WA Medical Department working in the Merredin, Coolgardie and Menzies hospitals and a convalescent home (NAA: PP13/1, C29446;). On retiring from the workforce in 1936 (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/218004371) she was initially awarded a civilian pension. Following an extensive assessment of her service, health, and financial status (she had no other income, savings or assets and her service record was missing) she was granted in April 1938, a fortnightly war pension (NAA: PP13/1, C29446). Assisted by the Menzies RSL sub-branch, she also awarded due service medals (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/257014957/28611620). 1940 relocated from Perth to Leederville, WA and died in hospital on 31/8/1945. She is buried at Karrakatta Cemetery, Nedlands (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/968784).