On 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the Matron-in-Chief of the BEF noted in her diary – “intensely busy all day office, not left at all in consequence of constant demands by telephone for help everywhere.” (National Archives UK WO95/3989)
On this day there were four graduate nurses of Newcastle Hospital serving on the Western Front.
Sister Blanche Cresswick ARRC was with No 1 Australian General Hospital (AGH) at Rouen racecourse, the location of a large number of Allied base hospitals some 100 kms from the battlefield. On 1 July the hospital had admitted just 2 patients. As the wounded began to arrive via ambulance trains No 1 AGH admitted 527 wounded on 2 July and 452 on 3 July. And so the hundreds of casualties continued to pour in …
Staff Nurse Lydia Abell ARRC, serving with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR), was with No 2 Ambulance Barge. This form of evacuation was slower than rail but gentler to casualties especially those suffering head wounds.
Matron Ida Greaves RRC and her sister Staff Nurse Susan Greaves were both at Wimereux on the Channel coast with No 32 Stationary Hospital formerly the Australian Voluntary Hospital (AVH) – that very day taken over by the British army in consequence of the gradual decline in donations that had supported the AVH thus far. This was not a reflection on the performance of the hospital which had been in the field since late August 1914, rather a result of the proliferation of organisations such as battalion comfort funds, the Girls Patriotic Leagues, the Australian branch of the Red Cross and numerous others that were all vying for funding.