On 10 August 1915 Kathleen Lillie Doyle AANS was sharing a tent with her friend and colleague Biddy Donnelly along with an assortment of less welcome companions including flies, burrs, spiders and stones. The tent in question was pitched on the Aegean island of Lemnos, described in Kathleen’s diary entry for the day as a “horrible place much dirt, prickles and flies”. Kathleen loved camping, but not like this.
Kathleen had just come off night duty as a nurse with No 3 Australian General Hospital (AGH). No 3AGH was a unit of the Australian Army Medical Corps and as such a component of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). It had been sent to Lemnos – a large forward base for allies Britain and France – to care for casualties from the August offensive on the Gallipoli peninsula, a few hours sailing time away.
The night shift at hospitals at home in Australia could be a relaxing time. Kathleen cast her mind back to her training years at Sydney Hospital – patients settled down for the night with cups of cocoa, regular rounds of the ward with a torch to check on the sleepers, reassure the restless and provide drinks for the feverish. In between, perhaps the opportunity to read over the notes from the day’s lectures or even to have a cat nap. More recently, as the Matron of Coonabarabran Hospital, a country hospital staffed by herself, a probationer or two and a married couple to cook and do the gardening she had responsibility for no more than a dozen or so patients at a time.
Here on night duty in Ward I.2 – two bell tents and a marquee – Kathleen had the care of seventy or so wounded men fresh from the mud, flies and bloodshed of Gallipoli, some hovering between life and death – one who in his delirium had called her Ruby throughout the night. Others who begged her to write to their mothers.
There was little comfort for the nurses as they came off night duty – by whatever circumstances of military bungling the equipment for No 3AGH was yet to arrive on Lemnos. It would be another ten days before Kathleen and her colleagues had beds and floor coverings for their own tents, another six weeks before they could say they had got their tents comfortable. The summer heat was so great in those early days on Lemnos that, according to Kathleen’s colleague Sister Elsie Pidgeon, “the night nurses had to lie out in the open with wet towels on” in order to get any rest. When Kathleen and her friend Nell Leake finished their stint of night duty at the end of August, it is not surprising that she notes in her diary – “last night on night duty. Leake and I had a party.”
Sources: Diary of Kathleen Lillie Doyle, AWM 3DRL 3170; Nurses’ narratives [Sister Pidgeon] AWM41 1023
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© Christine Bramble 2013