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The first Armistice Day – “the dead are still dead and will not return”.

SePoppy1en through the eyes of nurses and medics, the war was far from over when the Armistice came into effect.  The fighting might have stopped, but efforts to care for the wounded, sick and dying continued with an added poignancy.

Newcastle Hospital graduate Sister Amy Mathews was serving on the Western Front on 11 November 1918.  Read about her experiences in her own words –  “I was in the Resuscitation Ward, and it was extremely sad.”

Sister Anne Donnell, a nurse from Adelaide, was working in a convalescent hospital near London at the time.  In her diary she noted, “November 11 Monday – The Armistice is signed – The guns went off at midday – There’s a certain amount of quiet excitement with most of us – some are overjoyed – I wish I could feel happy – but I’m terribly depressed – am thinking of Ross & Stewart – & how things have changed.” (Diary of Anne Donnell, MLMSS 1022/Box 2 Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.)

Sister Elsie Tranter from Melbourne was nursing an 18-year-old boy – “One very young, fair-haired boy … was practically dying when we went on duty in the morning.  When the noise started at 11 a.m. he wanted to know the meaning of it –  he thought it was the commencement of another barrage.  When we told him that the war was over he seemed unable to realise it.  During that last few hours remaining to him, he called out frequently asking, ‘Is the war really over? ‘ Won’t I have to go back?’  He seemed so happy each time we reassured him.  This poor little lad finished his battle to survive towards evening. …  We did not feel able to enter fully into the meaning and joy of the Armistice.  The dead are still dead and will not return.” (Quoted in Susanna de Vries, Australian Heroines of World War One, Pirgos Press 2013.)

“All I saw was the King and many blurred figures standing about”- from Newcastle Hospital to Buckingham Palace

It was Royal Red Crossa long journey, and took Matron Ida Greaves RRC, a graduate of Newcastle Hospital, via the battlefields of northern France and the Australian Voluntary Hospital (AVH).  This is the story of the day on which she was presented with the Royal Red Cross by George V, in her own words and related documents made available by her descendants:

“There was quite a big crowd outside the Palace Gates which gave us a reception … it was just 11a.m. and we were soon allowed through the gates, through the Archway, across the Quadrangle and then pulled up under the Portico, when several attendants in scarlet uniform opened the car door and bowed us on to a gorgeous rose coloured carpet … At the door leading into the room where the King was, the Lord Chamberlain stood and took your card commanding you to be  there and you were once again checked on the roll.  At the other side of the door stood a Lord in Waiting who intimated when to advance towards the King when your name was read out.  The King stood in the middle of the room next to a table, dressed in Khaki.  When our turn arrived he came and stood in front of the table and we advanced to him and curtsied, then he slipped the decoration on to a clip which had previously been attached to our dress in the corridor, shook hands and said he was very pleased to give it to us and smiled so nicely.  We curtsied again and backed out of the door into the corridor again which fortunately was not far.  It was an awful moment, all I saw was the King and many blurred figures standing about. …

Invitation to attend presentation of the Royal Red Cross at Buckingham Palace.  Reproduced courtesy Greaves family.

Invitation to attend presentation of the Royal Red Cross at Buckingham Palace. Reproduced courtesy Greaves family. Click on image to enlarge.

To-night the Colonel and I are invited to dine with General Sawyer something to do with the decorations I understand.  Tomorrow night the Sisters are giving me a dinner here, quite a big affair and a small play afterwards written by one of the Sisters.  That ought to be great fun but the dinner I am not looking forward to am deadly afraid they will expect me to make a speech.”

See also “No ordinary set of medals”

Menu for dinner in honour of Matron Greaves' award of the Royal Red Cross.   Reproduced courtesy  Greaves family.

Dinner in honour of Matron Greaves’ award of the Royal Red Cross – the illustration at the top of the menu depicts the Royal Red Cross between the Australian and British flags. As a compliment to Ida one of the desserts has been named “Gelee Newcastle”. Reproduced courtesy Greaves family. Click on image to enlarge.

Matron Ida Greaves and an officer.  Note the ribbon of the Royal Red Cross on the left side of the cape.  This photo was taken after 1 July 1916 when the AVH had been absorbed into the Royal Army Medical Corps, as Ida is wearing the uniform of the British nursing service.  Photo courtesy Greaves family archive.  Click on image to enlarge.

Matron Ida Greaves and an officer. The ribbon of the Royal Red Cross can just be seen on the left side of the cape – this would have been worn for “every day” with the cross itself reserved for ceremonial occasions. This photo was taken in 1918, after the AVH had been absorbed into the Royal Army Medical Corps – Ida is wearing the uniform of the British nursing service, Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve. Photo courtesy Greaves family archive. Click on image to enlarge.

More about the medals of Matron Ida Greaves RRC

Friend and fellow researcher Ed Tonks has pointed out to me just how special these medals are (see previous post for a photo) – the 1914 Star is very rare, with only approximately 123 awarded to Australians including a small number from Matron Ida Greaves’ unit, the Australian Voluntary Hospital.  Not to be confused with the 1914-15 Star which is much more common.

The oak leaf on Matron Greaves’ Victory Medal ribbon denotes Mention In Despatches.  Ed tells me that although Ida Greaves was mentioned three times, irrespective of how many mentions, only one oak leaf emblem was to be worn.  The first mention, which preceded the award of the Royal Red Cross was as follows:

Despatch of J.D.P. French, Field Marshall, Commanding-in –Chief the British Army in the field, dated 5 April 1915 for gallant and distinguished service in the field.

 

Purchasing copies of “Sisters of the Valley”

Visitors to this website have enquired regarding buying a copy of “Sisters of the Valley – First World War Nurses from Newcastle and the Hunter region”.  You can download an order form from the website of the Royal Newcastle Hospital Graduate Nurses’ Association –  www.rnhgna.com or call in to Local Studies at Newcastle Public Library, Laman Street, Newcastle.

ANZAC Day in London

I happened to be in London last week and was able to attend the ANZAC Day commemoration – this consisted of a wreath laying at the Cenotaph in Whitehall and a service in Westminster Abbey. In the vastness of the Abbey, the Last Post was even more haunting than usual.  The Turkish consul read the words of Kemal Ataturk – “You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.” – these words always reduce me to tears – why do human beings have to wade through rivers of blood before arriving at a realization of our shared humanity?