The Greek island of Lemnos, situated in the northern part of the Aegean Sea and about 50 miles from Turkey and the Dardanelles, was used as a staging post for the assembly of troops and ships to be used in the Gallipoli campaign. In April 1915, the deep-water harbour at Mudros was packed with about 200 vessels massed for the impending invasion.
Given the nature of the harsh terrain and the narrow strip of land that the Allied troops held on the Dardanelles peninsula, treating and caring for the wounded close to the front was not possible hence the men had to be evacuated on flat-bottom boats and then transferred to hospital ships waiting offshore for transportation to hospitals in Egypt and Malta. The close proximity of Lemnos was attractive, but the island lacked suitable medical facilities, so was intended initially to deal with light cases, i.e. those classified as likely to be well within twenty-eight days. But the rush of wounded from the early August offensive and the flood of sick that followed in late August, September and October necessitated its development as an intermediate military medical base. In the second half of 1915, the Australians set up a number of tented hospitals alongside the British and Canadian units:
The 3rd Australian General Hospital (photograph right), commanded by Thomas Henry Fiaschi, left Circular Quay Sydney on the RMS Mooltan on 15th May 1915. The unit arrived in England on 27th June 1915, expecting to be posted to France. However, on 1st July, the commanding officer was informed that they would instead be deployed to Mudros, where it opened in August 1915 with 1,040 beds, but later expanded to 1,700 beds. When 3rd AGH first started admitting patients, the majority were wounded men from the August offensive, and it was these patients the hospital had been set up for, with operating theatres and surgeons on the staff. In later months, nearly all the patients were ill with either dysentery or paratyphoid. The staff of the hospital also fell ill, though the nurses suffered less, probably by practising better hygiene. In late November and December, the casualties changed again – troops were caught in freezing weather on the Peninsula without adequate clothing, and many were admitted to the hospitals on Lemnos suffering from severe frostbite.
The No.1 Australian Stationary Hospital, originally located with the A.I.F. camp at Maadi, Egypt, then moved to East Mudros. It later moved to the Anzac sector at Gallipoli in November 1915. The No.2 Australian Stationary Hospital (photograph left) was originally located at Mena Camp in Egypt, where it was concerned with the treatment of venereal diseases. It moved to East Mudros in June 1915, but with the rush of sick from the Peninsula, a late effort was made to develop Lemnos as an intermediate military medical base. As part of that reorganisation, No. 2 Australian Stationary Hospital was moved to West Mudros, landing on 4th August 1915 – a day before 3rd AGH – on ‘a bare and roadless hillside’. On the 16th, 12 nurses from 3rd AGH replaced at the Stationary Hospital the personnel of the 30th British Field Ambulance who left for the Peninsula. Nurses from the Canadian Stationary Hospitals and 3rd AGH were regularly detached to the hospital. The hospital originally had 624 beds, but by September/October 1915, No. 2 Australian Stationary Hospital occupied sixty large marquee-tents, and had 1,200 beds and 25 nursing sisters, making some 130 Australian nurses now on the island.
In addition to the hospitals the Australians had a rest camp at Sarpi (photograph right) across a shallow inlet from the hospitals, which became a convalescent depot. In the first relief of the Australian formations between 11th-17th September some 5,500 men in all — remains of three brigades — had gone to the Sarpi relief camp. Instead of two weeks, it was two months before these resting troops were fit to return.
The last Australians were evacuated from Gallipoli on the night of 19th/20th December, and many spent Christmas on Lemnos while waiting for further orders. With the end of the Gallipoli campaign, the hospitals on Lemnos were disbanded. The nurses boarded the hospital ship Oxfordshire on 14th January 1916, and sailed out of the harbour at Mudros on 17th January, bound for Egypt.
For further information on the hospitals, and accounts from nurses based on the island, visit Through These Lines – the published research from an original Australian play based on the letters and diaries of Australian army nurses serving in WWI.