WORK AT THE AUSTRALIAN CASUALTY CLEARING STATIONS ON THE WESTERN FRONT
CROWN COPYRIGHT: THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES WO222/2134
CROWN COPYRIGHT: THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES WO222/2134
No.1 Australian Casualty Clearing Station opened at Estaires in the 2nd Army in May 1916, with a Nursing Staff of 7, drawn from the staff of No.1 Australian General Hospital.
In May 1917, the C.C.S. moved to Bailleul, where it had a busy time during the battle for Messines ridge, and in July it moved again to Outtersteene, a site near Hazebrouck. Here the work was very heavy during the mustard gas attacks in the Armentieres sector. In October 1917, Colonel Dick the O.C. was transferred to No.1 Australian General Hospital, and Lt.Col. Marks D.S.C. relieved him. On the afternoon of Sept.26th, the vicinity of the C.C.S. was shelled, and one fell at the back of the Officers’ ward, but fortunately did not explode. The patients were evacuated and the Sisters sent to No.2 C.C.S. for the afternoon, but returned later. After this, a concrete dug-out was built in the Sisters’ compound.
In November 1917, the C.C.S. was converted into a Corps Rest Station, and the staff was considerably reduced, but early in March it again became a C.C.S. and the full staff rejoined.
On March 18th 1918, the C.C.S. came under shell fire during the German advance, but the work (which was tremendously heavy) continued through the first days of the retreat, until March 28th, when a removal was ordered owing to an expected enemy attack. The huts and tents were taken down by degrees and re-erected on a site at Hondeghem, further back, the removal being carried out in an orderly way in spite of the shelling. For several days the work was carried out at Hondeghem under great difficulties owing to rain, mud and other conditions, until on April 12th orders were again received to evacuate, as another enemy attack was expected. The Nursing Staff were transported in motor buses to No.10 Stationary Hospital (where they came in for an air-raid that night) and remained there until April 17th, when No.1 Australian C.C.S. opened up at Blendeques, a few miles out of St. Omer. The Sisters were billetted in houses, but they wrote regretfully that they had lost many of their mess comforts during the hasty removal from Hondeghem.
From this time onwards through the summer they remained at Blendeques, until September, when the CCS was moved to St. Venant Asylum in the 5th Army. Here they only remained until October 28th, when the C.C.S. again moved, this time to Fretin beyond Lille, where the Sisters’ quarters were established in a Chateau. Our advance into Germany was now taking place, and on 15.11.18 the unit again moved to Tournai, where it occupied a French Hospital, and again on 8.1.19 to Hal, where it was established in the Convent du Sacre Coeur.
On 27.2.19 a notification was received that the unit was being demobilised and the Sisters were returned to the Base where they were shortly afterwards returned to England with their original base unit.
No.2 Australian Casualty Clearing Station opened on 29.7.16 at Trois Arbres, near Bailleul, 2nd Army. Shortly after it opened, the unit was visited by Surgeon General Howse D.M.S., A.I.F. At Christmas, the Sister-in-Charge wrote that the patients had had a very happy time, which was not even spoilt by the fact that a gale blew down the Recreation tent after the final touches had been put to its decorations! Each man received a tin of treasures from the Australian Red Cross, and they had many good things sent out from home.
During the Spring the work was normal, but in May and June 1917, it became heavier, and additional staff was sent up from No.2 Australian General Hospital, increasing the Nursing Staff to 14. In July, the Sister-in-Charge wrote that they had 3 operating tables in use throughout the day, and usually two at night. During July and August almost 2000 operations were performed in this unit alone. It was in July that the C.C.S. was bombed, and the 4 Sisters were awarded the Military Medal (see para.20.) At this period also the C.C.S. received many patients from the mustard gas attacks. The Sister-in-Charge wrote “Mustard oil shells are being used by the enemy, in consequence of which we receive many patients with burns therefrom, the eyes specially being much inflamed. At times, large blisters form on the body”.
In September the C.C.S. was under shell fire several times and once a large piece of shell pierced the roof of the theatre, and bent the operating table, but fortunately no one was operating at the time. Night bombing raids were also quite frequent. A bomb-proof shelter was built for the Sisters who slept there on moonlight nights. The heavy work continued up to the end of the year, and a great deal of night work was done, it being quite a usual thing for 2 or 3 surgical teams to work through the night.
On 11.3.18 hostile shelling was closer than usual, and orders ere given for the unit to pack up preparatory to a move. All the patients were evacuated and the Nursing Staff left in motor ambulances for 10 Stationary Hospital. On 5.4.18 the C.C.S. returned to a new site, Ana Jana, near Hazebrouck, and on the 9th, work commenced with a great rush. On the 12th, after only 3 ½ days work at this new Hospital, during which over 1000 cases had been received, orders were given to pack up again, and to be ready to move off by nightfall. The report of the Sister-in-Charge says: “All worked up to the last minute and patients were quickly evacuated. We Sisters, left on this occasion in an old London double-decker bus, Sisters on top, and all out luggage stowed inside. This journey, again to No.10 Stationary Hospital was anything but a pleasant one. The roads were extremely bad, traffic very heavy and the sight of hundreds of refugees streaming along, carrying their all, was heart-rending.” On the same night there was a terrible air-raid over St. Omer, many civilians killed, and buildings wrecked.
On 17.4.18 No.2 Australian C.C.S. re-opened at Blendeques and work commenced on the 26th, though with not quite such a tremendous rush as there had been at Ana Jana. Anzac Day (April 26th) was celebrated by a Church Service in the morning and sports in the afternoon.
In September 1918, the units moved (with No.1 Australian C.C.S.) to the Asylum at St. Venant and was taken over by the 5th Army. From there they moved on 12.10.18 to Nouveau Monde, near Estaires, but did not remain there long, as the Army was rapidly advancing. On 14.11.18 they moved to Tournai where they occupied the Asylum building, and on 18.12.18 they moved once more, to Ath, where they established themselves in a civil Hospital. On 27.2.19 orders were received for the unit to hand over to a British Field Ambulance and to proceed to the Base for demobilisation. A staff of British Sisters took over the Hospital, and the Australian Sisters rejoined their Base units, prior to being demobilised.
No.3 Australian C.C.S. opened in November 1916 at Gezaincourt (on the old site of 11 C.C.S.) with a staff of 7 Sisters. The O.C. was Lt. Colonel Corbin. The Sisters were accommodated in the Hospice at Gezaincourt together with the staff of 29 C.C.S.
The Matron-in-Chief visited the unit on 11.12.16 with Miss Conyers R.R.C. Matron-in-Chief A.I.F. and the following is an extract from her report: “The O.C. spoke in the highest terms of the work both of the Australian and British Sister during the recent rush. He said he had not thought it possible for women to do such work. Two huts are in course of erection, one for operating theatre, and serious operation cases, and another for serious medical cases.”
From Gezaincourt they moved to Edgehill, where the work became very heavy, and in March 1917, the D.M.S. applied for the Nursing Staff to be made up to 12 saying “This C.C.S. is in immediate touch with the front, and received constant accessions of wounded of a serious type”. At Edgehill the unit came under shell fire, but fortunately neither patients nor staff suffered. Later the C.C.S. moved from Edgehill to Grevillers, but the Hospital was again shelled, and the Nursing Staff were evacuated to other units.
On August 1st, a staff of 25, (including 4 Surgical teams) rejoined the unit at its new site at Brandhoek. Here the Hospital came in for some very heavy work, and a number of visiting surgical teams were constantly attached, so that the staff was almost as large a that of a Stationary Hospital. The heavy work continued throughout October, and on the 18th, the D.M.S. wired for 3 more Sisters, who were immediately sent.
Miss O’Dwyer (Sister-in-Charge) wrote that the numbers of deaths in less than a month had been over 260, and as she was anxious to write to the relatives of each man, the extra work entailed was tremendous.
In the New Year, the work became lighter, and the Staff was reduced to 15. During the 3rd week in March increased shell fire took place day and night. The shells became closer, the nearest falling 35 yards from the Sisters’ Mess. On April 11th, the Nursing Staff was ordered to No.10 Stationary Hospital, as the C.C.S. was closing, and they remained there until the 20th when the unit opened on a new site at Esquelbecq, and 8 of the Staff rejoined. The remainder returned on 27.4.18, by which time the huts and messing arrangements were complete. The Sister in Charge reported that the staff had worked magnificently and cheerfully during all this trying time.
During August, the Hospital had a rush of surgical work and 3 or 4 teams were working day and night. A good many Americans were amongst the wounded and the Sisters remarked what cheerful patients they were. In September, the unit moved to Bandaghem, and from there in October to Dadizeele, about 6 miles from Menin. Whilst at Bandaghem, the camp was inspected by General Plumer, Army Commander, accompanied by General Guise-Moores D.M.S.
At Dadizeele, the work became heavy straight away, the patients arriving faster than the wards could be got ready for them. In addition to the heavy surgical work, the influenza epidemic was at this time very severe, and several sisters had to be evacuated suffering from it. On November 12th (the day after the Armistice) the Hospital moved forward to Audenarde, and on December 19th, they again advanced this time to Euskirchen in Germany. Here they took over from No.1 Canadian C.C.S., where the Hospital was established in a fine building, with central heating etc. During January, the work was fairly light, but in February the renewed influenza epidemic kept the Sisters busy. In April, orders were received to demobilise No.3 Australian Casualty Clearing Station, and the first week in May the last of the Nursing Staff arrived at the Base, preparatory to being demobilised.
E. M. McCarthy
Matron-in-Chief, British Troops in France and Flanders