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Nurses' stories – photographs of Lemnos

Lance Corporal Archibald Barwick and the Island of Lemnos

Archie Albert Barwick, who joined the First AIF in Sydney in late August 1914 and was number 914, served right through the war on Gallipoli and on the Western Front. He returned to Australia in December 1918. On Gallipoli, Lance Corporal Barwick kept a diary, some of which may have been written in retrospect. This lasted from the landing of 25 April to the evacuation of his unit—the 1st Battalion, AIF—on the nights of 16-17 December 1915. Sections of his diary deal with his time on the island of Lemnos. He was there three times—the first before the landing, the second in October during a rest period for the 1st Battalion, and the last after the evacuation and before the battalion was shipped back to Egypt. The diary is very readable but Barwick used virtually no punctuation. For ease of reading this has been supplied but those who wish to experience Barwick’s unedited text should consult the original in the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales at ML MSS 1493, items 1 and 2.

At the end of his first diary book, kept between 22 August 1914 and 11 September 1915, Barwick wrote this about his account of Gallipoli:

I must now close this book at this stage. I will write the rest of my experiences in another one. Everything in this is absolutely true as far as I can remember there are no lies in it and anyone reading it can believe what’s written. It has been a task but I have stuck at it and am about full of it for a time. I hope all at home will find something of interest in it for them, for that is the reason why I wrote it. I must now finish, my next job will be to get it home safe. I don't like trusting it through the mail, but I must find some plan.

[Barwick diary, 22 August 1914-c.11 September 1915, p.186]

Lemnos before the landing

Arrival

EnlargeMudros harbour
Mudros Harbour. [AW Savage, photo album, PXE 698, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales]

We arrived at Lemnos, a Greek island, taken over by the British along with Imbros at the outbreak of the war. The entrance to Mudros Harbour was netted [against submarines], so a destroyer came and showed us the way in. A lot of us thought we had arrived at the Dardanelles when we were sailing into the harbour. When we got round the last headland we could see the harbour was a mass of ships and warships of Great Britain, France and Russia were there, including ‘big Lizzie’ [the dreadnought battleship, HMS Queen Elizabeth]. What a monstrous sight she looked with her big guns pointed straight in front of her.

[Barwick diary, 22 August 1914-c.11 September 1915, p.92]

Allies

We were also taken on Lemnos for a march several times. It was here that we first came in contact with the French and this much I must say about them that finer and more good-hearted chaps I never met. They would do anything for us and we got on well with them and the more I have seen of the French the better I like them. They are very poplar right through with the Australians and New Zealanders.

[Barwick diary, 22 August 1914-c.11 September 1915, pp.93-94]

The Greek island

Lemnos is a one horsed place. It is very mountainous and steep. It has scarce a tree on the whole island though when we were first there the grass and clover were lovely and there were plenty of wild flowers growing everywhere. We enjoyed the little visits there then, there are little villages scattered all over it. They are built of stone, for this is a place where they say that wood is worth a £1 a lb.

[£ is the old currency symbol for a  Pound Sterling and lb the abbreviation for a pound in weight. Barwick is making a point about the high cost of firewood on the island.]

EnlargeScene in a Greek village, Lemnos
Scene in a Greek village, Lemnos. [AW Savage, photo album, PXE 698, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales]

The people are practically all Greeks and they are 100 years behind the times. They do all their own spinning from the raw wool and make their own clothes from it. There are some very pretty girls there, they are snow white and very shy. They have the same old methods of farming here as they have in Egypt - the same old piece of wood with an iron toe for the plough. Lots of the men dress in a sort of skin clothes cut from goats and sheep and nearly all wear skin shoes. They look tricks I can tell you. They grow a lot of grapes and figs on these islands. When we lobbed in there the 3rd Brigade had been there a month and were heartily sick of the place.

Leaving Lemnos - 24 April 1915

The day before the fleet sailed we were all drawn up and General Birdwood spoke to us to be careful with our water, food and ammunition and told us that the eyes of the whole world would be on us, to see how we fought. They must have been cock sure of breaking right through, for they told us that there would be no haggling in the villages [Turkish villages on Gallipoli] we were to pass through as all the prices would be fixed. We were paid on the 22nd [April] with notes which had Turkish writing on them.

The fleet set picked up their anchors and slowly steamed out of the harbour and what a mass of ships there was as we slowly steamed out of Lemnos. We could hear the warships belting away at the forts as we went along. We got a certain distance out and anchored for the night. We were then given each man 300 rounds of ammunition and his rations for 3 days. That night everyone was as happy as they could possibly be. We had our mandolins, guitars, banjos etc going for all they were worth. Nobody thought of what was going to happen on the morrow. And so we went to bed about 10 o’clock with everything ready for an instant move.

[Barwick diary, 22 August 1914-c.11 September 1915, pp.96-97]

Rest on Lemnos — 11-27 September 1915

First days on Lemnos

EnlargeArriving at Sarpi Camp
Arriving at Sarpi Camp. [AW Savage, photo album, PXE 698, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales]

We were landed about 11 o’clock [c.11 September 1915] that morning and some of the chaps were that weak that a motor ambulance fetched them round to the camp [Sarpi Rest Camp]. As we passed the hospital the Drs [doctors] and nurses came out and had a look at us and I heard one nurse say ‘poor fellows they look more fit for the hospital than anything else’ and she was right. Half of them knocked up before they got round to the camp. On the way over we had to cross a long arm of the sea a sort of backwater. It was a short cut so you can bet we went across it though it was up to our thighs in places.

Arrived at Sarpry [Sarpi]camp thoroughly knocked up, and were detailed off to the tents. How glad we were to throw our packs and rifles off and to get outside and buy some grapes and figs. The grapes were very plentiful and cheap you can buy enough for three as you could eat [?] … Everyone gorged themselves with fruit for you know we were fruit hungry and it was a sort of craving we had on us. Needless to say we paid pretty dearly for it the next day didn’t our stomachs ache and roll. Eggs also were plentiful and we used to get any amount of them and cook them for our tea.

All that afternoon the boys kept straggling home one by one for some of them had to have a dozen spells [rests] before they could get round. Needless to say we slept soundly that night, for we were away from the sound of the guns for the first time for many months, and we missed them but in the right way. The next morning we had a good breakfast and had the day to ourselves. The first thing we done as you might guess was to have a good clean up wash and shave. There was no roll call that day. Some of us washed our clothes over at the well. There was a bonzer spring there and we made full use of it. A day after this we were all issued with new clothes and felt like new men. The lousy clothes were all burnt and we were clean once more.

[Barwick diary, 22 August 1914-c.11 September 1915, pp.183-185]

The YMCA

EnlargeRe-roofing a marquee and taking away damaged parts
Re-roofing a marquee. [AW Savage, photo album, PXE 698, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales]

We helped to run up a thumping big marquee for the YMCA. What a splendid institution it is, they have stuck to us through thick and thin. At Lemnos they not only supplied us with pens, ink, writing paper etc, but run a piano as well besides a gramophone and supplied us with cricket sets, boxing gloves, draughts, chess, cards. Quoits, footballs and ‘goodness’ only knows what else. The piano was a Godsend and it used to make the place quite merry of a night. The Greek children would stand with their mouth wide open and gaze at the gramophone while it was playing as if it was some marvellous thing. I suppose it was to them the first one they had ever seen or heard.

[Barwick diary, c.12 September 1915-9 May 1916, pp.188-189]

Concerts and Nurses on Lemnos

The New Zealand Band gave several fine concerts at which the nurses on Lemnos Island attended. What a relief and pleasure it was to see the girls of our land after six months of roughing it at Anzac. They made the place look quite bright with their pretty uniforms. They were bricks to stick at Mudros like they did for I can tell you they had some rough times there. They even had to live on bully beef and biscuits at times and time after time their tents would be blown down in a raging rain storm and they would turn to help and put them up again in the pouring rain. Their first thought was for the sick and wounded men and they looked after them splendidly. One cannot praise our nurses too highly. They were bonzer girls.

On the 21st [September] the 1st Division gave a concert. All the items were rendered by members who came with the first contingent. It was a great success, there were thousands there and the Dean of Sydney presided (Dr Talbot). There were a lot of naval men present. Just before the concert opened about 20 nurses came in and didn’t they get a reception. It must have been several minutes before the uproar died down. At this concert the Maoris gave their war cry. They took a lot of coaxing to get them on the platform but once there they were right. Their war cry is a most unearthly row and no wonder it frightened the Turks the first time they heard it on ‘Sari Bair’ during the great battle there [6-10 August 1915]. The concert ended up by singing ‘Boys of the 1st Brigade’ and thus a most enjoyable evening ended.

[Barwick diary, c.12 September 1915-9 may 1916, pp.190-191]

1st Battalion, AIF - roll call on Lemnos

EnlargeChristmas at Lemnos
Christmas at Lemnos. [AW Savage, photo album, PXE 698, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales]

In the afternoon we had the first proper Battalion roll call since we left Egypt [April 1915] and it was sad to see the few of the old original men that were left. Only a handful it seemed. The rest of them where were they, a lot of them were in hospitals crippled, some were back in Australia and between 200 and 300 were lying in their graves at Anzac. The majority of them were splendid fellows too.

[Barwick diary, c.12 September 1915-9 may 1916, pp.193-194]

Leaving Lemnos

As we were marching down to the pier a lot of nurses came out and presented us with a fine Australian flag and we still have it (25/4/16). There were a few Canadian hospitals on Lemnos and great was the rivalry between the girls from the ‘Sunny South’ and the ‘Cold North’. It was funny to hear the Canadian nurses talking ‘real Yankee twang’. They wore stars on their uniform according to their rank like officers.

[Barwick diary, c.12 September 1915-9 may 1916, pp.198-199]

The nurses of the 3rd Australian General Hospital watched the departure of the 1st Brigade. Among them was Sister Anne Donnell who described the scene:

October 26th [1915]

This morning we heard the band playing. It was the 1st Brigade on its way back to Anzac after a rest. They came along the main street of our Hospital. We Sisters gather up all the cigarettes and chocolates and tins of food we can and throw them to the smiling faces as they march by. They are brave and apparently cheerful, though we all know how in their inner heart they dislike going back to all they remember there. It makes us feel terribly sad.

[Anne Donnell, Letters of an Australian Army Sister, Sydney, 1921, p.60]

Christmas at Lemnos 1915-1916

Christmas billies

We received our Xmas billies on the 22nd [December] and very good they were. On the outside of the billy cans they had a kangaroo with his feet on Anzac and underneath were the words ‘This bit of the world belongs to us’. That caused many a laugh for we had sneaked away from it. They made a mess of the billy cans for we got the Victorians and they got ours. While we were on Lemnos waiting for orders it rained like blazes and made everything miserable.

[Barwick diary, c.12 September 1915-9 may 1916, pp.265-266]

Sarpi Camp
Sarpi rest camp. [AW Savage, photo album, PXE 698, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales]