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Our Committee is raising funds to create a lasting legacy telling the story of Lemnos' link to Gallipoli and Australia's Anzac story. Our projects include the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial in Albert Park, the publication of a major new historical and pictorial publication and more. To make a donation you can also deposit directly by direct debit into the Committee's bank account: Account Name: Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee Inc; Bank: Delphi Bank; Account No: 204299-020 BSB No: 941300; Include your surname in the reference section. For further information on our legacy projects or to make a donation please contact either Lee Tarlamis 0411553009 or Jim Claven 0409402388M

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Lemnos Heroes - Warrnambool's Sister Gertrude Davis

Sister Gertrude Davis, AWM image H15352 (Donor Miss GE Davis)
From Warrnambool to Lemnos and Beyond - Sister Gertude Davis
The story of Gertrude Davis reveals how the lives of Australian nurses was effected and transformed by the war. From her training as a nurse at Melbourne's Alfred Hospital, this Warrnambool nurse would see the horrors of war on Lemnos with the 3rd Australian General Hospital, then rise to be Principal Matron of all Australian nurses in India, Burma and Persia, where some 560 Australian nurses served. This is her story.

Gertrude Emily Davis was 31 years old when she enlisted with the Australian Army Nursing Service on 19th May 1915. Born in Warrnambool, Victoria, she had received her 3 years nursing training at Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital. Her experience included being a staff nurse and sister in charge of medical and surgical wards, as well as serving a period as Matron of a 20-bed private hospital.
She was also a member of the Royal Victorian Trained Nursing Association, the precursor in Victoria to the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation.
While she had been born in Victoria's western district, at the time of her enlistment her next of kin, her father Mr Harry Davis, resided at “Cleveland”, in Orrong Road, Elsternwick, in Melbourne’s inner southern suburbs.
On Lemnos
She departed Melbourne aboard the RMS Mooltan on 18th May 1915, joining Matron Grace Wilson and the other 3rd Australian General Hospital nurses who had embarked at Sydney. She arrived on Lemnos with the 3rd Australian General Hospital contingent on 8th August 1915.
 Like all the nurses on Lemnos, Gertrude had to deal with the extremes of weather in the northern Aegean – from summer heat to winter storms – as well as the massive number of casualties from the August offensives at Gallipoli and the steady flow of sick soldiers due to the poor sanitation of the peninsula. She departed Lemnos with her fellow nurses in January 1916.
She disembarked from Mudros aboard the Oxfordshire with the rest of the 3rd Australian General Hospital at Alexandria in Egypt on 27th January 1915. She served with the hospital at Abbassia in Egypt until 18th March 1916, when she departed for Suez. She then departed from Suez for Australia on 19th March 1916 aboard the Demosthenes.
Service in India
Sister Davis would re-embark for overseas service at a series of military hospitals in India.The Australian nurses had been requested by the Government of India to tend to both wounded and sick prisoners of war and Allied soldiers. In these hospitals Australian nurses operated under British Army doctors.  Gertrude's service here which would see her awarded a range of medals and decorations.
She re-embarked for overseas service from Melbourne on 22nd August 1916, aboard the Mooltan – the ship that had taken her and the rest of 3rd Australian General Hospital to Lemnos originally in 1915. From September 1916 until November 1919 Gertrude served with various British hospitals in India, including the Victoria War Hospital (Bombay), 18th British General Hospital (Gharial) and finally the 34th Welsh General Hospital (Deolali) from mid 1917. The latter was the second largest hospital in the whole British Empire.
Mess room and sisters quarters of the No 34 Welsh General Hospital, Deolali, India, 1917. AWM image P00562.175
She also travelled throughout the Indian sub-continent inspecting army nursing services when she was promoted to Principal Matron of the Australian Army Nursing Service in India on 1st January 1917, effectively Matron-In-Chief for Australian army nurses in India (including Burma and Persia). She would oversee some 560 Australian nurses who would see service in India between 1916-19.   
Her service in India saw Gertrude oversee nursing services to German and Turkish prisoners of war as well as British and Indian soldiers. Turkish prisoners of war were accommodated at the Victoria Hospital with its 700 beds. She is also reported to have helped combat cholera and smallpox in Southern Persia.
Along with administrative and other difficulties, conditions for the nurses in India varied, from experiencing the wonders of the Himalayas to the sometimes dangerous and unwelcoming. Conditions at the 18th British General Hospital at Rawalpindi were described by Matron Davis as follows:
“Here, where no woman has ever been sent before – the last place God ever made – six of the AANS worked in the most appalling heat one could imagine.”
Four Australian nurses died during their Indian service, including two from cholera while at Bombay – Staff Nurses A.V. O’Grady and K Power, both in August 1916. Later in November 1916, Staff Nurse L.G. Moreton died of enteric fever, followed by Staff Nurse E Clare of pneumonia in October 1918.

Royal Red Cross
She was Mentioned in Despatches and awarded the Royal Red Cross 1st Class. Her Royal Red Cross was awarded in 1st January 1920 on the recommendation of the Government of India:
“…In recognition of her valuable nursing services in connexion with the Afghan war, 1919.”
Kaisar-I-Hind Medal
She was also awarded the Kaisar-I-Hind medal 1st Class “for Public service in India” on 1st January 1919. This was the first award of this medal to a woman who was not a resident of India. She was also awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory Medals.
She embarked for Australia from Bombay, via Singapore, aboard SS Dilwara and SS Charon on 17th November 1919, arriving back in January 1920. Her appointed with the Australian Army Nursing Service was terminated on 4th June 1920.
Return to Australia
While she was reported to be living in Warrnambool in 1926, Gertrude was later reported to being sister in charge at Melbourne's Jessie Macpherson Community Hospital and subsequently the Hamilton House community wing of the Alfred Hospital in 1933.
Gertrude was also active in the various nurse’s associations on her return from war service.
There is a report of her serving on the committee of the Returned Army Nurses Club in Melbourne in 1928, overseeing an increase in membership and being President of the Club in 1932. She presided over a nurse’s reunion for all who served in India, Burma and Persia in WW1 at Anzac House in Melbourne on Saturday 20 August 1938. In 1939 the Melbourne Argus reported that Gertrude was one of the attendees – along with Matron Grace Wilson - at a reunion of Alfred Hospital nurses held by the Alfred Hospital Nurses League at the Alfred Hospital Nurses Home. She became an office bearer in the Alfred Hospital Nurses League in 1940.
Gertrude died in 1964 in Victoria.
Lest we forget.
Jim Claven
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee


  1. NURSE LYLA STEWART.,from warnambool too Nurse Lyia Stewart is a daughter of Mrs. J. Stewart. "Kelvin," Terang. She has been on active service for over twelve months, and while attached to the British Imperial Hospi-tal recently she was mentioned in dispatches by Sir Douglas Haig. Nurse Stewart was trained in the Warrn-ambool Hospital and acted as reliev-ing Sister there for some time. She
    was in Egypt during the Gallipoli campaign, and from there she went to France with the Australian troops,and for some time was in quarantine
    at Marseilles nursing a case of small-pox. After leaving Marseilles she was transferred to Boulogne, where she is at present in one of the Imperial hos-pitals, but she expects to be recalled to her unit (No. 2 Australian General Hospital) this month. Nurse Stew-art's brother, Pte. Campbell Stewart,is also on active service- my grandmother aunt sister to her mother jessie warren nee stewart

  2. One cannot speak highly enough of these wonderful women. I am particularly impressed though by Gertrude Emily Davis. Words are not enough. God bless them.