Built in Belfast by Harland and Wolff between August 1896 and February 1897, the SS Gascon was a Union Line ship until the merger with the Castle Line in 1900, resulting in the new company, Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co. Ltd. The company(s) operated between England and Cape Town, and South Africa and New York. “She is 430 ft. long, 52ft. wide, and 33ft. deep, and has a tonnage of 6,287. Her twin screws are driven by two sets of triple-expansion engines, the cylinders of which are 19, 31, and 52 inches in diameter, the length of stroke being 48in.” Under the command of Captain W. Martin, the Gascon’s maiden voyage departed Southampton on the 20/3/1897 carrying 234 passengers for South Africa.
With the outbreak of the (2nd) Boer War in 1899, the Gascon was among those requisitioned as a troopship. Her service included the departure from England with troops on the 21/10/1899 and arrival at Cape Town 12/11/1899. Other dates included: 16/12/1899 to the 7/1/1900; 20/2/1900 to 11/3/1900; and 16/3/1901 to …..
She also returned to England carrying wounded, sailing from Cape Town on the 28/3/1900 and arriving Southampton 22/4/1900. Wounded and invalids were also returned to England in August 1900, embarking at Cape Town on the 25/7/1900, and disembarking 760 patients at Southampton on the 16/8/1900.
Among the latter was Corporal William Henry Bryce (95) of the 1st Queensland Mounted Infantry, suffering with enteric fever, and in a letter home he wrote: “We had a very good passage. Being invalids we were treated better than ordinary troops on a troopship. Most of us slept in hammocks, and beds were provided for the worst cases.”
Another on board was Herbert Gerald Hinton (110), also of the 1st QMI suffering with enteric fever. He went on to serve as a Lieutenant with the 2nd Australian Light Horse in the Great War, before being killed in action during the Gallipoli campaign on the 7/8/1915.
In between the wars the Gascon continued to carry passengers and mail. One such passenger travelling from Cape Town to England in July 1904 noted that: “Life on a Cape liner is very pleasant, the long, shady decks affording ample space for promenades, or games of various sorts. ………… Some of the officers of the Gascon, in common with other ships of the Union-Castle line, were “Naval Reserve” men, and everything on board was managed with naval precision and immaculateness. Sundays, the crew was up for inspection, toeing the line on the main deck, then marching to service, read by the Captain;……”
The first representative South African Rugby Team to visit Great Britain also travelled on the Gascon, arriving at Southampton on the 20/9/1906.
In 1914 following the outbreak of the Great War, with William Francis Stanley (Mercantile Marine) as Master in command of the ship, the Gascon departed Southampton early in August to carry the mail to the Cape. Captain Stanley was given instructions by Sir Owen Phillips (Lord Kylsant) to “Go as you like and take as long as you like, but don’t get collared.” Ignoring a suspicious radio message received on the way, which turned out to have been an enemy trap, the Gascon made it safely to Table Bay on the twenty-third day out of Southampton.
Leaving Durban on the 11th of the following month, the ship was to connect with the H.M.S. Pegasus at Zanzibar to deliver reliefs and stores. However, as they neared their destination on the 20th they were intercepted by the lighthouse keeper who warned them of the proximity of the German cruiser Königsberg. Captain Stanley ordered the ship to be turned around and head as fast as possible to Mombasa. On arrival later that day the Gascon was immediately requisitioned as a hospital ship, and received permission to fly the Red Cross Flag as of the 23rd of September.
Meanwhile at Zanzibar the Pegasus had been shelled by the Königsberg and eventually sunk, with the survivors and wounded having previously been evacuated by boats from the Banffshire. Later, when it was considered safe to do so, the Gascon returned to Zanzibar where it collected the men of the Pegasus and carried them to Simonstown. By mid-October 1914 the Gascon was once again docked at Durban.
Early in 1915, staffed with members of the Indian Medical Service (IMS) under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Edward Victor Hugo (IMS), His Majesty’s Hospital Ship Gascon was transporting sick and wounded Indian troops from England and France to Egypt, en route to Bombay, India. This continued until their arrival at Alexandria (Egypt) in mid-April, when orders came through on the 14th that the ship was to be refitted for the accommodation of British patients with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF).
The refit was underway by the 16th of April 1915, and 18 Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) orderlies were brought on board under the command of a Corporal. Following on from these changes, Lieut Col Hugo noted that: “Our native personnel has been cut down and now stands as follows:- Two sub-assistant surgeons, two store-keepers, two asst. store-keepers, two tailors, two Mahomedan cooks, eight sweepers, two writers, nine A.H.C. ward servants, two Hindu cooks, three extra ward orderlies, four Dhobies.”
Lieut Col Hugo himself had originally joined the IMS in 1892 and was an experienced and decorated veteran of the North-West Frontier Campaigns from 1894 to 1898. Before returning to military service at the outbreak of WW1 he had held the position of Professor of Surgery at King Edward’s Medical College in Lahore. He was considered by his peers to be an excellent surgeon.
On the 17th the medical staff was increased again when Lieutenant Colonel George Adlington Syme of the Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC) came on board as a consulting surgeon. He commented that “the Gascon was well equipped with a good operation theatre, having full provision for sterilization; a fair supply of ordinary instruments and apparatus; and a good X-ray plant.”
With him were 3 nurses from the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) and the British matron Susan Winifred Wooler of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS). The AANS nurses, Sophie Hill Durham, Ethel Alice Peters and Katherine Minnie Porter were all members of the 2nd Australian General Hospital (AGH) and had departed Australia at the end of 1914 on the A55 Kyarra.
The Gascon left Alexandria around midday on the 19th; at first in a convoy escorted by the French cruiser Jeanne d’Arc, but parting from it the following morning due to its slow progress, and they crossed the boom into Mudros Harbour (Lemnos Island) on the morning of the 22nd. By this time the harbour was full of ships that had been gathering in preparation for the assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey, and Lieut Col Syme described their arrival:
“We entered a fine harbor divided into an outer and inner port. Outside destroyers and torpedo boats were patrolling, and also large warships. The inner harbor was full of transports and warships, with destroyers and torpedo boats, submarines and trawlers. There was also a naval hospital ship, and the hospital ship “Sicilia,” on which Lieut-Col. Bird is Consulting Surgeon.”
The following day (23rd) Gascon received four more AANS nurses from the 2nd AGH who were transferred from the hospital ship Sicilia, which had been at Lemnos since the 15th and had twelve nurses on board. Elsie Maud Gibson, Ella Jane Tucker and Muriel Leontine Wakeford had also been members of the Kyarra, while Clementina Hay Marshall had originally sailed on the A8 Argyllshire with the First Convoy to leave Australia. This brought the total of female nursing staff to eight, with seven AANS nurses under the command of Matron Wooler.
Both the Sicilia and the Gascon were to provide a ferry service between Turkey and Egypt, for the serious casualties sustained during the landing and the ongoing campaign. As official hospital ships, in compliance with the protection of the Geneva Convention, they were painted white with a green horizontal band running the length of the hull, broken in (three) places each side with red crosses. Darkness required added protection with “a row of green electric lights along each side from bow to stern and a big red cross electric light in the centre.”
Throughout the day of the 24th of April those on the Gascon watched as the harbour began emptying of ships, the troops on the transports singing and cheering as they left, full of the excitement of finally being on the move. Later that afternoon the Gascon also moved out of the harbour, but anchored again outside the boom. In the early hours of the morning of the 25th of April she weighed anchor and proceeded to her destination, arriving in the waters north of Gaba Tepe around 7 a.m. The landing was well under way, and her task this day was to cater to the serious casualties of the Australian and New Zealand forces at what soon became known as Anzac Cove, while the Sicilia catered to the British 29th Division at Cape Helles.
Orders were to anchor near HMS London, but before this could be achieved the Galeka was alongside with wounded, and the boatloads kept coming, so that it was midday before they reached the London. As the vessels came alongside the ship, ‘stewards climbed down to sort the living from the dead’, the dead being left in the boats to be returned to shore, while ‘all firemen and sailors off duty turned to and did magnificent work’ helping to bring the wounded aboard. Those on stretchers, the ‘cot cases,’ were lifted onto the ship in a box hoist and then the stretchers were lowered to the wards via a lift.
Lt Col Syme noted that “the wounded began to pour on board, first from a transport, then from lighters, launches and torpedo boats. …. the bad cases were put in “swinging cots” in the wards, the less serious were put in “bunks” in tiers, and on the deck and in the smoking room. Cases of haemorrhage were taken to the operation room and dealt with as soon as possible. When the cases had got fairly sorted, we began operating.”
“The Gascon was fitted up for 350 patients. By putting mattresses in the smoking room and on the floors, hatchings and decks, we arranged to accommodate 150 more….”
Various other transports had been allocated to take on the less serious cases, but with the Gascon the only clearly marked hospital ship in the vicinity, it was only natural that most of the vessels carrying wounded headed straight for her, and before long she was filling rapidly with all manner of cases.
Ella Tucker in a letter home wrote: “We were right up in the firing line – several gunboats were behind us, firing right over us. Several shots from the forts splashed very near us. About 9 a.m. the first patients were brought on board. It was awful to see them, some with scarcely any clothes on, blood pouring in all directions, some limping gaily, others with an arm bandaged. Several died as they came across in the boats to us.”
“They just poured into the wards all day. My ward holds 96 – and I was responsible for about 40 on deck. I had three orderlies and a sergeant-major to assist.”
Elsie Gibson who was in charge of Ward V capable of holding 113 patients, with the assistance of 3 RAMC orderlies, 2 Indian orderlies and 2 Indian sweepers, noted in her diary that: “About 9 a.m. my first patients from battlefield commenced to pour in.”
“We went for worst cases first and worked like fury….”
“We took on board 570 wounded. Some minor cases gave up their beds and after wounds dressed went off to Transports…”
“In my ward I had 118 patients (one Turk badly wounded) and some slept anywhere on deck and gave their bunk or stretcher or floor to more badly wounded.”
Sophie Durham made reference to the fact that the decks were soon covered with wounded, and how a ‘native’ orderly was wheeling a trolley of dressings and instruments behind her, when “ ‘Queen Elizabeth’ fired a salvo. The blast rolled the trolley, the orderly, and me over the top of it. I just sat up and cried. The orderly said, ‘I think we dead now’.” The Queen Elizabeth had come up from Cape Helles during the day and anchored at the rear of the Gascon firing over her for several hours.
Elsie Gibson made everyone laugh when she was crossing a hatchway at the time the London lying alongside them fired its guns: “the flash went before my eyes and then the awful report. I could not help it and I cannot help laughing when I think of it, but I put both hands to my face and screamed.”
The effect the wounded had on Captain Stanley was also mentioned by Sophie Durham:
“The ship’s captain was a tough old chap with no time at all for any sort of colonial.
I caught him putting his own air cushion under a Digger’s head. He came up to me, patted me on the back, and said, ‘Now I know, Sister, why you are so proud of your boys. I never thought to see such men’.”
She later commented that: “It was our first experience of war-time conditions, and we all wondered if we’d run away if our ward was shelled. Shells were, of course, passing over the ship the whole time, but once we got our first batch of wounded we didn’t have time to think.”
Towards evening with no more room available, the Gascon left for Mudros Harbour with 547 wounded, including 23 Officers; arriving there at midnight. Private William Walsh (826) wrote later to his parents “that just before our hospital ship steamed out the Turks fired two volleys at us, just missing our ship by a few yards….” He went on to say: “Well, we had a good trip back on the hospital ship, lovely beds to sleep in, lovely nurses to look after us, Indian soldiers to wait on us, and the best of food (three-course dinner).”
Elsie Gibson noted in her diary: “We got to bed between 2&3 a.m. 2 Sisters stopped up all the time. We got up again 6 a.m. & then two Night Sisters went to bed 9 a.m.”
In a letter home Muriel Wakeford recorded: “28th April, 1915 – Just off duty. We have had a terrible time and no one but ourselves will ever know how we feel about everything that has happened. Rest assured we have all done our very best.” “Two of us are doing night duty, Sister Durham and I. We do half the ship each, with a number of orderlies. The day staff come on very early and go off very late, and in that way get through a fair amount.
On that first day Clementina Marshall, an experienced theatre nurse, was also on duty in the operating theatre for 21 consecutive hours, the beginning of many such long hours, for which service she was later mentioned in despatches.
Elsie Gibson commented on their second day on the wards that “There is no end to the work you just leave off when it is impossible to work more or you get orders to go off duty. …….. We give Morphia ad lib.”
With some expectation that she might unload the patients at Mudros, the Gascon was however left waiting in the harbour until the evening of the 26th before orders finally came through to sail to Alexandria, and she eventually left at 6.30 p.m.
Throughout the journey from Turkey to Egypt the ship was slowed on various occasions in order to consign the departed to a watery grave. Each man was covered with the Union Jack and following a funeral service conducted by Captain Stanley, they were carefully slipped over the side. These men are all commemorated on the Lone Pine Memorial.
Members of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF):
DOW 25/4/1915: *Pte Allan Robert OLLEY, 357, 7th Bn; *Pte Thomas Anderson WHYTE, 47, 10th Bn; DOW 26/4/1915: *Pte Alex BLOOMFIELD, 1205, 1st Bn; *Pte George Clarence CAVANAGH, 493, 7th Bn; *Pte Stanley George CHARLESWORTH, 391, 7th Bn; *Pte George STRAKER, 1429, 1st Bn; DOW 27/4/1915: *Pte Arthur Leslie ANDERSON, 152, 12th Bn; *Pte Sydney Robert CROSS, 1011, 12th Bn; *Pte William Henry VICK, 1042, 10th Bn (C Coy); DOW 28/4/1915: *Pte Ernest MAY, 985, 7th Bn
Katherine Porter had been nursing Thomas Whyte (47) before he died, and she later wrote to his fiancé “I remember Private Tom Whyte very well. The poor man came on the Gascon during the morning. He had an abdominal wound and was taken to the operation room almost at once and everything possible was done for him… it was knowing that he was engaged made me stay on duty a little longer to be what comfort I could to him. It was a terrible day for us all and I saw so much that was awful that day.”
Arriving at Alexandria just before midnight on the 28th, the unloading of 535 wounded was carried out throughout the following day (29th). Elsie Gibson said “It was a sight to see all the Red Cross Waggons waiting to carry wounded to entrain for Heliopolis No.1 AGH. Serious cases were sent to Hospitals in Alexandria and were saved the train journey.” Ella Tucker commented on what a pathetic sight the wounded made, with hardly any of them wearing shirts, which had been so blood-stained and torn that they’d been thrown overboard. “Others had their coats and trousers split, and hurriedly sewn over. Some were minus a boot; very many minus socks.” She went on to say: “It took hours getting the stretcher cases off. We started at 9 a.m. The last was landed at 4.30.”
Also taken ashore that day was the body of Private Frederick Allen DOODSON, 927, 1st Bn. He had died of his wounds as they approached Alexandria, and was buried on the 29th in the Chatby War Memorial Cemetery.
With their wards empty the nurses set to work preparing them for their next load of patients. They made bandages, padded splints, and washed out some of the blood stained pyjamas that had been left on board.
Empty of patients, and replenished with coal and water, the Gascon left Alexandria at 6 pm that evening (29th), and arrived back in Mudros Harbour in the early hours of the 2nd of May. By this time the Bay was almost empty of ships, but they handed over supplies to some that remained. Later that afternoon they returned to the waters off Anzac Cove, and Muriel Wakeford noted that not long after their arrival “a terrific bombardment commenced, seven or eight battleships firing practically together made a din and a terrific one… The rifle fire is continuous and as soon as darkness comes the flashes are visible. I could scarcely have believed we were so close, and feel absolutely no fear. There is just a feeling of intense excitement.”
The wounded began arriving at 3.30 a.m. the following morning (3rd). Although dressing stations had now been established ashore, allowing wounds to receive some professional attention, many of the men were in much worse condition than the first group, following a week of exposure, the strain of being under fire, the inability to wash and very little sleep or food. Lance Corporal George Tidex of the 13th Battalion when taken on board with a thigh wound thought he was in heaven: “….when I saw the row of white beds with proper pillows and green shaded lights, it was just like entering Heaven after six days in the trenches.”
During the day the ship had to move further out due to shells falling unpleasantly close and some shrapnel hitting the deck. As luck would have it, they had not long moved on when a shell dropped in the water where they had been. They continued taking on wounded until midnight of the following day (4th); many deaths having occurred during this time. Elsie Gibson felt that those who had been killed outright were more fortunate compared to some they received with their ghastly wounds; citing gangrene and amputations in large numbers.
The Gascon once again sailed for Alexandria at 12.30 a.m. on the 5th of May, travelling via Cape Helles to deliver some Red Cross goods, and arriving at 9 a.m. on the 7th. Throughout the day 434 sick and wounded were disembarked, and with them went Lt Col Syme. His reason for leaving the ship: “by some means – presumably in the operating room – my right hand became poisoned, and I went into hospital at Alexandria…”
There were a total of 41 deaths on board since they had begun taking on wounded, and the majority of the funerals this time were officiated over by Lt Col Hugo. The following casualties were members of the A.I.F.:
DOW 3/5/1915: *COWELL, Harry Stephen – Pte 1403, 16th Bn (D Coy); *SMITH, Quintin Robert – 2nd Lieut, 14th Bn; *SNELL, Francis William – Pte 956, 15th Bn; *STEIN, Alfred James – Pte 1247, 15th Bn; *WARD, Henry Holdford – Pte 1669, 16th Bn;
DOW 4/5/1915: *BUTTERFIELD, Ernest, Cpl 76, 15th Bn –; *CARTER, Harold Reginald, Pte 1549, 16th Bn; *COLLYER, John, Pte 1241, 4th Bn; *FAIRBEARD, Charles Henry, Pte 55, 16th Bn; *HABBLETT, Harold, Pte 396, 16th Bn; *HUNTLEY, Clive Neilson Reynolds, Lieut, 1st FCE; *LAMOND, Alexander, Pte 1201, 13th Bn; *MAHONY, David, Pte 692, 11th Bn; *PALIN, Archibald Edward, Pte 938, 13th Bn; *SMITH, Alexander John Ross, Pte 888, 5th Bn; *SPARSHOTT, Frank, Pte 948, 11th Bn; *WALSH, John Thomas, Pte 1181, 8th Bn; DOW 5/5/1915: *DOUGLAS, William Bowman, Capt, 3rd Bn; *HARDMAN, Roy, Pte 1615, 15th Bn; *BYRNE, Herbert Horan, Pte 115, 15th Bn;
DOW 6/5/1915: *CROWLEY, Matthew Nicholas, 839, 13th Bn; *ELPHICK, Arthur Thomas, LCpl 1262; *FRANCIS, Thomas, Pte 504, 13th Bn; JAMES, Jonathan Albert, Pte 1094, 4th Fld Amb; DOW 7/5/1915: *BLANN-HAY, Henry James, Pte 125, 1st Bn.
Of these men, Pte John Collyer (1241) has had his story told by Kit Cullen in “Jack’s Journey”, and was one of those whose wound had been infected with gas gangrene.
One of the members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) known to have lost his life, Robert TORRIE, 8/1109, Otago Regiment died of wounds 3/5/1915.
There were also at least 4 casualties from the (British) Royal Naval Division. These were *Pte Frank DIXON (RMLI) and *Abel Seaman Alfred Oswald HALL (RNVR) who died on the 3/5/1915; and *Stoker Michael DUNPHY (RN) and *Sub Lieutenant Graham Morton PATON (RNVR) who died on the 4/5/1915.
Departing Alexandria at 7.45 that same evening (7th) the Gascon arrived back at Anzac Cove on the morning of the 10th of May, anchoring about 2 miles off shore at 7.30, and began taking on wounded immediately. Filling the ship was a lot slower however, as the wounded were brought on board in small numbers throughout the following days and nights.
Among the wounded embarked on the 11th was Lieutenant Alfred John Shout who had already distinguished himself earning the Military Cross, (to be followed in August with the Victoria Cross, posthumously). Another was Major (later Major General) John Gellibrand.
Then on the 15th of May, Major General William Throsby Bridges, the officer commanding the 1st Division A.I.F, was brought on board accompanied by his chief medical officer Colonel Neville Howse VC, and Gellibrand moved out of his bed for him. One of the nurses commented on how brave the seriously wounded General was, and his words to his carers: “Don’t worry about me. You must have plenty to do, and I’m done.” Various officers including Lieutenant General William Riddell Birdwood, the commander of the Australian & New Zealand Army Corps, visited Bridges before the Gascon departed, and Howse remained on board attending to him when the ship finally sailed for Alexandria at 11.30 a.m. on the 17th of May. During this time Elsie Gibson noted that they had had a number of working visitors, including the Assistant Director of Medical Services, Surgeon General Charles Snodgrass Ryan who worked with Lieut Col Hugo on some of the surgical cases whilst on board. General Bridges died the following morning (18th) at 5.45 a.m., but although they were still almost 2 days from Egypt, he wasn’t buried at sea.
Arriving at Alexandria at 6.30 p.m. on the 19th of May, disembarkation was begun immediately, including all walking cases and 48 of the stretcher cases. The remaining 391 patients were disembarked throughout the following day (20th), and Maj General Bridges was buried in the Chatby Cemetery. [Note: His remains were exhumed on the 27/7/1915 and returned to Australia to be reinterred at Duntroon]
Elsie Gibson noted that they were all very tired after a long trip, but she managed to go ashore in the afternoon of the 20th with Matron Wooler and Major Illius (IMS) to do some shopping.
Forty deaths had occurred on the ship between the 10th and 19th of May, and most of the funeral services while the Gascon was still at anchor off Gallipoli, had been conducted by the Chaplains from HMS London (Rev A.C.W. Rose) or HMS Prince of Wales (Rev H.D.L. Viener). Together with a photograph of 'Boat No. 705' forwarded to the 'Sydney Mail', a correspondent wrote on the 17th of May: "Many of our dear lads went out to their last resting-place just at the outside edge of the harbour. It is a pathetic picture. I snapped it just as the boat was returning from its daily task of burying the dead, which it received from the hospital ship at anchor in the harbour. The bodies were covered with the Flag the gallant young fellows had given their lives for. A clergyman accompanied the vessel on each of its trips, and I could see the touching scene as the burial service was being read before the bodies were committed to their watery grave. War is indeed a rotten game, as I could not help thinking seeing those brave boys going ashore full of life, and being brought out on boat 705 to be buried, for sanitary reasons, at sea."
The other funerals were conducted by either Lt Col Hugo, or Reverend Alfred Lee-Warner. One of the nurses later described Lee-Warner as “a delicate man, on leave from Khartoum. He was spending his furlough on the “Gascon,” and was, I think, the finest character I ever met. He did all the writing home for the severe cases, sat with the dying, and helped with the bandaging. In fact, he did everything but cook.” In the letter that he wrote to the father of Oliver Harris (624) two days after his death, he told him that Oliver had “asked particularly that a letter be written to tell you. He was conscious for a long time, and I was able to converse with him. The sister tells me what a nice boy he was.”
Including Oliver, the following members of the AIF were amongst the 40 deaths:
DOW 11/5/1915: *JAMES, Reginald, Pte 622, 13th Bn;
DOW 12/5/1915: *BATES, Wilfred Froud, LCpl 51, 16th Bn; *JONES, Octavious, Pte 1198, 13th Bn; *WILLIAMS, Anthony George Herbert, LCpl 1009, 12th Bn; *PENINGTON, William Ronald, S/Sgt 3, 4th Bde HQ;
DOW 13/5/1915: *BROWNING, Joseph, Pte 1460, 4th Bn; *DONALD, John Gordon, Pte 181, 16th Bn; *KING, William, Pte 626, 13th Bn; *ROBERTSON, Gordon Holmes, Tpr 378, 2nd LH; DOW 14/5/1915: *BRIDESON, John Thomas, Pte 167, 1st Bn; *HICKS, Colin, Pte 1003, 14th Bn; *PENHALIGON, Sydney John – Pte 77, 3rd Fld Amb; *PHILLIPS, Thomas Harold, Tpr 199, 2nd LH; *WILLIAMS, Percy James, Pte 1534, 16th Bn; *WORTABET, John Cecil, Pte 1625, 9th Bn; DOW 15/5/1915: *BENNETTS, Edward James, Pte 1559, 10th Bn; *BURROWS, Albert Frederick, Pte 1518, 1st Bn; *CAMP, John, Pte 1317, 10th Bn; *PILKINGTON, Ashley Ford, Pte 176, 3rd LH; *WOODS, William Henry Rankin, 71, LH;
DOW 16/5/1915: *ADELT, Carl, Tpr 554, 1st LH; *BUTLER, Edwin MacMullen Everitt (Ted), Cpl 701, 3rd LH; *BUTLER, Ernest Rupert, Tpr 723, 2nd LH; *DENDTLER, Robert, Pte 693, 1st Bn; *NORRIS, Walter Herbert, Pte 563, 16th Bn; *WRAGGE, Clement Lionel Egerton, Tpr 647, 2nd LH; DOW 17/5/1915: *HARRIS, Oliver, Tpr 624, 2nd LH; *ELWOOD, Alfred Terah, Pte 507, 2nd Bn; *PHILIPPSON, William Felix, Pte 1616, 11th Bn; DOW 18/5/1915: *BRIDGES, William Throsby, Major General;
DOW 19/5/1915: *WEIR, Joseph, Pte 848, 9th Bn;
Note: Douglas Elliott SCOTT, Sgt 68, 3rd LH, is listed as having DOW aboard the Gascon on the 20/5/1915 and buried at sea – however, if he died on this date he would have been buried ashore. Either the date is incorrect or he died on another ship.
Other deaths included: A member of the New Zealand Forces (NZEF): *Sapper Walter NAYLOR (4/233A, NZ Engineers) – DOW 10/5/1915.
Members of the Royal Naval Division: *Pte William Albert COKER (RMLI) and Stoker Henry MILES (RN) died on the 14/5/1915;
With all patients disembarked and all staff back on board, the Gascon left Alexandria once more at 10 p.m. that evening of the 20th of May. Having arrived back at Anzac Cove at 7 a.m. on the 23rd of May, Elsie Gibson made mention of the “roar of cannon and shrapnel bursting into the sea, some 100 yards from us.” A church service was held on board at 10.30 a.m., and later that day, still free of patients, they received orders to proceed to Mudros Harbour, arriving there at 5 p.m. that evening.
The following evening (24th) they received 50 wounded from HMS Reindeer and another 39 from a Fleetsweeper on the 25th. Whilst in the harbour the nurses were visited by officers from the 1st Australian Stationary Hospital which was situated ashore. They also witnessed 3 (friendly) submarines maneuvering about the harbour close to their ship.
Orders were then received to transfer their sick and wounded to the Dunluce Castle, and proceed to the Island of Imbros. This was carried out on the 27th of May and they left the harbour at 7.15 that evening; the crews of the warships cheering them as they passed. They arrived off Imbros at 1 a.m. on the morning of the 28th, and at 4.30 a.m. began taking on the seriously wounded cases from a Minesweeper. They then sailed for Anzac Cove, arriving there at 10.45 a.m., and slowly took on wounded for the rest of the day and night. At this time the area was empty of ships due to their withdrawal following the recent torpedoing of HMS Triumph.
In the early hours of the morning of the 29th of May, Elsie Gibson noted that there was “Terrific firing on shore”, and wounded began arriving throughout the day in larger numbers, including some very serious cases. This would have coincided with the Turkish assault on Quinn’s Post, in which Major Hugh Quinn lost his life. The Gascon also found herself on special alert this day, moving position a number of times, as a submarine periscope had been sighted and they had orders not to anchor.
Around 9 p.m. on the 30th of May the Gascon moved in closer to shore as another battle was expected. Elsie Gibson had been on duty from 6.15 a.m. to 10 p.m. and was dead tired and almost “reduced to a grease spot”; the weather being so hot made the wards almost unbearable. Ethel Peters had collapsed that morning.
By the end of the following day, the last day of the month of May (31st), they had lost the following members of the A.I.F., with Rev Lee Warner conducting their funeral services:
DOW 28/5/1915: *PARMENTER, Albert Osborne, Pte 964, 2nd Bn; *WEST, James, Spr 207, 2nd FCE [real name Ernest Rudolph LOVELL]; DOW 29/5/1915: *BLACKWELL, Henry Albert, Pte 535, 9th LH; *BLYTHEN, Duncan Tonkinson, Pte 1573, 14th Bn; *DICKSON, Robert Lang, Pte 1105, 13th Bn; *EVANS, Frank Richard, Spr 96, 3rd FCE; *FOGARTY, Mervyn, Dvr 3519, 1st Div Arty HQ; *LIONE, Ernest Arthur, Pte 1792, 1st Bn
DOW 30/5/1915: *BAX, Alec Hartly, Tpr 524, 3rd LH; *BOURKE, Edward William, Pte 110, 15th Bn; *DENFORD, Dustin Lee, Dvr 5442, 4th Div Tn; *FARRELL, Harold Alexander, Pte 1605, 13th Bn; *GIRLING, Frederick Horace, Pte 259, 13th Bn; *JACKSON, Ernest, Pte 751, 3rd LH; *JONES, Herman Hill, Pte 1096, 13th Bn; *MURRAY, David James, Pte 12, 5th LH; *SELLERS, Frederick, Pte 353, 1st LH
DOW 31/5/1915: *BALDWIN, Charles Robert, Pte 1522, 4th Bn; *BLACKIE, Norman Robertson, LCpl 520, 5th LH; *JARVEY, James, Tpr 500, 8th LH; *KELLY, Charles Oswald, Pte 868, 4th Bn; *LAWSON, Martial, Pte 1156, 13th Bn; *PAUL, Ernest Clifton, Pte 1806, 7th Bn
Member/s of the NZEF included:
THOMSON, Arthur John, Tpr 9/223, Otago Mtd Rifles – DOW 31/5/1915
And possibly: WINKS, Lawrence, Sgt 11/457, Wellington Mtd Rifles – everything in his service record states DOW 31/5/1915 on the Gascon, but the CWGC lists him as DOW 1/6/1915, and buried in Ari Burnu Cemetery, D.12
The first day of June and the Gascon was still receiving the sick and wounded from shore.
Much needed extra help was also received with 2 members of the 2nd Australian Field Ambulance being brought on board for duty. These were Melbourne Surgeon, Major Charles Gordon SHAW and Bugler James Baker McBEAN (151) who was serving as an orderly. They both remained with the ship for the following 2 months.
That night Elsie Gibson took a break and sat in one of the deck chairs on the Starboard side of the ship, until a ship’s officer who had survived a ‘narrow shave’ himself, advised her to move to the Port side as she was in the line of fire.
The following day (2nd) the hospital ship Sicilia anchored nearby and they received a welcome visit from some of the Officers and Nurses. Lieut General Birdwood also paid a visit on the 3rd of June and took the time to speak to many of the patients. By this time the hospital staff were exhausted from the long hours and the heat, and Muriel Wakeford was forced to take a ‘sickie’ herself. Katherine Porter was also very ill.
Although the medical staff were stretched to their limits, Captain Edwin Thomas Kerby, had written to his mother on the 1st of June: “On board …. everything points to efficiency: dirt and untidiness are absolutely tabooed; comfort and skilled attention are just showered upon one, so that almost before you know that you are on board you are in bed, washed, and comfortable.”
Finally, they left their anchorage off Anzac Cove and returned to Mudros Harbour, arriving at 8.30 a.m. on the 4th of June. After taking on 100 ‘walking cases’ who had been transferred from Cape Helles, they left again at 7 p.m. for Alexandria. During the voyage Measles broke out in Elsie Gibson’s ward, as well as a Tetanus case that needed special care, and her best Orderly was sick. On the afternoon of the 7th of June she confided to her diary that “I nearly disgraced myself by fainting 1.30 p.m. but bucked up again & got at it.”
Clementina Marshall wrote: “Well, we are almost at Alexandria again, on our fourth trip, with about 500 wounded on board. We have had a very heavy trip, lasting about a fortnight. We have been operating day and night, and I am beginning to feel very weary. However, we have finished this stunt, and will have a rest for a few days until we get back again.”
They reached the outer harbour at Alexandria at 10 p.m. on the 7th of June, and came into the wharf at daybreak on the 8th. Throughout the day 473 patients were disembarked, including 32 Officers. Twenty more deaths had occurred between the 1st and 7th of June, mostly due to gunshot wounds of the abdomen and head. One of these had been John Alfred LANE (Pte 1148, 2nd Bn) who had died of a head wound on the 7th – his body was taken ashore and buried in the Chatby Military Cemetery.
The other members of the A.I.F. who had died during this time and were buried at sea, were:
DOW 1/6/1915: *BOYCE, Harold Paull, Pte 1704, 12th Bn; *BROWN, John – Tpr 856, 3rd LH; *HORNBY, William Robert, Pte 1649, 2nd Bn; *PATTRICK, Eroll McLeod Nunn, Tpr 748, 6th LH; DOW 2/6/1915: *CLOUGH, Richard Henry, Cpl 365, 5th LH; *ELLIOTT, John William, Pte 1130, 7th Bn; DOW 3/6/1915: *GRIFFIN, Edward Denis, Pte 1191, 13th Bn; *READ, Alexander James, Pte 1166, 1st Bn; *VINE-HALL, Noel Francis, Lieut, 13th Bn; DOW 4/6/1915: BOYLE, Owen Dunigan, Pte 369, 2nd Bn
Members of the NZEF:
WEIR, Frederick James, Lieut, 3rd Auckland Mtd Rifles – DOW 2/6/1915
MORGAN, Malcolm, Tpr 13/217, Auckland Mtd Rifles – DOW 3/6/1915
McDONALD, Duncan Buchanan, Lieut 11/555 Wellington Mtd Rifles – DOW 6/6/1915
PATERSON, George, Cpl 11/557, Wellington Mtd Rifles – DOW 6/6/1915
Muriel Wakeford writing from Alexandria on the 7th of June, wrote: “Back again after the worst trip we have had. We can just manage to last out with four or five hundred patients for four days. This time we’ve been eighteen days and I can tell you it was pretty tough.
Owing to the strenuous nature of this trip, we nearly all succumbed more or less. I had a rather bad sore throat, consequently had to give up for a day or two, which was very much against the grain. I am nearly right again which, in these circumstances, is something to be thankful for.”
With all patients ashore, the Gascon left Alexandria again at 6.30 that evening of the 8th of June, and with some relief, the nursing staff had been increased from eight to ten. Elsie Gibson noted that “2 more Sisters have been sent to help us.” Both these nurses had been chosen from the 1st Australian General Hospital, and had originally sailed on the A24 Benalla with the First Convoy to leave Australia; they were Alice Elizabeth Barrett Kitchin (aka Kitchen) and Hilda Theresa Samsing. Alice Kitchin wrote in her diary that “Every one is kind & nice & glad to see us as the work is heavy.”
During the return trip with the weather still very hot, the nurses received permission to sleep on deck, and Elsie Gibson, Clementina Marshall and Muriel Wakeford took advantage of this concession. Having arrived in Mudros Harbour at 6 a.m. on the morning of the 11th of June, their departure orders didn’t come through until the 14th, so at last, the medical staff at least, had a few days break. During this time there were opportunities to go ashore and do a bit of sight-seeing as well as visit the 1st Australian Stationary Hospital.
They eventually sailed at 6.30 p.m. on the 14th and anchored in their usual spot off Anzac Cove at 5 a.m. on the 15th. The hospital ship Sicilia, which they were to relieve, was still at anchor and didn’t depart until later that night, so the Gascon only took on a small number of wounded. That morning a hydroplane flew over, and when fired on by the Turks, some shrapnel fell on the deck injuring one of the orderlies.
On the 16th of June Elsie Gibson commented that she was “..to do duty (night) at acute Wards. The very worst are down this end & mostly operation cases. We have cots for these serious cases & they are not double-banked as in the big Wards at stern & the patients not so numerous. They are abdominal, head, chest & amputation chiefly.”
Over the following days they continued to take on wounded in small numbers, and on alternate days they also took on lighter cases for treatment, while one of the fleet sweepers that would normally have carried them to Lemnos was undergoing repairs. Lance Corporal Robert William Crawford (75) was one such case. He was taken on board with a badly sprained ankle on the 17th, and the next day was transferred to a fleet sweeper and taken to Lemnos.
Despite the protection ‘enjoyed’ by hospital ships, the fear of being torpedoed still existed, and added to the physical discomfort of patients and medical staff, as Alice Kitchin pointed out on the 17th of June: “Very warm down below. At 9 pm the port holes are all closed for fear of submarines; the wartertight doors can be closed quickly & then it would take us longer to sink.” A few days later she also wrote “The work gets heavier daily & the flies a pest & the atmosphere very oppressive down below & there is so little time to take the air on deck.”
The ship was once again visited by Lieut General Birdwood on the 19th June, along with Brigadier General Robert Alexander Carruthers (Quarter-Master General).
After taking on the last of their wounded late on the 26th of June, they finally left their anchorage at 11 p.m. and headed for Lemnos.
All funeral services during this time had been conducted by Rev Lee Warner, and the members of the A.I.F. who had lost their lives were as follows:
DOW 16/6/1915: *ELLISS, Baizel Dudley, Pte 10, 12th Bn; DOW 17/6/1915: *DENSLEY, Benjamin, Pte 82, 2nd Fld Amb; *WARREN, Francis Edgar, Pte 616, 8th Bn;
DOW 19/6/1915: *NORTON, William Thomas, Pte 366, 2nd LH;
DOW 20/6/1915: *COLLIE, John Alexander, Pte 1328, 11th Bn; *CROUCHER, Harold, Pte 814, 8th LH; *O’CONNOR, William Henry, Pte 370, 2nd LH; *OWEN, John Richard, Pte 1664 14th Bn; *PAWLEY, Arthur James, Pte 441, 7th Bn; DOW 21/6/1915: *ROADS, Richard Leslie, Pte 184, 3rd LH; DOW 22/6/1915: *CADELL, Thomas Leonard, Lieut 3rd Bn; DOW 23/6/1915: *HOLMES, Louis Gordon, Capt 3rd Bde HQ; *KEID, William, Tpr 170 2nd LH; DOW 25/6/1915: *DOLLA, Carl, Pte 489, 16th Bn; *KISSICK, John, Pte 292 4th LH; *SMITH, James, Pte 2022, 3rd Bn; *TOSDEVIN, Robert, Pte 110, 11th Bn;
DOW 26/6/1915: *MEREDITH, Thomas Herbert, Cpl 1129, 1st Bn; *WATSON, Wallace Frederick, Pte 143, 12th Bn
Members of the NZEF:
ENDEAN, Arthur Stanley, Tpr 11/248 Wellington Mtd Rifles – DOW 25/6/1915
SINGLETON, Wilfred, L/Cpl 3/95, NZ Medical Corps – DOW 26/6/1915
The Gascon arrived in Mudros Harbour at 4 a.m. on the 27th of June. During the day they transferred 43 light cases and 6 Officers to the shore hospital, and took on board 175 walking cases who crowded the decks. Leaving again for Alexandria at 5 p.m., they arrived at 7.30 p.m. on the 29th of June, and anchored in the harbour overnight.
The following day (30th) they disembarked 462 patients including 18 Officers
There had been a total of 43 deaths on board since the 16th of June, including the following four members of the A.I.F. that had died since leaving Lemnos.
DOW 28/6/1915: *MORGAN, Henry Eustace, Pte 2007, 6th Bn;
DOW 29/6/1915: *MacFARLANE, Norman, Bdr 2257, 3rd FAB (7th Bty); *PARKINSON, Vere, Pte 348, 5th Bn; *PHILLIS, Horace Vincent, Pte 814, 10th Bn
Once again the majority of the deaths were due to wounds of the abdomen and head.
Unlike the previous trips, the Gascon this time remained alongside the wharf for a full day after it had been emptied of patients. Cleaning up the ship and the restocking of necessary stores throughout the 1st of July allowed the members of the medical staff to spend a free day ashore. This gave them the opportunity to catch up with friends, go for a drive, have lunch, shop, etc. It appears that the Reverend Lee Warner left the ship at this time.
The Gascon left Alexandria at 5 a.m. on the 2nd of July for her 6th trip to the Gallipoli Peninsula. The sea was a little rough during the morning and most of the nurses were unable to eat or to do any work preparing their Wards until the afternoon. Elsie Gibson felt so terrible she took to her bed, and again on the following day (3rd), while the sisters that were allocated to night duty this trip prepared her Ward for her. Arriving off Anzac Cove at 11.50 a.m. on the 4th of July, they anchored near the hospital ship Neuralia which was almost full, but remained until midnight on the 5th. The Gascon took on some patients later in the day of the 4th, but these were mostly medical cases that were to be transferred to a Fleet Sweeper the following day.
During the afternoon of the 5th a little excitement was had when an enemy submarine was sighted in the direction of Imbros. As those on board the Gascon looked on, a seaplane circled the area looking for it, while one of the Monitors fired several shells in the general direction, until she too was fired on from shore and moved away.
Another visit was had from Lieut General Birdwood on the afternoon of the 7th of July, and with him was the commander of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF), Major General Alexander John Godley.
Two mates in the 7th Battalion were also brought on board on the 7th and were returning for their second evacuation on the Gascon. They were Bertram Hilton Biggs (652) and Ernest Harcourt Ely (702), both having originally been wounded and evacuated on the first day of the Landing (25th). Bertram could be said to be the lucky one of the pair; he eventually had his left leg amputated in England and returned to Australia in 1916. Ernest was killed in action in August 1916.
Over the following days, sick and wounded continued to be brought on board, including a large number of light cases that had to be received after the Fleet Sweepers had left for Lemnos. Most of these cases were suffering from bowel complaints and diarrhoea, which due to the worsening conditions on shore, was on the increase amongst the troops.
As the ship continued to fill and the medical staff became very busy, Alice Kitchin commented on the 11th that: “The staff is not adequate for the heavy demands on it especially the night when the wounded always come in, in 2 or 3 batches.” That evening there was also a lot of shelling going on between ships and shore; some of the shells falling close to the Gascon, and Elsie Gibson wrote: “We watched Monitor & Torpedo getting shells at her right & left as she got out as quickly as possible – so did we.”
Between the 5th and 14th of July, as well as the patients who remained on board, they had also treated 998 light cases before transferring them to Fleet Sweepers to be taken to Lemnos. With the ship quite full, and the Sicilia arriving to relieve them, they finally left for Lemnos themselves at 3 p.m. on the 14th. Reaching Mudros Harbour at 8 p.m., they anchored until morning, and during the 15th 5 Officers and 12 Indians were transferred to the shore hospitals and about 75 light cases were brought on board. Instead of their usual trip to Egypt, orders were received to proceed to Malta and they sailed at 6.30 p.m.
Arriving at Malta at 6 a.m. on the 18th of July, they were directed to enter Quarantine Harbour, where the patients had to be taken off the ship in Lighters as there was no wharf to dock beside. 426 rank and file and 35 Officers were disembarked throughout the day, and as their wards were emptied the medical staff were able to go ashore for some sightseeing.
As well as her impressions of Valetta, Ella Tucker wrote home that: “The Malta people are so good to our men. There was a pyjama suit and a blanket sent down to the ship for every man.” Trooper Robert James Rodd, 451 6th LH, who had been evacuated with a head wound, also wrote home from Malta: “Coming over on the hospital ship (the “Gascon”) there were two Sydney Hospital nurses. Nurse Durham, and Nurse Porter. They were both lovely nurses. They treated us so nicely, and the doctors were exceptionally good and nice to the wounded.”
During this trip there were a total of 37 deaths, and their funerals were conducted by Reverend William Cyril Mayne (Royal Army Chaplains Department), who had replaced Rev Lee Warner. The following being members of the A.I.F.:
DOW 7/7/1915: *LOGAN, James John, Sgt 1783, 8th AASC; *MacLURE, Valentine Murray, Pte 157, 3rd Bn; * WELLS, Cecil Frederick John, Pte 1450, 7th Bn;
DOW 8/7/1915: *BENNETT, Cyril Arthur, Tpr 711, 7th LH; *GANNON, Frances Joseph, Tpr 166, 7th LH; DOW 10/7/1915: *CAIN, Sydney Alexander, Pte 385, 2nd Bn;
*KENT, Francis Burwood, LCpl 292, 9th LH; *PENNINGTON, Rowland John Robert, Dvr 2155, 3rd FAB; DOW 11/7/1915: *COOPER, Volney Leonard, Tpr 537 7th LH;
DOI 11/7/1915: *WORSLEY, Tasman, Pte 512, 12th Bn;
DOW 12/7/1915: *CREER, Errol Joseph Hart, L/Cpl 392, 6th LH; *REDMAYNE, James – Pte 2017, 2nd Bn; *STOKES, Henry – Cpl 552, 12th Bn; *WALKER, Kenneth Leigh, 2nd Lieut/438, 7th Bn; DOW 13/7/1915: *SOANES, Henry Donald, Pte 150, 7th Bn; *THOMAS, Colin, Dvr 283, 2nd Fld Amb;
DOW 14/7/1915: *BENSON, Henry, Pte 167, 6th Bn; *BLACKSTOCK, Wilfred Lawson, Pte 1753, 12th Bn; *BRADY, George, Pte 696, 12th Bn; *GARNER, George Godfrey, Sgt 411, 7th Bn; *GILES, George Leslie, 1101 / 2169, 8th Bn; *JOHNSON, Cyril Allen – Pte 1340, 15th Bn; *PERMEZEL, Cedric Holroyd – Capt, 7th Bn;
DOW 15/7/15: *BERKIS, Arvid, Pte 1507, 6th Bn; *POPLE, William, Cpl 1166, 7th Bn; *FLOCKART, Robert Pearce, Maj 5th Bn; DOI 17/7/1915: *HAGUE, Henry, Pte 1340, 3rd Bn; DOW 18/7/1915: *PRESTON, William, Pte 1059, 7th Bn
Members of the N.Z.E.F:
DREAPER, Reginald Charles, Tpr 11/757 Wellington Mtd Rifles – DOW 11/7/1915
PALMER, Harry Thomas, Capt, Wellington Mtd Rifles – DOI 15/7/1915
Captain Palmer, who died from pneumonia, had written to his wife on the 8th of July: “I came on board ship on Monday night, and in the interval have been very rocky, but as I am getting the best of attention and plenty of medicine, will come out of it smiling, don’t worry.”
Having left Quarantine Harbour at 10 a.m. on the 19th of July, they experienced very rough seas the following day causing a great wave of seasickness among the medical staff. They arrived back in Mudros Harbour at 7 a.m. on the 22nd of July, passing the HS Neuralia which was just leaving full of wounded. Once again their routine was broken when they received orders to proceed to Cape Helles instead of Anzac Cove, and sailing at 5 p.m. they reached Cape Helles about 9 p.m. The Gascon was to relieve the HS Grantully Castle which then departed the following morning (23rd) and the Gascon began taking on wounded that evening. During the 23rd they also received a visit from (Lieutenant) Colonel John Girvin of the Royal Army Medical Corps (R.A.M.C., A.D.M.S.)
They continued to take on patients each day until the 29th of July at which time they received orders to sail the next morning. Leaving Cape Helles at 6 a.m on the 30th of July, they arrived in Mudros Harbour at 9.30 a.m., where they took on board 177 cases from the shore hospitals, bringing their total to 468. Sailing again later that evening, they arrived at Alexandria early on the morning of the 2nd of August. Throughout the day 464 patients were disembarked, including 23 Officers.
Among the deaths during this time were four cases of gas gangrene. Deaths included: Able Seaman Aaron Johnstone (RNVR) died of dysentery on the 26/7/1915; William Barlow, Pte 2141, 1/8 Bn, Lancashire Fusiliers died 28/7/1915; Joseph Bolton, Pte1656, 1/5 Bn Manchester Regt died 30/7/1915.
One of the cases taken on board at Mudros on the 30th was Private Charles Burke (1719) of the 15th Battalion, AIF. He died of Enteric Fever as they neared Egypt on the 2nd of August, but was buried at sea by Rev Mayne.
The ship remained in port all the next day of the 3rd while coaling took place, and the medical staff were given a free day to go ashore. Amongst her shopping, Alice Kitchin “laid in a stock of Mothersill & Worcestershire sauce”; remedies for seasickness.
Leaving Alexandria at 10 a.m. on the 4th of August, the Gascon arrived in Mudros Harbour at 6 p.m. on the 6th of August. Later that evening 8 hospital ships and various other transports left the harbour for the Gallipoli Peninsula, to cater to the wounded from the diversionary battles that were being staged while the new landing took place at Suvla. The Gascon and another hospital ship, the Gloucester Castle remained behind in the harbour.
During the afternoon of the 8th of August the Gascon finally received orders to proceed to Anzac Cove, reaching there at 10 p.m. The area was dotted with the lights of the other hospital ships and the noise of the battle raging on shore was deafening. Several boatloads of wounded came alongside the Gascon at 1 a.m. (9th), and they continued to flow in all that day. Many of the slightly wounded were treated and then transferred to Fleet Sweepers before, the ship having been filled, left for Imbros at 6 p.m. Before sailing, the Australian surgeon, Major Shaw and his orderly James McBean, who had been with the ship for two months, went ashore at Anzac to rejoin their Unit, the 2nd Field Ambulance. During the day Colonel Arthur William Mayo-Robson (R.A.M.C.) had come on board as a consulting surgeon.
Joining many other ships at Imbros, they received orders to transfer all their 627 patients to other transports and then return to Anzac. The idea behind this was to clear the clogged beaches of wounded as quickly as possible and as the hospital ships could anchor closer to shore than the other transports without being fired on, they were acting as Casualty Clearing Stations for the time being. The transfer took place during the following day (10th), with 250 cases, including 3 Officers being transferred to the Canada, and the rest to the Ionian. Seventeen deaths had occurred on board in this short space of time, their funerals conducted by the Rev Mayne, and included the following members of the A.I.F.:
DOW 9/8/1915: *CLARKE, Frank Graham, Pte 302, 12th Bn; *FISHER, John Martin, Cpl 439, 7th Bn; *KEEPENCE, Herbert Spencer, Pte 1599, 1st Bn; *MORRISSEY, Patrick, Tpr 663, 8th LH; DOW 10/8/1915: *HANSEN, Henry, Pte 290 15th Bn (buried at sea 4 miles from Imbros)
Those of the N.Z.E.F. included: DOW 9/8/1915: BURR, Eric Bell, Tpr 11/208 Wellington Mtd Rifles and WILSON, James Hood, Tpr 11/402 Wellington Mtd Rifles;
DOW 10/8/1915: GRIMMER, Frank William, Pte 10/731 Wellington Regt – (buried at sea in the region of the Dardanelles)
Leaving Imbros at 6.20 p.m. on the 10th of August the Gascon hadn’t yet put down anchor at Anzac, when Elsie Gibson noted that “a launch was alongside & a wounded officer for immediate op taken on.” Later that evening Alice Kitchin commented: “Bullets fell on our deck & one wounded the dispensary Indian tonight, although the anchor was got up & we moved.” They continued filling up all day of the 11th and by late afternoon were full once more. Elsie Gibson wrote in her diary: “Wounded came on without ceasing. As fast as our Orderlies could carry them off the cradle & as fast as the winch could work – it never ceased & doesn’t it make a thundering noise.”
One of those brought on board this day was the newly promoted Captain Frederick Harold Tubb of the 7th Battalion. He had been wounded during the enemy counter attack at Lone Pine on the 9th of August, and was later awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions that day.
The Gascon left for Imbros again at 5.30 p.m. on the 11th of August where the night was spent awaiting orders for the unloading of the wounded. The orders that came through on the morning of the 12th however, were to proceed to Lemnos, and they arrived in Mudros Harbour at 1.30 that afternoon. There they waited for the rest of the day and a good part of the next (13th) before orders finally came through at 5 p.m. to proceed to Malta. Leaving at 7.30 that evening, they were thankful to be on the move at last. Elsie Gibson had noted in her diary while sitting in Mudros Harbour: “It is very hot – a stinking calm – there is no other word for it. My patients are wet & their beds & pillows saturated & I am oozing all the time. The wounds are very bad, very septic & offensive & some fly blown.”
The weather was cooler as they travelled towards Malta, where they arrived at 9.30 on the morning of the 16th of August. The 463 patients, including 28 Officers, were disembarked throughout the day, and the Gascon departed once more at 7.45 that evening.
There had been 34 deaths on board since the 11th of August, and the burials at sea had been officiated over by the Rev Mayne; the A.I.F. deaths being:
DOW 11/8/1915: *CRAPPER, Oliver, 2134, Pte 5th Bn; *LEA, Thomas, Pte 2247, 13th Bn
DOW 12/8/1915: *SEYMOUR, Hobart Alfred, Cpl 487, 3rd LH
DOW 14/8/1915: *MARKS, Alfred George, Cpl 658, 5th Bn
DOW 15/8/1915: *CHATTERTON, Stanley Vine, Pte 1009, 5th Bn; *KELLY, John Thomas Henry, Pte 1391, 13th Bn
N.Z.E.F : JAMES, Thomas Parry, Capt 11/488 Wellington Mtd Rifles – DOW 12/8/1915
British forces: KINGSFORD, Alfred Ashby, Sgt 11856, 8th Bn Welsh Regt Pioneers – DOW 10/8/1915; POTTS, John Charles Stanley, Pte 2814, Warwick Regt – d.12/8/1915;
SLACK, Harry, Pte 10448, 7th Bn, N Staffordshire Regt – d.13/8/1915; REDMOND, Patrick, L/Cpl 10851, Royal Dublin Fusiliers – d.16/8/1915.
On the return journey to Lemnos Alice Kitchin noted in her diary that her steward and a fireman were both ill, and the weather was still very ‘hot & steamy.’ She also mentioned that she spent the afternoon of the 17th“sewing & chatting with Capt Bengerfield [sic] who began as a patient & is now doing McShaw’s [sic] work.” Captain Vivian Benjafield, a Sydney surgeon who had originally sailed with the 2nd AGH, had been evacuated from Anzac earlier that month with dysentery. On recovery he was attached to the Gascon to fill the void left by the departure of Major Shaw.
On arrival at Lemnos the Gascon anchored near the Dunluce Castle in the outer harbour at 8.30 on the morning of the 19th of August. Orders came through to proceed to Cape Helles, and sailing at 1 p.m. they arrived there at 6 p.m.
The Galeka left the following morning (20th) and the Gascon began taking on the sick and wounded in its place. Elsie Gibson noted: “Very slow & awfully dismal here – patients coming about 9 & 10 daily.” Lt Col Hugo went ashore on the 22nd of August, and everyone was very happy to see him safely return later that evening. The Delta arrived on the 23rd to relieve the Gascon, but with only about 60 patients on board she had no orders to move out. Three of the patients lost during this time were with the Royal Marine Light Infantry, being Pte John Witheridge Edmunds who died on the 21/8/1915 and Pte Richard Farnworth and Pte John Dring, who died on the 23/8/1915.
Moving in close to Gully Beach on the afternoon of the 25th they took on 150 medical cases from a Fleet Sweeper and then sailed for Lemnos at 4.30 p.m, arriving in the outer harbour about 9.30 p.m. Pte Frederick James Walker of the Manchester Regt died on the 25/8/1915.
On the morning of the 26th the Gascon moved to the inner harbour and anchored against the Cawdor Castle. In the afternoon all ‘walking cases’ were transferred to the shore hospitals and the rest taken on board the Cawdor Castle to be transported to England. Alice Kitchin noted in her diary: “Rained today: a very rare event since we landed in Egypt.”
Temporary Sub Lieutenant Hugh Alexander Massey of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve died this day and was taken ashore for burial.
Orders were received on the afternoon of the 27th to proceed to Imbros where they arrived about 9 p.m. and anchored outside the boom. Around midnight 100 patients, mostly Australians, were brought from Anzac Cove by Trawler and taken on board. Then from 5 a.m. on the 28th the sick and wounded continued to stream in all day. Alice Kitchin commented that “the anchor was well exercised being let go & taken up 6 times while we took on cases from various barges & beaches.” Elsie Gibson wrote: “We are clearing a Hospital at Imbros & are just inundated. They are on decks everywhere – poop-deck, boat deck, well deck, promenade deck & smoke room. All cots & available floor space also filled.” Hilda Samsing mentioned that “The Chief Steward is a good fellow and went around the decks to see that everyone had been given breakfast.” By 10 p.m. there were 940 patients on board and a signal was sent that no more could be taken. Although a large number of these were minor cases, there were also some very bad dysentery cases.
Leaving Imbros at 6.30 a.m. on the 29th of August they arrived back in Mudros Harbour at 11 a.m. and anchored near the Dunluce Castle. Able Seaman George Smith, RNVR, Drake Bn and Lieutenant Charles Alfred Lister, Royal Marines, Hood Bn, had both died on the 28th. The Honourable Charles Lister was taken ashore at Lemnos and buried in the East Mudros Military Cemetery.
After waiting all day for orders, they finally came through at 10 p.m. that night. The orders carried out on the morning of the 30th involved transferring 48 Indian Troops to the hospital ship Seang Choon, and 10 Officers, 230 rank and file and 10 wounded Turkish Prisoners to the transport Huntsgreen (previously known as the Derfflinger). Alice Kitchin commented on how the transfer of at least these patients “relieved the strain on the ship’s resources & food.” The Gascon then sailed for Alexandria at 11.15 a.m. with the remaining 650 patients.
Hugh COOPER, Pte 1519, 3rd Bn AIF, died of wounds on the 31/8/1915 and was buried at sea by Rev Mayne.
The Gascon arrived at Alexandria at 4 p.m. on the 1st of September and remained in port for the following 3 days, undergoing repairs and caulking of decks as well as the usual coaling.
The 649 patients, including 17 Officers, were disembarked on the 2nd, one of these however, being the body of Pte Maxwell Cannon, 1960, 1/5th KOSB, who had died the day before; and he was buried in the Chatby Military Cemetery.
Also leaving the ship that day to return to the 2nd AGH were 4 of the nurses; Sophie Durham, Clementina Marshall, Katherine Porter and Muriel Wakeford. During her service on the Gascon, a romance had blossomed between Muriel Wakeford and a member of the crew, Sub-Lieutenant Raymond Gustave Sargeant. The couple later married in England on the 28th of June 1916, and Muriel resigned her appointment with the AANS as a consequence.
Four replacement AANS nurses were brought on board at this time, all four having originally sailed on the A14 Euripides with the First Convoy to leave Australia. They were Penelope Frater, Adelaide Maud Kellett, Alice Joan Twynam and Jean Nellie Miles Walker.
Departing Alexandria at 8.15 a.m. on the 5th of September, the Gascon also carried 8 British nurses who were to join the Itonus at Lemnos. Elsie Gibson commented that a “Number of the crew & orderlies [were] down with Enteric”, and Alice Kitchin noted that “All the wards have been sulphured to make them a bit sweeter.” Arriving in Mudros Harbour at 7.30 p.m. on the 7th of September, they received orders the following day (8th) to proceed to Anzac Cove; departing at 4.30 p.m. and arriving at 10.30 p.m. No doubt with some relief, Alice Kitchin wrote in her diary: “It is much cooler this time & at times quite chilly.”
Patients began arriving early on the 9th, mainly medical cases, and they continued to fill up over the following days. On the 12th of September they hoisted the ‘Blue Peter’ to let all ashore know they were full and finally left for Lemnos at 11 p.m that night.
The following members of the AIF had died during this time, their funerals conducted by Lieut Col Hugo:
*BROWN, Frederick, Pte 1149, 20th Bn and *HAYES, Charles Henry, Pte 1240, 20th Bn – DOW 10/9/1915; and DRAIN, Edward (Teddy), Pte 2343, 3rd Bn – DOW 11/9/1915.
The Gascon arrived in Mudros Harbour at 6 a.m. on the 13th of September, and amongst the many other ships at anchor were the Gloucester Castle and the Aquitania. While waiting for orders 33 Indians and 9 Infectious disease cases were taken ashore in the afternoon, before she left for Malta at 6 p.m. Arriving at Malta at 8 a.m. on the 16th they anchored in Quarantine Harbour and disembarked their 465 patients.
Pte Rupert Mckean, 1050, 8th Bn AIF had died earlier that morning and was buried at sea by Lieut Col Hugo.
Sailing at 10 a.m. on the 17th of September they experienced rough weather on the return to Lemnos, but no seasickness on board this time. The Gloucester Castle was passed en route on the 18th, and they arrived in Mudros Harbour at 7 a.m. on the 20th, where it was too rough to row to the Aragon for orders. On the 21st the Dunluce Castle left the harbour at lunch time, and the Gascon followed her at 1.30 p.m., heading for Cape Helles, where she arrived at 7 p.m. They were still experiencing rough seas, and it was very cold and windy.
Elsie Gibson commented that there was a French hospital ship at anchor called the Charles Roux, which was a Stationary Base Surgical Hospital Ship which treated French soldiers before transferring them to other hospital ships. The Gascon began taking on sick and wounded on the 22nd of September with 200 transferred from Fleetsweepers. The following day (23rd) they continued taking on medical cases in large numbers. Alice Kitchin explained how they “Went into the smooth waters near the shore & anchored till we got patients on & then out again near the French Hos. base ship.” One of those taken on board during this time was Chaplain Kenneth Best. He wrote: “I am put in dysentery ward and am given soup, fish and custard for lunch. How unspeakably delicious it tasted. I fear what the result will be, but doctor should know best.” On the 24th they went in close to shore again and took on around 60 patients before leaving for Lemnos at 9.30 a.m., where they arrived at 2 p.m.
At 6.30 a.m. on the 25th the Gascon went alongside the Ausonia, and transferred 309 of her patients, including 17 Officers and Chaplain Best. She then transferred 2 officers, 186 other ranks, 6 Indians, 10 Greek labourers and 4 men of the Zion Mule Corps to the shore hospital. Also taken ashore was the body of Roderick McLeod, CSM 343, 5th Bn Highland Light Infantry, who died of his wounds this day, and was buried in the East Mudros Military Cemetery.
With 16 patients still on board they left for Anzac at 11 a.m. on the 26th, and arriving at 4 p.m. took on several patients before settling in for a quiet night. Sick and wounded continued to be brought on board over the next 2 days, until 3.30 p.m. on the 28th September when they sailed for Lemnos with 476 cases, including 15 Officers, reaching there about 9.30 p.m. One of the deaths during this time was Pte Alfred Frederick Percy Davies of the Northamptonshire Regt who died on the 27/9/1915.
The following morning (29th) they received orders for Malta, and disembarked 24 Indians and 7 cases of scarlet fever and diphtheria before leaving at 1 p.m. Pte Hubert Leigh Starr, 517 25th Bn AIF, succumbed to dysentery en-route (29th) and was buried at sea by Reverend Robert Noble Beasley (Royal Army Chaplains Department), who had taken over from Rev Mayne. Two other deaths during this trip were Pte Arthur Henry Taylor of the Essex Regt who died on the 30/9/1915 and Pte Herbert Thomas Howard of the Norfolk Regt who died on the 1/10/1915.
On the 1st of October Alice Kitchin, who was on night duty, wrote: “A very rough & roll ing sea, things smashing every where which woke me up at 4 p.m. So I got on early with a dose of Mothersill & Worcester sauce with good effect & got through the night as well as could be expected, though going up & down staircases is a bit dangerous to life & limb.”
The Gascon arrived at Malta and anchored in Quarantine Harbour at 7 a.m. on the 2nd of October. Orders first came through that they were to disembark their patients the following day, and then subsequently to proceed to England, but the final word was that they were to go to Gibraltar. 40 ‘deck cases’ were disembarked that afternoon, and the following day (3rd) after waiting all morning for medical supplies, they departed for Gibraltar with the remaining 400 patients at noon. Over the previous months many of the crew had been ill with Enteric fever, and later that day (3rd), Merchant Seaman John William INKSTER succumbed to the illness.
Rough weather was experienced during most of the trip to Gibraltar and there was a great deal of seasickness. However, by the 7th the sea was calm, and the ship slowed its speed considerably so they wouldn’t reach their destination during the night and have to anchor outside the harbour. The ship entered the inner harbour at 7 a.m. on the 8th of October and began disembarking their patients at 8.15 a.m. 397 patients were disembarked; this number including 14 Officers, 372 rank and file and 11 Naval ratings. Welcome assistance was received by many members of the Royal Army Medical Corps from the shore hospital, and the medical staff were able to go ashore to enjoy some relaxation in the afternoon.
During the voyage 2 patients died of illness on the 4/10/1915: Pte John Galloway, 554, 17th Bn AIF and Pte Frederick John Tyler, 403, 5th Bn Essex Regt; and Pte Guy Holbrook, 2255, 10th Bn AIF, died of typhoid on the 6/10/1915, all being buried at sea by Chaplain Beasley.
The following day (9th) while the ship was being coaled, the nurses along with some of the doctors, crossed the bay to Algeciras, Spain, and spent an enjoyable day shopping and sightseeing. The Gascon sailed at 7 a.m. on the 10th of October for her return to Lemnos, passing the Dunluce Castle on the 11th. However, on the 13th she received a wireless message to put in at Malta instead, and they tied up in the Grand Harbour, Valetta at 6 a.m. the next day (14th). Orders then came through to embark patients for England, which was carried out on the 15th.
With 393 patients on board, mostly convalescents and walking cases, they left about 3 p.m. that afternoon (15th). Alice Kitchin noted in her diary: “It has been very hot all day & W5 [Ward 5] is rather a trial being so close & full of cigarette smoke which is overpowering from 110 men who smoke incessantly.”
On the evening of the 16th of October, the Gloucester Castle which was also heading to England, caught up and passed them. The Gascon arrived off Gibraltar at 12.10 p.m. on the 19th and despatched various cables before proceeding on at 1.35 p.m. Throughout the voyage there was constant grumbling from the patients in regard to the poor quality and quantity of food. Alice Kitchin also made reference to the monotony, including bad butter and sloppy rice.
Arriving to a wet and foggy Southampton late morning on the 24th they began disembarking the 392 patients as soon as they docked, having only lost one patient on the voyage. That patient being Pte James Fish of the Lancashire Regt, who was committed to the deep on the 21/10/1915. Empty once more the ship left again at 3 p.m. and arrived at Tilbury at 4 p.m. on the 25th, anchoring at Gravesend, having missed the tide. She continued on to East India Dock, London, on the 26th, arriving at 4.30 p.m. With no steam to heat the ship, having been towed along the Thames, the nursing staff were glad to finally leave the freezing ship on the 27th; looking forward to the 2 weeks of Leave ahead of them. The Gascon remained in dock undergoing repairs and a refit until the 10th of November.
With all the staff back on board, as well as a new addition, a Stewardess, and the entire equipment and R.A.M.C. personnel of the 29th British General Hospital (BGH), consisting of 34 Medical Officers and 201 other ranks, the Gascon sailed for Salonika on the 11th of November 1915. She arrived after dark on the 25th and anchored outside the harbour; entering the following day (26th). The Grantully Castle had been in the harbour for a fortnight and the Asturias, also with a General Hospital on board, had been waiting for some time, and the Gascon was set to join the waiting game.
On the 4th of December she received 75 invalids, and then on the 5th as the 29th BGH equipment and personnel finally began to be disembarked, 291 patients were brought on board to take their place. With the onset of winter, many of these cases were suffering from trench fever, frostbite and the resulting gangrene. Disembarkation of the 29th BGH continued throughout the day of the 6th and finally concluded at 11.30 a.m. on the 7th. The Gascon then sailed for Alexandria at 3.15 that afternoon (7th), and arrived early on the morning of the 10th.
Two patients had died during the voyage and the other 364 patients, including 8 Officers, were disembarked throughout the day (10th). Now that the Gascon was carrying fewer patients and the ship due to transport more invalids to England, three of the AANS nurses left the ship on the 12th to return to their original Units; these were Alice Kitchin, Hilda Samsing and Jean Miles Walker. Sadly, Jean Miles Walker didn’t survive the war; a victim of the Influenza epidemic, she died from Pneumonia on the 30/10/1918. Her remains are buried in St John the Evangelist Churchyard, Sutton Veny, Wiltshire, England.
Having embarked 358 invalids during the morning of the 12th, the Gascon left the harbour at 2 p.m., but promptly returned on account of a burst steam pipe. With repairs complete the ship sailed again at 5 p.m. on the 14th of December, and arrived at Southampton on Boxing Day (26th). Disembarkation of the 358 invalids took place that day and the Gascon remained at dock coaling and undergoing some minor repairs until the 2nd of January 1916.
During the 3rd of January, 139 Indian invalids, along with the personnel and stores of the 1st Indian General Hospital were embarked for the voyage to Egypt. Leaving Southampton at 4.30 p.m. on the 4th, they arrived at Alexandria and anchored in the harbour at 5.30 p.m. on the 16th. Disembarkation took place on the 17th and the ship then remained in the harbour for some time awaiting orders. During this time the remaining AANS nurses left the ship, Penelope Frater on the 20th, Adelaide Kellett on the 22nd, and Elsie Gibson, Ethel Peters, Ella Tucker and Alice Twynam on the 1st of February.
Taking the place of the AANS nurses were 4 nurses of the New Zealand Army Nursing Service Corps; three joining the ship on the 3rd of February, and one more on the 4th. The Gascon also embarked 290 invalids, including 11 nurses on the 4th, and departed for England once more at 5 p.m. Stopping at Gibraltar en-route on the 12th, they embarked 32 more invalids before continuing on later that morning. Southampton was reached on the 17th and the patients were disembarked on the 18th. Pte Thomas Henry Lewis, 207 1/5 Bn Welsh Regt, was the only death on the voyage, having succumbed to chronic Dysentery on the 9/2/1916.
With coaling and some minor repairs seen to, 62 native invalids were embarked for Boulogne, France on the 25th of February, and following further delays the ship finally sailed at 6 a.m. on the 28th. Arriving at her destination on the morning of the 29th, the patients were disembarked, and 347 British and Canadian patients were embarked in their place; the ship sailing for Southampton at 7.15 that evening.
Southampton was reached at 9.30 a.m. on the 1st of March, and all invalids disembarked. The following day (2nd) 358 Indian invalids were embarked for Alexandria, and the ship sailed at 3 p.m. Arriving at Alexandria on the 14th, all patients were disembarked during the afternoon.
On the 15th orders were received by Lieut Col Hugo to hand over command of the Gascon with all her medical stores and equipment to Major Herbert Longmore Grant Chevers of the Royal Army Medical Corps. This took place on the 19th of March and Lieut Col Hugo and his entire IMS staff left the ship and entrained for Suez.
The Gascon continued her war service until the end of 1919, but this history finishes here (for now).
Occasionally the various diaries differ in regard to dates and times, and quite often in the number of patients carried during trips – in most of these cases I have chosen to stick with the Gascon diary.
The service records and further detail of the AANS nurses can be found at the following link: https://discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au/browse/groupstories/16457
*HMHS Gascon War Diary [NA – WO 95/4145/1] (by Lieut Col E.V. Hugo, I.M.S.)
*AANS Nurse: Elsie Gibson’s Diary [AWM – PRO1269]
*AANS Nurse: Alice Kitchin’s Diary [SLV – MS 9627 MSB 478] (courtesy of a transcription from Dr Kirsty Harris)
*Snippets from various other Diaries
*Various letters from Nurses and Soldiers and articles sourced from Australian newspapers [Trove]
*Soldier’s and Nurse’s Service Records
*Great War Forum (special thanks to members), as well as various other websites and books