In 1915, the Greek Prime Minister allowed for a base at Salonika (also known as Thessalonica or Salonica) to be created in order to support troops joining the Serbian campaign. Troops from the failed Gallipoli campaign were sent to Salonika and hospital units followed.
Although there were no Canadian troops fighting in the area, No. 1, 2 and 5 Stationary Hospitals were dispatched to the Mediterranean. CAMC nursing sisters were sent to the area and cared for soldiers that had served in the Gallipoli campaign at hospitals on the islands of Lemnos and Malta and in Salonika and Cairo, Egypt. The hospital camps were described as rows of wooden huts and tents – some held 2000 beds.
Lemnos had the reputation of being the worst posting in the war due to the terrain, extreme weather conditions, including heat and cold and very little water. Water had to be transported from Alexandria or distilled on board supply ships in the harbour. Nursing sisters lived in tents and had to deal with insects, malaria and poor sanitary conditions. The workload was immense with a large number of men requiring care and soldiers dying from wounds, as well as complications from poor sanitation. In addition, the food supply was inadequate. Dysentery was an issue and many nursing sisters returned to England as patients.
Winnipeg General Hospital nursing sister, Alfreda Attrill, Class of 1909, served for two years at No. 5 Canadian General Hospital and No. 1 Canadian Stationary Hospital, Salonika. Her war service in the area also took her to Malta and Egypt. Please visit her page to explore her photographs and experiences as a nursing sister serving on the Mediterranean Front.
Mary Burns, Class of 1907, seen in the WGH Day Staff photograph, served with the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) for two years in Malta. She was posted to Valletta Hospital with the Red Cross and then at Hamrun Officers Hospital until February 1916.
The letter she wrote (see below) was published in the Nurses’ Alumnae Journal, October 1915.
Army Headquarters, Canadian Red Cross
Malta, August 3, 1915
We were thankful to be safely landed after the thrilling experiences of the voyage, at Valetta, the capital of Malta. Population, 50,000, said to be the most thickly populated place of its size anywhere. Malta has a beauty all its own, but one great drawback is the intense heat. August and September are the hottest months. We are simply bathed in perspiration all the time; then one chills so easily in the evening. Rain falls only during the winter months. About one-third of Malta is bare rock, still oranges and grapes, figs and peaches are grown here in large quantities. The women are engaged in lace making. One thing noticeable about Valetta is the absence of grass and trees. On the streets there is only white stone to be seen. One has to go out some distance to a park. Flowers are in profusion but owing to intense heat have little perfume. Valetta is exceedingly noisy. It has been well christened, “Yell, bells and smells.” The bells clang all day and such a din. The roosters crow periodically, and the children run the streets till midnight, yelling at the tops of their voice. The mosquitoes and sand flies are terrible pests, especially the latter, which we get from the goats. Goats are everywhere! They have the right of way on the main thoroughfares; in the stores. They are milked at the doors of all customers. In fact, the goats live and sleep on the streets. There doesn’t seem to be any sanitary inspection. Malta is the base for the wounded from the Dardanelles, and they must have twenty hospitals here, every one full. Ours overlooks the harbor and accommodates 600. It was formerly a building used by the Knights of St. John’s, 400 years ago. I am nursing Australians and New Zealanders chiefly. They speak well of the Canadians, whom they resemble in many respects. The first day I was on duty a hospital ship arrived with a fresh supply of wounded, and when stretcher after stretcher was carried into my ward the awfulness of this hideous war struck home in earnest. The wounds were sickening to look at – shoulder joints shattered, legs and arms which had to be amputated at once, terrible scalp wounds with brains exposed, eye-sight gone. They were so exhausted that some fell asleep as soon as their heads touched the pillow; others begged for something to put them out of their misery. On arrival we sponge them, and they are so grateful for a wash. We then give them nourishing drinks, dress the wounds, inject anti-tetanus serum and make them as comfortable as possible. Each one is given a small parcel containing soap, wash rag, matches, cigarettes, chocolate, lead pencil and paper to write home, and if you could see their faces light up when they open these parcels! Cigarettes and chocolate are always most acceptable. Sometimes they ask for chocolate as soon as they come in. A hospital ship comes in every two or three days to unload its freight of suffering humanity. Our best men! The flower of the land! We cannot lose, when we have such gallant men as we nurse fighting for the cause of right.
One of the big battleships here for repairs sailed out last night. The band on board played “Will Ye No’ Come Back Again.” The sailors lined the decks cheery and happy, ready to meet any fate. I nursed a sailor who had enteric. He was on the Triumph which was torpedoed and sunk in the Dardanelles, but he swam to safety. It was pathetic being saved to contract enteric and die.