Sometimes we look but we don’t really see – a local link to Egypt

On a recent visit to the graveyard at All Saints church in Grasby, North Lincs I was very surprised to see the recent addition of a Commonwealth War graves sign – indicating the presence of a war grave. A quick consultation of the CWGC app revealed the name Arthur Frank Wescott of the Royal Field Artillery who died on the 13th of November 1918. Now I’ve visited this particular graveyard many times as I have two family members buried here and I was immediately curious as I could not recall the presence of a CWGC Portland headstone in such a small graveyard.

I walked round the graveyard 3 times looking for a headstone until I noticed the ‘Dardanelles’ wording on large, white memorial stone directly behind the grave of my Nanna. The headstone bears the names of three unmarried brothers who fell during the conflict – the sons of  local Headmaster Elton Edward Wescott and his wife Leah of Grasby.

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Arthur Frank Wescott died on the 13th November 1918, a scant two days after the signing of The Armistice, whilst serving as Corporal 99056 in A Battery of the 152nd Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. The CWGC records state he was buried in the churchyard at Grasby, he presumably having died at home of his wounds. Arthur was 20 years old.

Harry E Westcott should in fact be Elton Harry Wescott. Elton was serving as Corporal 9828 in the 6th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment when he was killed in action on the 15th August 1915 at Gallipoli aged 23. He was buried in the Alexandria (Chatby) Military and War cemetery in Egypt, grave reference no: J44. I’m rather taken with the personal inscription on his gravestone which states ‘Asleep with England’s heroes in the watchful care of God’.

Edward Lawrence Wescott died of wounds on the 11th May 1917 in France whilst serving as Sergeant 9580 of the 8th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment  at 22 years of age. He had apparently been a member of the 1st Battalion and had gone to France as a member of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in August of 1914 and could therefore have been a regular soldier. Edward was buried in the Etaples Military cemetery, grave reference no: XVIII.M.6A. Like Harry, Edwards gravestone bears the inscription ‘Asleep with England’s heroes in the watchful care of God’. 

In September, I’m due to start my Doctoral research project on the IWGC’s operations in Egypt during the Great War – with a particular focus on the cemeteries of Hadra and Chatby at Alexandria. The Chatby Military and War Memorial Cemetery (originally the Garrison cemetery) was used for burials until April 1916, when a new cemetery was opened at Hadra. I am so looking forward to uncovering more stories such as Harrys within the context of my research.

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Sir Ronald Ross’ work on dysentery in Alexandria, Egypt during the Great War

The Ross Collection in the Archives of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine holds material on dysentery during the First World War.
Sir Ronald Ross is famous for being the discoverer of the mosquito transmission of malaria and the first Briton to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.


Ross and colleagues in Alexandria, 1915

During World War One he was appointed a consultant physician on tropical diseases to Indian troops and was sent to Alexandria for four months to investigate an outbreak of dysentery which was hampering troops in the Dardanelles. In the report he made at the end of his service, he states that on visiting seven large hospitals in Alexandria, nearly all medical cases belonged to five groups of diseases usually prevalent in British troops in warm countries: typhoid, jaundice, malaria, dysentery and mixed cases. Of these, dysentery (an infection of the intestines that causes diarrhoea containing blood and mucus) was the principal cause of sickness in the Mediterranean Expeditionary Forces. Figures from a report show that from 29 August to 9th October 1915 there were 32,528 cases of diarrhoea and dysentery with 231 deaths.


Post mortems on cases showing dysenteric ulceration of colon at 21 General Hospital, Alexandria June 28-October 27 1915 by George Bertram Bartlett

He found that many of the cases were amoebic dysentery which meant prolonged illness and cases of liver abscesses. Ross instructed that all patients showing dysenteric symptoms at the front be given emetine and this resulted in patients reaching Alexandria in a less critical condition.
Ross finished his report with a number of suggestions, including increasing the number of pathologists in each hospital, and that those patients who have been treated successfully for malaria and dysentery be sent home with medical cards outlining their medical notes in case of relapse.

Ross at the Regina Hotel, Alexandria, Egypt

While Ross is remembered for his work on malaria and dysentry, this remarkable man was also a mathematician, epidemiologist, sanitarian, editor, novelist, dramatist, poet, amateur musician, composer, and artist. He died, after a long illness, at the Ross Institute on 16 September 1932.

“…With tears and toiling breath,
I find thy cunning seeds,
O million-murdering Death.”

(fragment of poem by Ronald Ross, written in August 1897, following his discovery of malaria parasites in anopheline mosquitoes fed on malaria-infected patients)

Information Sources:

Library & Archives Service, The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Stories from the Hadra War Cemetery (Egypt): Staff Nurse Ella Cooke

In the winter of 1914, Ella Cooke was looking forward to a grand adventure. The Auckland-born nurse and her twin sister Lily had just departed New Zealand in a boat bound for Vancouver, New York and finally England. She was looking forward to seeing the sights, and eventually a working holiday in London, or maybe Paris.

The outbreak of war in July 1914 dashed all her plans. By the time the pair finally docked in London, Ella was contemplating an assignment in one of the many under-resourced hospitals in France. In November 1914, Ella was one of a group of 14 nurses who left England to serve with the French Flag Nursing Corps. She spent the next six months at a hospital in Bernay near Rouen before to returning to England.

Instead of returning home, Ella was persuaded to join the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve. After completing her training at Aldershot she was posted to No: 17 General Hospital at Alexandria, Egypt at the end of September 1915.

During her two years at the hospital, Ella was regarded by her colleagues as a “happy and popular” recruit. On a Saturday off duty – exactly two years after arriving in Alexandria she was killed instantly whilst taking a short cut across a railway line behind the hospital enroute to visiting her friends, Major and Mrs Walshe. She was struck on the forehead by some part of the tram and fell back onto the verge. She died instantly as a result of a skull fracture.

A Court of Enquiry chaired by Lt Col Godding R.A.M.C concluded that she must have been either hurrying or dreaming and did not look up to see whether the tram was approaching. The enquiry exonerated the Driver and the Tram Company of blame and recorded the death was ‘due to a temporary and regrettable want of care on poor Miss Cooke’s part’. 

She was honoured with a full military funeral and buried in the Hadra War Cemetery, Egypt. Her name is inscribed on the World War 1 Nurses Memorial in York Minister, England.

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Service Number 2/RESC/1266 Staff Nurse Ella Cooke

Cemetery/memorial reference: B. 25.

‘A gallant and erudite Soldier’ – The Funeral of Major William Throsby Bridges

William Throsby Bridges was born at Greenock, Scotland, on 18 February 1861. As a youth he moved to Canada, where he later entered the Royal Military College but failed to graduate. In 1879 Bridges moved to Australia and joined the civil service, working in Braidwood, Murrurundi, and Narrabri. He returned to military life in 1885, taking a permanent commission in the artillery, and that same year married his wife, Edith. For the next few years he held various positions at the School of Gunnery and attended several gunnery courses in England, passing them with distinction. Bridges served with the British army in South Africa from 1899 until he was evacuated with enteric fever in 1900. In January 1909 he became Australia’s first chief of the general staff and the next year was tasked with founding Australia’s first military college, the Royal Military College at Duntroon. By the time the First World War had broken out Bridges had attained the rank of Brigadier General and was given the task of raising an Australian contingent for service in Europe. He was promoted to Major General in August 1914 and was appointed the commander of the new Australian Imperial Force. Bridges travelled to Egypt with the first contingent in October and started to record his experiences in a diary from early 1915.

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From this diary we can observe the evolution of planning for the Gallipoli campaign, including his meetings with commanders like Lieutenant General William Birdwood and General Sir Ian Hamilton and with various Australian commanders who would rise to prominence in the years to come.

On 25 April 1915 units of Bridges 1st Australian Division were the first to land at Anzac Cove. In the desperate confusion of the first day the landing force suffered more than 2,000 casualties, and little progress was made towards achieving their military objectives. Bridges argued for an immediate evacuation but was overruled. From the outset Bridges insisted on inspecting the front lines on a daily basis, despite the danger to himself. On 15 May 1915 he was travelling with other officers through Monash Valley when he was shot through his right femoral artery by a Turkish sniper. The rapid onset of gangrene meant that immediate amputation for a 53 year old man would prove fatal so a medical decision was taken that it was better for nature to take its course, which in Bridges’ case was 3 days. He  died on board the hospital ship Gascon before it reached port. His last recorded instruction was “that his regret should be conveyed to the Minister for Defence that his dispatch concerning the landing was not complete — he was too tired now.”

William Bridges was initially buried at Alexandria in Egypt, but in June 1915 his body was exhumed and returned to Australia. A series of interesting photographs held by the State Library of  New South Wales show views from his original funeral.

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He became the only Australian killed in the First World War to have his remains returned to Australia. On 3 September 1915 he was buried on the slopes of Mount Pleasant at Duntroon in Canberra, under the words ‘A gallant and erudite soldier’.

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Sources and Acknowledgements 

The Australian War Memorial

State Library of New South Wales