Sister Selina Lily (Lil) Mackenzie – 1st Australian General Hospital (Heliopolis)

The Victoria Museum holds a small collection bequeathed by Rosemary McArthur in 2010 commemorating the life of Sister Selina Lily ‘Lil’ Mackenzie which provides an interesting insight into the role of women (in this instance nurses) serving in Egypt during World War I.

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 Portrait of Sister Lil Mackenzie with a Friend, Egypt, 1915-1917

Lil returned to her hometown after the outbreak of war, and on 5 October 1915 enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service. She was 33 years old, and despite 11 years nursing at a senior level, she was given the lowest rank: staff nurse. Lil embarked for Egypt shortly after enlistment, reporting for duty at the 1st Australian General Hospital (AGH) in Heliopolis, Egypt, on 9 December 1915.

The 1st AGH was housed in the Heliopolis Palace Hotel, a grand building on the north-eastern edge of Cairo with rooms of marble and alabaster. Planned as a 520-bed hospital, by June 1915 it held nearly 2,500 patients. The hospital expanded into nearby buildings: the racecourse, the casino, the barracks of the Egyptian Army, and Luna Park where the ticket office became an operating theatre and the skating rink, bandstand and scenic railway became wards.

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A keen photographer, Lil took images of her time in Egypt; the photographs were carefully placed in albums, and chronicle the hospital at which she served and Luna Park Cairo. The camera on which the images were taken forms part of the Museum’s collection, the inside of the leather case bears Lil’s name with the date 1915 and location Cairo, Egypt. Also donated in the group are Lil’s nursing capes, one made of a very light-weight silk (necessary in the extreme heat of Egypt); buttons carefully removed from her uniforms and kept by the family; and souvenirs from Egypt.

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A Scarab ring bought by Sister Selina Lily (Lil) Mackenzie as a souvenir of her time in Egypt during World War I

In February 1916 the 1st and 2nd AGH moved to France, but Lil remained in Cairo for another 12 months with the 3rd AGH. In January 1917 the 3rd AGH moved to England, then France on 8 February 1917. On arrival in France Lil was transferred to the Imperial unit, the 13th General Hospital at Rouen. She would have been one of about 70 nurses.

Lil was transferred back to the 3rd AGH, now at Abbeville on the western part of the Somme River, on 6 July 1917. The 3rd AGH was one of the biggest hospitals in France, with 2,000 beds, 20 sisters and 60 staff nurses.

In November 1917 Lil was again transferred, this time to the 38th Stationary Hospital which had just opened at a boys’ school in Genoa, Italy. Lil served at this 520 bed hospital for British Troops until March 1918, when she was put in charge of the 24th Casualty Clearing Station, located north of Venice; she had 30 staff reporting to her.

Having served five months in the exhausting conditions of a Casuatly Clearing Station, Lil returned to the 38th Stationary Hospital in Genoa on 18 August 1918, and a week later left for England for three week’s leave. She returned to Genoa in September, and in October was notified she had been promoted to Sister. She served at the 38th Stationary Hospital until January 1919 when she was transferred to England.

She spent a month at the 3rd Australia Auxilliary Hospital in Dartford, Kent, and then took a few months leave during which time she attended lectures at the Royal Sanitary Institute in London. She qualified as an Inspector of Nuisances in June that year. Upon completion of her course, Lil returned to the 3rd Australia Auxilliary Hospital in Dartford for two months, and was then transferred to the 1st AGH which was now in Wiltshire. Just over a month later, on 18 October 1919, Lil embarked for Australia on the ‘Morea’, disembarking on 28 November. Her appointment as an army nurse was terminated on 17 February 1920.

In recognition of her service, Lil was awarded the Royal Red Cross 2nd Class for her service in Italy. She also received the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victoria Medal. Lil passed away at the age of 90. In 2010 her family donated photographs and personal items associated with her service to Museum Victoria.

 

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Sources: 

Sister Selina Lily (Lil) McKenzie (1882-1972) Smith, C. (2010) Sister Selina Lily (Lil) McKenzie (1882-1972) in Museums Victoria Collections https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/3586
Accessed 02 July 2017

Wallet – Leather, Egypt, Sister Selina Lily (Lil) Mackenzie, 1915 – 1917  Museums Victoria Collections https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/1584159
Accessed 01 July 2017

Scarab Ring Museums Victoria Collections https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/1584148
Accessed 02 July 2017

Group Portrait of Nurses in front of the Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt 1915 – 17 Museums Victoria Collections https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/1562607
Accessed 02 July 2017

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‘To collect or not to collect that is the question’ – The purchase of War Souvenirs

Evidence of looting (private property taken from a combatant or a third party, dead or alive, in war), and trophy taking (anything serving as a token or evidence of victory, valour, or skill) on Egyptian territory can be found today in museums and archives all over Britain and its former dominion territories.

Attitudes to looting and trophy taking in 1882 were as complex as the socio-economic climate in which Britain found itself militarily engaged. In the face of a nationalist insurrection and a perceived threat to the Suez Canal, a British fleet first bombarded then captured Alexandria’s forts. Landing parties then pulled down Egyptian flags, which were taken as trophies. Less significant artefacts were looted by European sailors and soldiers on the ground.

Prior to the establishment of the Australian War Records Section (AWRS) in May 1917, the collection of war trophies and relics by Australian units was carried out in accordance with British War Office (BWO) regulations. In late 1916 BWO established a committee to deal with the disposal of trophies and relics: the best trophies would be selected for a British National War Museum (later to become the Imperial War Museum) and the remaining trophies distributed to the dominion countries. However, the Australian government, along with other dominion countries, resisted the idea, insisting trophies claimed by their troops should be made available to them. The AWRS was initially responsible for the collection, preservation, and classification of all official documents relating to the AIF. This was later expanded to include photographs, trench and regimental magazines, sketches, personal memoirs, relics, and war trophies. By the end of 1917 AWRS controlled the administration of all war trophies captured by Australian units.

In October 1917 Henry Gullett sailed for Egypt, where he established an office of the AWRS to coordinate the collection of trophies. Items were to be clearly labelled, contain the name of the unit that had captured the item, the town or area it was from, the time and place the item was found, and the unit’s wish for its ultimate disposal. The information was transferred to a history sheet or card for each item.

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‘Skull Fragment’ Image Source: The Australian War Memorial REL 33592 refers

This partial skull fragment was picked up by an Australian soldier, Trooper George David Burns* in Egypt during the Second World War. The year ‘1882’ has been carved into the top of the fragment with the place name ‘TEL EL KEBIR’ carved beneath. This indicates the origin of the skull is likely to be from the Battle of Tel el-Kebir. The carving is believed to have been done by an Egyptian and the later date ‘1916’ that is carved beneath the words ‘TEL EL KEBIR’, suggest that it was carved for, sold or passed on to, a British or Australian soldier during the First World War. How the skull fragment came into the possession of Trooper Burns during the Second World War is unknown.

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Acquisitive acts,  such as the taking of the spoils of war, were commonly regarded as an unexceptional aspect of armed conflict.  The different items people brought or sent home influenced the way Egypt and the Egyptian Soudan were perceived and laterly understood in Britain.

Sources & Notes:

Fox, Paul: Taking trophies and collecting loot: Cultures of acquisition on Egyptian territory during nineteenth century armed conflict (2015)

The Australian War Memorial, REL33592 refers

*Burns was born in Wondai, Queensland in 1916. Prior to his military service he worked as a farm labourer, enlisting in the army in November 1939. He embarked for the Middle East in January 1940, serving with 6 Australian Division Calvary Regiment in Egypt and Palestine (including Gaza). Trooper Burns was killed in action during the Battle of Bardia on 3 January 1941, age 25. He is buried in Knightsbridge War Cemetery, Acroma in Libya.

2/1st East Lancashire Field Ambulance 42nd Division

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This week I managed to purchase a wonderful image of the 1st / 2nd East Lancashire Field Ambulance which was taken at Giza, Egypt in October 1914. Assistance to identify the unit shown in the image was generously given by Andrew Mackay, co-Author of Burnley & the Royal Edward Disaster – ‘The Story of Callam’s Own’. 

The 1/1st, 2/1st and 3/1st East Lancashire Field Ambulances which in total consisted of 30 officers and 665 men left with the 42nd Division in September 1914 for Egypt and the defence of the Suez Canal. Disembarkation began at Alexandria on 25 September, and with the exception of the Manchester Brigade concentrated around Cairo, where acclimatisation and further training commenced.

The 1st / 2nd East Lancashire Field Ambulance was the first of three Field Ambulance units belonging to the 42nd Division to be mobilised for action abroad. The East Lancashire Field Ambulance units were staffed by some of the most highly qualified medical men from Manchester and the District. When the call for Imperial service came they, and their men, responded swiftly and were to endure great hardships during the course of their Gallipoli service.

Its a superb image and one Ill be taking with me to the Cardiff ‘Views of an Antique Land’ conference for scanning on the 20th May.

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For further details on the Cardiff project and upcoming conference please see the links listed below.

 

References & Links: 

‘The Lancashire Territorials in Gallipoli – An epic of Heroism’ George Bigwood

‘Burnley & The Royal Edward Disaster – The Story of Callams Own’ edited by Denis Otter & Andrew Mackay

The Official Facebook page for the Cardiff University HLF funded project: https://www.facebook.com/ww1imagesegypt/

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/views-of-an-antique-land-conference-and-keynote-lecture-tickets-33212993959

 

 

 

I do love a nice research mystery …

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This week, knowing my research interests, my Dad presented me with a set of postcards which he felt may be of interest.

The first image, taken by S Sarkis, Garrison Photographer from the Kasr-el-Nil Barracks in Cairo is of a funeral procession described as ‘Fusiliers’.  Now I’m going to make some assumptions here with regard to the cemetery. I’m 90% certain that this is the Cairo War Memorial cemetery – from other images I have dating to the Great War period the type of cross assemblage in the background would fit, as would the presence of Mr Sarkis to document the occasion within the environs of central Cairo. The cemetery at Heliopolis in Cairo did not open until 1941 so Its reasonably safe to assume this is indeed Cairo.

The pall bearers are wearing tropical field service dress and two of them appear to have red roses on their helmets which may indicate that they are Lancashire Fusiliers. The Lancashire Fusiliers wore red roses on their helmets to commemorate the Battle of Minden in 1759. Searching the Commonwealth War Graves database for Cairo yields the following results:- 20 graves belonging to the Lancashire Fusiliers dating between the period 1914 -1919, 11 graves belonging to the Royal Fusiliers dating between the period 1915 – 1919 and lastly 12 graves belonging to the Northumberland Fusiliers dating between 1917 – 1919.

The image is undated, however the presence of two female mourners behind the coffin may indicate a post war date and if that were the case it could be a photograph related to a very small number of men. However, thats quite a large leap to make so for now  all I can say is that I have a list of 43 candidates from a register of 2393 men.

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So, more research is required but isnt it amazing which direction a single postcard can lead you?

 

 

 

The Ethics of Collecting Medals – ‘Private James Tilbury’ of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment

Military medals are becoming increasingly valuable, but its the story of courage behind the award that ultimately counts. Whenever I  have seen personal medals for sale either at a dealers or for sale on sites such as eBay I have often wondered about the circumstances that brought them to be for sale.

Over the years many sets are bequeathed to Regimental Museums or Associations however this should always be done with care. In 2015 the Combined Military Services Museum came under fire for selling donated second world war medals. The medals, which belonged to the donor’s father,  were sold on eBay for £32. The Donor  had not given the museum permission to sell the medals and had donated them in the hope they would “be in safe keeping for generations to come”. The Museum had decided that as they had numerous similar items both on display and in storage the donated set would be passed onto a dealer for sale, and the proceeds used for the purchase of other artefacts for display.

We should consider the fact that as people age many tend to get less sentimental about physical objects. It may well be that the person in question had no relatives to leave them to, or that surviving relatives were genuinely not interested or would rather have had a monetary alternative. Perhaps this is where the private collector can play a viable role – if the medal in question is so old that its original owner is sure to be dead, I have less of an ethical issue regarding my purchase. Ive started to collect the medals of soldiers buried in Egypt. To date I have four partial sets which I have started to research and I’m looking forward to uncovering more of their stories. My latest purchase is the Victory Medal belonging to Private James Tilbury of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. James, an Upholster by profession, enlisted in Oxford and saw service with the Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry before being transferred to the Garrison Battalion with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment at the Abbassia barracks on the outskirts of Cairo. The war diaries record that the regiment has recently been vaccinated against an outbreak of enteric fever (Typhoid) and this may have been how James lost his life, aged 34. James is remembered with honour in the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery, Grave Ref: F. 254.

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Almost all of the collectors I know see themselves as the current custodian and treat the medal with the respect it deserves. The medals remind us of the extraordinary heroism of those who fight for their country and those who lie far from home.

‘Vigilans’ a look at the iconic photograph featuring the men of the 11th Battalion

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On the 10th of January 1915 Officers and men of the 11th Battalion, Australian Imperial Forces posed on the Great Pyramid of Giza for what would become an iconic photograph. The 11th Battalion did much of their war training in Egypt and would be amongst the first to land at Anzac Cove on April 25, 1915. In the five days following the landing, the battalion suffered 378 casualties, over one third of its strength in totality. Following the withdrawal from Gallipoli, the battalion returned to Egypt where it was split to help form the 51st Battalion and redeployed to the Western Front until 1918.

On Sunday, January 10, 1915, Captain Charles Barnes recorded in a letter to his mother:

‘After Church this morning the whole Battalion was marched up to the Pyramid (Old Cheops) and we had a photo took or at least several of them.’

Most of the 703 men who posed for this iconic image have never been identified and it is likely that this is the last photograph of many of them, Captain Barnes included. He was killed in the Dardanelles on 28th April, 1915 and is commemorated on Panel No 33 of the memorial at Lone Pine.

Various urban myths surround the photo which have been perpetuated over time – the popular ‘dead man’ myth being one notable example. It’s worth taking a moment to review the excellent work on debunking the myths completed to date by the WAGS Project.

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Credit: ‘Cheops Image in a shop in Queensland, Australia’ http://11btn.wags.org.au/

Work on the image is still ongoing in an effort to try and identify as many of the men as possible. Please see http://11btn.wags.org.au/ for further details.

To sew or not to sew? that is the question …Sewing Soldiers and Historical Textiles

The pocket sewing kit originated in the middle of the 18th century. The ‘housewife’ holdall or pouch was an essential component of a soldiers equipment. It contained all that he would require to carry out repairs to his clothing when necessary. Inside, it would contain a range of items such as a thimble, needles, balls of darning wool to repair socks, darning thread to repair his uniform, spare buttons and safety pins. The kits were often a gift from a significant woman in their life: their mother, sister, wife or sweetheart. From the latter part of the 19th century and for about a hundred years thereafter the British Army issued sewing kits to soldiers as part of their official equipment.

However, soldiers did not only sew to mend their clothes and maintain their equipment. Needlecraft was promoted by the Army as a worthwhile pastime to keep soldiers occupied during their hours of leisure time when confined to barracks. In postings such as Egypt, where life was often described as ‘monotonous’, engagement with crafts was perceived as a deterrent to drunkenness, unruly behaviour and the illicit attractions of Cairo.  It was also promoted as an activity to assist with the recovery of injured or bedridden soldiers. There are many wonderful examples of needlecraft in regimental museums around the world which attest to the creativity and skill of soldiers. 

In Cairo, soldiers were able to purchase local textiles or embroidered items known collectively as a ‘Souvenir of Egypt’. These items were extremely popular during the First world War due to their colourful nature and the fact they were easy to fold and post home as gifts for loved ones.

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Embroidered handkerchief  (Image Source: Wakefield Museum)

Very little is written or known about such pieces. The embroideries were machine chained stitched onto colourful cotton sateen, often sold as ‘silk’ by enterprising Egyptian salesmen, and usually bear the phrase ‘ A Souvenir of Egypt’ with a year date. Most have a distinctly Egyptian flavour and show the pyramids and sphinx, camels or date palms. Many show images associated with different armies or nations and have been fully customised by replicating unit colours as part of the overall design.

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Embroidered souvenir of Egypt with photograph : Sergeant R P Mills, 26 Battalion AIF (Image Source: The Australian War Memorial, REL28180 refers) 

A piece of Khayamiya or Tentmaker applique, purchased in 1916 by Nurse Jane McLennan in Egypt was recently exhibited as part of the Distant Lines: Queensland Voices of the First World War exhibition. She visited Egypt en route to Salonika where her journals detail the sparseness of her tented accommodation – this item would certainly have made a welcoming decoration in such difficult circumstances.

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Embroidered Khayamiya (Image Source: The State Library of Queensland) 

Objects collected by servicemen whilst serving during WW1 are held in many major museum collections. Pieces, such as these embroideries, function as repositories of memory and meaning, and for us today, form part of the material culture of warfare and the Commonwealth-Egyptian encounter of WW1. I look forward to exploring this area further during the course of my ongoing research.