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.

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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

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

 

 

 

Staff Nurse Louisa Bicknell ‘As brave as any fighting soldier’

Louisa Bicknell was the first Australian nurse to die whilst on active service in Egypt. ‘Louie’ as she was known, was born at Elmore in 1879 to Eliza Bicknell of Abbotsford, Victoria.  She departed from Sydney on HMAT Kyrarra A55 on the 13th of April, 1915 for Egypt and was posted to the No. 1 Australian General Hospital at Heliopolis.  Within a few weeks of her arrival she died from pyaemia following an incident in one of the hospital’s surgical wards where she sustained a scratch on her hand. 

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She was highly regarded for her professional standards. Matron Pilkington wrote “We are in deep grief, she was one of the brightest, healthiest and unselfish nurses I have known. She was as brave as any fighting soldier and said when she was dying “How hard it is to die with so little accomplished, but I would go through it all again to help, and it is all in the game”.

She was buried with full military honours in the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery, grave reference B. 306. The personal inscription on her headstone read “Peace perfect peace, with loved ones far away, in Jesus keeping, we are safe and they”.

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Louisa is commemorated on the Bairnsdale Shire honour roll and on a memorial to overseas nurses who died in the Great War at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in London.

Sources:

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The Australian War Memorial

http://www.theirdutydone.com ‘A tribute to the men and women of the East Gippsland region’