SS Mooltan and the Royal Navy Cruiser HMS Argyll in build on the River Clyde in 1905.
This web page is dedicated to the many amazingly brave Australian and New Zealand nurses, who left the safety of their homeland in order to apply their considerable nursing skills to caring for the Great War's overwhelming number of wounded. The daughters of farmers, small business owners, school teachers, ministers of religion and public servants, theirs is an amazing story of selfless courage and great dedication.
Launceston, Tasmania, 1917. Group portrait of seven members of the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) in the courtyard of a building. It is possibly shortly before the nurses sailed on P.& O's ss Mooltan for service in the Middle East and Salonica in Greece.
Built by Caird & Company of Greenock, Yard No 306 and launched on 3rd August 1905, Mooltan was powered by two steam quadruple expansion steam engines, giving her a service speed of 17 knots. She had accommodation for 348 1st and 166 2nd class passengers. Tonnage: 9621 grt | 4828 nrt, Length: 520 feet, Breadth: 58 feet Completed on 4th October 1905, she made her maiden voyage to Bombay. In 1906 she transferred to the London - Colombo - Melbourne - Sydney service and in 1911 took part in the Coronation Naval review at Spithead. On 26th July 1915 she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine UC.27 off the coast of Sardinia, while en route from Malta to Marseilles, in convoy. All 554 passengers and crew were rescued by escorting Japanese destroyers.
Mooltan, like many steamships carrying the Royal Mail, were contracted to carry the mail between Australia and Britain. On occasion, parts of the ship were booked by the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) to carry troops and cargo. The 3rd Australian General Hospital, AIF, was set up in response to a request from the British War Office by Thomas Henry Fiaschi, a well-known Italian surgeon. On 15 May 1915, the new unit sailed from Circular Quay, Sydney, on board Mooltan, just one month after its formation had been requested.
15th May 1915, ss Mooltan departing Sydney
On board were a number of Australian Army Nursing Service nurses. As recalled by Sister Anne Donnell, their uniforms were heavy and the weather on the voyage warm:
"We had another full dress parade this a.m. and sweltered in our heavy serge dresses, and wrung the perspiration out of them afterwards. Words fail me while this heat lasts - honestly we haven't ceased sweating since the third day out from Australia. A Sergeant-Major died suddenly in the small hours this morning - owing to the heat."
Anne Donnell, Letters of an Australian Army Sister, Sydney, 1920, pp.9-10)
The Mooltan arrived at Plymouth on 27 June and the unit travelled to London. There, preparations were made for their service in France at Etaples. However, on 1 July, 3 AGH received orders to proceed to Mudros on the island of Lemnos in the Aegean Sea near Gallipoli. They were advised that a site had been selected for the tent hospital and that it would be provided with huts about six weeks after their arrival in Mudros.
Australian Nursing Sisters on board Mooltan in 1915
Tasmanian Nursing Sisters on board Mooltan, 1915
Australian Doctors on board Mooltan, 1915
Kit inspection on board Mooltan, 1915
First Aid lectures on board Mooltan, 1915
Orderly taking loaves of bread to the men's mess room on board Mooltan, 1915
Lecture Classes in mid-ocean, on board Mooltan, 1915
Troops' mess deck accommodation on board Mooltan, 1915
Mealtime on the mess deck on board Mooltan, 1915
Transportable Field Hospital, fully assembled on board Mooltan, 1915
Interior of Transportable Field Hospital on board Mooltan, 1915
Reinforcements to No:1 Australian General Hospital leaving Mooltan at Aden, 1915
Source of all the above photos: The State Library of New South Wales
Because of its position, the island of Lemnos played an important part in the campaigns against Turkey during the First World War. It was occupied by a force of marines on 23 February 1915 in preparation for the military attack on Gallipoli, and Mudros became a considerable Allied camp. The 1st and 3rd Canadian Stationary Hospitals, the 3rd Australian General Hospital and other medical units were stationed on both sides of Mudros bay and a considerable Egyptian Labour Corps detachment was employed. After the evacuation of Gallipoli, a garrison remained on the island and the 1st Royal Naval Brigade was on Lemnos, Imbros and Tenedos for the first few months of 1916.
On board ss Simla at Mudros Bay, Lemnos, Greece - British Troops leaving for Gallipoli.
Ships at Mudros Bay, Lemnos, 1915
Mooltan's Passenger Edith Wilson Yeaman, A Nursing Sister of The Great War
Christmas Day, 1915 - The Staff of 3AGH at Lemnos
Edith Wilson Yeaman, at the age of 30, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in Victoria in May 1915, about three weeks after the landing at Gallipoli. She was a nurse at Melbourne Hospital and was also a member of the Australian Army Nursing Service, a reserve that was established in 1900. In the AANS Edith would have attended lectures, done first aid, paraded and attended field camps. But it didn't actually prepare the nurses for the harsh conditions in a field hospital. The organisation and the nurses themselves were thrown in the deep end and they had to learn 'on the job' how to cope with trench foot, frostbite, shell shock, mustard gas, dysentery, gangrene, surgical nursing and shrapnel wounds. As well as nursing in tents, an extreme lack of supplies of food and equipment. And hospitals run according to strict military routines (when to get up, when to shave, when to bathe). It seems madness to insist that patients who were able had to stand to attention at the foot of their beds when the Medical Officer did his rounds each day! Nurses also had to escort convalescents to Egypt, England or Australia, they wrote letters home for ill soldiers, they became adept at scrounging supplies and extras for 'their boys'.
Edith was appointed to 3 A.G.H. (3rd Australian General Hospital), left Melbourne on P&O's ss Mooltan and arrived in Egypt. A year later her file records her as returning from a period of recuperation in a British convalescent home for sick nurses at Bulkeley, just outside Alexandria.
The unit arrived in England on 27 June 1915, expecting to
be posted to France. However, on 1 July, the commanding officer was informed
that they would instead be deployed to
Mudros, on the Greek
island of Lemnos, where they would nurse the sick and injured troops fighting in
the Gallipoli campaign. Lemnos was only 50 miles from the fighting, whereas the
hospitals in Egypt were over 650 miles away, a journey of 1˝ days. When 3 A.G.H.
first started admitting patients, the majority were wounded men from the August
offensive, and it was these patients the hospital had been set up for, with
operating theatres and surgeons on the staff. In later months, nearly all the
patients were ill with either dysentery or paratyphoid. The staff of the
hospital also fell ill, though the nurses suffered less, probably by practising
better hygiene. in late November and December, the casualties changed again –
troops were caught in freezing weather on the Peninsula without adequate
clothing, and many were admitted to the hospitals on Lemnos suffering from
severe frostbite. The last Australians were evacuated from Gallipoli on the
night of 19/20 December, and many spent Christmas on Lemnos while waiting for
further orders. The whole evacuation of allied troops took three weeks. In spite
of earlier predictions that up to half the remaining forces could be killed, the
evacuations were so well planned that there were minimal casualties, which was a
relief to the hospital staff who had been prepared for casualties. With the end
of the Gallipoli campaign, the hospitals on Lemnos were disbanded. The nurses
boarded the hospital ship Oxfordshire on 14 January, and sailed out of
the harbour at Mudros on 17 January, bound for Egypt.
"We have just seen the last of Lemnos. Of course we are glad, yet there are many things we will miss; the unconventional freedom and the unique experiences we had there… Goodbye Lemnos. We take away many happy memories of you. I would not have liked to miss you, yet I have no desire to see you again." —Sister Anne Donnell
3 A.G.H. was re-established at Abbassia in Egypt in early 1916 in an old harem, where it operated for approximately eight months. The staff then operated the Kitchener War Hospital at Brighton, England from October 1916 before moving to Abbeville, France, from May 1917.
On 30 October 1918, the Armistice between the Entente Powers and Turkey was signed at Mudros.
On 25th July1917, she left Malta en route for Marseilles with the Messageries Maritimes steamer Lotus and two escorting Japanese destroyers, Kusonoki and Ume.
The following evening she was torpedoed, forward on the starboard side at 1915hrs by the German submarine UC27, endangering Lotus (which had in fact been UC27’s first target). All but two of the 554 aboard had been taken off by 2015hrs, when Mooltan was abandoned, about100 miles south of Sardinia, to be sunk two hours later by a second torpedo.
On 28th July1917, her passengers and crew were landed at Marseilles
"Mooltan, a steamer of 9,621 grt was torpedoed and sunk on July 26, 1917 by the German submarine UC 27 53 miles NNW1/2W Cape Serrat 37°56'N, 08°34'E while on a voyage from Sydney, NSW and Freemantle for London with general cargo, mails, and meat. Two lives lost. The Mooltan was being escorted at the time by two Japanese destroyers, the Kusonoki and the Ume, and all but two of those on board the ship were rescued by these escorting ships. The Kusonoki & Ume then engaged the German submarine, but were unsuccessful in their attempts to sink her, and had to disengage because they were leaving the second ship they were escorting (the Lotus) in a vulnerable position.
Information was received privately on Monday that the P. and O. Company's R.M.S. Mooltan, 9,505 tons, which left Melbourne for London on June 12, had been lost in the Mediterranean. The first official information of what had happened was received in a cable message from London: "Postmaster General reports mail leaving Adelaide on June 14 sunk by enemy action." During the afternoon a statement was made available from the Navy Office, and great relief was experienced when it became known that the passengers had been saved.
Australian Mail Lost - Caused by Enemy Action
London, July 30.
Mr. A. H. Illingworth, the Postmaster General, announces that the Australian mail, which left Adelaide on June 14th has been lost owing to enemy action.
"The mails carried by the Mooltan were those which closed in Melbourne on June 13. The bulk was about normal. In addition to the mail matter for civilian addressees, the vessel had on board the Expeditionary Forces mails for Mesopotamia, Egypt, Salonika and France. All of these, except those for Franco, would have been put ashore at Port Said. If the mishap to the steamer had occurred after she had called at Marseilles the mails for Franco would have also been landed, and thus the whole of the letter portion of the mail would have been saved. It is probable, however, that the parcels and newspapers had been taken on to be landed in England by the steamer, so that news of their loss will not come unexpectedly when further details are available. Though the manifests of the vessel's cargo were not available tonight, it is understood that she carried a considerable quantity of chilled beef, a consignment of some 2,000 bales or wool, and about 3,000 bags of wheat, the complement usually taken by P. and 0. mail steamers in addition to general merchandise.
In connection with the loss of the Mooltan, the Minister of Defence- Senator Pearce - made the following statement to-day:-
The 273 nurses who left Australia in June last for war service at Salonika have arrived safely, and have been disembarked at Egypt.
At 7.15pm on the 26th July, when 100 miles south of Sardinia, a torpedo was sighted 700 or 800 yards away on the starboard beam, proceeding towards the Mooltan at a high speed. The submarine was not visible. The alarm was sounded on the steam-whistle, and the ship swung rapidly to her helm, which had been at once put hard a-starboard. The torpedo overtook the ship, and struck a glancing blow about 35 feet abaft the stem on the starboard side, and 15 feet below the water line. The explosion threw up a large column of green flame, which sheared the rivet heads of the outside plates of the bow, a huge hole was made in the hold, and decks in the vicinity were burst upwards. Wireless signals were sent out, the engines reversed, and the vessel brought to a standstill. Boats were then lowered, containing all passengers, and part of the crew. Certain officers, engineers and hands remaining, as usual, on board with the Commander. The only casualty was one of the Goanese seamen who was killed by the explosion. One of the destroyers circled round the Mooltan, throwing off volumes of smoke, and the other endeavoured to attack the submarine. On inspection, it was found that the forward part of the ship was full of water, and she appeared to be settling by the head. There was no hope of the Mooltan keeping long afloat, and the Commander of the convoy hoisted signals to abandon ship as soon as possible. The Mooltan’s Commander and his officers and engineers left the ship, and the last two boats reached the destroyers at 8.15pm, in which were the whole of the people removed from the Mooltan. The Lotus had proceeded at full speed, and the destroyers hurried to join her. As soon as the moon had set the escorts were brought alongside each other, and, in the darkness, 70 of the Mooltan’s crew transferred, to equalise the numbers in each vessel.
The next day the ships were passing through a dangerous area, and the bright moonlight night following did not much abate the anxiety. The convoy reached Marseilles on the 28th July at 1am, and the P&O Agents took charge of the passengers and crew when they landed at 3am. Passengers were cared for at the various hotels at the Company’s expense. They left the port 12 hours after arrival, and arrived in London the following day. The warmest praise was expressed for the attention and kindness shown by the officers and crews of the destroyers, who did everything possible for the comfort of all from their scanty stores and appliances......