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The other hero of Anzac

  • 14 October 2014

Mopping up        Thus the science of healing stood baffled before the science of destroying.        – Ellen Newbold La Motte (1873–1961), nurse WWI1 There were to be few wounded. Shipped up the Dardanelles to Constantinople after victory –  which would come soon. From the hospital ship Gascon, excited in the early dark at 3 am, Australian nurses  watched the narrow beach of Gaba Tepe.  Pitch-black silence – even the anchor had not been dropped – the ship barely moved as barges headed for the narrow beach. Holding field-glasses, seven women watched young men, tense, crouch, ready for action. Then as light unveiled the land,  towering cliffs above for the first time. Air exploded in a roar thrust from an open-throated sky,  rifles spitting a rage of bullets.  Sun rose  blood-orange behind blue skies deadening with haze.  Shouting was lost in chaos. Soldiers, stores, mules and  wounded men on stretchers struggled to find vacant space.2  Muriel Wakeford was stunned to see the ocean suddenly scarlet, a shoal of new-mown corpses that lay face-down in the sea. She saw what few steps most men managed before a grey hail began dropping them like insects sprayed, but this was  metal that raked the sea violently rocking the ship. After the first repulse barges were ferrying wounded alongside, fallen uniforms packed tight as tinned fish, the standing, a melted body of khaki and blood. In ravines and  down the spurs, a terrible lonely moaning, cries for help  from those shattered human remnants stretchers could not reach. But there were to be few wounded! Taken to Constantinople! So only one hospital ship to treat four hundred sat ready.  Now the ship’s doctor set about amputations, extracting eyes  shrapnel had make useless under a sky darkening with green smoke.  With five hundred and sixty aboard he insisted they sail for Egypt. Month on month, ships would ferry cargoes of the mutilated. Some went to Imbros, Malta, England. In Cairo so many arrived, the amusement-park ticket-office  transformed to an operating theatre, its skating rink, scenic railway space and, without a flutter of irony, its skeleton house, became wards.  Odd that nurses were led onto drought-dusted Lemnos by a piper. Matron Grace Wilson and ninety-six women in long serge dresses with starched white cuffs, disembarked to nothing. No housing,  no hospital. Equipment had failed to