Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Sea Transport Service

Greville Tregarthen wrote a book on Sea Transport of the AIF published possibly in 1919. This book provides a detailed description of the ships used to transport troops to war zones such as Egypt and later England. He describes the temporary acquisition of the ships by the Australian government and how they were refitted for the journey overseas. He also describes the provisions, including food, made available for the troops on the ships. The1st Convoy of ships left Albany, Western Australia on 1 November 2014 en route to Egypt.

In June 1916 The Sea Transport Service (STS) was established to work on the Australian troop ships. There were ten STS units. Each unit included at least six Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) nurses as part of the medical team on troop ships travelling from and to Australia.

The Euripides made seven return voyages from Australia in total - the first one as part of the 1st Convoy. Members of the No. 4 STS sailed aboard the HMAT Euripides, one of ten ships in the 24th Convoy.
HMAT Euripides - Flotilla Australia
The Euripides left Melbourne 11 September 1916 and aboard were Catrina Dawson, Jessie Taylor and Janet Muir Gaff (Staff Nurses), Bessie McPhail and Catherine Munro ( Sisters) and Rosa Quarterman (Sister Acting Matron). This was a military ship and the nurses were part of the army and had to learn to work in military conditions. They also had to learn to work on a ship, often travelling on rough seas. This included learning about life boat drills in case of emergency.

Kirsty Harris in More than Bombs and Bandages (pages 72 to 75) provides examples of the experiences of nurses working in the Sea Transport sections while AG Butler in The Official History of Australian Medical Services in the War 1914-1918. volume 3 chapter 14 has written a detailed chapter on the sea transportation of Australian soldiers including the provision of medical services on the troop ships.

More than 2,000 troops usually travelled on the ships leaving Australia. The men had previously been living in large military camps and sometimes brought contagious diseases with them on to the ship. Diseases such as measles were not uncommon and these patients needed to be isolated to avoid the disease spreading. Once on the ship the soldiers were also vaccinated against typhoid fever. On the September 1916 voyage of the Euripides two of the soldiers had contracted meningitis and were taken from the ship at Fremantle.

Working on a moving ship, often in rough conditions, proved a challenge to the STS medical teams. The conditions in which they worked were often cramped and the ventilation was poor. Equipment, big and small, had to be secured. Sea sickness was also experienced by the troops and staff alike. Over time the nurses adapted to the conditions on the Euripides and the other ships on which they sailed at regular intervals between Australia and England.

Janet Muir Gaff was a staff nurse in the No 4 STS and a summary of her war experience from August 1915 to March 1919 can be seen in the following Time-Line. Janet travelled between Australia and England and back to Australia three times between 1916 and 1918.
Return to Australia HMAT Wiltshire November 1916 - Flotilla Australia
Journey to England RMS Osterley February 1917 - ALH Research
Journey to England HMAT Miltiades August 1917 - ALH Research
Return to Australia December 1918 HMAT Nestor - Flotilla Australia
When not at sea the nurses worked at Australian Auxiliary Hospitals (AAH) in England and in Army General Hospitals (AGH) in Australia until required for another sea voyage.

In England the troop ships had to be refitted to take injured soldiers back to Australia. Not all soldiers were able to sleep in hammocks so beds needed to be available for amputees and others requiring specialist medical care. It was a requirement that adequate deck space should be available to ensure that the troops could exercise and have access to fresh air. The injured troops were selected from the Australian hospitals according to facilities available for their safe transport home.

STS nursing staff and sometimes additional nursing staff were allocated to a ship for the voyage. The nurses would have gained the experience required for nursing some of the injured soldiers when working in the Australian hospitals in England and at home. In England Janet worked at No 2 AAH Southall which specialised in treating amputees as well as No 3 AAH Dartford where patients with mental conditions - "shellshock" - were treated.

STS nurses played an important role in the care of sick and wounded soldiers during the First World War.

 Butler, A G. The Official History of Australian Medical Services in the War 1914-1918. volume 3 1943. Australian War Memorial - e-book
Harris, Kirsty. More than Bombs and Bandages. 2011
Tregarthen, Greville. Sea transport of the AIF.  Australian National Maritime Museum e-book
Looking for the Evidence. Sea Transport Service. website 

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