Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sister Yeaman

More Than Bombs and Bandages: Australian Army Nurses at Work in World War I , Kirsty Harris - Google Books
I accidentally  found Edith when I was looking in Australian Archives for World War 1 service records of relatives. In my mind I was looking for soldiers, all male, but then up popped a female. So of course I had to have a look at her file and I've sincebeen to the library and borrowed the book More Than Bombs and Bandages: Australian Army Nurses at Work in World War I  by Kirsty Harris. (I also found sections of that book on Google Books and that's where the picture above came from.) Edith is a relative but somewhat distant (first cousin of my father-in-law's grandmother!) so her close family might be surprised to find her here but, as far as I know, she's my only female relative who went off to war as a nurse.

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 the 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.    This quote is from a website about the 3 AGH <>
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 1½ 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.
Staff, No 3 AGH Christmas Day, Lemnos
Nurse Yeaman worked at hospitals in France and England in 1917 and 1918, was promoted to Sister in July 1917 and was herself admitted to hospital several times extremely ill with severe bronchitis and influenza in the winter of 1917/1918. In March 1919 she embarked at Portsmouth, England as one of the nursing staff on the ship Czaritza returning to Australia with a full quota of injured soldiers. At Port Said they transferred to another ship, the Dunluce Castle
Papers Past, New Zealand 
One of the passengers wrote about the voyage: 
Beneath Hill 60, Will Davies                 Source: Google Books
Edith disembarked at Melbourne 15 May 1919, almost four years after she left. She never married and continued to work in hospitals in Melbourne and Sydney. Like many of her fellow nurses Edith's brothers also enlisted in the AIF and served in France. Pte Wilfred Charles Yeaman left Victoria several months after Edith and also returned in 1919, Pte Lindsay Frederick left Australia in 1915, was injured four times in action and returned to Australia in 1919.

Edith Wilson YEAMAN, daughter of William Bunyan YEAMAN and Harriet Mary Ann WILSON, was born in 1884 in Elmore, Victoria, Australia. She died in 1963 in North Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. 


  1. Dear Lorraine,
    Thank you so much for your story on Edith Yeaman who was one of our district's nurses.
    I wonder if I may add your Blog link to our website story of Edith?

    1. Your website looks excellent. A great project that must involve a lot of work.
      Of course you may add a link to my blogpost.

  2. I’m a distant relative as well, she was my great grandmother’s niece, was a very large family, the Yeamans formed a complete cricket team in Rochester 120 years ago


I love to read your comments. Thankyou for your interest.



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