Friday, October 2, 2015

Sepia Saturday: The best medicine

In September 1918 Roy Phelan was on the front line in France when he was badly injured, hit on the head by shrapnel. Somehow, in the middle of all the noise and mayhem, Roy was stretchered out and taken to a Field Hospital at Abbeville behind the lines, and then across the channel to England. He spent months in hospitals in England recuperating and was still very ill when he returned to Australia but recovered and lived a long and happy life.

His family back in Australia were informed that he was seriously ill and the first few letters they received from Roy after he was injured were written by a nurse. This one was written to Ann Sims who was later to become his wife.

29th Sept 18
Dear Miss Sims
3782 Pte R.J. Phelan, 46th Btn, asked me to write to you to let you know he was admitted to this Hospital, the Third Australian General, on the 18th inst.
He has a nasty wound in his head but has shown a slight improvement the last couple of days. He is quite cheerful again.
He asked me to explain to you that he will be unable to write to you for some little time yet.
He sends you his best love.
With best wishes
I remain
Yours faithfully
P. Murdock
(Aust. Red Cross)

Amazingly, I found a photo of Miss Murdock and the other nurses who served at the 3rd Australian Hospital on the Australian War Memorial's website.

Miss Murdock is second from the right in the back row.
Roy gradually recovered his health and his good humour and wrote home about some of the concert skits and social occasions he had been involved in and made light of his health problems. But some of his treatment must have been truly awful and he would have seen his fellow inmates going through some tough times as well. He sent home these two postcards. Maybe laughter is the best medicine.

Watching someone else being "done"!
Being "done" oneself!
This blog was in response to the Sepia Saturday theme image below, a cutout bookmark advertising medicine. I can't imagine what medicine Roy would have had to take but you can see what others have written on the same theme here.


  1. Well you didn't intend it to happen but I have started this day in tears after reading this post. Typical woman, crying over something that had a happy ending. It has certainly brought the Phelan family to life. Thanks for letting us see the letter. And thanks for saying that the Sepia Saturday image showed bookmarks. I hadn't realized that was what they were.

  2. Interesting history and postcards! I have seen american postcards from WWI, but nothing like those. I had never seen the expression about being '"done" either.

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    1. It must have been a great relief for Miss Sims to receive that dictated letter, and she would have been even more relieved when Roy eventually came home. Great to find a photo of the nurse who wrote it for him.

  4. It's always the best news and the best medicine to learn a seriously injured person recovered and went on to live a long and happy life! Having watched one go through this and come out shining is one of my life's greatest blessings! The postcards were rather telling. :))

  5. It's wonderful that you have the letter and found a photo. Very interesting post.

  6. What a fascinating piece - a great piece of social history. It is little stories and collections of material like this that brings home the real horror of war just as well as the guns and hardware of war museums.

  7. What a wonderful story with such interesting accompanying artifacts. I'm especially glad you found a photo of Miss Murdock. I imagine many of those nurses wrote lots of letters to patients' families. They might not all have been as reassuring as this one.

  8. That is a wonderful letter and photo to treasure. The distance and time for sending and receiving correspondence was surely very stressful. I'm not certain what's going on in the postcards, but the nurse's device looks a bit like an electroshock treatment. It was first used in 1918 for soldiers suffering from severe shell shock. There are some Pathe films on the subject on YouTube that are very unsettling.


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



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