Real ANZAC Girls

I’m heading off in search of the Real Anzac Girls, joining a 7-day cruise from Athens to Istanbul with a group of Aussies and Kiwis. Not being one for cruises, I am more than a little surprised by this, but this really is a cruise with a difference…

It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to commemorate the achievements of the Anzac nurses and to visit the WWI sites I have reReal Anzac Girlsad about in so many books, not least of which is Anzac Girls by Peter Rees. Some of you will have seen the TV mini-series based on Peter’s book. Or perhaps you have read Menna’s post from last year ANZAC GIRLS – WARTIME SOAP? If so, then you’ll have an idea of some of the places that we’ll be visiting. Iff not, here’s a quick itinerary:

Professor Christine Hallett of Manchester University and leading authority on First World War nursing will be on board delivering lectures throughout the cruise. We intend to lay wreaths to those New Zealand nurses who perished at sea when the SS Marquette was sunk by torpedoes. On 3 September, 30 of us dressed in replica WWI dress will land at the site of the Third Australian General Hospital on the Greek island of Lemnos to commemorate the ‘bag-piped’ arrival of the ANZAC nursing sisters of 1915.

I will be squeezing myself into one of the replica nurses uniforms for this re-enactment (donated by the producers of the mini-series – the tag inside the collar tells me that I will be wearing Elsie Cook’s replica uniform!). The photograph here will give you an idea of the moment we are re-creating. We expect to have a reception on ‘Turks Head’ that will include an official welcome from the Mayor of Lemnos. From here, we make land in Turkey, and visit the main Allied landing sites – Suvla Bay, Anzac Cove and Cape Helles. The itinerary continues with our passage through the Dardenelles. On arrival at Istanbul, we’ll be visiting the Florence Nightingale Museum in the Selimiye Army Barracks.

The purpose of the cruise is to draw attention to the sick and injured of the Gallipoli campaign and those who cared for them – the real Anzac girls, on hospital ships, on Lemnos and at bases in Salonika and in Egypt. The nurses on Lemons worked in unprecedented circumstances. Posted there to deal with the wounded of the battles we now know as Lone Pine and Chanuk Bair, those actions were already underway when they arrived to find their hospital supplies were delayed. They were ‘making do’, ministering to the wounded on stretchers, kneeling on the stony ground and using their own cups to give the men fluids. Day and night, they could hear the guns booming continuously on the Peninsula. ‘I could weep hysterically now it is over’ wrote Sister McMillan of Sydney in her first letter home two weeks later. The sisters of the Australian Army Nursing Service with the Third Australian General Hospital lived and worked in tents on the shores of Mudros Harbour, Lemnos for five months in 1915.

Well, it doesn’t get much better than that. Watch this space for more posts and pics from this cruise in the coming weeks. I understand that Antonia Prebble, one of the actresses from the Anzac Girls mini series will be on the cruise so that will be a brush with fame. She played the Kiwi nurse Hilda Steel – a real Anzac girl, who trained as an anaesthetist (with some success it seems), so I’m sure there’ll be some good stories about that! Bye for now, Sally.

There are a few berths still available for the voyage. If you would like more information contact Wild Earth Travel

The cruise organisers are indebted to the producers of the TV drama ANZAC Girls for the replica uniforms; as well as the Greek Consul General in Sydney and the Lemnian Association of NSW for their support. Photo credit: SLNSW Ref No. PXE 698.