Sunday, April 24, 2016

Magnificent Men

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Here's how Australian surgeon Nigel Boulton R.A.M.C., working at the British Army's No 15 General Hospital, Abbassia School, Alexandria, described his Australian patients during the Gallipoli campaign.

No 15 General Hospital, Alexandria
(Sister Holdgate’s Collection,
2 May 1915

The first convoy of wounded arrived 3 days ago, and the wounded have been pouring in pretty consistently ever since. Nearly all the casualties that have arrived so far have been Australians. Our fellows have done splendidly, and are doing all that is required of them. Our casualties, however, have been heavy I'm afraid; we have little idea yet what they are, and won't know for some weeks. Some appalling cases have come in. We have got pretty well all the worst cases here. You can have no idea how shockingly mutilated some of our poor fellows are. The modern weapons of destruction make awful wounds. 

Our chaps have behaved magnificently and are so cheerful and brave. The English chaps are positively amazed at the Australians. They are the most magnificent men they have ever seen, I heard a chap say the other day.

9 May 1915

The English fellows here - the Medl. officers, I mean - are literally amazed and dumbfounded at the calm philosophy of the colonials. How they submit with unflinching cheeriness and calm philosophy to the enucleation of one or two eyes, to the amputation of a limb, or other operations involving a lifelong mutilation, is truly magnificent. The inherent sporting spirit is revealed in its true nakedness.

22 Aug 1915

The Australians and N. Zealanders have been doing very well and we hear they have made a considerable advance. They are thought highly of by the English troops and the Ghurkas like fighting beside them more than anybody else. They are undisciplined to a degree and are very reckless and more or less run wild when ordered to attack, and they go on advancing and advancing till they are all practically wiped out. This accounts for our casualties being very high. We have lost far more men than we should have done as a result of this failing.They are the very devil as far as fighting goes and fight till the last man. Still it is a sad thing that such magnificent chaps should be lost and it is a pity they can't be restrained somewhat. 

Lieut Nigel Boulton, R.A.M.C., 1914
As time goes on I expect they will drop to things and fight more concertedly and thus escape the decimation they have suffered so repeatedly. Fire discipline takes years to acquire and so it is not surprising our men are lacking in it to a large extent. They endure their wounds with fortitude and remarkable spirit and contrast more than favourably with the average English Tommy. They are marvellously good patients and I have a large percentage of them among my lot to look after. I also have an Australian Sister and 2 New Zealanders looking after them, so get on pretty well together as we understand their weaknesses and can manage them better than the English R.A.M.C. officers in many cases.

Excerpts from Brothers in Arms: The Great War Letters of Captain Nigel Boulton, R.A.M.C. & Lieut Stephen Boulton, A.I.F., available online through BookPOD

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