Tuesday, 21 April 2015

R is for No. 1 Australian General Hospital at Rouen

The 1st Australian General Hospital in Rouen dealt with general battle casualties. It was formed in Queensland in August 1914, and was first at Heliopolis, Egypt. After the armistice until 1919 the hospital was at Sutton Veny, England.

Rouen, France. 9 July 1917. Her Majesty Queen Mary visiting No. 1 Australian General Hospital (1AGH). HM is accompanied through a guard of honour of nurses of the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) by the hospital's commanding officer, Colonel Trent Champion de Crespigny DSO. Temporary wards and tents are on both sides of the path and patients in hospital uniform look on. Australian War Memorial photograph id K00019


In September 1915 Trent de Crespigny (1882 - 1952) was appointed second in command of the 3rd General Hospital on Lemnos.  I have written previously about his appointment to the Australian Army Medical Corps in April 1915 (at the same time as my other great grandfather Arthur Murray Cudmore) and I have also written about the 3rd AGH on Lemnos.

On 27 January 1916 Trent de Crespigny disembarked at Alexandria. On 20 February 1916 he was appointed to command the 1st Australian General Hospital at Heliopolis and he transferred from the 3rd AGH on 6 March. The hospital sailed for Marseilles on 6 April 1916 from Alexandria.
On 24 March 1916 Alice Ross King received her orders to sail to France. She and her fellow nurses from No. 1 Australian General Hospital waited on the pier at Alexandria, weighed down with the booty from a final shopping spree. One nurse had a canary in a cage. A captain was told to make sure all the nurses were on board the hospital ship Braemar Castle.‘Not knowing the AANS he told us to form a double row to “number off”,’ Alice recounted.‘He wanted 120. Each time he got a different number. He was terribly worried. Finally our big [commanding officer] Col De Crespigny came down the gangway to see what was the matter. In his tired voice he called out, “Sisters! Form a fairly straight line. Left turn! Get on board.” “Oh! Sir,” said Matron, “they are not all here.” “Then they’ll be left behind,” said our CO. Our first hard lesson! We had always been fussed over [and] spoilt before,’ Alice wrote, with a shade of overstatement.  Rees, Peter. The Other Anzacs: Nurses at War 1914-1918. Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 2008. 17 Sept. 2008. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. <http://ir.nmu.org.ua/bitstream/handle/123456789/121897/b23aa39c4e3b73956c4935b8b0677d3f.pdf>
I never knew my great grandfather, Constantine Trent Champion de Crespigny. My father has memories of him but otherwise I rely on other people's memoirs. The idea of directing people to get on with it and telling them how to do so, form a fairly straight line, and turn left and get on board, brings him to life for me.

The War Diary for 1st AGH: War diaries/AWM4/Class 26/Sub class 65/AWM4 26/65/1 - April 1916
The Hospital Ship Salta transported the 1st Australian General Hospital which comprised twenty medical officers, including Trent de Crespigny, three chaplains, a dental officer, a quartermaster, 115 nursing staff including the matron, two masseuses. 187 other ranks including three dental details, four motor drivers, and one masseur. There was a car, an ambulance, a lorry and two motorcycles. The personnel and equipment amounted to 850 tons according to the war Diary. That excluded the tents. It was a 750 bed hospital capable of expanding to 1,000 beds. It included an x-ray department, dental department and pathological department.

The hospital was established in Rouen having travelled by train and arriving 12 April 1916.  The nurses were assigned to duties elsewhere and on 14 April there were 20 medical officers, 3 chaplains, 1 quartermaster, 1 dental officer and 185 other ranks, several other ranks had themselves been admitted to hospital. The unloading of the train was completed on 15 April. 16 bell tents were erected as officers' quarters. 48 nurses including the matron returned to the unit for duty on 20 April.

During the next week four hospital marquees, 28 bell tents and 1 store tent were erected. Work was done on the flooring of the hospital marquees. In the last week of April 2 additional hospital marquees, 3 store tents and 3 Canadian tents were erected. The flooring was still in progress. The hospital opened ready to receive patients on 29 April 1916. As at midnight on the 30th there were 11 patients and the hospital had a capacity for 200 patients. There were 189 vacant beds.

The tent wards at the 1st Australian General Hospital at Rouen. 23 September 1918, 2 1/2 years after being erected. Australian War Memorial photograph id E03422

During the first weeks of May the beds filled rapidly and additional beds were made available within the hospital. During the month there were 751 admissions. Most patients transferred elsewhere, 362 were evacuated to England. There were 5 deaths. The daily average number of occupied beds was 185.5. Patients stayed for an average 7.56 days. At the end of the month there were 249 patients and 151 vacant beds.

At the end of 1916 Trent de Crespigny was ill. In October he was granted 3 weeks sick leave in England. In December he was again ill and in January 1917 he was admitted to hospital with gall bladder problems, cholecystitis. He spent nearly two months in hospital in England. He returned to command the 1st AGH in the beginning of March 1917.

On 3 June 1917 Trent de Crespigny was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for distinguished service in the field.

In August 1917 Trent de Crespigny was again admitted to hospital with a fever of unknown origin (PUO). Although he rejoined the hospital in August, several months later in November 1917 he sailed for Australia.  Trent de Crespigny relinquished command of the hospital on 12 October 1917. The reason for his early return was given as "family reasons".

On the day he left the hospital, 12 October 1917, the number of patients in the hospital was  1,073. During September 1917 there were 1933 admissions. Most patients transferred elsewhere, 1097 were evacuated to England. There were 17 deaths. The daily average beds occupied was 465. Patients stayed for an average 6 days. 517 operations were performed during the month. At the end of the month there were 613 patients of whom 123 were sick and 490 wounded.

Trent de Crespigny returned to Europe later in the war.

One of the things that puzzles me about Trent de Crespigny's period of service in Europe is that there are several photographs in the Australian War Memorial collection where he is pictured with General Birdwood and described as an Aide de Camp. Perhaps they are wrongly captioned. I have not been able to understand why a doctor in charge of a hospital would be given this role. There is no information in his dossier explaining why. In one of the photographs,dated March 1917, he is described as Captain Trent de Crespigny. Another photograph is dated May 1918. Trent de Crespigny was not then in Europe. Throughout his time in Europe Trent de Crespigny was either Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel. I think the Aide de Camp is misidentified in some way. To my knowledge there is no other member of the de Crespigny family of that generation with the first name Trent.  There were only four men surnamed Champion de Crespigny who served with the Australian Imperial Force:
  • Constantine Trent, 
  • his older brother Philip who did not enlist until November 1917, 
  • his half-brother Hugh who was briefly with the AIF and then joined the Royal Flying Corps
  • his half-brother Frank who enlisted as a doctor in November 1917.

Sources

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