Through These Lines in Sydney     25 September – 5 October 2014     click here for details

Frances Bennett

Sister Bennett spent time at Saint-Omer with 10 Stationary Hospital. She describes the Chapel (used as a ward) and the nurses’ billet at the nearby convent.

She was also attached to 14 Stationary Hospital at Wimereux which was located beside 2AGH.

Biographical note by her sister, Dr. Agnes Bennett

Sister Frances Agnes Bennett
1864 – 1933

These letters & papers record the life of Sister F.A. Bennett during the first “Great War” (1914-1918).

She was refused enlistment into the Australian Army Nursing Service as she was over age so she went to England by P&O Liner (Malaya) & arrived in Egypt in 1915 soon afer the Gallipoli landing. All medical services were in great demand so she left the ship & contacted the Matron-in-Chief (Miss Oram). She was enlisted in the Queen Alexandra Nursing Service and sent to No. 15 General Hospital at Alexandria.

After a few months there she was selected for duty on Hospital Ships & finally became Submatron of the “Mauretania”. She collected patients from the smaller ships & took them – over 1000 at a time – to England.

Her later experiences include “specialing” face cases at Aldershot & in France at a C.C.S. Stationary & General Hospitals also on Hospital Trains & on barges of the Inland Water Transport.

After the Armistice she was sent to England as a patient, for debility & [of?] a minor supperation of the foot.

Her last letters tell of voyage back to Australia on a troop ship.

She succumbed to cardo-vascular trouble in 1933 at Teignmouth Devon.

Sister F.A. Bennett was the second daughter of William C. Bennett, Commissioner for Roads & Bridges in N.S.W. Some of his records have recently been placed in the Mitchell Library by Professor Ford [?] of Sydney University.

Agnes Bennett (Sister F.A.B.)

Frances Agnes Bennett papers recording her life in the Queen Alexandra Imperial Nursing Service during World War I, with a biographical note by her sister, Dr. Agnes Bennett – Mitchell Library MLMSS 345

Saint-Omer – 10 Stationary Hospital

Billet in the “Convent”

When I arrived here I came to my old room and had my furniture to put up, I am sitting in it now writing, I have my old stove which I could not have existed without, I have a tin jug of water heating on the top of it. I have fixed my room up a bit since I returned. I borrowed a hammer bought some nails and have nailed two boxes together to make a dressing table and a shelf. I have covered up the front with a couple of flags that I have always carried with me, I brought them from Sydney and I can keep my hat from the dust and it makes my room tidy. I have also rigged a little shelf over my wash-stand, it holds soap & a tooth brush etc…

This building, a Convent, is far from cosy for the winter, it will be ideal in the summer…

I am doing Assistant Home Sister at present looking after meals mostly, for over 50 Sisters all living in the ‘convent.’

The Chapel

Christmas Morning 3 a.m.

I must write just a bit and tell you how Christmas here is starting, alas as I write the guns are going all the times – sometimes the building shakes…

The dinner was a great feature – it was held in the Chapel, which is really a ward, but turned out for the occasion. Two long tables in the centre held the N.C.O’s and men and a table across the chancel was for the Sisters and Officers – it was a splendid sight. Really the little Chapel was decorated very nicely with green stuff and “God Save the King” over the organ loft, “Success to our Allies” etc then in two niches which are on either side of the Alter were dummy figures of Santa Claus and an orderlie. Where the Alter should have been was a mock fire place fixed with red paper and some lanterns behind, a motto round “Keep the Home Fires Burning till the Lads Come Home” was very effective. The tables had a strip of red paper down the centre and the bon bons were chiefly red, we sat about 130 altogether. The patients had had their dinner in the middle of the day in the same place, the C.C. and Sister in charge carved for them. In the evening for our dinner some of the patients did the waiting, some are only dental patients so they are quite fit…

[A description of the dinner and panto follows.]

Frances Bennett, MLMSS 345

Frances Agnes Bennett papers

Frances Agnes Bennett papers recording her life in the Queen Alexandra Imperial Nursing Service during World War I, with a biographical note by her sister, Dr. Agnes Bennett – Mitchell Library MLMSS 345

Notes

Frances Bennett served in the QAIMNS Reserve (QAIMNSR). She was known by the nickname Fanny. She went out on the RMS Maloja from Australia in April 1915. In addition to being sub matron on the Mauretania, Fanny also nursed on the hospital ship Caledonia which was part of the ferry service right up at Gallipoli in 1915.

Dr Kirsty Harris

Letters to Mary English on the death of her husband

We received the text of the following letters from Rose Webster in Hastings, who kindly permitted us to share them on the site.

I came across your website with interest. I have 2 letters sent by Sister Bennett to my grandmother [Mary Victoria English] in June 1917. [Sister Bennett] nursed my grandfather George English on a barge from the front to Calais where he died. The letters were so thoughtful and kind.

I lost my own mother in 2010 and took on the responsibility for these precious papers. They made such a difference to both nana and mum that someone kind had been with him. He was buried in Calais. I am also attaching copies of the letters from the Matron at the Hospital who helped put Frances and my grandmother in touch.

Letter from Matron R. Harvey, 30 General Hospital

I have just received your letter enquiring about the death of your husband 34791 Pte G.T. English. 11th Essex.

He died at 5.55 p.m. the 26th June on a hospital barge, whilst being brought here. He was brought here the same evening dead and was buried from here in a French cemetery, a part of which is kept for our soldiers and cared for by British Tommies.

I regret very much that I cannot give you more information but I am sending your letter to the sister in charge of the barge on which your husband died. I feel sure she will give you any information she can.

With deepest sympathy for you in your great loss.

Letter from Sister Frances Bennett, Sunday 1 July 1917

My dear Mrs English

You will wonder who I am! I am writing from the Barge on which your good husband died. I feel sure that you will understand that I send this with deepest sympathy and I hope you will not think I have taken any liberty in writing at such a time. This dear patient was brought to us on Monday morning June 25th at 10 a.m. from a Clearing Station (I am not allowed to put names of places). The moving did not worry him on account of injury to his neck he could not feel very much, he was lifted onto a spring bed and was so contented and pleased with his surroundings.

Dear friend, as I feel we must be under such circumstances, I think you would be satisfied if you could see how comfortable these barges have been made, each patient has a spring bed, a hair mattress, a feather pillow and nice sheets and pillow linen. He was propped up with a back-rest to make his breathing easier; he was quite conscious and so pleased at the thought of getting back to you and his little girl. He showed me your photo and baby’s at different stages – a dear mite I thought and he was so pleased for me to say so. There are two sisters on this barge and five orderlies with thirty patients. There is always a sister on duty. We bring the patients down the canal to the Base, the journey takes two days and one night as a rule. This time we reached our terminus about five in the afternoon on Tuesday June 26th we had very nice weather coming down and the hatches were off all the time. Patients had a lovely blue sky to watch and in many places the trees overhead, there are fine avenues along the banks, the leaves rustling with the breeze make such a soothing sound, we always tie up for the night. Your dear husband had a very fair night, the Captain (Doctor) knew he was very ill and saw him several times but we all hoped he would live to reach home and he was so keen himself about it, the last conversation I had with him he was so pleased to have got another stage nearer to his own, and he smiled so sweetly when I mentioned Blighty, this was only two hours before he died, we gave him oxygen several times on Tuesday afternoon it made him a little easier and he dozed a good deal of the time. He had no great pain and he passed away without any struggle. The patients round did not know he had gone, we had a screen beside him to shade him from the sun, we were never away from him long and were with him when he died. We had reached the quay and were making special arrangements for moving him but I was thankful that he died as he did with us, we had been so much with him I seemed to know him and it would have been hard to hand him over to strange Sisters but he was spared the move. He was I am sure you know the best of patients, so anxious not to give trouble and so grateful for the smallest details we could do for him. I should have written sooner, but I thought it was right to wait till you had official news, this is quite unofficial, I know in your place I would be anxious to hear a little about his end and I write as one woman to another; at least I hope it will be a satisfaction to know that all was done that could be for him.

God bless you for his sake, and may his little one know some day how much her father thought about her.

With the kindest wishes and sincere sympathy.

Yours very sincerely

Frances A. Bennett
Barge A.370 – 1/5 Ambulance Flotilla
BEF France

Letter from Matron R. Harvey, 30 General Hospital, 11 July 1917:

Thank you very much for your letter. I am glad you heard from the Sister on the barge.

When your husband’s body was brought here it was taken to our little mortuary, which we always keep carefully with fresh white flowers in it. The funeral was on the 29th and was conducted with the usual military honours. Your husband was buried in the Cimitiere du Sud, Plot G, line 5, grave 1. The part allotted to our soldiers is cared for by the Britishers. On each grave is a simple little wooden cross on which the name and regiment is engraved.

Any of your husband’s personal belongings would be sent to the
Adjutant General
Effects Section
Base BEF

They will eventually reach you but it may of necessity be some time yet.

I do indeed feel sorry for you having lost such a good husband.

Yours faithfully
R. Harvey

Letter from Sister Frances Bennett, 31 July 1917:

My dear Mrs English

I have had your letter by me since it came, meaning to write, but time slips by when one is moving about constantly. We are on a difficult route, my address is just the same, many thanks for your kind letter of appreciation, you ask me several more questions. Do you know it is so difficult for us to tell a patient that he may not get better. When they are very ill one has to constantly encourage them and he so liked to feel that he would soon be home, one really hadn’t the heart to deprive him of that which I know to him was a real joy, he did speak so affectionately of you and the little girlie. He showed me your photo and baby in various stages and I always tried to encourage the idea that he would get home. His speech was quite good, weak of course at the end, he was a dear grateful patient, no-one knows what heroes our dear men are, to see what they go through in our hospitals is wonderful so patient and uncomplaining and cheery, we get terribly bad cases on the barges, it is a very easy way for them to travel and they like being on board although we don’t have them long.

You kindly ask me to call if I were near you. I certainly would if I were in Ipswich. I am an Australian and will be returning there when I am no longer needed by these poor men, but I have relatives in England and will be staying with them in London for a while so there is just a possibility of a meeting. We never know where the War Office will send us. If I am in — where your husband is buried I will try and see his grave. Their graves are so nicely kept in most of the cemeteries. I have not seen the one in —.

With kindest regards and sympathy
Yours very sincerely

Frances A. Bennett
2A9M [not sure of these letters signifying her organisation]
Barge A.370
5 Ambulance Flotilla
BEF
France

Rose Webster, Hastings, U.K.

Published Saturday July 23, 2011 · Last modified Tuesday February 11, 2014
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia Licence

We're pleased that people are using this website as a source for locations, quotes and other primary source material. It's why we published our notes on the web. But we'd very much appreciate a footnote or credit. Much of the hospital (and other) location information for Lemnos and the Western Front is original research -- thank you, from Bernard & Cheryl