The story of Clarice Daley and Ernest Lawrence

Clarice Daley and Ernest Lawrence

A history by Jim Claven

Visiting the Greek Island of Lemnos today in the warmth of Greek summer, it is hard to imagine that in 1915 this was the main base for the Gallipoli campaign.

Prior to the landings on 25 April, the Allied armies assembled here, the Anzacs sailing from Alexandria to Lemnos’ great harbour of Mudros Bay. Over 200 Allied ships filled the harbour before the landing, including Australia’s famous submarine, the AE2. The Island would be filled with stores for the campaign, rest camps would be erected to accommodate the soldiers as they returned from the peninsula in September and October. And it was to Lemnos that the Anzacs were evacuated in December at the end of the campaign.

One of the main purposes of the base at Lemnos was as the location of field hospitals. Along with British and Canadian hospitals, two Australian field hospitals were erected here – the 2nd Australian Stationary and 3rd Australian General Hospitals. The hospitals on Lemnos would care for over 100,000 Allied casualties.

One of the 130 Australian nurses who served on Lemnos during the Gallipoli campaign was a young nurse from the Port Phillip area – Clarice Jessie Daley.

Nurse Clarice Daley was 25 years old when she joined the Australian Army Nursing Service on 10 May 1915. Born in Box Hill and recorded her religion as Presbyterian, she had completed her 3 years of nursing training at Melbourne Hospital. By the time of her enlistment, she and her parents had settled in Elwood, at “Turriff” on Beach Avenue.

Clarice and the other 80 nurses of the 3rd Australian General Hospital sailed from Port Melbourne aboard the Mooltan on 18 May 1915. Initially sent to England, the coming Gallipoli campaign saw Clarice and the rest of the nurses diverted for service on Lemnos.

She arrived on Lemnos on 8 August being welcomed to the Island by “skirl o’ the pipes”, played by the Hospital’s regimental piper, Archibald Monk. The scene was captured in a famous photograph.

Clarice’s time on Lemnos was a challenging one. The next day after she arrived hundreds of wounded soldiers began arriving from the ill-fated August Offensive on the peninsula. This was despite the fact that much of the nurses essential medical equipment had failed to arrive with them. As Matron Grace Wilson wrote in her diary at the time, “it was too awful for words”.

The Australian nurses would see the number of patients rise further over coming weeks. Despite the numbers, Clarice and her fellow nurses not only coped with the dreadful conditions but managed to achieve amazing recovery rates.

Beyond August, Clarice would see a change in the nature of the casualties arriving from Gallipoli. More and more the soldiers arrived seriously ill as a result of the poor sanitation on the peninsula, suffering from dysentery and enteric fever. To this would be added, pneumonia as the winter months arrived at Gallipoli.

The nurses recorded a 98% survival rate and were commended by Australia’s senior medical commander; Lieutenant General Featherstone wrote: “I believe that the Hospital would have collapsed without the nurses. They all worked like demons and were led and guided by Miss Wilson.” Clarice could be proud of her service.

Despite the exactions of service at the Hospital, it was during her time on Lemnos that Clarice became reacquainted with a former beau from Melbourne, one Ernest Lawrence.

Ernest was a commercial traveller and living in Elsternwick when he enlisted at the outbreak of the war, in August 1914. When they met again he was now a Sergeant in the 1st Light Horse Brigade Headquarters.

While we are not sure when Clarice re-met Ernest, his service records reveals that he was admitted to the nearby 2nd Australian Stationary Hospital on Lemnos on 12 July 1915.

Despite the apparent disapproval of Clarice’s family, their feelings for each other blossomed in the shadow of war and they decided to marry, there and then, on Lemnos.

And so took place the only marriage conducted amongst the Allied soldiers on Lemnos. Clarice Jessie and Ernest were married on 21 October 1915 at the Church Camp, West Mudros. In attendance were a number of their comrades, including Matron Grace Wilson, the matron of Clarice’s hospital on Lemnos and fellow nurses Beulah McMinn and Mary McIlroy. Army Chaplain Charles Winter officiated. Matron Wilson and the others signed the marriage certificate as witnesses, and this is now preserved in the Australian War Memorial.

According to Army regulations, Army nurses could not be married women. Yet she was not discharged immediately and continued to serve until the hospitals were evacuated from Lemnos after the Gallipoli campaign had come to an end.

Clarice and her fellow nurses arrived in Alexandria on 27 January 1916 aboard the Oxfordshire. She arrived at the Australian camp at Abbassia in Egypt but it was here that Clarice bade her farewells from her fellow nurses for she embarked for her return to Australia on 9th February 1916 aboard the HT Nestor. She arrived back at Princes Pier in Port Melbourne on 13 March 1916 and was discharged from the Army on 31st July 1916.

Ernest returned to Australia in November 1918 and the two commenced their life together, going on to have four children. They returned to Australia to live at 52 Docker Street Elwood and are buried in St Kilda Cemetery. Ernest died in 1933 and Clarice in 1944. After the war, Clarice was awarded the British War and Victory Medals.

Their grand-daughter Judith was still alive and living in Port Philip in 2010.

Clarice Daley and the nurses of Lemnos will finally have a memorial to commemorate their service. A new memorial statue is being created, designed by Peter Corlett OAM, dedicated to Anzac nurses and soldiers who served and who are buried on Lemnos in 1915. The Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative committee is currently raising funds to make this a reality.

The City of Port Phillip is supporting this important commemorative project.

Lest We Forget

Jim Claven is a freelance writer, published author and Monash University history graduate. He is secretary of the Melbourne-based Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee and member of the Oakleigh-Carnegie RSL Sub Branch. He has been researching the Anzac connections with Greece across both World Wars and leading commemorative tours in Greece.

If you would like more information about the memorial, the Committee and the role of Lemnos in the Anzac story, please contact Jim Claven at jimclaven@yahoo.com.au

Image: Australian nurses of the 3rd Australian General Hospital - including Box Hill’s Clarice Daley - arriving on Lemnos on 8th August 1915. Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial. AWM image A04118


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