“There’s a ghastly smell like decomposing mummies,” Olive Haynes wrote in a letter to her sister.
Haynes was writing from Alexandria, Egypt, where casualties from the Gallipoli landings were being ferried in by the thousands.
Some no longer had recognisable faces, their jaws or noses blown off by grenades, and others wore multiple bullets, shot several times by machine guns.
Australia had barely become a nation and already we were fighting for it. Or so we thought.
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We know the story of the men who arrived on the shores of Gallipoli, on the 25th of April 1915, knowing nothing of the trap they’d stumbled into.
We know the story of the 15-year-old boys, so eager for an adventure they lied about their age.
We know the story of the nonsensical British orders, the cost of which was 8709 Australian lives, and 2701 New Zealander lives. In total, the Gallipoli campaign took the lives of 44000.
That, as they say, is history.
But what about herstory?
Born in 1888 in Adelaide, Haynes loved reading, painting, music and had great interest in social issues as well as the welfare of others. It seemed a natural fit that in 1909 she began training as a nurse – despite her parents’ attempts to dissuade her. In August 1914, at 26, Haynes enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service.
Haynes departed Adelaide on the 26th of November 1914, set for Alexandria, Egypt. The journey took her more than six weeks.
When she arrived, the Allied nurses in charge of the hospital had no interest in their assistance. As Margaret Young, the daughter of Haynes says, they had “nothing ready for them, no accommodation or anything, they had to stay on the ship.”
When they were reluctantly housed, Haynes busied herself treating cases of smallpox, measles, and pneumonia. But in late April, everything changed.