Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service/ Reserves - P227
This account of the experiences of Anne Dullard ( married Grange) in relation to the final events of the Strathallan has been put together by her daughter Camilla Elliott of Mildura , Australia . It includes some biographical details to assist in presenting Anne as one dedicated to the nursing profession. In spite of the hardship, she enjoyed her war years and was always proud to have been a member of the QAIMNS/R.
AnneDullard – taken in North Africa in men’s uniform issued until clothing lost in the Strathallan could be replaced Born in New Silksworth, County Durham, Anne trained as a nurse at Royal Victorian Infirmary at Newcastle upon Tyne. War had broken out by the time she began her midwifery training. She was a midwife on the district of industrial Sunderland where the shipyards, as targets of the German bombers, brought the war close to home. Anne was 25 years old when she enlisted. A decision that was influenced by seeing the effects of Dunkirk on school friends home on leave from the front.
Anne sailed in the Strathallan to North Africa in 1942 to join the Eighth Army in their desert push. The following excerpt is taken from an article by journalist Isabel Carter that was published in the Australian Woman’s Day magazine, 28 October 1957. (Quote) “Anne sailed in the Strathallan to North Africa in 1942 to join the Eight Army in their desert push. She was down on F deck, so far below the waterline that the cabin had no portholes. It was cramped and hot. Eighty nurses shared on washbasin. There always seemed to be someone at the basin, day and night, splashing about with their ration of water. At 1.30 in the morning, off Oran, the sleeping nurses were awakened by a heavy bump, and then another. Two torpedoes had hit the boiler-room. In the confusion and darkness Anne tried to remember her shipwreck drill. She threw on the clothes beside her bunk and the lifejacket always within reach of her hand.
“Sherry,” she called. “Let’s get up top.” “Sherry” – Mildred Sherry, her Irish chum – ran with her up the stairs to their special assembly point. The old, wounded ship had tilted so much in her death throes that Anne’s assembly place was high in the air, the lifeboats hanging uselessly inward. There were shouts, noise, a babble of voices, the escape of steam. Anne and Sherry scrambled to the opposite side of the canting deck. Anne had time for a quick joke. “Look at me Sherry, in me khaki bloomers and shirt. What would Matron say!”
Anne could not swim. Holding hands, she and Mildred Sherry went over the side into the black, oily water. “I can’t swim, I can’t swim,” she heard herself mumbling. She struck out, blindly, grabbling this and that piece of wreckage, the lifebelt holding her up. Somehow in the black nightmare Mildred disappeared. She was one of the 28 girls, all in their 20s who lost their lives in the Strathallan .
Bobbing in her lifebelt like a piece of flotsam, Anne found that she, who could hardly remember one full line of the Latin mass, was repeating the Latin through and through, word perfect, many times over. Eight hours later a sailor dragged her on board a landing craft. She was cold and exhausted. The fuel oil she had swallowed was burning her intestines and she was blinded by oily scum.
One by one they were fished out and given a fiery tot of rum to make them vomit up the fuel oil. A sailor then held Anne up saying “Here, lass, don’t mind me” as he stripped off her sodden oily clothing and washed her in hot water. He laughed as she gave him a feeble clout. She was then rolled in a rough blanket and taken below. There they clopped off her shining black hair, all fouled by oil. AnneDullard – photographs taken in QAIMNS/R uniform
She landed at Algiers clad in sailor’s rig. The principal matron met them on shore with the classic remark: “Don’t look like a lot of survivors. Comb your hair.” It was what they needed, a salty douche like that, to restore their shattered morale. Shipwrecked, and not a bare 24 hours after landing, Anne was fitted out in battle dress, men’s boots and a little woolen comforter and sent forward into the front lines to join a casualty clearing station.” (End of quote from Woman’s Day )
Over the next four years Anne’s tour of duty took her from North Africa, through Sicily to Monte Casino, Italy and from there to the general hospital at Bari in 1943. She was in Bari on the fateful night when, as recorded in Blackwood’s Magazine , June 1947, seventeen allied merchant ships carrying war supplies were bombed in Bari harbour. There were 1,000 allied casualties and hundreds of local Italians died, not only from the bombing, but from the effects of the burns from Lewisite poison gas bombs carried by bombarded Liberty ships that were also in the harbour.
From Italy , Anne went to Greece and Yugoslavia , serving with the commandos, moving in and out of the country for short periods, collecting casualties and shipping them back to Italy . From Italy she moved onto India ( Imphal and Kohima ) to relieve nurses who had been there for five years. The war ended and it was on to Labuan, Borneo for six months to relieve Australian nurses going home. In June 1946 Anne was demobbed.
Settling back into civilian life in England was an experience Anne shared with many veterans after the war. In 1947 she migrated to Australia to join her sister Kitty who had married an Australian navyman and gone to live in there during the war. In the country town of Gunbower , Victoria nearby to Cohuna where she had been appointed to the position as matron of the local hospital, she met Matt Grange who had served with the Australian army in Darwin. They married in January 1950 and went on to raise a family of Martin, Camilla, Len and John. Martin, being the son of Kitty who had contracted TB and died in 1949.
Anne made a career of nursing, specializing in midwifery, and breaking from it for only a few years when the children were young. She and Matt made their home in Gunbower until moving to nearby Echuca in 1966. Her father Martin and brother John joined her in Australia and Anne returned to England twice to visit during her lifetime but had readily adopted Australia as her new homeland.
A great correspondent, Anne kept in regular contact with family and friends from the “old country”. She would have been thrilled with this website as she had a great fascination with the wonders of new technology, enjoying the adventure a number of years ago of sending an email to the editor of the Sunderland Echo . After her husband Matt passed away in 1980, Anne’s final years were spent in Mildura, Victoria until her death on 9 th March 2003.
The sinking of the Strathallan and subsequent trauma of war service stayed with Anne throughout her life. Like so many other veterans, she got on with life and is renowned for her lively sense of humour , however, she never came to terms with her disappointment at the apparent disregard the British Government had for the welfare of their war veterans.
Camilla Elliott (daughter)
9 Hector Street
Mildura, Victoria, Australia 3500
Hi, I was interested to read the account. My aunt ” Sherry” survived and as far as I know went on to serve in N Africa and we think India. She returned to N Ireland where she lived until 1970 when she went to live with her sister in Pinner, Middx. She never married and died in 2009.
Mildred was always addressed as Sherry or Sister and frequently mentioned the QAs but she never would talk about that night.
We would be delighted to find out more about Mildred’s wartime experiences.
I’m very interested to read your comment. My mother passed away in 2003 and although she spoke about this experience it was difficult for us to put it into context until this wonderful website told the story, so I can understand you aunt’s attitude. I have much of Mum’s story although she destroyed much her autobiographical writing during some difficult times and never rewrote it. It’s important, however, that we acknowledge their contributions.
You may be able to trace some of Sherry’s details through her war record. Mum went from North Africa to Sicily and to Bari with the 8th Army before being involved in the ‘Anzio Push’ as she used to call it. Some of them were parachuted in Yugoslavia to provide medical support to the partisans.
Yes, they did go to India. Mum then went up to Imphal and Kohema via Calcutta before being deployed to Borneo where they went to relieve the Australian nurses. In Burma the nurses were each allocated a Gurka guard who slept across the doorway of their tent. Mum wasn’t keen to go home as her mother had died and so much had changed.
Whilst in Italy, they were awarded with medals for their service by Mussolini. Mum threw hers into the Mediterranean Sea in disgust when Mussolini changed allegiances. Your aunt may have something in her belongings if she was there at the time.
You are welcome to contact me in person and I may be able to assist with your search. You may also be able to identify your aunt in some photos I have.
All the best