Two Australian Army nurses, Lily Mackenzie and Rose Douglas, arrived in Cairo in December 1915. They reported for duty at No. 1 Australian General Hospital at Heliopolis on 9 December. About a week after their arrival they got a letter from their friend Edith Popplewell, "Poppy", a New Zealand nurse who had trained with them at Ballarat Hospital in Victoria, and probably worked with them at Taihape Public Hospital where Lil was the matron there for 18 months. They were very relieved to hear from her, because Poppy had been on a transport ship called the Marquette which had been torpedoed and sunk in the Aegean Sea.
A Melbourne newspaper reported:
The New Zealand hospital unit was doing the most valuable work in hospital at Port Said when it was ordered to embark on the Marquette at Alexandria on October 19 1915 with a number of English soldiers. … The Marquette was within a few hours' steam of Salonika on the morning of October 23, when a periscope was sighted. An explosion followed almost immediately. The Marquette commenced to list, but the sea was calm and with only a light breeze there was a good chance of escape. Several lifeboats overturned in the confusion while being launched. … The nurses behaved with grand courage and refused to go into the boats until the majority of the soldiers had been saved. [Argus, 24 November 1915]
The ship went down in less than fifteen minutes. With several lifeboats lost, the remainder were not enough to hold everyone, and more sank as the survivors clambered aboard. The newspaper quoted a New Zealand nursing sister:
The sea was full of soldiers struggling to reach bits of raft wreckage. We were swamped again and again until we became exhausted. It was pitiful to see nurses and soldiers tiring in their frantic struggles and finally releasing their grasp of the gunwale. They floated a few seconds and then slowly sank without a murmur. … We clung to our boats for what seemed like an endless period, suffering intensely from increasing exhaustion. We were holding on from sheer strength of will. After the survivors had been eight hours in the water, Allied ships arrived to rescue them, and "the nurses, with one accord, called out "Take the fighting men first."
This incident, the newspaper declared, "was worthy to live in the history of the Empire, and … illustrated the noble part our women were playing in this world war." Of thirty-six nurses, ten were lost. The newspaper account mentions Poppy by name: "Sister Poppelwell [sic] was also wonderful. She held up Sister Rattray until she died. They were clinging to a board, together with Sister Walker."
The surviving nurses were taken to Salonika for a couple of days. A nurse who met them there reported the officer in charge as saying "They were the most wonderfully brave and plucky women he had ever met." She added, "One had only to look at them to realize they had suffered a ghastly experience. The expression in their eyes haunted me for days." [May Tilton, The Grey Battalion, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1933, p. 87]
The nurses from the Marquette were given a month in Alexandria to recuperate, and from there Poppy was posted to Luxor. Here is her letter to her friends.
Dec. 16th 1915
My dear Macksie & Rose
It was so lovely to get your letters this morning & it is quite exciting to know you are near - or at least in the same country! - for of course it is not near for Luxor the Beautiful is no less than 400 miles from Cairo. However this is only a depot for the winter months & if I do not come through before will anyway be along in Feb. or March as it then gets unbearably hot up here. At present the weather is perfect & Luxor surely one of the most beautiful places in the world. As you have just arrived for duty I see no chance of you coming up here yet - a good many Australian Sisters have been up lately for a few days, I met several but I do not know their names but told them to look out for you & to tell you I was here & blooming.
You dears please don't be worrying your kind hearts about me I am alright. It was an appalling experience & the saddest day of my life too & I did feel awful for a time, that is why I am here, they booked 4 of us for Luxor as needing a complete change & light duties - Certainly we have had the change but I do not know where the light duties come in! Nearly 3000 men & 20 Sisters means very long hours & often jolly heavy work too, personally I am as fit as possible & work was what I needed. I am beginning to bust all me buttings! but the others are not too well. In fact it was a mad idea to send all Sisters in rather indifferent health up here thinking it would be light & pleasant - it is jolly hard work & all the English Sisters are rather sick things - I'm the best of the crowd! - as far as health goes of course! but you know Poppy's modesty!
Another 36 N.Z. Sisters were to go to Salonika to our unit which we left there to "carry on" as best they could till we sent them the equipment from Alex & then joined them we thought - however they have advanced & are, I heard today, now only 7 miles from the firing line so needless to say do not need or want Sisters there!
So our girls are left high & dry - kicking their heels in idleness & envying us for being at work. We were nearly a month at an hotel in Alex after our return. We got a grant of £60 from the Govt & it was such hard work buying our equipment. You have no idea how awful it was - didn't I long for a D.I.C.! However in good time we got some clothing & uniforms made & some new boxes to keep it in etc. etc. It was hard work though. I do not know Cairo at all. Spent a few hours there on our way up here, it seems to have lots of good shops & might be easier shopping there - we motored out to the pyramids and so on.
I wonder where you two will be stationed. I do hope you will be together - no doubt you will as they are very kind the way they arrange to let friends keep together, & it means so much to have a chum in this country.
A New Zea. girl & I made friends coming over on the "Maheno" - she was such a dear & in such a short time we were such friends - just seemed to "fit in" in quite a curious manner & were both sent to Pt Said - shared a room there & one never moved & scarcely thought without the other - & we were so happy - we kept together the day of our disaster & hung on to the same piece of wreckage but Lorna was not as strong as I am & simply couldn't do it. I held her on for a long long time & then she died of utter exhaustion not long before we were picked up - it was so dreadful - I was just able to hold up her face while she died & then so soon I had to let her go I couldn't hold her any longer but it was the most awful thing having to let her go & seeing her little grey body float right away from me - another Sister & I then climbed up on the boards we had & lay front down & didn't care a bit what the sea did to us - however it carried us up to a lifeboat sent off from a British mine sweeper - & so we were alright - had been in the water from 9 a.m. till nearly 5 p.m. so you may imagine how we felt or rather didn't feel ---
Well dears I didn't mean to go over it - it is all over now. I just feel a bit different somehow - will go the softlier and sadlier all my days I think - but these are sad & serious times are they not?
I wonder how you left all the Ballarat folk - Rose, I got your letter just before I got Mack's telegram - saying you expected to leave on the 10th & telling me about your entertainment at the B. Camp! How funny it must be - Macksie I didn't have a single line from you until the day we sailed for Salonika & then I got 2 letters from you, the first 2 you wrote after you got home - dearie, I did want to be with you so then. I wrote a long letter to you on the troopship but alas it is with all my belongings at the bottom of the Aegean Sea! I know one's possessions don't matter a scrap of course but you know one cannot help regretting the loss of one's treasures sometimes & please remember I haven't a photo to my name - now I know you must have both had yours taken before you left so please have pity on me & send me one at once will you? It is one's little treasures that one misses. I had a long letter from Midge yesterday. I wonder did you see her, Macksie? She sent me some sweet hankies and such a pretty book cover - it is quite nice to have some pretties again!
Our "affair" happened on the 23rd October & I had letters from N.Z. written on the 27th & they knew absolutely nothing of it - aren't the powers-that-be bounders the way they hold things back? & 10 of our Sisters & about 40 of our men gone! I think it is awful, and 5 out of the 10 were the girls I knew and liked best in the whole unit! --
Fancy Christmas so near - so much has happened this year & to me it seems so long. Thank you so much both of you for your kind letters - & I don't want anything not even your nice underclothing, Rosebud! There is quite a fair assortment of cotton stuff to be had in Egypt - & so far I have only equipped for this country - time enough to buy woollens when I know I am going to freeze, don't you think so - Do tell me where you are & about your work - we even got some of the recent frostbites from Gallipoli and Serbia up here last week! I do wish they would send you girls up here - we need some help badly -
Well - till we meet! I haven't seen Reeves at all - she is on Transport duty now - the [Gallipoli] Peninsula, Lemnos, Malta & England! She has had lots of experience.
Well this is a long screed & I've got a beast of a cold & must go to bed - Much much love to you both
Janet's great-aunt Lil Mackenzie was an Australian nurse who was matron of a hospital at Taihape. Lily McKenzie enlisted in Melbourne on 5 October 1915 and she embarked with Rose Douglas on the Orsova on 12 November. Among Lil’s papers was this beautiful, so lively yet thoughtful letter written to Lil in Cairo by Edith Popplewell, a New Zealand nurse. Poppy's letter is courtesy of Janet. Janet would love to hear from any Popplewell connections, and has a newspaper cutting describing her wedding which Janet would like to share. What makes the letter particularly interesting is the comment in the Popplewell letter, “another Sister and I then climbed up on the boards we had & lay front down & didn’t care a bit what the sea did to us”, which echoes Coster’s words (opens in another webpage): “Sister and I climbed right up on to the board and lay flat down on it and let the waves do as they liked.” It seems likely that they were together in the water. There are many other points of comparison in the letters." wrote Janet Mackenzie, Feb. 2006. Copied as is including the ampersands and spelling.
Miss Lil McKenzie, [trained at] Ballarat Hospital, is listed under “1915 - Nursing Staff for Hospital Ship Marama (Third contingent) but she didn’t sail on the Marama. Lil received an award of the Royal Red Cross (5 August 1919), which says “she sacrificed a most lucrative position in charge of a private hospital in New Zealand in order to enlist with the Victorian contingent because the New Zealand authorities in the early days of the war would not accept an Australian-trained nurse.” Edith was also Australian-trained, so it was nationality that was the barrier not school of nursing. Edith was last assigned at the 15th General Hospital, Alexandria when she returned to New Zealand in 1916.
Surname: POPPLEWELL Given Name: Edith Category Nominal Roll: Vol. 1 Regimental Number: 22/158 Rank: Nurse Body or Draft: HS Maheno Unit or Regiment: NZANSC Marital Status: S Last NZ Address: Otaki Hospital Otaki Next of Kin Title: Mrs C Next of Kin Surname: POPPLEWELL Next of Kin Relationship: Mother Next of Kin Address: 505 Mair St Ballarat Victoria Surname: SCOTT Given Name: Isabella Category Nominal Roll: Vol. 1 Regimental Number: 22/9 Rank: Sister Body or Draft Left NZ: 8/4/15 Unit or Regiment: NZANS Marital Status: S Last NZ Address: Timaru Next of Kin Title: Alexander Next of Kin Surname: SCOTT Next of Kin Address: National Mortgage Company, Timaru
New Zealand Herald, 17 April 1924
A pretty wedding which occasioned a great deal of interest took place on Thursday afternoon at St Mary's Church, Timaru, when Edith, second daughter of Mrs Popplewell, Ballarat, Australia, was married by the Ven. Archdeacon J. A. Julius to Eric, second son of Mrs A. A. Scott, Bidwell Street. The church was beautifully decorated with cream, blue and pink flowers, and autumn foliage. Mr A. W. V. Vine presided at the organ.
The bride, who was given away by Mr Corkill, Wellington, looked very charming in a lovely gown of deep cream georgette, beaded in crystal, and long court train of georgette, over which fell her veil of cream silk net, caught on either side with gold leaves. She carried a bouquet of flame and yellow roses. Her bridesmaid, Miss Jessie Corkill, was in powder blue lace and silver tissue, with a bandeau of silver leaves encircling her hair. Her bouquet was of deep pink roses. Mr Frank Scott, Gore, was best man.
The Popplewell Family
The WW1 British Associate of the Royal Red Cross (A.R.R.C.) was instituted in November, 1915 was issued with a bow. Only 5,079 British Royal Red Crosses, 2nd Class or A.R.R.C., were awarded during World War I. The silver and enamel medal was awarded to members of the nursing services, regardless of rank, for distinction in nursing. Up until 1976, this decoration could only be awarded to women. The words "Faith", "Hope" and "Charity" are inscribed on the upper limbs of the cross, with the year of issue in the lower limb on the back. King George V is on the front. The nurses were allowed to use A.R.R.C. after there names.
Auckland Weekly News 24 January 1918 Page 16
Honours & Awards [With NOK]
Associate Royal Red Cross – Second Class:
BESWICK, M. B. Sister – Mrs B Beswick, Oamaru
GRIGOR, M. Sister – F S Grigor, Scotland
POPPLEWELL, E. Sister – Mrs C Popplewell, Victoria
SCOTT, I. Sister – A Scott, Timaru
WILKEN, E. Sister – Mrs J W Wilken, Dunedin (mother)
WRIGHT, K. E. Sister – Mrs J Leigh, Remuera
Edith became best friends with Sister Isabel Scott, ARRC, NZANS, from Timaru. They probably worked together in Egypt. Both Isabel and Edith were awarded the Associate Red Cross Medal. Poppy married Isabel's brother in Timaru in 1924. Sister Isabella Scott, left New Zealand after February 1915 was transferred with No. 1 NZ General Hospital when the unit moved from Cairo to Brockenhurst in June 1916. Isabel married Mr Burch.
Private Cecil POPPLEWELL, 1445. 11th Bn. Australian Infantry, A.I.F. was killed in action 19th May 1915 at the age of 30. Son of Fredrick Joseph and Catherine Jane Popplewell, of 4, Lyons St., Ballarat North, Victoria, Australia. Native of Kaikora, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand. Place of enlistment: Kalgoorlie, WA I. F. 12. There was a big Turkish counter-attack against the Anzacs on 19 May 1915, and if Cecil was with the 11th Battalion he was in the trenches just south of Lone Pine. The attack was repelled with severe Turkish losses, and Cecil was one of the 160 Anzacs killed that day. Information from C. E. W. Bean, The Official War History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Vol. II, chapter 5. Before enlisting Cecil was a blacksmith and that his school was Dana Street, Ballarat. On enlistment Cecil was 29 years and 6 months, 6 feet 1.5 inches, 178 pounds, with a light complexion, fair hair and blue eyes. Buried at Grave 5, Victoria Gully, about 1.5 miles southeast of Anzac Cove, reinterred Browns Dip Cemetery after the war. The family moved to Australia. from Dannevirke. When the army wrote to Mrs C. Popplewell in 1920 asking if his father was still alive, she replied ‘nothing known to me since 1893’, so it looks as though the parents were separated. Cecil’s sister Ruby Ethel wrote in March 1916 from 16 Dawson St., Ballarat asking for a copy of his death certificate to produce in proving his will which was in her favour. His mother did not receive a pension because she was not his dependent.
Frederick Joseph Popplewell was an Insurance Agent at Kaikora for South British Insurance Co. in December 1885. In July 1888 Mr Popplewell, Kaikora, was appointed the new Headmaster for Danevirke District School and arrived there 4 August 1888. On 30 Oct 1888 Mr Popplewell had been confined to his bed after cutting his foot open with an axe. In April 1889 there were 127 pupils on the Danevirke School roll and John Popplewell passed Std 111 and Ruby Popplewell passed Std 1. In 1891 Jack was in Std V, Ruby in Std 111, Edith in Std 1 and Cecil in Lower 1. He was a strict teacher. On 18 June 1889 at the Danevirke School Committee monthly meeting a letter was read from R. Roythorne that his son Charles had come home from school with welts on the backs of both hands, which were caused by Mr Popplewell's cane. Charles had been struck as he couldn't answer the question. How many wives & relations did Henry V111 have? Mr Popplewell had struck him and then Charles threw a slate at Mr Popplewell. Charlie wouldn't hold out his hand and that was the reason he was struck on the knuckles. The Chairman did not believe children should be flogged for not knowing lessons, but that flogging should only be resorted to in cases of misdemeaneours. On 29 June 1889 Mr S.G. Popplewell of the "News" was married on Wednesday and has been spending the honeymoon in Danevirke. The couple left for Makotuku yesterday. 2 June 1891 on Saturday, Cecil Popplewell, one of the sons of the Headmaster of Danevirke School, sustained a cut to the head through getting in the way of an axe that his elder brother was using upon some wood. Dr Willkinson sewed up the wound which is not serious. By 1892 Danevirke
J. Popplewell Std V1 and C. Popplewell, E. Popplewell. passed Std 11.
Evening Post, 7 December 1901, Page 5 WAIRARAPA NEWS.
MASTERTON, This Day. Nurse Anderson, of Timaru, has been appointed to a vacancy on the nursing staff of Masterton Hospital.
Evening Post, 20 January 1905, Page 5 HOSPITAL NURSES EXAMINATION.
Following are the names of the hospital nurses (arranged in order of merit) who pasted the senior examination held last month under the Nurse Regisliation Act,: A. Keddie, Timnru A. Moody, Timaru...
Evening Post, 5 January 1912, Page 8
NURSES AND MIDWIVES. EXAMINATION RESULTS.
The following nurses were successful in passing the recent examination under the Nurses Registration Act. Their names are given, in, order of merit:
Isabella Sutherland, Timaru
Robina Lochhead, Timaru.
Press, 9 January 1918, Page 9
Melbourne, December 31. Sister Edith Popplewell who has been awarded the First Class Medal of the Royal Red Cross Society, is the daughter of Mrs C. Popplewell, of Lyons street, North Ballarat. She was born at Kaikoura [sic: Kiakora (Otane)] (New Zealand), but, when a child settled in Ballarat with her mother, and was educated there. She, however, was in New Zealand when the war broke out, and enlisted in the New Zealand nursing service. Before becoming a sister at the Otaki Hospital she served as a probationer, trainee, and sister at the Ballarat Hospital, and was later at the women's Hospital, Melbourne. As a war nurse Sister Popplewell has had distinguished service; She was aboard the troopship Marquette when it was torpedoed on the way to Salonica, and she and others were in the sea until picked up by a submarine nine hours later. During the greater part of that period Sister Popplewell supported another nurse, who died of exhaustion in her arms. For this act of gallantry Sister Popplewell was mentioned in despatches, and the Royal Red Cross award is a further recognition of her bravery on that occasion. Sister Popplewell is attached to a military hospital in London. Prior to that appointment she served for six months on the hospital, ship Braemar Castle, which was torpedoed on the voyage that immediately followed Sister Popplewell's last trip therein. Sister Popplewell's brother, Cecil, was killed on Gallipoli on May 19th, 1915.
Kai Tiaki: the Journal of the Nurses of New Zealand April 1926, Page 83 Marriage
Sister Poppelwell, A.R.R.C., was married at Timaru on 17th April to Mr. Scott, of Timaru. Mr. Corkill, from Wellington, gave the bride away, and the bride, who will be remembered as one of the sisters who were wrecked in the ill-fated Marquette, looked charming in a lovely gown of deep cream georgette braided m crystal, and carried a bouquet of flame and yellow roses. The bridesmaid wore, etc., etc. Miss Jessie Corkill was her bridesmaid. After the ceremony a wedding breakfast was given by Mrs. Corkill.