Sacrifice in Wartime

On Armistice Day, I attended a Symposium at the University of Queensland entitled ‘Sacrifice in Wartime’. It referred specifically to World War 1 (WWI or ‘The Great War’ as it was known at the time) during which the term ‘sacrifice’ was used a great deal by many different people in many different ways.

Dr Geoff Ginn spoke about the 57,700 Queenslanders who served in WWI, many of whom died, and of the 60,000 Australians who died. Sacrifice was imbued with Christian ideals where Christ died on the cross for our sins. There were also secular connotations. In Queensland, Archbishop Donaldson preached sacrifice as a penitential submission for Anglicanism and the British Empire, which were both very strong influences in our colonial attitude at that time. (Donaldson House at the then named Church of England Grammar School would surely been named after him.)

Geoff also mentioned the sacrifices of our troops for each other, and noted those of the stretcher-bearers bringing the wounded back from the battlefields at great personal risk. In the 1920s and 1930s memorials to the WWI dead became a preoccupation with communities throughout Australia. Inscriptions used the language of high diction, which dated back not just to WWI but the battles of the early 10th century. For example the Mosaic on floor of Horatio Nelson’s sarcophagus reads ‘England expects every man to do his duty’.

Dr Mark Cryle then spoke of sacrifice for the community back home in Australia in terms of the removal of pleasure as a performance of loyalty; the foregoing of pleasures such as sporting, gambling, and alcohol while the troops suffered overseas. It was tied to fundraising especially in schools and community groups. (An interesting contrast was with many of the troops overseas where boozing, gambling, and prostitution were indulged in during their recreation time.)

Fiona McLeod spoke about the call for mothers to encourage their sons to volunteer for service overseas. Many badges and posters were aimed at them:

WWI poster urging mothers to support the war effort
WWI poster urging mothers to support the war effort

Also wives were encouraged by State monetary aid to have children to compensate for the horrific number of deaths being incurred on the battlefields.

Dr Robert Hogg mentioned Eric Honeywood Partridge who regarded himself as unsuitable to be a soldier, but he clung to the ideals of duty and sacrifice. He joined the Australian Imperial Force in April 1915 and served in the Australian infantry during the First World War, in Egypt, Gallipoli and on the Western Front, before being wounded in the Battle of Pozières. His interest in slang and the “underside” of language is said to date from his wartime experience. Partridge wrote over forty books on the English language, including well-known works on etymology and slang. Of particular relevance, Geoffrey Serle writes in the Australian Dictionary of Biography “He eventually himself published ‘Frank Honywood, Private’, as part of Three Personal Records of the War (London, 1929), which ranks as a minor classic of war literature. He was concerned to commemorate his mate Corporal Howard Phillips who had died at Mont St Quentin, to attempt to describe the terrible battle of Pozières, to expose himself as an example of a soldier broken but somehow carrying on under appalling stress, and to write the war out of his system. Incidentally he had much illuminating to say about the men of the A.I.F. and his autobiography of one intellectual, ‘sensitive’ infantryman stands as a much-needed modification of vulgar notions of the Australian soldier.”

Then Simon Farley referred to Padre George Green of the Second Light Horse Regiment at Gallipoli. Green kept a detailed diary of his time at Gallipoli, and in eloquent and honest prose vividly described the horrors of the campaign. In the dust and heat and flies he tended his flock, providing what pastoral care he could. One of his most important and distressing tasks was burying the dead. He wrote “I remember registering the resolve to be studiously callous about funerals otherwise it was obvious I would not last another week… I was among the burial party to go over into territory between the trenches. There I beheld a sight I never shall forget and struck a smell awful beyond anything I’ve ever experienced….I said committal over about fifteen bodies most of whom were decayed beyond recognition.”

He was full of admiration for the men and wrote “The valour, spirit, patience and determination of these Australian soldiers are beyond all praise”.

Finally, Dr Susan Kellett mentioned the sacrifices made by nurses during WWI and how churches made money through church memorials of stained glass windows both to individuals and as collective memorials. This was contrasted with the war memorials erected by public subscription in the community.

Stained glass church window in memory of the fallen soldiers during WWI
Stained glass church window in memory of the fallen soldiers during WWI

Stories from Peel Island – 5 (Lazaret)

World Health Organisation:

‘In 1937 Dapsone, the first of a new sub‑class of sulpha drugs called the Sulphones was produced. Dapsone was found to be thirty times more active but only fifteen times more toxic than Sulphanilamide and in the 1940s is tested as a possible cure for Tuberculosis. Regrettably it is not effective but tests against rat leprosy provide dramatic results. Soon it was tried on human volunteers and by the mid 1940s it was believed that the miracle cure for Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) has finally been found.’

Dr Eric Reye (Medical Officer, Peel Island Lazaret): 

‘On the 23rd of January 1947, twenty of Peel’s most severe cases received their first doses. The philosophy behind its administration was to deliver the maximum amount of drug in the shortest time, and as such the Promin was delivered by intravenous administration each morning for six days each week.  In all, by the end of April, my assistants and I have given 1,677 Promin injections, and the results were most encouraging!

(Promin is broken down in the body to dapsone, which is the therapeutic form.)

Thirtieth Session of the National Health and Medical Research Council:

‘The Commonwealth Government should pass a special Act granting to certain Lepers allowances along the lines of those available to sufferers of TB under the TB Act’.

However, the Commonwealth Government refused to accede to the recommendation.

Seventh International Congress of Leprology in Tokyo: 

‘The Congress is unequivocally in favour of the abandonment of strict segregation and other restrictive practices as currently applied to Hansen’s patients.’

Following this Congress, a full report was made to the Queensland Parliament, which then implemented legislation for the transfer of the lazaret from Peel Island to Ward S12 at the South Brisbane (now Princess Alexandra) Hospital. Such recommendations were contained in the Health Acts Amendment Act of 1959 (Division VI ‑ Leprosy), which replaced the Leprosy Act of 1892.

Peter Ludlow:

‘If isolation is deemed to be necessary, then it must be done within the community, in special wards at community hospitals, where patients and their relatives can go without fear of community ostracism.

‘These are the lessons we can learn from Peel Island. Its past was grim, at one time hopeless, but it should never be forgotten that such events did occur right here at our doorstep, and in recent times.  Let Peel Island always remain as a symbol of the individual’s determination to live on in the face of hopelessness, and of mankind’s ability to conquer such terrible afflictions as can beset our community at any time.’

Peel Island today - a popular boaties' destination once again
Peel Island today – a popular boaties’ destination once more

Stories from Peel Island – 4 (Lazaret)

Lazaret tennis court c1940. In background from left, white male hut, common room (obscured), bath house, dining room (photo courtesy 'Alex')
Lazaret tennis court c1940. In background from left, white male hut, common room (obscured), bath house, dining room (photo courtesy ‘Alex’)

 A visitor (to the island in 1909):

‘The steamer stopped off Peel Island to let us down into a boat… We landed on the rocky beach (at the eastern end of) the island and were soon bumping over the stony road to the part fenced off for the lepers. This was reached after a disagreeable drive of twenty minutes. The first thing to attract our attention was a collection of graves. One was newly dug, ready to receive the corpse of a leper who was in the last stages…Passing on we sighted a large number of South Sea Islanders, all affected with leprosy. These kanakas waved us a hearty welcome.’ (1)

“Alex” (pseudonym) patient at Peel Island:

‘The patients were housed in four distinct compounds ‑ the white women to the west of the main quadrangle, the white men to the east, and the aborigines in two separate compounds (men and women) to the south. In the white compounds the patients were billeted one to a hut, but in the aboriginal compounds, there were two or more to a hut. The women’s huts were the most serviceable and consisted of a bedroom, verandah, and a small kitchen, which contained a wood burning stove for cooking purposes. Women were expected to cook for themselves where possible, but if they were feeling unwell, an attendant would bring them a meal from the main kitchen. The women always dined in their cabins.’ (2)

“Jim” (pseudonym) patient at Peel Island:

‘Before World War II patient management had been relatively simple. Basically it utilized the social stigma surrounding Hansen’s patients (or “Lepers” as they were then known). The term “Leper” immediately invokes Biblical connotations of a person who is unclean and a social outcast, and to contract “Leprosy” was a life sentence of social discrimination and segregation not only for the patient by also for the patient’s family. It was this very real fear of the community’s reprisals against their families that was used to keep unruly patients in check. For it was an easy matter for the Superintendent at Peel to threaten to send the police around to a trouble‑maker’s relatives. Neighbourhood gossips would then quickly broadcast the news of the visit.

‘The other alternative available for patient control at the lazaret was by the use of sanctions ‑ specifically aimed at the issue of visitors’ passes. In the early 1940s each patient was allowed two visitors per month. In previous times it had been more often, but evidently someone had broken the rules and the number had been restricted. Before boarding the Government vessel, visitors were required to show a pass which had been previously applied for by the patient to the Superintendent at Peel. Naturally any misdemeanours on the part of the patient could be used against him when he came to request his visitors’ passes.’ (2)

Rosemary Opala (nee Fielding) (former nurse at Peel Island Lazaret):

‘When invited, we all shared the patients’ social activities such as tennis, concerts, and dances. Ingrained Hospital Protocol, not fear of contagion, was a factor in nurses not further “fraternising with the patients”. I’ve told elsewhere of how we had to hike across to the Horseshoe to swim, instead of using the patients’ jetty at high tide, because it “wasn’t professional” to be seen in our decorous bathers.’ (3)

An early colorised print of the Lazaret tennis court. Recreation Hall behind (photo courtesy Rosemary Opala)
An early colorised print of the Lazaret tennis court. Recreation Hall behind (photo courtesy Rosemary Opala)


Stories from Peel Island – 3 (Lazaret)

 LEVITICUS (regarding a person with leprosy):

‘his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering on his upper lip and shall cry unclean, unclean.  All the days wherein the plague shall be in him shall be defiled: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.’

Luke 16:1: (In the parable of the rich man and the beggar, which begins…)

‘There was once a rich man who dressed in the most expensive clothes and lived in great luxury every day.  There was also a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who used to be brought to the rich man’s door, hoping to eat the bits of food that fell from the rich man’s table.  Even the dogs would come and lick his sores… ‘

'Lazarus and the rich man' by Heinrich Aldegrever (German painter 1502–1555)
‘Lazarus and the rich man’ by Heinrich Aldegrever (German painter 1502–1555)

 C.R.Wiburd (a former Quarantine Officer at Brisbane):

‘Maritime Quarantine, as we know it, commenced in 1348 when the overseers of Public Health at Venice were authorised to spend public moneys for the purpose of isolating infected ships, persons, and goods, at an island of the lagoon.  A medical man was stationed with the sick.  As a result of these arrangements the first maritime quarantine station of which there is any record was established in 1403 at the island of Santa Maria di Nazareth at Venice.

 ‘The Venetian Authorities framed in 1348 a code of quarantine regulations which served as a model for all others to a very recent period.  All merchants and persons coming from the Levant were compelled to remain in the House of St. Lazarus for a period of forty days before admission into the city.  From this is derived the term “lazaret” which has persisted until now.’

The lazaret was established in the north-western corner of Peel Island in 1907.

Tom Welsby (early bay historian):

 ‘It (Peel) would have made an ideal township, or rather residential quarter, had mercantile buildings been erected at Cleveland and its surroundings.  Had the surface of Peel been covered with well built villas and terraces a fifteen minute or less run would have taken the businessmen and others from Cleveland to a home where in summertime the weather is always delightful, and where north‑easters and south‑easters alike cool the day and evening and night with the charm of Southern Seas … but surely so large and conspicuous an island as Peel might have been left from the charge of having its soil so sadly contaminated (by the lazaret).’

June Berthelsen (a former patient at Peel Island lazaret, on her diagnosis with Hansen’s Disease/leprosy):

 ‘I felt dazed.  I had Leprosy ‑ that dreadful disease mentioned in the Bible, where the Lepers were shunned by the people.  Lepers ‑ with loathsome sores and disfigured limbs. Would I finish up like that?  Would my family and friends disown me as something unclean and horrible?  I remembered the fate of lepers in the Bible, how they wandered in the waste places of the desert, treated more like animals than human beings.  Cast out forever by their own kind.  Would it be like that for me?’

Lloyd Rees (artist, describing his mother’s incarceration on Peel):

 ‘leprosy was diagnosed.  The world being what it was and what it still is, that, of all diseases, threw a stigma. With cancer there was a horror, but with leprosy ‑ a stigma…  There was a nasty air of secrecy about it all. From Cleveland, down south of Brisbane…a mysterious launch left to take visitors to the island.’

Reference: Peter Ludlow ‘Exiles of Peel Island – Leprosy’