Australian Nurse writes a grieving Newfoundland Mother

Archival Moment

April 25, 1915

Australian Recruitment Poster, 1917

Australian Recruitment Poster, 1917

ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day is Australia and New Zealand’s most important national day of commemoration. The day marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces on 25 April, 1915 in Gallipoli, Turkey.

Fighting with the ANZAC forces was the Newfoundland Regiment serving as part of the 29th Division of the British Army fighting in Gallipoli.

Six months after the ANZAC forces had landed 1,076 Newfoundlanders came ashore along the shores of the Dardanelles Strait (Turkey) on September 20, 1915. The Newfoundlanders spent the first months digging trenches and keeping long night watches, spending time on the front line learning trench warfare techniques from the ANZAC forces.

Australian Nurse writes a grieving Newfoundland mother.

Australian Nurse writes a grieving Newfoundland mother.

During the almost four months the Newfoundland Regiment fought at Gallipoli, approximately 30 men died in action and 10 more died of disease. One of the young men who died was Joachim Murphy, Regimental # 696, he was 19 years old, the son of Joseph Murphy of Mundy Pond Road, St. John’s.   A young Australian nurse held him as he died and wanting to bring comfort to his mother wrote her this letter.


Australian Base Post Office

Alexandria, Egypt

December 6th 1915

 Dear Mrs. Murphy,

 I am an Australian Nurse on the Hospital Ship on which your son passed away when we were crossing from the Dardanelles to Malta.

 I have not much to tell you but thought it might comfort you in your sorrow to have a few lines from someone who was with him in his last hour. He was a very good boy and though so badly wounded was very brave and courageous, as I know he must have been when fighting.

 His injuries were such that his mental condition was not very clear so that he could not talk much about his home and friends but in his half delirium I often heard him say “Mother” as if he was thinking of his home. He suffered very little pain and passed peacefully away.

 He was seen by the priest before he died and had the Last Rites of his church. I am a Protestant myself and did not quite know what to do about a Crucifix he was wearing but thought it best to leave it to him when he went to his last resting place.

 These two letters I am enclosing were in the front pocket of his coat and were evidently treasured by him. I feel sure you would like to have them.

Trusting, that God will comfort you in your great loss and sorrow.

 I remain yours very sincerely,

 Jessie Reeves

 P.S.: The only address I have is St. John’s, Newfoundland so this may never reach you but am sending it; with the hope that it may do so. I think, St. John’s may not be a very big place so that it may get there.

Note: Jessie Reeves was a nurse with The Queen Alexandrea’s Imperial Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR) She was originally from 5 Fenwick Street, Kew, Melbourne, Victoria. During the First World War (1914- 1918) she was at the Stationary Hospital in Ismalia,Egypt. After the war she did not marry, she died in Box Hill, Victoria in 1967.

Note: Joachim Murphy, Regimental # 696 was 19 years old was the son of Joseph Murphy of Mundy Pond Road, St. John’s. He died from shrapnel wounds that he sustained on a 4 November 1915. He was buried at sea on 7 November 1915 having died on the Hospital Ship.

Recommended Archival Collection: The Rooms Provincial Archives VA 36 This collection consists of photographs related to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the Great War. The collection consists of two photograph albums compiled in 1915-1916 in recognition of the services of Newfoundland Regiment soldiers during the Gallipoli campaign.

Recommended Activity: On April 25th visit the War Memorial in your town and remember the men of Newfoundland and Labrador who stood with ‘the diggers’ at Gallipoli, Turkey.

Recommended Reading: When the Great Red Dawn Is Shining by Christopher J.A.Morry; Breakwater Books Ltd. St. John’s, NL. On their march towards the Somme, and Beaumont Hamel, the young men of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment raised their voices to sing “When the Great Red Dawn is Shining,” a song about returning home to the people they love. Howard Morry was one of the young men who managed to make it back. And now, one hundred years after the events that changed his life, we hear Morry’s voice, in these pages, rising from the silence to recount his days with the famed Regiment.

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