WITH THE 76TH DETACHMENT,
CHESHIRE COUNTY DIVISION,
BRITISH RED CROSS SOCIETY
VERNON INSTITUTE HOSPITAL,
GREAT SAUGHALL, NEAR CHESTER
OXFORD,(6) July 27.
I had such an interesting afternoon Wednesday. Knowing that the bad cases at the Third Southern General Base Hospital (University College, in peace times) depend largely on volunteers to get out in their spinal carriages and bath-chairs, I went around there about 2.30, and found a Mr. Wright (an older college dignitary, who gives his spare time to hospital work). He brought me out, as he said, "a very old man," a boy of not quite seventeen, who got very badly smashed up with the Buffs, the East Kent Regiment, in the last days of the Ypres Salient. Baker was a bright, determined little chap, an orphan; the sort that likes to talk war and fighting; so as I wheeled him up University Park, we had a spirited conversation, and I now know all about the best way of getting a bayonet away from a Hun if mine gets broken! I knew something of the history of the fighting, and said to him, "You lost most of your officers early in the game, did n't you?" "Oh, yes," he said, "we all went over the top, each one for himself, that was the worst of it." Oxford ladies serve tea every afternoon in the gardens of Mansfield College, for all the wounded who are out, so we turned up there about 4.30. After seeing that Baker had his tea, Mr. Wright asked me to come and stay with a man whom he had brought, who was out for the first time. He lay in a spinal carriage, a beautiful type of face, finely featured, and very serene, yet he has had to endure everything; there are wounds in his back; he has had gas gangrene, and lost both feet above the ankles. He was with a machine gun company; the same whizz-bang which wounded him killed three and wounded three of the gun's crew, and he is now the only survivor. I talked with him quietly, for a man remains very weak long after such an experience; presently he told me that he was a Nova Scotian. He spoke of Annapolis Valley and Boston, and when I mentioned Boston, U.S.A., it transpired he had often fished from old T Wharf, and had cousins in Brighton and Cambridge. He is absolutely alone in England, and has had no news from home since June, so he enjoyed the talk. In spite of all, he is not down-hearted, ---only he thinks he can't fish again (his former occupation), but must go into his father's business of boat-building. He is twenty-four, by name Nickerson, and he is as fine as anything I have seen here or in France. Afterwards I wheeled Baker through Mesopotamia (a lovely walk along the Cher) and back to the Hospital at 6.30; he was a happy child. Yesterday I took out two more bath-chairs, both Londoners; one a talker, the other a silent soul. The talker had volunteered for a trench-mortar battery, and his talk was very interesting. His contribution to the cause was a leg. This morning I have been wandering a little, watching drilling, sitting in lovely Trinity garden, and buying some old prints, oranges, and a bottle of ink, and wanting to buy much more. In the streets everything is so busy. I passed two companies of cadets on their way to field exercises, carrying their entrenching tools and other equipment, R.F.C. girls on motorbikes, with side-cars in which they take officers from one duty to another, others driving huge R.F.C. lorries, and girls in long coats, breeches and high boots, going to their work on the land. The Corn Market has never seen more traffic than now, and how different from other days! Mrs. Bevan, my dear landlady, and I have long talks in the evenings: many a boy sleeps forever in France who slept in the room where I am sleeping now. She speaks with especial affection of a young Irishman named Anderson who won his Blue in featherweight boxing. Poor lad! He has won his eternal Blue now. Thursday, I went up the river as far as Wallingford, where I found the Stars and Stripes floating over the boathouse.... It was all lovely beyond description. Coming back to Oxford was a dream. It was like a heavenly vision --- those spires and towers, "aspiring sweetly from the green...."
WAKEFIELD, August 14
Our week of nights finished successfully, barring usual stoking troubles. Nurse Lloyd is fine to work with, and Night-Sister turned out well. Here I am on days again, and such a day as we have had to-day. Nine stretcher and five sitting cases came in just after midnight, so I found great changes in the ward this morning. There are some very bad wounds, and two or three medical cases. (One is a splendid big chap in the Coldstream Guards.) But general happiness pervades them all, because of being not only back in Blighty, but in a Red Cross Hospital. "Why, Sister, I think I could do with this for the duration," said one to me while I was cutting up his dinner. "To think of my luck to get in such a place," said another. I've heard a lot about the fighting now going on; a man who has been through the whole war thinks he has never seen such artillery fire as in the present campaign. "And we've had such rain, Sister; it's terrible work trying to move artillery!" There has been too much rain here for the good of the crops --- the water fell in torrents all last night, and this morning we had a tremendous thunderstorm as well. Then the sun came out, and it grew hotter and hotter; visitors came, the boiler went back on us, there were an unusually large number of collars and ties to be washed for the week, and Dr. Elliott, our consulting medical man, took this morning to come and see poor St. Lo, who is in very bad shape. Altogether, a stiff morning. St. Lo is able to retain nothing now, liquid or solid, and his bed is a great care. I expect he'll be moved into the War Hospital; he will be more in place in a medical ward, for he needs constant attention, and our Staff is not large enough to give him as much time as he should have. Gray was walking with a cane this morning; Brown is really "chirpy"; but Willans, a very bad medical case, makes no progress.
It's raining again, and our black cat, Mickey, has come in, all wet, through the French window. The thrushes have stopped singing and gone to bed, but the garden is lovely, even in the rain. I must stop now, for it's time for the troop's supper. It's such fun feeding the new ones, for they're so happy and thrilled at being clean and back in Blighty, away from that indescribable din. One can have no idea how intense their appreciation is unless one has seen and heard them.
To-day is a regular mountain day, bright sun and cool winds, after three showery days and heavy rain last night. We are full up, and very busy, as we are one short for this week. The new cases are coming on well. A man named Lecomber is one of the worst; wounded at Ypres by shrapnel, which rent his whole left side from ear to toe, but he is as plucky as they always are. Gunner Harris, in the Vernon Ward, told me this morning that he was with the Cunard Line for years, knew the "Etruria," and has crossed to Boston on the "Ivernia." It was odd to be talking with him about Revere Beach, which he remembered very well! Matron comes home from her holiday to-day; we have missed her, though Mrs. Manley, our temporary matron has done splendidly and we've all liked her. She is matron of a boys' school, and coming here to work is her vacation, as part of her war work. She has lost her son in the war.
We had a splendid afternoon Thursday. Mr. Jackson, our Quartermaster's brother, came up from Birkenhead with some convalescent Tommies, and gave us a concert. He has a splendid voice himself, and plays delightfully, and does a lot of it for hospitals everywhere, besides being B.R.C.S. Transport Officer in Birkenhead. He sang such a pretty second part to "When I Wore a Tulip." One of the men sang a rather grim parody on "If You Were the Only Girl," which began,
"If you were the only Boche in a trench,
And I had the only bomb,
--- you can imagine what it was like!
The post is just in, bringing me many letters from you both, and cuttings. Thank you for everything, and for news of so many people.... My eyes filled as I read the Herald editorial about the parade. So many men who marched through Boston that day will never come back! The world is going to be rudely changed for us at home, as it has been for so many people here, already.
The heavy rains continue, and the lowlands below the ridge on which our village lies, are flooded. Crops are suffering, for strong winds are doing damage besides. The glass has been lower this week than in any August for thirty-eight years. The country is very beautiful, having still the look of early summer except for the crops and the late summer flowers, which are coming into their own. I saw our own goldenrod against masses of purple clematis in one garden to-day. It's a lovely combination, but I love the roses best, and they bloom as richly as ever. We're having delicious plums and nectarines now, and the apple trees are heavy with fruit; it's a luscious month. Mrs. Williamson continues to spoil me, and only rarely do I have a chance to spoil her. Last night I was off at seven, so I had a chance to sing for her and Mr. Williamson. They both love music.
1 A.M., August 24
Many thanks for The Nation, and Simonds's article, which was very interesting. He surely has a keen grasp of the situation, and the power of bringing it home to others. Your letter of August 2 is a joy; it's good to think of you all at Rest Harrow. My love to the friends at the Peak, and the more distant neighbors.... Here we are always busy; Mary and I have been both washing and ironing to-night, as the Day-Staff are so rushed they do not get around to washing the bandages and slings. She's just starting porridge for breakfast, so I can write to you. Nights seem longer now; we find the gas lighted when we come on duty, and we can't do without it until after six. One hates to think the end of this lovely season is near. . . . Brown is doing so well now, --- the two months have done wonders for him, though he still coughs and cannot straighten his neck. I see we are to begin Casualty Lists at home next week, so I expect there is a sizeable body of troops over already. I wonder where General Glenn is? He will have a division, of course.(7)
Yesterday was kipper morning, and a horrid washing up job it makes. Perhaps to compensate, the talk was unusually interesting among the "Kitchen Staff." Our R.F.C. corporal, Crack, talked a lot about flying, --- always a fascinating subject. He said the average flying life for R.F.C. officers is eighty hours. After hearing that, one no longer wonders at the endless number of R.F.C. cadets.
Mrs. Frost has asked us to dine there Saturday before duty; Sunday will be my last night on with Mary. We have had such a nice week together.... And it's been heavenly living in her wonderful old house. The light's too bad to write any more, and it's working time, anyway.
There's an autumnal wind to-day, and dark scurrying clouds. I've just been walking in our beloved Shotwick woods, thinking of the delight of those long sweet summer evenings, when after the day's work was done, one used to be able to go walking in the evening between nine and ten, and watch the rabbits playing. I am back on days again; it seems a strange noisy world, after three weeks of night-duty. Monday was my change day, and I had such a beautiful holiday.... I wish you had been here last night to hear Corporal Sheehan and me sing "Convent Bells"; it's an old-fashioned duet, but it makes a hit! Sheehan has a splendid tenor, and adores singing. He's getting about on crutches wonderfully now. A V.C. captain came to see the hospital the other day; he had lost an arm, and had a long talk with Sheehan, deciding which of the two was better off. They concluded that things were best as they were, for Sheehan felt he needed two arms more than he needed two legs, while the captain felt he'd rather spare the arm.
Staff-Nurse is on her holiday; Miss Godwin, who has come from Staffordshire to take her place, is not only a splendid V.A.D. and awfully nice, but an excellent musician as well, which means so much. Miss Aked is home on leave with a bad arm, and has asked me to spend a week-end with her at Hellifield; I am sorry I can't manage it, for I should like to see her again. This morning came a splendid letter from Gladys Winterbottom, with her picture. She looks very well in her uniform.
Yesterday afternoon I sent off some money to Pierre and François; the latter has never fully recovered his sight. I used Aunt Hepsie's fund; Susie's, Charlotte Cummin's, and Cousin Eliza's money I am keeping for Christmas.
The new ward is in use; we can take care of fifty-four patients now. It's a sunny, quiet place, fragrant with the scent of the heliotrope, which borders the veranda. Sister Jock has been on her holiday. We had Sister Pritchard in her place. She was especially keen on medical cases, and taught me so much. Evans, who is now almost the oldest resident of V.I.H. in my time, presented me with a mince-tart this morning! He is having a discouraging time; his wound did not seem serious, yet we can't get it well. He is a great thinker, and always so evenly good-humored. We have had many talks during these months.
I had the joy of a letter from Marraine this morning, and just now comes one from Winifred; an American mail must be in....
11.30 P.M., September 26.
Mary and I are sitting in the kitchen, waiting for the ambulances, for we are getting twenty cases to-night. It's a perfect moonlight night; how glad all these poor children will be to see the moon shining in Blighty again. This last advance is magnificent, and casualties are light, but even so, there are enough. Changing from day to night, I had Monday free; I walked into Chester in the morning, and round the walls, and sat for a while reading in Grosvenor Park. Do you remember those lovely gardens? High above the Dee they lie, full of beautiful old trees and splendid holly; the paths wind just right and lead one to sandstone steps and welcoming benches, where one might sit and dream whole days like these away. It was lovely, so different from the horror which is now the background of our lives. Here they are; no more now.
4.30, September 27.
All the new men are in bed, many asleep; all washed and fed (tea, bread and "maggie"). Their clothing has been sorted and tagged, field dressing-station cards and medical sheets are in order, bandages and slings have been put to soak, cups and saucers and plates are washed up, fires are stoked, and our own meals eaten; now Mary and I have half an hour before starting morning work. They got in at 12.45; first came two open motors (belonging to people who thus do national service); from them sixteen strangers in khaki filtered into the kitchen. Little by little the sixteen were divested of their greatcoats, trifles like metal body-shields were put aside, tea was drunk, while conversation waxed constant and interesting, though quiet. At one end of the table sat two Canadian Indians; I heard one explaining in careful English to a Cockney neighbor that he was not an Indian from India, and that his name was Black Face. Then the ambulance came, and the stretcher cases were brought in. Drummond and Brown and two other men got up to give us a hand with them, and Brown stayed up to help the tub bathers. They are a nice lot of men, and as usual, full of appreciation, and anxious to give a helping hand even if they only have one. Most of the walking cases had not been in hospital long, and were a muddy lot; some unshorn faces, too, though Brown confided to me that they were a very clean lot under their clothes, which means that they can't have been in trenches long. Two of the stretcher cases are bad; one, an Irish boy in a Scotch regiment, has terrible wounds of thigh and leg and heel; another man has a hideous wound across his whole middle back. It looks serious, though he makes nothing of it. Of course the gas gave out at a critical moment, and candles, lamps and lanterns became the order of the night. We can scarcely realize that we shall serve breakfast to forty-two instead of twenty-two this morning. Dear, brave, patient souls, I am glad they are out of that inferno for a time, at least. It was never more worthy of the name than now. Outside the cocks are crowing; another lovely day has begun, and our work must begin, too.
Thanks so much for the copy of the Harvard Bulletin, with the list of Harvard men in the war. Thank J----, too, for some illustrated papers which came in the same post; I enjoyed them greatly, and they are going the rounds of the wards now. I am still on nights; in Thornycroft, this week. It's even harder than before, waking the troops, for since we have been rationed on tea, no more morning tea! Coffee for breakfast and cocoa for supper make more of a hit than we dared hope. We heard when we came on duty to-night that there had been an inspection this afternoon; lots of men were marked out for convalescence. Corporal Willans is to go to the medical ward of the War Hospital; I am sorry he is going, for his wife and child are so comfortably settled in the village, and he is happy here. But there is hardly any hope for him, and he would be quieter there for the end. The weather has gone bad these last days; it has been chilly and rainy, but it is turning back again to-night. I took a walk when I woke up this afternoon, and coming home by the Parkgate road, I passed a garden with sweet peas in bloom, and there are still lots of roses. The troops are very wakeful to-night, so you will forgive a scrappy letter. It is constantly interrupted by ward duties, --glasses of hot milk, barley water, coal on the fires, and other things. One of the new men, Corporal Jones, has a temp. of 104° and a pain which seems like pleurisy; he is very uncomfortable. So is McLenahan, who came in the same convoy; he has twenty-two stitches in his side, and a horrid wound on his ankle. He's a merry soul from County Down; of course he is called Paddy. He thinks Sydney, Mary and I are extra because we've got some Irish blood! Corporal Wells lies very near him; he has a gun-shot wound in his side, which was taken care of in Camiers by an American doctor! Wells is awake now, and Freeman, too; he is a young Cambridgeshire farmer, who has a hideous shell wound of the arm and hand. We hope to save the hand and all the fingers, but his dressing is torture. The Indians are making good progress, but "Tanks" (so our Tank driver is called) is having a bad time with his hand, and I expect a finger will have to come off. Lecomber's wound, after many fomentations and a fresh incision, has yielded up a piece of shrapnel about half an inch thick and a little less in length; he'll get well now.
A wild wind is howling around the hospital to-night, and I am sitting by the fire in Thornycroft, watching Willans, who has had a bad turn with his heart. The ward is quiet, no snoring, but occasional groans; up in the gallery, Brown is fighting battles again. "Yes, sir," he says, very briskly and distinctly. Then various remarks about his gun (he was in a gun company).. A ward at night is a strange, remote world, and one is inclined to think it is the only one. I hear Nurse Piggin struggling with the fires; she is a bit cast down, having all the responsibility of the fires and porridge, but Sister wants me here. My helper this week is a very good one, --- a man in the Inniskilling Fusiliers, who was valet to an A.D.C. at the Durbar. He likes to talk about the trip, and said it was grand, only he did n't get on well with the King's valet! V.I.H. feels very classy just now, as we have five corporals in this ward and two corporals besides a lance-corporal in Vernon! Our Indians are getting more pally, and walk together and sit next each other at meals. They are a striking pair, and give one much to think about. When we came on duty to-night, we heard all about the operation to-day from a Tommy who had his operation in France. He was pitying to-day's patient because he was given no breakfast. "I was n't nothing like him, Nurse," said Private Bloomer, "I took a good breakfast and a fag; then I gets on a table and counts up to twenty-three and nappoo." Fancy results for the existing staff when he came out of ether! You ask about Hyland. He has been gone some time, and is doing well at a convalescent hospital. He is still on crutches, but that he recovered at all is miraculous, for he was very ill, and his wound in bad shape. " I expected to leave a leg behind me here," he told me grimly, the day he left. Fourteen men have gone this week, Bedford among others; he was such a great little helper, and so sane and interesting in his thought and talk of the war. Walbank has gone, too, --- a splendid chap; twice exempted as a munition worker, he insisted on joining up eventually. Jock has gone; though he was hard to manage at times, "with all his faults, we love him still," and we miss him. Our Coldstream Guardsman, convalescing from pneumonia, has a splendid record, out with B.E.F. since August 13, 1914, three times wounded, and now almost the only man left of his original battalion. I got up early to-night to play for a sing-song; it was a good one, for we have lately had an acquisition in Driver Reed, R.F.A., who has a lovely tenor. Of course we had "Keep the Home Fires Burning" and "Pack Up Your Troubles."
Five o'clock, and the loveliest hour of a glorious day. We have just finished tea, and I'm off until seven; the garden is beautiful to-night; it's been a joy to us all so often. The troops have had a happy day; three of the new men have been lifted, beds and all, into the court yard, Corporal Willans has been out in the bath-chair with his wife and children walking beside him, and Smart to wheel him. Corporal Wilsher has been unsteadily but happily walking about for the first time, and Lecomber is getting about a little with a cane. In the wards there have been long naps, varied by war talk and the gramophone; in Vernon, Gardner has been keeping everyone amused by foolish talk, for he is a confirmed joker, in spite of three years of fighting, two Blighty wounds, and his present bad arm. And when they are all tired of laughing, Corporal Gill is listened to with interest, for he's the only man from the Tanks we've had all summer. The Indians are doing well, but they live in a world of their own, and hold little converse with each other or anyone else. There is a legend that Black Face smiled once when a paper accidentally dropped in his face while I was dusting a window ledge over his bed. We had a concert party out from Chester last night; you would have laughed to see me shepherding my somewhat unsteady flock into Thornycroft. They were all as bright-eyed as children at a surprise party. I was off at seven, and as the day had been hard, I did n't stay for the show, but I heard from them all that they had a splendid time. St. Lo is dead; poor soul, I'm glad for his sake. He was surely true blue to enlist from Canada at forty-six. Webb was in Chester yesterday, and told me that he saw an American sailor; he seemed very thrilled. Webb came in from Vimy Ridge, but he still gets no use from his arm. He comes from Hampshire, and likes to hear about New Hampshire. From all I hear, our men have made a great impression, both here and in France, in both services, as a body and personally. Time's up, and I must carry over the cheese for the troops' supper.
October 11 .
This morning came two letters from Mamma; she is good to write so often. Thank J---- for his fine letter, which I greatly enjoyed. The weather continues changeable, but the early mornings are lovely and the nights beautiful. just after dark the anti-aircraft stations' searchlights begin to play over the sky; they are very powerful, and it's quite a sight. We are very well protected here, for it is necessary. It is rather sad walking home to Wakefield in the dark, and realizing that the warm, scented summer nights are over; how delicious they were, and what a lovely memory this spring and summer will always be. We are having an agitated week at the hospital; a great many men are going convalescent, which means many beds to carbolize, blankets, mattresses and pillows to beat, and lockers to scrub. Corporal Willans was moved to the War Hospital Tuesday. It was a horrid blustery afternoon, and we were all so depressed. Sister Jock stood by and was cheero until he was comfortably settled in the ambulance; then she retreated into the surgery and burst into tears --- I had not thought she would feel it so much. He died this morning; since the end came so soon, I wish he might have been left here. We can't realize he has taken the big trip. It's so hard for his wife, for they were a rarely devoted couple.
I was talking with one of our new men, Purdy, at teatimes, about Poelcappelle, where his arm was all shot to pieces. "You know, Nurse, I was awfully glad to get this, for it saved me. I've been over the top twice before, but this was the worst. He knew we were coming, and he had his barrage going twenty minutes before we came, and his machine-gun fire was something awful." (We all speak of the Huns as "he"). We have a big gunner in now, who was gassed and is almost voiceless. Last night he was very uncomfortable, but he had been sent some sweets, and as I passed his bed, I heard a hoarse whisper of, "Sister," and turned to find him holding out his box of chocolates for me to take some. The men are always so pleased when they have something to offer one. "Tanks's" finger is coming off to-morrow; we have tried hard to save it, but it's no use.
Living conditions are getting worse every week. Butter is 2/10 a pound, eggs threepence half-penny each, and both of these, like milk, very scarce. Even the supply of "maggie" is low, and we get only three-quarters of a pound for seven loaves of bread. Bacon is scarce and dear, so we almost never have it now. Last week matches and candles both gave out in Eastham, so everyone went to bed with the chickens. The fruit harvest is huge, however; one can buy twelve pounds of damsons for ninepence, and they are so good.
We are all very happy at V.I.H., for Matron is to have the Royal Red Cross, and she deserves it. Sister Jock has been "mentioned in dispatches," so honors are crowding thickly upon us. Matron will go up to London, and the King will pin the decoration on her. It will be some day for her. I am so glad that this has come to her, for she's such a true patriot about rations and such things.
We had a rush to-day; men leaving and men coming. Also a transfer to Chester War Hospital which I was detailed to accompany in the ambulance. We went in at 4.30; the air was delicious and the run in was a pleasure. The War Hospital stands in an unattractive part of Chester, but the buildings are excellent and there is a big garden. It was formerly the Workhouse, but has been remodeled and can take care of seven hundred and fifty patients. While we were waiting with our patients in the office for necessary formalities to be accomplished, a man in Uncle Sam's uniform came in. When he had finished talking with Butcher, our patient, Butcher said, "Beg pardon, sir, but Nurse here comes from America, too." I think the young M.D. was very surprised. He asked me how long I had been over, and said he was one of three men from the University of Chicago who came over a month ago. They are filling the places of three men who have gone to France. He seemed a nice chap, looked well in his lieutenant's uniform, and his name was Larkin. " Well, good-bye, glad to have met you; I guess you're as glad to be over working as I am," he said as he went out. Chester was enchanting, as we ran through on our way home. We picked up Webb and Gardner, who had been in on pass. The streets were crowded and busy, as it was market day, and everyone was out, and as happy as one can be nowadays. Lights twinkled, Staff Officers swanked about, and Kilties gave a touch of color, appearing a moment to vanish again in the gloom of the Rows. Chester is a dear place, and I've grown very fond of it. ... Red Cross Week has been a great success; the contribution from U.S. is much appreciated. It seems a lot of money, but it is small compared to the need. Everything is going on well. Matron says she must get a bill through forbidding me to leave "for the duration," for we keep so busy, and V.A.D.'s are scarce.
Eight stretcher and four sitting cases came in Thursday evening; I was off duty before they came, but it was quite a rush getting ready for them. Four convalescents were moved into the new ward, others shifted to the gallery, and the usual preparations for a convoy, besides the evening routine made my last hour very busy. The new cases are bad; an amputation, and a man with a terrible leg, and a horrible case of mustard gas and liquid fire burns. I was on dinners their first day, and blessed the "Tank," a wonderful white contrivance on wheels with a Red Cross on the front, which takes twelve dinners at a time; as there were twenty-three men in bed, you can imagine what a help the "Tank" is, especially in bad weather. It's another of Colonel Vernon's gifts to the hospital. The men are coming on well; just being in England seems to help so much.
Sydney has gone home for two weeks' holiday. I saw her off yesterday, and shall miss her. We saw two American sailors from the "Dixie" in the station; I tried to speak to them, but they were off before I had a chance. Afterwards I walked out to Mrs. Frost's; she was having a concert for the Red Cross, with tea and a half-crown collection. The walk out was lovely; the country is still very green --- there are hardly any leaves off, and the air is so soft: The concert was a great success; there were about a hundred people, and beautiful music, --- Mrs. Morice, who plays the piano awfully well, and a young violinist, besides Mr. Jackson, of whom I have written you, and a lady from Birkenhead, with a glorious voice. I sang two Irish songs; it's a wonderful room to sing in. Mrs. Frost looked beautifully.
Clovis complains of horrid weather in Lyons, where his squadron now is. I hope he will see Madame Dangés. Linda is working hard at a canteen in Paris. Things are going well at the front, though the end is still far off. Everyone on the Staff has a cold; Mrs. Williamson has one, too, and I've tried to take care of her, but she works so hard that she's a difficult patient. They are all so plucky about carrying on.
1 have had a long afternoon off, and a glorious one. First, a walk around Shotwick, and the lovely old church; then back by the Parkgate road to Mrs. Nicholson's. She was sorting potatoes with her "woman on the land"; I joined her, and we had great fun working until tea-time. She has two delightful Scotch terriers, who helped in their fashion.... Coming home, I stopped at the post office for letters; a Tommy was talking with a friend. "Is there many American chaps now in France? " asked the friend. "Oh, aye, there's lots of them, and fine, big, smart chaps they be, too," said Tommy. As he didn't know me, his remarks were a special pleasure. I found many letters; a splendid one from Leslie, and one from Leila, too. ... It's strange to think of life at home; so much drops away from one here.
We have had an eventful day, for Duchess Katharine came to open the new ward and operating-room this morning. We were instructed to have on clean aprons and cuffs by eleven; otherwise to carry on as usual. So I was washing tea towels when the big car bearing the B.R.C.S. insignia rolled into the courtyard. Mrs. Frost, Mrs. Nicholson, Miss Vernon, and Matron, with Colonel Vernon and Dr. Lees, received the Duchess, and they all disappeared into the hospital. Presently Staff-Nurse came out to tell us that she had just been presented, and that the Duchess, hearing there was an American V.A.D. on the Staff, had asked to have her presented. The party passed through the kitchen in a little while, followed by all the men who were up and able to walk, and the Staff, which I joined. While everyone was filing into the new ward, the presentation came off. Mrs. Frost said, "Your Grace, may I present our American V.A.D., Nurse -----." The Duchess shook hands, and I curtsied; she spoke very graciously, and said a good deal about the American doctors now in England, --- what splendid ideas they had, and how adaptable they were. She said that Robert Jones had said to her just lately that there was nothing for him to teach them. I think she must be as good as she is beautiful. After this, we went into the new ward, and Colonel Vernon made a short speech, offering the building to the B.R.C.S. "for the duration." Then the Duchess accepted the gift for B.R.C.S., at the same time congratulating Matron and Sister on their honors, and finding other pleasant things to say; she has a lovely voice and a perfect manner, and it's always a pleasure to look at her. Finally, Mrs. Frost moved a vote of thanks to the Duchess for coming, the men gave lots of cheers for the Duchess, and Colonel Vernon, and everyone! Then the Duchess left, and work resumed its normal course. The ward is to be called the Katharine Ward; Westminster wouldn't necessarily imply Duchess Katharine, and besides, V.I.H. says, " It will be a reminder of the American V.A.D."
We had such a nice service Sunday. Mr. Wandsborough was the clergyman, and the hymns went especially well. We sing, "O God, our help in ages past" almost every Sunday; what a big hymn it is. One of the men did n't come to attention quite as smartly as he might have for "God Save the King"; he was standing near Bedworth (our amputation case), who was enraged, and called out afterwards, "Young man, if you can't come to attention proper for 'God Save the King,' go and stand where I can't see you!" The "young man" is at least fifteen years older than Bedworth, but as he is in a labor battalion, he is n't quite so soldierly as he might be; he's a very nice soul, though, and won't offend again, I'm sure! Thursday we had a visit from a captain of the Grenadier Guards. He had met our corporal from that regiment in Chester, and came out to see him, to Corporal Roberts's great joy. The captain is on a detail of lecturing to convalescent officers at Eton and Hawarden. Mrs. Frost happened to be at the hospital, so took him around everywhere. He came in a Hupmobile; one sees quite a few about, for British manufacturers are not making pleasure cars. Petrol economy is becoming greater daily; private individuals can't use it at all, and many taxis and delivery motors are running by coal gas. It's an odd sight to meet a Ford topped by a huge balloon-shaped contrivance full of gas. I must leave you now, as it's time for the troops' supper. It has been such a lovely day, not a breath of wind, and soft in spite of the snow we saw this morning on the highest hills.
Sheehan and Brown have gone, and the latter writes that he is coming to make us a call on his furlough.
Sydney and I have just come on duty; we had a wild walk of wind and rain, but the stars are coming out now. We were very busy last night at ironing and mending, but to-night we are comparatively peaceful. The new boiler is in; it's a comfort, though fires still take lots of time, as we are having an unusually bad run of coal. It's always nice being on with Sydney; she is so good at everything, and remains undaunted by the most untoward events. We get on well at Wakefield, too, which is lucky. She loves music, and I wish there were more time for it. She has lost one brother in the war; he must have been an extraordinarily fine chap. He was only thirty-two when he was killed, and already a brigade major. Two other brothers are serving, and the youngest training.
Everyone is going on well. Burns, our Scotch R.A.M.C. orderly, who came to us in such frightful condition from mustard gas, is up, but Clark, a Canadian gunner, also terribly burned, is still in bad shape, though his voice is beginning to come back. Black Face left this morning before breakfast for Epsom, the Canadian convalescent camp, and flashed us all a bright parting smile. Corporal Wilsher is now our ranking N.C.O., firm but pleasant in the exercise of his authority; he's a nice chap, a Kentish farmer, twenty-three. We are getting in four stretcher cases to-night, but all is quiet so far, so I'll go on. Last night was the anniversary of the opening of the hospital in 1914; Miss Vernon and the Colonel gave a whist drive in Thornycroft for patients, Staff, ambulance drivers and other helpers. There were such jolly prizes, cigarette cases, canes, and electric torches; afterwards came tea, coffee, sandwiches, and war-cake. Colonel Vernon and Mrs. Frost spoke, and Gunner Harris spoke on behalf of the men; he has a real social gift. Colonel Vernon presented all the new V.A.D.'s with the hospital pin, such as the rest of the Staff wear already for service during '14, '15, and '16. They are very good looking; I shall always be proud of mine, for it stands for a great deal. It was a splendid evening, and "God Save the King" brought the end all too soon; by twelve, all was serene, and we at work. We gave the troops half an hour extra this morning, and they repaid us nobly, for breakfast was on time, just the same. Here's the ambulance; more later.
2.20, November 16.
All four have had tea, and had blanket baths, and before I start morning porridge, I'll finish. There's one trench-fever case, one gassed man, one bad wound of the side, and a fractured clavicle. Two are Australians, one is a Canadian, and one a Welshman. They are all asleep now, and hardly anyone in the ward woke up while we were busy with them; great luck! Lecomber goes convalescent to-morrow, and we are getting three more cases in the morning. The gas is dimmer and dimmer, and it is stopping time, anyway. It's turned out a lovely night, but I miss the summer dawns.
Though we are on night-duty, we got up this afternoon for the anniversary service at the church, and how glad we are that we did. Mr. Blackbourne, who preached, is an Army Chaplain, and if there are many like him, the Church must have meant a great deal to the fighting man. He was so simple, so sincere, and he spoke of such big things. The whole service was very impressive; all the men who were able to walk were there, most of the detachment; Mrs. Frost and Mrs. Nicholson sat in front of us, and the Vernons in their pew. It was wonderful how quiet the men kept, no fidgeting or coughing. " I could listen to such a one forever," one man said to me, walking home. Mr. Blackbourne is now Assistant Chaplain of the Western Command, but he has seen plenty of field service. Jones, who takes care of our fires night and morning and removes the ashes, is Verger at the Church, and was in his glory to-day, fluttering about in his dignified robe.
We are having a busy week; I'm back on days, and there are lots of big dressings. Bedworth's stump is in bad shape, and a little chap named Whiting has a dreadful head, all shot to pieces. His dressing takes nearly an hour, and is terrible agony for him, though he bears it heroically. The gassed patients are coming on, but it's a frightful business. Wednesday we had two ops.; Dr. Lees removed more of King's two middle finger stumps, so as to give him a more practicable hand. (King is the half-breed Indian.) Then Reilly's arm was opened up again; it has never gone on well. Nurse Taylor and I were on dressings. Some push, as we had to be all cleaned up after them and ready for Dr. Lees at 12.15. Dr. Sutton etherized; King took it like a lamb, came out quietly, was quite himself five minutes after he was back in bed, and asking me what time it was. We had a bad time with Reilly, though; he was hard to get under, and very slow to come out. I was alone with him when he began to come out, and what a time I had trying to keep him on the table. Before the end, Sydney, three men and I were all struggling with him. I can imagine now what Scotchmen are like when they are fighting, for Reilly went through a battle for us. It was tremendously stirring to feel the mighty passion of fighting surge through him. He talked of fixing his bayonet, advanced in a charge, calling, " Black Watch forever! Mons! Mons! The Black Watch, the pride of the British Army! I want to kill more Germans!" He fought us like a demon, and we all got some knocks. I expect he heard of his doings from the men, for the next morning when I was dusting his bed, he shyly produced a German penny. "Take it, please, Nurse, I got it off a dead German in Belgium. I'm thinking I was over-rough with you yesterday, and I'm sorry." Amende honorable! That surely was a day; Staff-Nurse and I were nearly all in, but the good news from Cambrai, and the afternoon post, besides a present of real butter and eggs from Nurse Taylor, did much to revive our fainting spirits.
Gunner Harris and the rest of the Katharine Ward went quite mad after tea this afternoon. They had unearthed somewhere an old lantern, which Harris fastened to a pole; he carried this at the head of a procession, which marched in and out of the wards and the kitchen and the courtyard, stopping under Matron's window for a special sing of the carols with which we had all been regaled! It was rather absurd, yet the Christmas carols sounded very sweet, and I think tears were not far from mingling with some of the men's laughter.
A beautiful clear moonlight night, and a warm west wind, bringing sulphurous fumes from the valley. Alas, that such moonlight only suggests to us air-raids on London! Nurse Minshull and I are just settling down after getting in four stretcher cases from a train of six hundred. Carmichael, a famous V.C., was on the train; Sister Jock will be disappointed not to have her countryman here. The gas went out just as the ambulance got in, so we have been working with candles and a lantern again, --- rather a nuisance. The men got here about ten, and as the ward was not all asleep, there was much chaffing and curiosity. I took care of a young sergeant named Elliott, who was terribly burned and temporarily blinded at Passchendaele. He was a mass of blisters, but cheerful just the same, and full of talk about Fritz's eight-inch shells and the fighting he had been through. When we were ready to leave the ward, Bedworth started his good-nights. " Good-night, Australia. Same to you, Canada. Bon soir, Tobey. See you in the morning, Paddy. Good-night everyone up there" (this to the gallery). As this always provokes rejoinders, it's a long business. . . . I got up in time to take a walk before sunset; it was lovely, --- sweet air, roses blooming everywhere, and wallflowers, too. The sunset was heavenly, --- a brilliant rose-color, and great white clouds banked over the hills, glowing to rose and gold, and in the east, the moon rising triumphantly. It's such a beautiful world that is being spoiled. I shall go out and post this now; it's still dark, and mysterious shapes on well-lighted bicycles will pass me with a "Good morning, Nurse" as they go on their way to work in the munition factories.
We've just had our monthly fire drill, which is amusing, but satisfactory, and now the rest of this lovely balmy afternoon is mine. It has been a tiresome day; many small vexations, and a long visit from Dr. Lees, in a charming but distracted mood. Also, we have an X-Ray party on to-night, which means a late evening. But now I am looking down a long garden path, listening to the thrushes and robins, and thinking how well this garden has companioned me these many months, so nearly over.... General Pitcairn-Campbell was here for inspection Saturday, and I hear he was very pleased. Colonel Vernon is delighted with something he heard in Chester the other day. Two medical "brass hats," in talking about the hospitals in this command, said that V.I.H. really couldn't be beaten for cleanliness and general upkeep. It is rather nice to have Matron's ideals and efforts appreciated.
The men are getting on well, though the gassed patients make slow progress. Elliott has had a visit from his mother, who is herself a part-time V.A.D. Bedworth is better, but Whiting's head still takes three-quarters of an hour to dress. Evans's pretty wife has been to see him again from Shrewsbury. Even with that, though, he finds seventeen weeks in bed a long pull. "Oh, Nurse, I'm fed up," he said this morning, while I was doing his dressing. " What with? Your leg?" said 1. "No, but the war, and everything, " he said. I told him I was, too, and that we'd make a bargain, --- that if he would stop feeling fed up, I would.
Another bright, mild day. I am back at work again after five perfect days at Harewood. You will have heard from me there; how delightful it was, and how dear the Godwins were to me. I enjoyed being with them immensely, and it was a joy to know the country; it's so big and free and beautiful, --such a country to ride over.... Everything at V.I.H. is as usual, and the men are doing well. Harris has heard definitely that his brother is killed; it will be very hard on the father. He is doing his bit by giving concerts in camps and hospitals, and all his boys are serving. How soon will it be so in our families? It can't be too soon; we need so many, many men, --- nothing else can end it. What a terrible calamity that is at Halifax. It is dreadful that such a catastrophe should have come upon a world already sorely tried. It's awful to think of all those poor suffering creatures.
Yesterday I had a letter marked "Secret" from the steamship people. The die is cast. I've taken passage in the boat that brought me over. I shall cable you the date later. I am so glad, and yet so sad to-night....
Such days of perfect soft weather after a frost. Roses are coming strong for Christmas, and there is a second blooming of primroses. The birds still sing with all their hearts, and even darkest mornings their brave little songs encourage one to get up, though sometimes it's almost a question of
"In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light."
Leslie's precious Red Cross box has finally arrived, is unpacked, and everything marked with the V.I.H. stamp, which I sewed on in dozens. There were two dozen each of helpless shirts, flannel pajamas, flannel convalescent robes, and flannel night-shirts, besides helmets, wristers, sweaters, little pillows, and remnants of cotton flannel and calico --- most valuable here, where every scrap of everything counts. The box was beautifully packed, and all the garments so well made and finished; they are greatly admired, and are especially welcome, for B.R.C.S. has to fill so many demands, and our supply of warm pajamas and night-shirts was very low. Miss Vernon, who is Acting Commandant in Mrs. Frost's absence, has written to Leslie and to the American Red Cross; I hope the letters will get there all right. We are losing many men, and shall soon have a new family in. Capewell, who has lately been our right hand in the kitchen, left this evening. He looked stunning in his khaki; we shall miss him, for he is as nice a boy as ever was. This last offensive has been costly, and these are not cheerful days. Yesterday there were memorial services in London and all over England for the First Seven Divisions. There was a service in the Cathedral here especially to commemorate the fallen of the Cheshire Regiment. I should have liked to go, yet it would have been hard to bear. I was in town to send off Christmas money from the rest of my fund to all my children in France, and found Chester very crowded, but very sad. I walked out to Mrs. Hutchinson's for tea. She is a delightful person I met at the Claytons.... This was my first good-bye; I can't realize the end is so near.
This morning I woke to lovely clear blue skies, and little golden pink clouds told me the sun was on his way. Summer is over, autumn, too, and the last rose has been picked; but our brave robin sang as though his heart would burst for joy; there were friendly sounds of barking dogs, and cackling geese and hens, and it seemed as though the nightmare War could n't be true. Yet it has never been truer than now; V.I.H. is in the midst of its biggest push, and we could fill as many beds again, if we had them. One of the new men has been in Blighty twice before; once with dysentery from Mesopotamia, once badly wounded from France, and now he's back with trench-fever. He says cheerfully that forty-eight hours in a shell-hole with water up to his neck, did it. However, he stuck to his Lewis gun as long as he could, and only turned over his responsibility for part of Fritz's line when he had to. Fuller, a silent soul from the West Ridings, is back wounded for the fourth time; he got badly smashed in Bourlon Wood, but is coming strong. Whiting is up with marvellously bandaged head. He's a good sort, and trots around with tea and cocoa at meal times with great glee. The Canadians and Australians have lately been voting. We have three of the former and two of the latter; for each group there came to the hospital an officer and orderly bearing the necessary papers, and the voting was accomplished. Think of the enormous amount of detail involved, since every Colonial in field or hospital must vote.
The papers here give one a splendid idea of what America is doing, --- her efforts and accomplishment. I hope everyone at home realizes what we are up against. Perhaps, if the darkest hour comes before the dawn, the end is very near, for the hour is surely dark. I hear there are more Americans than ever in Tours, and a large number in France, but not enough. We need to put in every bit of ourselves, or the end will be wrong.
Thank you so much for sending me Dr. Joslin's article on Sugar. It's splendid, is n't it ? I'm lending it to a lot of people here. My passport extension expired December 15, so a second renewal was necessary. I had to have an affidavit from the head of the hospital as to the value and necessity of my services, to secure it! Mrs. Frost is still away, so Miss Vernon wrote to the Consulate for me ---such a nice letter. I must leave you now, and carry over the big tureen of soup for the troops' supper; if you could look in on the scene, how strange it would seem to you, and yet to me it has become so natural.
All the frost has gone, and a soft spring-like rain is falling, but we are promised clear and colder weather tomorrow. We have been unusually busy to-day: this morning Olive Frost and I carbolized fourteen beds, beat twenty-eight mattresses, two for each bed, and bolsters, pillows and blankets to match. Besides, there were fourteen lockers to be scrubbed and made ready for the new men, and of course "business as usual." The men were in a great state of excitement, putting up holly and greens, and every sort of Christmas decoration; Vernon Ward boasts a magnificent Father Christmas enthroned over the clock, and Thornycroft is resplendent with a huge panel of turkey red, bearing the legend " Merry Christmas to the Staff " in white letters, and beneath, all the flags of the Allies, the Union Jack at the top, and the Stars and Stripes in the middle. Over the big door into the hall again hangs the Stars and Stripes in my honor. You can imagine that it is hard to tarry on routine with all this "doing." I can't think it is Christmas without you; the work and bustle are welcome, since they keep one from thinking. I shall be here almost until I sail. Out of the hospital into the ship, as it were; I simply can't grasp it now the time has come. I want to go, but it's dreadful to leave England. I hope you are not too lonely to-night.... Poor old world, ---the fourth Christmas of the war! I had a Christmas letter from Courtenay Thorpe this afternoon; he sends you his love. He has n't sent any cards, for it has been hard to keep things going while air-raids complicate life.
When I came down to breakfast yesterday, I found mysterious packages at my place, for Sydney and Mrs. Williamson had played Santa Claus! Mary met me with hers as I walked into the hospital courtyard, and had your cable in her other hand. It was such a joy to begin the day with you; above all, the little word "Well" was so precious to me. It was a lovely day, frosty and bright, though it could not seem a real Christmas to me without you. The troops had tearing fun all day. A few were sad; Mason, a big Australian, who lost his brother just a year ago, and the Canadians were homesick. But we all threw ourselves into the fun, heart and soul, knowing that would be the best solution of our day, and Matron said it was the best of the war Christmases. Fortunately, it was a good day for all the bed-patients, except Bedworth, whose stump is behaving badly. He suffered all day, but made light of it, so as not to spoil the fun. The Night-Staff had had such a time filling the men's stockings; they would hardly go to sleep all night, waiting to see the stockings hung on the beds. Of course eventually they dropped off, and when morning came, there was all the fun of the surprise. The men had a wonderful dinner; turkey, a marvellous plum-pudding of a pre-war nature, given by the Vernons, and oranges from Mary and her aunt. The men in the wards, who could not get across to the dining-room, arranged their dinners on the bedtables with the bed-patients, and there was keen rivalry with the decorations. We all thought Evans's table was the prize-winner. The Night-Staff got up and joined us for dinner at two; we also had turkey, but only war plum-pudding! For tea, three long tables were spread down Thornycroft (half the beds were moved into Vernon), and patients and Staff had tea together. It was great fun; there were crackers to pull, mottoes to read, absurd paper caps to put on, musical toys of all sorts, and endless merriment. Altogether, an unforgettable, delightful and picturesque moment. The troops loved it all, but no more than we did. After that, evening routine was gone through, all preparations made for supper, and then came the concert, which ended with a whistling contest, too funny for words. Sydney and I and seven men entered; each of us tried to whistle "Home, Sweet Home" without breaking down. Harris won; I did n't get very far, for I was between Lightbody and McLenahan, neither of whom could keep his face straight at any moment of the contest. Colonel Fairrie was judge; he suggested another round, with "Rule Britannia." I was allowed to try "The Star-Spangled Banner," and was getting on well, but the constant giggling on either side of me broke me up before the end. The rest of the concert was very nice; I did the playing for everyone; Mason sang "A Perfect Day," Olive and I undertook a charming duet from "Arlette," and we all sang "Annie Laurie." After the concert, part of the Staff and some patients did an amusing sketch, and we danced. Then supper, and so the day ended. We got the troops settled for the night by ten; they were tired but happy, for most of them had not spent Christmas in England since 1913.
We had the Christmas tree yesterday; it was a beauty, and loaded with presents for every patient and nurse. It was all fun, but the presentation to Colonel Vernon(9) was the great moment of the afternoon. The men had got together and bought him a silver match-box, for which they had evolved such a delightful inscription. He was greatly touched, and made a beautiful speech in acknowledgment. He does so much for the men; it is pleasant to know how thoroughly they appreciate it. We still have a party ahead, for Dr. Lees is giving a whist drive to-night. Truly, Christmas Week has been giddy.
January 2, 1918.
Many, many thanks for both your letters, which came this morning. I'm sorry to hear of the intense cold you are having; it must greatly complicate life. Here the days are lovely, bright and sunny, only a little frosty, but it has been very cold at the front and as far south as Bordeaux.... I had such a good time Saturday; Matron took me to see "Aladdin," a Christmas pantomime, and we had tea together afterwards. That seems a long time ago, for we are in the midst of a very busy week. Fourteen cases came in at 3 A.M. Monday, --- eight stretcher and six sitting. Three of them are bad medical cases, --- acute nephritis and gastritis, --- so special diets are on again. Among the wounded there is a young Australian named Beckett, who comes from No. 13 General, Alice Lake's hospital; she is Night Supervisor now, and he remembers her. The new men look so smart, dressed in the splendid warm shirts and pajamas that Leslie's wonderful Red Cross box yielded; bless her! We have been one short on the Staff, but Olive is taking hold well and is a great help. Staff-Nurse and I had a fierce day Sunday! Sister was off for the day. Whiting's head was bad again, and had to be dressed twice, and there was service to play for; no off duty all day for us. However, next day more than made up for it, for Mary came to fetch me with a donkey-cart, and we went home to Crabwall for tea, and had a lovely afternoon. I came back to find a wonderful post.... And there was a beautiful moon, so I was very happy. Miss Vernon is coming down for a sing-song this week, which will be jolly. This is a scribble, but I want it to get off in case a boat leaves before me. It's going to be perfect to be with you again, yet it's hard to leave. If only I had Aladdin's lamp, I'd wish you both over here.
Besides the following letters, the V.A.D. has a silver bowl and ink-stand, beautifully inscribed, from the Commandant, Assistant Commandant and Quartermaster, and the Staff, respectively, to go with her down the years, visible tokens of happy months of work and comradeship.
Extract from letter from Lieut. Raffy, March 15, 1918
"Vous nous avez donné enfin, en plus de votre dévouement sans borne, la mesure de tout ce qu'avait de généreux et noble, le beau geste de l'Amérique en faveur de la France. Vous avez fait partie de cette splendide avant-garde qui, ne se lassant jamais de tenir au courant la grande soeur américaine des efforts désespérés que faisait la France pour ne pas étre germanisée, a déterminé votre gouvernement à déclarer la guerre aux Boches."
February 2, 1918.
I am writing you these few lines on behalf of the patients of the Vernon Institute Hospital who all still think of you and talk of you daily. We are very sorry that you had to leave us because I am sure you were loved by everyone, also you were a great help to every one and always greeted everyone with a smiling face, which is a great thing for one when in pain. I am sure we were all pleased when we read your cablegram saying you had landed safely on the other side, as there are so many dangers on the water at the present time. Of course many of the patients whom you knew have left us, but when they went away they all wished to be remembered to you when we wrote. We are pleased to inform you that Private King of the Canadian Black Watch got his discharge from the Army, so he will be finished with the horrors of war. We only hope it will not be long before we are all finished with it. Well, I will now close, wishing you the very best of luck from all the boys.
Yours very sincerely,
T. G. ELLIOTT, Sergeant.
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