FANNY GOES TO WAR
BY PAT BEAUCHAMP (FIRST AID NURSING YEOMANRY)
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY MAJOR-GENERAL H.N. THOMPSON, K.C.M.G, C.B., D.S.O
LONDON JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, W. 1919
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
I eagerly avail myself of the Author's invitation to write a foreword to her book, as it gives me an opportunity of expressing something of the admiration, of the wonder, of the intense brotherly sympathy and affection—almost adoration—which has from time to time overwhelmed me when witnessing the work of our women during the Great War.
They have been in situations where, five short years ago, no one would ever have thought of finding them. They have witnessed and taken active part in scenes nerve-racking and heart-rending beyond the power of description. Often it has been my duty to watch car-load after car-load of severely wounded being dumped into the reception marquees of a Casualty Clearing Station. There they would be placed in long rows awaiting their turn, and there, amid the groans of the wounded and the loud gaspings of the gassed, at the mere approach of a sister there would be a perceptible change and every conscious eye would brighten as with a ray of fresh hope. In the resuscitation and moribund marquees, nothing was more pathetic than to see "Sister," with her notebook, stooping over some dying lad, catching his last messages to his loved ones.
Women worked amid such scenes for long hours day after day, amid scenes as no mere man could long endure, and yet their nerves held out; it may be because they were inspired by the nature of their work. I have seen them, too, continue that work under intermittent shelling and bombing, repeated day after day and night after night, and it was the rarest thing to find one whose nerves gave way. I have seen others rescue wounded from falling houses, and drive their cars boldly into streets with bricks and debris flying.
I have also, alas! seen them grievously wounded; and on one occasion, killed, and found their comrades continuing their work in the actual presence of their dead.
The free homes of Britain little realise what our war women have been through, or what an undischarged debt is owing to them.
How few now realise to what a large extent they were responsible for the fighting spirit, for the morale, for the tenacity which won the war! The feeling, the knowledge that their women were at hand to succour and to tend them when they fell raised the fighting spirit of the men and made them brave and confident.
The above qualities are well exemplified by the conduct and bearing of our Authoress herself, who, when grievously injured, never lost her head or her consciousness, but through half an hour sat quietly on the road-side beside the wreck of her car and the mangled remains of her late companion. Rumour has it that she asked for and smoked a cigarette.
Such heroism in a young girl strongly appealed to the imagination of our French and Belgian Allies, and two rows of medals bedeck her khaki jacket.
Other natural qualities of our race, which largely helped to win the war, are brought out very vividly, although unconsciously, in this book, e.g. the spirit of cheerfulness; the power to forget danger and hardship; the faculty of seeing the humorous side of things; of making the best of things; the spirit of comradeship which sweetened life.
These qualities were nowhere more evident than among the F.A.N.Y. Their esprit-de-corps, their gaiety, their discipline, their smartness and devotion when duty called were infectious, almost an inspiration to those who witnessed them.
Throughout the war the "Fannys" were renowned for their resourcefulness. They were always ready to take on any and every job, from starting up a frozen car to nursing a bad typhoid case, and they rose to the occasion every time.
H.N. THOMPSON, K.C.M.G., C.B., D.S.O., Major-General.
Director of Medical Services, British Army of the Rhine.
Assistant Director Medical Services, 2nd Division, 1914; ditto 48th Division, 1915; Deputy-Director Medical Services, VI Corps, May 1915 to July 1917; Director Medical Services, First Army, July 1917 to April 1919.
I. IN CAMP BEFORE THE WAR 1
II. FIRST IMPRESSIONS 11
III. THE JOURNEY UP TO THE FRONT 19
IV. BEHIND THE TRENCHES 27
V. IN THE TRENCHES 35
VI. THE TYPHOID WARDS 41
VII. THE ZEPPELIN RAID 49
VIII. CONCERNING BATHS, "JOLIE-ANNETTE," "MARIE-MARGOT" AND ST. INGLEVERT 59
IX. TYPHOIDS AGAIN, AND PARIS IN 1915. 70
X. CONCERNING A CONCERT, CANTEEN WORK, HOUSEKEEPING, THE ENGLISH CONVOY, AND GOOD-BYE, LAMARCK. 88
XI. THE ENGLISH CONVOY 111
XII. THE PASSING OF THE LITTLE LORRY, "OLD BILL" AND "'ERB" AT AUDRICQ 129
XIII. CONVOY LIFE 152
XIV. CHRISTMAS, 1916 176
XV. CONVOY PETS, COMMANDEERING, AND THE "FANTASTIKS" 197
XVI. THE LAST RIDE 216
XVII. HOSPITALS: FRANCE AND ENGLAND 240
XVIII. ROEHAMPTON: "BOB" THE GREY, AND THE ARMISTICE 267
XIX. AFTER TWO YEARS 283
FANNY GOES TO WAR
IN CAMP BEFORE THE WAR
The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry was founded in 1910 and now numbers roughly about four hundred voluntary members.
It was originally intended to supplement the R.A.M.C. in field work, stretcher bearing, ambulance driving, etc.—its duties being more or less embodied in the title.
An essential point was that each member should be able to ride bareback or otherwise, as much difficulty had been found in transporting nurses from one place to another on the veldt in the South African War. Men had often died through lack of attention, as the country was too rough to permit of anything but a saddle horse to pass.
The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry was on active service soon after War was declared and, though it is not universally known, they were the pioneers of all the women's corps subsequently working in France.
Before they had been out very long they were affectionately known as the F.A.N.Y.'s, to all and sundry, and in an incredibly short space of time had units working with the British, French, and Belgian Armies in the field.
It was in the Autumn of 1913 that, picking up the Mirror one day, I saw a snapshot of a girl astride on horseback leaping a fence in a khaki uniform and topee. Underneath was merely the line "Women Yeomanry in Camp," and nothing more. "That," said I, pointing out the photo to a friend, "is the sort of show I'd like to belong to: I'm sick of ambling round the Row on a Park hack. It would be a rag to go into camp with a lot of other girls. I'm going to write to the Mirror for particulars straight away."
I did so; but got no satisfaction at all, as the note accompanying the photo had been mislaid. However, they did inform me there was such a Corps in existence, but beyond that they could give me no particulars.
I spent weeks making enquiries on all sides. "Oh, yes, certainly there was a Girls' Yeomanry Corps." "Where can I join it?" I would ask breathlessly. "Ah, that I can't say," would be the invariable reply.
The more obstacles I met with only made me the more determined to persevere. I went out of my way to ask all sorts of possible and impossible people on the off-chance that they might know; but it was a long time before I could run it to earth. "Deeds not words" seemed to be their motto.
One night at a small dance my partner told me he had just joined the Surrey Yeomanry; that brought the subject up once more and I confided all my troubles to him. Joy of joys! He had actually seen some of the Corps riding in Hounslow Barracks. It was plain sailing from that moment, and I hastened to write to the Adjutant of the said Barracks to obtain full particulars.
Within a few days I received a reply and a week later met the C.O. of the F.A.N.Y.'s, for an interview.
To my delight I heard the Corps was shortly going into camp, and I was invited to go down for a week-end to see how I liked it before I officially became a member. When the day arrived my excitement, as I stepped into the train at Waterloo, knew no bounds. Here I was at last en route for the elusive Yeomanry Camp!
Arrived at Brookwood, I chartered an ancient fly and in about twenty minutes or so espied the camp in a field some distance from the road along which we were driving. "'Ard up for a job I should say!" said my cabby, nodding jocosely towards the khaki figures working busily in the distance. I ignored this sally as I dismissed him and set off across the fields with my suit case.
There was a large mess tent, a store tent, some half dozen or more bell tents, a smoky, but serviceable-looking, field kitchen, and at the end of the field were tethered the horses! As I drew nearer, I felt horribly shy and was glad I had selected my very plainest suit and hat, as several pairs of eyes looked up from polishing bits and bridles to scan me from top to toe.
I was shown into the mess tent, where I was told to wait for the C.O., and in the meantime made friends with "Castor," the Corps' bull-dog and mascot, who was lying in a clothes-basket with a bandaged paw as the result of an argument with a regimental pal at Bisley.
A sudden diversion was caused by a severe thunderstorm which literally broke right over the camp. I heard the order ring out "To the horse-lines!" and watched (through a convenient hole in the canvas) several "troopers" flying helter-skelter down the field.
To everyone's disappointment, however, those old skins never turned a hair; there was not even the suggestion of a stampede. I cautiously pushed my suit-case under the mess table in the hope of keeping it dry, for the rain was coming down in torrents, and in places poured through the canvas roof in small rivulets. (Even in peace-time comfort in the F.A.N.Y. Camp was at a minimum!)
They all trooped in presently, very wet and jolly, and Lieutenant Ashley Smith (McDougal) introduced me as a probable recruit. When the storm was over she kindly lent me an old uniform, and I was made to feel quite at home by being handed about thirty knives and asked to rub them in the earth to get them clean. The cooks loved new recruits!
Feeling just then was running very high over the Irish question. I learnt a contingent had been offered and accepted, in case of hostilities, and that the C.O. had even been over to Belfast to arrange about stables and housing!
One enthusiast asked me breathlessly (it was Cole-Hamilton) "Which side are you on?" I'm afraid I knew nothing much about either and shamelessly countered it by asking, "Which are you?" "Ulster, of course," she replied. "I'm with you," said I, "it's all the same to me so long as I'm there for the show."
I thoroughly enjoyed that week-end and, of course, joined the Corps. In July of that year we had great fun in the long summer camp at Pirbright.
Work was varied, sometimes we rode out with the regiments stationed at Bisley on their field days and looked after any casualties. (We had a horse ambulance in those days which followed on these occasions and was regarded as rather a dud job.) Other days some were detailed for work at the camp hospital near by to help the R.A.M.C. men, others to exercise the horses, clean the officers' boots and belts, etc., and, added to these duties, was all the everyday work of the camp, the grooming and watering of the horses, etc. Each one groomed her own mount, but in some cases one was shared between two girls. "Grooming time is the only time when I appreciate having half a horse," one of these remarked cheerily to me. That hissing noise so beloved of grooms is extraordinarily hard to acquire—personally, I needed all the breath I had to cope at all!
The afternoons were spent doing stretcher drill: having lectures on First Aid and Nursing from a R.A.M.C. Sergeant-Major, and, when it was very hot, enjoying a splash in the tarpaulin-lined swimming bath the soldiers had kindly made for us. Rides usually took place in the evenings, and when bedtime came the weary troopers were only too ready to turn in! Our beds were on the floor and of the "biscuit" variety, being three square paillasse arrangements looking like giant reproductions of the now too well known army "tooth breakers." We had brown army blankets, and it was no uncommon thing to find black earth beetles and earwigs crawling among them! After months of active service these details appear small, but in the summer of 1914 they were real terrors. Before leaving the tents in the morning each "biscuit" had to be neatly piled on the other and all the blankets folded, and then we had to sally forth to learn the orders of the day, who was to be orderly to our two officers, who was to water the horses, etc., etc., and by the time it was eight a.m. we had already done a hard day's work.
One particular day stands out in my memory as being a specially strenuous one. The morning's work was over, and the afternoon was set aside for practising for the yearly sports. The rescue race was by far the most thrilling, its object being to save anyone from the enemy who had been left on the field without means of transport. There was a good deal of discussion as to who were to be the rescued and who the rescuers. Sergeant Wicks explained to all and sundry that her horse objected strongly to anyone sitting on its tail and that it always bucked on these occasions. No one seemed particularly anxious to be saved on that steed, and my heart sank as her eye alighted on me. Being a new member I felt it was probably a test, and when the inevitable question was asked I murmured faintly I'd be delighted. I made my way to the far end of the field with the others fervently hoping I shouldn't land on my head.
At a given command the rescuers galloped up, wheeled round, and, slipping the near foot from the stirrup, left it for the rescued to jump up by. I was soon up and sitting directly behind the saddle with one foot in the stirrup and a hand in Sergeant Wicks' belt. (Those of you who know how slight she is can imagine my feeling of security!) Off we set with every hope of reaching the post first, and I was just settling down to enjoy myself when going over a little dip in the field two terrific bucks landed us high in the air! Luckily I fell "soft," but as I picked myself up I couldn't help wondering whether in some cases falling into the enemy's hand might not be the lesser evil! I spent the next ten minutes catching the "Bronco!" After that, we retired to our mess for tea, on the old Union Jack, very ready for it after our efforts.
We had just turned in that night and drawn up the army blankets, excessively scratchy they were too, when the bugle sounded for everyone to turn out. (This was rather a favourite stunt of the C.O.'s.) Luckily it was a bright moonlight night, and we learnt we were to make for a certain hill, beyond Bisley, carrying with us stretchers and a tent for an advanced dressing station. Subdued groans greeted this piece of news, but we were soon lined up in groups of four—two in front, two behind, and with two stretchers between the four. These were carried on our shoulders for a certain distance, and at the command "Change stretchers!" they were slipped down by our sides. This stunt had to be executed very neatly and with precision, and woe betide anyone who bungled it. It was ten o'clock when we reached Bisley Camp, and I remember to this day the surprised look on the sentry's face, in the moonlight, as we marched through. It was always a continual source of wonderment to them that girls should do anything so much like hard work for so-called amusement. That march seemed interminable—but singing and whistling as we went along helped us tremendously. Little did we think how this training would stand us in good stead during the long days on active service that followed. At last a halt was called, and luckily at this point there was a nice dry ditch into which we quickly flopped with our backs to the hedge and our feet on the road. It made an ideal armchair!
We resumed the march, and striking off the road came to a rough clearing where the tent was already being erected by an advance party. We were lined up and divided into groups, some as stretcher bearers, some as "wounded," some as nurses to help the "doctor," etc. The wounded were given slips of paper, on which their particular "wound" was described, and told to go off and make themselves scarce, till they were found and carried in (a coveted job). When they had selected nice soft dry spots they lay down and had a quiet well-earned nap until the stretcher bearers discovered them. Occasionally they were hard to find, and a panting bearer would call out "I say, wounded, give a groan!" and they were located. First Aid bandages were applied to the "wound" and, if necessary, impromptu splints made from the trees near by. The patient was then placed on the stretcher and taken back to the "dressing station." "I'm slipping off the stretcher at this angle," she would occasionally complain. "Shut up," the panting stretcher bearers would reply, "you're unconscious!"
When all were brought in, places were changed, and the stretcher bearers became the wounded and vice versa. We got rather tired of this pastime about 12.30 but there was still another wounded to be brought in. She had chosen the bottom of a heathery slope and took some finding. It was the C.O. She feigned delirium and threw her arms about in a wild manner. The poor bearers were feeling too exhausted to appreciate this piece of acting, and heather is extremely slippery stuff. When we had struggled back with her the soi-disant doctor asked for the diagnosis. "Drunk and disorderly," replied one of them, stepping smartly forward and saluting! This somewhat broke up the proceedings, and lese majeste was excused on the grounds that it was too dark to recognise it was the C.O. The tent pegs were pulled up and the tent pulled down and we all thankfully tramped back to camp to sleep the sleep of the just till the reveille sounded to herald another day.
The last Chapter was devoted to the F.A.N.Y.'s in camp before the War, but from now onwards will be chronicled facts that befell them on active service.
When war broke out in August 1914 Lieutenant Ashley Smith lost no time in offering the Corps' services to the War Office. To our intense disappointment these were refused. However, F.A.N.Y.'s are not easily daunted. The Belgian Army, at that time, had no organised medical corps in the field, and informed us they would be extremely grateful if we would take over a Hospital for them. Lieutenant Smith left for Antwerp in September 1914, and had arranged to take a house there for a Hospital when the town fell; her flight to Ghent where she stayed to the last with a dying English officer, until the Germans arrived, and her subsequent escape to Holland have been told elsewhere. (A F.A.N.Y. in France—Nursing Adventures.) Suffice it to say we were delighted to see her safely back among us again in October; and on the last day of that month the first contingent of F.A.N.Y.'s left for active service, hardly any of them over twenty-one.
I was unfortunately not able to join them until January 1915; and never did time drag so slowly as in those intervening months. I spent the time in attending lectures and hospital, driving a car and generally picking up every bit of useful information I could. The day arrived at last and Coley and I were, with the exception of the Queen of the Belgians (travelling incognito) and her lady-in-waiting, the only women on board.
The Hospital we had given us was for Belgian Tommies, and called Lamarck, and had been a Convent school before the War. There were fifty beds for "blesses" and fifty for typhoid patients, which at that period no other Hospital in the place would take. It was an extremely virulent type of pneumonic typhoid. These cases were in a building apart from the main Hospital and across the yard. Dominating both buildings was the cathedral of Notre Dame, with its beautiful East window facing our yard.
The top floor of the main building was a priceless room and reserved for us. Curtained off at the far end were the beds of the chauffeurs who had to sleep on the premises while the rest were billeted in the town; the other end resolved itself into a big untidy, but oh so jolly, sitting room. Packing cases were made into seats and piles of extra blankets were covered and made into "tumpties," while round the stove stood the interminable clothes horses airing the shirts and sheets, etc., which Lieutenant Franklin brooded over with a watchful eye! It was in this room we all congregated at ten o'clock every morning for twenty precious minutes during which we had tea and biscuits, read our letters, swanked to other wards about the bad cases we had got in, and generally talked shop and gossiped. There was an advanced dressing station at Oostkerke where three of the girls worked in turn, and we also took turns to go up to the trenches on the Yser at night, with fresh clothes for the men and bandages and dressings for those who had been wounded.
At one time we were billeted in a fresh house every three nights which, as the reader may imagine in those "moving" times, had its disadvantages. After a time, as a great favour, an empty shop was allowed us as a permanency. It rejoiced in the name of "Le Bon Genie" and was at the corner of a street, the shop window extending along the two sides. It was this "shop window" we used as a dormitory, after pasting the lower panes with brown paper. When they first heard at home that we "slept in a shop window" they were mildly startled. We were so short of beds that the night nurses tumbled into ours as soon as they were vacated in the morning, so there was never much fear of suffering from a damp one.
Our patients were soldiers of the Belgian line and cavalry regiments and at first I was put in a blesse ward. I had originally gone out with the idea of being one of the chauffeurs; but we were so short of nurses that I willingly went into the wards instead, where we worked under trained sisters. The men were so jolly and patient and full of gratitude to the English "Miskes" (which was an affectionate diminutive of "Miss"). It was a sad day when we had to clear the beds to make ready for fresh cases. I remember going down to the Gare Maritime one day before the Hospital ship left for Cherbourg, where they were all taken. Never shall I forget the sight. In those days passenger ships had been hastily converted into Hospital ships and the accommodation was very different from that of to-day. All the cases from my ward were "stretchers" and indeed hardly fit to be moved. I went down the companion way, and what a scene met my eyes. The floor of the saloon was packed with stretchers all as close together as possible. It seemed terrible to believe that every one of those men was seriously wounded. The stretchers were so close together it was impossible to try and move among them, so I stayed on the bottom rung of the ladder and threw the cigarettes to the different men who were well enough to smoke them. The discomfort they endured must have been terrible, for from a letter I subsequently received I learnt they were three days on the journey. In those days when the Germans were marching on Calais, it was up to the medical authorities to pass the wounded through as quickly as possible.
Often the men could only speak Flemish, but I did not find much difficulty in understanding it. If you speak German with a broad Cumberland accent I assure you you can make yourself understood quite easily! It was worth while trying anyway, and it did one's heart good to see how their faces lighted up.
There were some famous characters in the Hospital, one of them being Jefke, the orderly in Ward I, who at times could be tender as a woman, at others a veritable clown keeping the men in fits of laughter, then as suddenly lapsing into a profound melancholy and reading a horrible little greasy prayer book assuring us most solemnly that his one idea in life was to enter the Church. Though he stole jam right and left his heart was in the right place, for the object of his depredations was always some extra tasty dish for a specially bad blesse. He had the longest of eyelashes, and his expression when caught would be so comical it was impossible to be angry with him.
Another famous "impayable" was the coffin-cart man who came on occasions to drive the men to their last resting place. The Coffin cart was a melancholy looking vehicle resembling in appearance a dilapidated old crow, as much as anything, or a large bird of prey with its torn black canvas sides that flapped mournfully like huge wings in the wind as Pierre drove it along the streets. I could never repress a shiver when I saw it flapping along. The driver was far from being a sorry individual with his crisp black moustaches bien frises and his merry eye. He explained to me in a burst of confidence that his metier in peace times was that of a trick cyclist on the Halls. What a contrast from his present job. He promised to borrow a bicycle on the morrow and give an exhibition for our benefit in the yard. He did so, and was certainly no mean performer. The only day I ever saw him really downcast was when he came to bid good-bye. "What, Pierre," said I, "you don't mean to say you are leaving us?" "Yes, Miske, for punishment—I will explain how it arrived. Look you, to give pleasure to my young lady I took her for a joy-ride, a very little one, on the coffin cart, and on returning behold we were caught, voila, and now I go to the trenches!" I could not help laughing, he looked so downcast, and the idea of his best girl enjoying a ride in that lugubrious car struck me as being the funniest thing I had heard for some time.
We were a never-failing source of wonderment to the French inhabitants of the town. Our manly Yeomanry uniform filled them with awe and admiration. I overheard a chemist saying to one of his clients as we were passing out of his shop, "Truly, until one hears their voices, one would say they were men."
"There's a compliment for us," said I, to Struttie. "I didn't know we had manly faces until this moment."
After some time when work was not at such a high pressure, two of us went out riding in turns on the sands with one of the Commandants. Belgian military saddles took some getting used to with the peak in front and the still higher one behind, not to mention the excessive slipperiness of the surface. His favourite pastime on the return ride was to play follow my leader up and down the sand dunes, and it was his great delight to go streaking up the very highest, with the sand crumbling and slipping behind him, and we perforce had to follow and lie almost flat on the horse's backs as we descended the "precipice" the other side. We felt English honour was at stake and with our hearts in our mouths (at least mine was!) followed at all costs.
If we were off duty in the evening we hurried back to the "shop window" buying eggs en route and anything else we fancied for supper; then we undressed hastily and thoroughly enjoyed our picnic meal instead of having it in the hospital kitchen, with the sanded floor and the medley of Belgian cooks in the background and the banging of saucepans as an accompaniment. Two of the girls kept their billet off the Grand Place as a permanency. It was in a funny old-fashioned house in a dark street known universally as "the dug-out"—Madame was fat and capable, with a large heart. The French people at first were rather at a loss to place the English "Mees" socially and one day two of us looked in to ask Madame's advice on how to cook something. She turned to us in astonishment. "How now, you know not how to cook a thing simple as that? Who then makes the 'cuisine' for you at home? Surely not Madame your mother when there are young girls such as you in the house?" We gazed at her dumbly while she sniffed in disgust. "Such a thing is unheard of in my country," she continued wrathfully. "I wonder you have not shame at your age to confess such ignorance"—"What would she say," said my friend to me when she had gone, "if I told her we have two cooks at home?"
This house of Madame's was built in such a way that some of the bedrooms jutted out over the shops in the narrow little streets. Thompson and Struttie who had a room there were over a Cafe Chantant known as the "Bijou"—a high class place of entertainment! Sunday night was a gala performance and I was often asked to a "scrambled-egg" supper during which, with forks suspended in mid air, we listened breathlessly to the sounds of revelry beneath. Some of the performers had extremely good voices and we could almost, but not quite, hear the words (perhaps it was just as well). What ripping tunes they had! I can remember one especially when, during the chorus, all the audience beat time with their feet and joined in. We were evolving wild schemes of disguising ourselves as poilus and going in a body to witness the show, but unfortunately it was one of those things that is "not done" in the best circles!
THE JOURNEY UP TO THE FRONT
Soon my turn came to go up to the trenches. The day had at last arrived! We were not due to go actually into the trenches till after dark in case of drawing fire, but we set off early, as we had some distance to go and stores to deliver at dressing stations. Two of the trained nurses, Sister Lampen and Joynson, were of the party, and two F.A.N.Y.'s; the rest of the good old "Mors" ambulance was filled with sacks of shirts, mufflers, and socks, together with the indispensable first-aid chests and packets of extra dressings in case of need.
Our first visit was made to the Belgian Headquarters in the town for our laisser passers, without which we would not be allowed to pass the sentries at the barriers. We were also given the mots du jour or pass-words for the day, the latter of which came into operation only when we were in the zone of fire. I will describe what happened in detail, as it was a very fair sample of the average day up at the front. The road along which we travelled was, of course, lined with the ubiquitous poplar tree, placed at regular intervals as far as the eye could see. The country was flat to a degree, with cleverly hidden entrenchments at intervals, for this was the famous main road to Calais along which the Kaiser so ardently longed to march.
Barriers occurred frequently placed slantwise across the roads, where sentries stood with fixed bayonets, and through which no one could pass unless the laisser passer was produced. Some of those barriers were quite tricky affairs to drive through in a big ambulance, and reminded me of a gymkhana! It was quite usual in those days to be stopped by a soldier waiting on the road, who, with a gallant bow and salute, asked your permission to "mount behind" and have a lift to so and so. In fact, if you were on foot and wanted to get anywhere quickly it was always safe to rely on a military car or ambulance coming along, and then simply wave frantically and ask for a lift. Very much a case of share and share alike.
We passed many regiments riding along, and very gay they looked with their small cocked caps and tassels that dangled jauntily over one eye (this was before they got into khaki). The regiments were either French or Belgian, for no British were in that sector at this time. Soon we arrived at the picturesque entry into Dunkirk, with its drawbridge and mediaeval towers and grey city wall; here our passes were again examined, and there was a long queue of cars waiting to get through as we drew up. Once "across the Rubicon" we sped through the town and in time came to Furnes with its quaint old market place. Already the place was showing signs of wear and tear. Shell holes in some of the roofs and a good many broken panes, together with the general air of desertion, all combined to make us feel we were near the actual fighting line. We learnt that bombs had been dropped there only that morning. (This was early in 1915, and since then the place has been reduced to almost complete ruin.) We sped on, and could see one of the famous coastal forts on the horizon. So different from what one had always imagined a fort would look like. "A green hill far away," seems best to describe it, I think. It wasn't till one looked hard that one could see small dark splotches that indicated where the cannon were.
A Belgian whom we were "lifting" ("lorry jumping" is now the correct term!) pointed out to us a huge factory, now in English hands, which had been owned before the war by a German. Under cover of the so-called "factory" he had built a secret gun emplacement for a large gun, to train on this same fort and demolish it when the occasion arose. At this point we saw the first English soldiers that day in motor boats on the canal, and what a smile of welcome they gave us!
Presently we came to lines of Belgian Motor transport drawn up at the sides of the road, car after car, waiting patiently to get on. Without exaggeration this line was a mile in length, and we simply had to crawl past, as there was barely room for a large ambulance on that narrow and excessively muddy road. The drivers were all in excellent spirits, and nodded and smiled as we passed—occasionally there was an officer's car sandwiched in between, and those within gravely saluted.
About this time a very cheery Belgian artillery-man who was exchanging to another regiment, came on board and kept us highly amused. Souvenirs were the aim and end of existence just then, and he promised us shell heads galore when he came down the line. On leaving the car, as a token of his extreme gratitude, he pressed his artillery cap into our hands saying he would have no further need of it in his new regiment, and would we accept it as a souvenir!
The roads in Belgium need some explaining for those who have not had the opportunity to see them. Firstly there is the pave, and a very popular picture with us after that day was one which came out in the Sketch of a Tommy in a lorry asking a haughty French dragoon to "Alley off the bloomin' pavee—vite." Well, this famous pave consists of cobbles about six inches square, and these extend across the road to about the width of a large cart—On either side there is mud—with a capital M, such as one doesn't often see—thick and clayey and of a peculiarly gluey substance, and in some places quite a foot deep. You can imagine the feeling at the back of your spine as you are squeezing past another car. If you aren't extremely careful plop go the side wheels off the "bloomin' pavee" into the mud beyond and it takes half the Belgian Army to help to heave you on to the "straight and narrow" path once more.
It was just about this time we heard our first really heavy firing and it gave us a queer thrill to hear the constant boom-boom of the guns like a continuous thunderstorm. We began to feel fearfully hungry, and stopped beside a high bank flanking a canal and not far from a small cafe. Bunny and I went to get some hot water. It was a tumble-down place enough, and as we pushed the door open (on which, by the way, was the notice in French, "During the bombardment one enters by the side door") we found the room full of men drinking coffee and smoking. I bashfully made my way towards one of the oldest women I have ever seen and asked her in a low voice for some hot water. As luck would have it she was deaf as a post, and the whole room listened in interested silence as with scarlet face I yelled out my demands in my best French. We returned triumphantly to the waiting ambulance and had a very jolly lunch to the now louder accompaniment of the guns. The passing soldiers took a great interest in us and called out whatever English words they knew, the most popular being "Good night."
We soon started on our way again, and at this point there was actually a bend in the road. Just before we came to it there was a whistling, sobbing sound in the air and then an explosion somewhere ahead of us. We all shrank instinctively, and I glanced sideways at my companion, hoping she hadn't noticed, to find that she was looking at me, and we both laughed without explaining.
As we turned the corner, the usual flat expanse of country greeted our eyes, and a solitary red tiled farmhouse on the right attracted our attention, in front of which was a group of soldiers. On drawing near we saw that this was the spot where the shell had landed and that there were casualties. We drew up and got down hastily, taking dressings with us. The sight that met my eyes is one I shall never forget, and, in fact, cannot describe. Four men had just been blown to pieces—I leave the details to your imagination, but it gave me a sudden shock to realize that a few minutes earlier those remains had been living men walking along the road laughing and talking.
The soldiers, French, standing looking on, seemed more or less dazed. While they assured us we could do nothing, the body of a fifth soldier who had been hit on the head by a piece of the same shell, and instantaneously killed, was being borne on a stretcher into the farm. It all seemed curiously unreal.
One of the men silently handed me a bit of the shell, which was still warm. It was just a chance that we had not stopped opposite that farm for lunch, as we assuredly would have done had it not been hidden beyond the bend in the road. The noise of firing was now very loud, and though the sun was shining brightly on the farm, the road we were destined to follow was sombre looking with a lowering sky overhead. Another shell came over and burst in front of us to the right. For an instant I felt in an awful funk, and my one idea was to flee from that sinister spot as fast as I could. We seemed to be going right for it, "looking for trouble," in fact, as the Tommies would say, and it gave one rather a funny sinking feeling in one's tummy! A shell might come whizzing along so easily just as the last one had done. Someone at that moment said "Let's go back," and with that all my fears vanished in a moment as if by magic. "Rather not, this is what we've come for," said a F.A.N.Y., "hurry up and get in, it's no use staying here," and soon we were whizzing along that road again and making straight for the steady boom-boom, and from then onwards a spirit of subdued excitement filled us all. Stray shells burst at intervals, and it seemed not unlikely they were potting at us from Dixmude.
We passed houses looking more and more dilapidated and the road got muddier and muddier. Finally we arrived at the village of Ramscapelle. It was like passing through a village of the dead—not a house left whole, few walls standing, and furniture lying about haphazard. We proceeded along the one main street of the village until we came to a house with green shutters which had been previously described to us as the Belgian headquarters. It was in a better state than the others, and a small flag indicated we had arrived at our destination.
BEHIND THE TRENCHES
We got out and leaped the mud from the pave to the doorstep, and an orderly came forward and conducted us to a sitting room at the rear where Major R. welcomed us, and immediately ordered coffee. We were greatly impressed by the calm way in which he looked at things. He pointed with pride to a gaily coloured print from the one and only "Vie" (what would the dug-outs at the front have done without "La Vie" and Kirchner?), which covered a newly made shell hole in the wall. He also showed us places where shrapnel was embedded; and from the window we saw a huge hole in the back garden made by a "Black Maria." Beside it was a grave headed by a little rough wooden cross and surmounted by one of those gay tasselled caps we had seen early that morning, though it seemed more like last week, so much had happened since then.
As it was only possible to go into the trenches at dusk we still had some time to spare, and after drinking everybody's health in some excellent benedictine, Major R. suggested we should make a tour of inspection of the village. "The bombardment is over for the day," he added, "so you need have no fear." I went out wondering at his certainty that the Boche would not bombard again that afternoon. It transpired later that they did so regularly at the same time every afternoon as part of the day's work! There did come a time, however, when they changed the programme, but that was later, on another visit.
We made for the church which had according to custom been shelled more than the houses. The large crucifix was lying with arms outstretched on a pile of wreckage, the body pitted with shrapnel. The cure accompanied us, and it was all the poor old man could do to keep from breaking down as he led us mournfully through that devastated cemetery. Some of the graves, even those with large slabs over them, had been shelled to such an extent that the stone coffins beneath could clearly be seen, half opened, with rotting grave-clothes, and in others even the skeletons had been disinterred. New graves, roughly fashioned like the one we had seen in the back garden at headquarters, were dotted all over the place. Somehow they were not so sinister as those old heavily slabbed ones disturbed after years of peace. The cure took me into the church, the walls of which were still standing, and begged me to take a photo of a special statue (this was before cameras were tabooed), which I did. I had to take a "time" as the light was so bad, and quite by luck it came out splendidly and I was able to send him a copy.
It was all most depressing and I was jolly glad to get away from the place. On the way back we saw a battery of sept-cinqs (French seventy-fives) cleverly hidden by branches. They had just been moved up into these new positions. Of course the booming of the guns went on all the time and we were told Nieuport was having its daily "ration." We had several other places to go to to deliver Hospital stores; also two advanced dressing stations to visit, so we pushed off, promising Major R. to be back at 6.30.
We had to go in the direction of Dixmude, then in German occupation, and the mud at this point was too awful for words, while at intervals there were huge shell holes full of water looking like small circular ponds. Luckily for us they were never right in the middle of the road, but always a little to one side or the other, and just left us enough pave to squeeze past on, which was really very thoughtful of the Boche!
The country looked indescribably desolate; but funnily enough there were a lot of birds flying about, mostly in flocks. Two little partridges quietly strutted across the road and seemed quite unperturbed!
Further on we came across a dead horse, the first of many. It had been hit in the flank by a shell. It was a sad sight; the poor creature was just left lying by the side of the road, and I shall never forget it. The crows had already taken out its eyes. I must say that that sight affected me much more than the men I had seen earlier in the day. There was no one then to bury horses.
We came to the little poste de secours and the officer told us they had been heavily shelled that morning and he sent out an orderly to dig up some of the fuse-tops that had fallen in the field beyond. He gave us as souvenirs three lovely shell heads that had fused at the wrong time. Everything seemed strangely unreal, and I wondered at times if I was awake. He was delighted with the Hospital stores we had brought and showed us his small dressing station, from which all the wounded had been removed after the bombardment was over. We then went on to another at Caeskerke within sight of Dixmude, the ruins of which could plainly be seen. I found it hard to realize that this was really the much talked of "front." One half expected to see rows and rows of regiments instead of everything being hidden away. Except for the extreme desolation and continual sound of firing we might have been anywhere.
We were held up by a sentry further on, and he demanded the mot de jour. I leant out of the car (it always has to be whispered) and murmured "Gustave" in a low voice into his ear. "Non, Mademoiselle," he said sadly, "pas ca." "Does he mean it isn't his own Christian name?" I asked myself. Still it was the name we had been given at the Etat Major as the pass word. I repeated it again with the same result. "I assure you the Colonel himself at C—— gave it to me," I added desperately. He still shook his head, and then I remembered that some days they had names of people and others the names of places, and perhaps I had been given the wrong one. "Paris" I hazarded. He again shook his head, and I decided to be firm and in a voice of conviction said, "Allons, c'est 'Arras,' alors." He looked doubtful, and said, "Perhaps with the English it is that to-day." He was giving me a loophole and I responded with fervour, "Yes, yes, assuredly it is 'Arras' with the English," and he waved us past. I thought regretfully how easily a German spy might bluff the sentry in a similar manner.
Time being precious I salved my conscience about it as we drew up in Pervyse and decided to make tea. I saw a movement among the ruins and there, peeping round one of the walls, was a ragged hungry looking infant about eight years of age. We made towards him, but he fled, and picking our way over the ruins we actually found a family in residence in a miserable hovel behind the onetime Hotel de Ville. There was an old couple, man and wife, and a flock of ragged children, the remnants of different families which had been wiped out. They only spoke Flemish and I brought out the few sentences I knew, whereupon the old dame seized my arm and poured out such a flow of words that I was quite at a loss to know what she meant. I did gather, however, that she had a niece of sixteen in the inner room, who spoke French, and that she would go and fetch her. The niece appeared at this moment and was dragged forward; all she would say, however, was "Tiens, tiens!" to whatever we asked her, so we came to the conclusion that was the limit to her knowledge of French, very non-committal and not frightfully encouraging. So with much bowing and smiling we departed on our way, after distributing the remainder of our buns among the group of wide-eyed hungry looking children who watched us off. The old man had stayed in his corner the whole time muttering to himself. His brain seemed to be affected, which was not much wonder considering what he had been through, poor old thing!
On our way back to Ramscapelle we had the bad luck to slip off the "bloomin' pavee" while passing an ammunition wagon; a thing I had been dreading all along. I got out on the foot board and stepped, in the panic of the moment, into the mud. I thought I was never going to "touch bottom." I did finally, and the mud was well above my knees. The passing soldiers were greatly amused and pulled me to shore, and then, stepping into the slough with a grand indifference, soon got the car up again. The evening was drawing in, and the land all round had been flooded. As the sun set, the most glorious lights appeared, casting purple shadows over the water: It seemed hard to believe we were so near the trenches, but there on the road were the men filing silently along on their way to enter them as soon as dusk fell. They had large packs of straw on their backs which we learnt was to ensure their having a dry place to sit in; and when I saw the trenches later on I was not surprised at the precaution.
Mysterious "Star-lights" presently made their appearance over the German trenches, gleamed for a moment, and then went out leaving the landscape very dark and drear. We hurried on back to Ramscapelle, sentries popping up at intervals to enquire our business. Floods stretched on either side of the road as far as the eye could see. We were obliged to crawl at a snail's pace as it grew darker. Of course no lights of any sort were allowed, and the lines of soldiers passing along silently to their posts in the trenches seemed unending; we were glad when we drew up once again at the Headquarters in Ramscapelle.
Major R. hastened out and told us that his own men who had been in the trenches for four days were just coming out for a rest, and he wished we could spare some of our woollies for them. We of course gladly assented, so he lined them up in the street littered with debris in front of the Headquarters. We each had a sack of things and started at different ends of the line, giving every man a pair of socks, a muffler or scarf, whichever he most wanted. In nearly every case it was socks; and how glad and grateful they were to get them! It struck me as rather funny when I noticed cards in the half-light affixed to the latter, texts (sometimes appropriate, but more often not) and verses of poetry. I thought of the kind hands that had knitted them in far away England and wondered if the knitters had ever imagined their things would be given out like this, to rows of mud-stained men standing amid shell-riddled houses on a dark and muddy road, their words of thanks half-drowned in the thunder of war.
IN THE TRENCHES
Major R., who is a great admirer of things English, suddenly gave the command to his men, and out of compliment to us "It's a long way to Tipararee" rang out. The pronunciation of the words was most odd and we listened in wonder; the Major's chest however positively swelled with pride, for he had taught them himself! We assured him, tactfully, the result was most successful.
We returned to the Headquarters and sorted out stores for the trenches. The Major at that moment received a telephone message to say a farm in the Nieuport direction was being attacked. We looked up from our work and saw the shells bursting like fireworks, the noise of course was deafening. We soon got accustomed to it and besides had too much to do to bother. When all was ready, we were given our instructions—we were to keep together till we had passed through the village when the doctor would be there to meet us and, with a guide, conduct us to the trenches; we were all to proceed twenty paces one after the other, no word was to be spoken, and if a Verey light showed up we were to drop down flat. I hoped fervently it might not be in a foot of mud!
Off we set, and I must say my heart was pounding pretty hard. It was rather nervy work once we were beyond the town, straining our eyes through the darkness to follow the figure ahead. Occasionally a sentry popped up from apparently nowhere. A whispered word and then on we went again. I really can't say how far we walked like this; it seemed positively miles. Suddenly a light flared in the sky, illuminating the surrounding country in an eerie glare. It didn't take me many minutes, needless to say, to drop flat! Luckily it was pave, but I would have welcomed mud rather than be left standing silhouetted within sight of the German trenches on that shell-riddled road. Finally we saw a long black line running at right angles, and the guide in front motioned me to stop while he went on ahead.
I had time to look round and examine the place as well as I could and also to put down my bundle of woollies that had become extremely heavy. These trenches were built against a railway bank (the railway lines had long since been destroyed or torn up), and just beyond ran the famous Yser and the inundations which had helped to stem the German advance. I was touched on the shoulder at this point, and clambered down into the trench along a very slippery plank. The men looked very surprised to see us, and their little dug-outs were like large rabbit hutches. I crawled into one on my hands and knees as the door was very low. The two occupants had a small brazier burning. Straw was on the floor—the straw we had previously seen on the men's backs—and you should have seen their faces brighten at the sight of a new pair of socks. We pushed on, as it was getting late. I shall never forget that trench—it was the second line—the first line consisting of "listening posts" somewhere in that watery waste beyond, where the men wore waders reaching well above their knees. We squelched along a narrow strip of plank with the trenches on one side and a sort of cesspool on the other—no wonder they got typhoid, and I prayed I mightn't slip.
We could walk upright further on without our heads showing, which was a comfort, as it is extremely tiring to walk for long in a stooping position. Through an observation hole in the parapet we looked right out across the inundations to where the famous "Ferme Violette," which had changed hands so often and was at present German, could plainly be seen. Dark objects were pointed out to us sticking up in the water which the sergeant cheerfully observed, holding his nose the meanwhile, were sales Boches! We hurried on to a bigger dug-out and helped the doctor with several blesses injured that afternoon, and later we helped to remove them back to the village and thence to a field hospital. Just then we began bombarding with the 75's. which we had seen earlier on. The row was deafening—first a terrific bang, then a swizzing through the air with a sound like a sob, and then a plop at the other end where it had exploded—somewhere. At first, as with all newcomers in the firing line, we ducked our heads as the shells went over, to a roar of delight from the men, but in time we gave that up. During this bombardment we went on distributing our woollies all along the line, and I thought my head would split at any moment, the noise was so great. I asked one of the officers, during a pause, why the Germans weren't replying, and he said we had just got the range of one of their positions by 'phone, and as these guns we were employing had just been brought up, the Boche would not waste any shells until they thought they had our range.
Presently we came to the officer's dug-out, and, would you believe it, he had small windows with lace curtains! They were the size of pocket handkerchiefs; still the fact remains, they were curtains. He showed us two bits of a shell that had burst above the day before and made the roof collapse, but since then the damage had been remedied by a stout beam. He was a merry little man with twinkling eyes and very proud of his little house.
Our things began to give out at this point and we were not at the end of the line by any means. It was heart breaking to hear one man say, "Une paire de chaussettes, Mees, je vous en prie; il y a trois mois depuis que j'en ai eu." (A pair of socks, miss, I beseech you, it's three months since I had any). I gave him my scarf, which was all I had left, and could only turn sorrowfully away. He put it on immediately, cheerfully accepting the substitute.
We were forced to make our adieux at this point, as there was no reason for us to continue along the line. We promised to bring more things the next night and start at the point where we had left off. I thought regretfully it would be some days before my turn came round again.
The same care had to be observed on the return journey, and we could only speak in the softest of whispers. The bombardment had now died away as suddenly as it had begun. The men turned from their posts to whisper "Bon soir, bonne chance," or else "Dieu vous benisse." The silence after that ear-splitting din was positively uncanny: it made one feel one wanted to shout or whistle, or do something wild; anything to break it. One almost wished the Germans would retaliate! That silent monster only such a little way from us seemed just waiting to spring. We crawled one by one out of the trenches on to the road, and began the perilous journey homewards with the blesses, knowing that at any moment the Germans might begin bombarding. As we were resting the Captain of the battery joined us, and in the semi-darkness I saw he was offering me a bunch of snowdrops! It certainly was an odd moment to receive a bouquet, but somehow at the time it did not seem to be particularly out of place, and I tucked them into the belt of my tunic and treasured them for days afterwards—snowdrops that had flowered regardless of war in the garden of some cottage long since destroyed.
Arrived once more at Headquarters we were pressed to a petit verre of some very hot and raw liqueur, but nevertheless very warming, and very good. I felt I agreed with the Irish coachman who at his first taste declared "The shtuff was made in Hiven but the Divil himself invinted the glasses!" We had got terribly cold in the trenches. After taking leave of our kind hosts we set off for the Hospital.
It was now about 1.30 a.m., and we were stopped no less than seventeen times on our way back. As it was my job to lean out and whisper into the sentry's "pearly," I got rather exasperated. By the time I'd passed the seventeenth "Gustave," I felt I'd risk even a bayonet to be allowed to snooze without interruption. The blesses were deposited in Hospital and the car, once rid of its wounded load, sped through the night back to Lamarck, and I wondered sleepily if my first visit to the trenches was a reality or only a dream.
THE TYPHOID WARDS
When I first came to Hospital I had been put as V.A.D. in Ward I, on the surgical side, and at ten o'clock had heard "shop" (which by the way was strictly debarred, but nevertheless formed the one and only topic of conversation), from nurses and sisters in the Typhoid Wards, but had never actually been there myself. As previously explained the three Typhoid Wards—rooms leading one out of the other on the ground floor—were in a separate building joined only by some outhouses to the main portion, thus forming three sides of the paved yard.
The east end of the Cathedral with its beautiful windows completed the square, and in the evenings it was very restful to hear the muffled sounds of the old organ floating up through the darkness.
Sister Wicks asked me one day to go through these wards with her. It must be remembered that at this early period there were no regular typhoid hospitals; and in fact ours was the only hospital in the place that would take them in, the others having refused. Our beds were therefore always full, and the typhoid staff was looked on as the hardest worked in the Hospital, and always tried to make us feel that they were the only ones who did any real work!
It was difficult to imagine these hollow-cheeked men with glittering eyes and claw-like hands were the men who had stemmed the German rush at Liege. Some were delirious, others merely plucking at the sheets with their wasted fingers, and everywhere the sisters and nurses were hurrying to and fro to alleviate their sufferings as much as possible. I shall always see the man in bed sixteen to this day. He was extremely fair, with blue eyes and a light beard. I started when I first saw him, he looked so like some of the pictures of Christ one sees; and there was an unearthly light in his eyes. He was delirious and seemed very ill. The sister told me he had come down with a splendid fighting record, and was one of the worst cases of pneumonic typhoid in the ward. My heart ached for him, and instinctively I shivered, for somehow he did not seem to belong to this world any longer. We passed on to Ward III, where I was presented to "Le Petit Sergent," a little bit of a man, so cheery and bright, who had made a marvellous recovery, but was not yet well enough to be moved. Everywhere was that peculiar smell which seems inseparable from typhoid wards in spite, or perhaps because of, the many disinfectants. We left by the door at the end of Salle III and once in the sunlight again, I heaved a sigh of relief; for frankly I thought the three typhoid Salles the most depressing places on earth. They were dark, haunting, and altogether horrible. "Well," said Sergeant Wicks cheerfully, "what do you think of the typhoid Wards? Splendid aren't they? You should have seen them at first." As I made no reply, she rattled gaily on, "Well, I hope you will find the work interesting when you come to us as a pro. to-morrow." I gasped. "Am I to leave the blesses, then?" was all I could feebly ask—"Why, yes, didn't they tell you?"—and she was off before I could say anything more.
* * * * *
When one goes to work in France one can't pick and choose, and the next morning saw me in the typhoid wards which soon I learnt to love, and which I found so interesting that I hardly left them from that time onwards, except for "trench duty."
I was in Salle I at first—the less serious cases—and life seemed one eternal rush of getting "feeds" for the different patients, "doing mouths," and making "Bengers." All the boiling and heating was done in one big stove in Salle II. Each time I passed No. 16 I tried not to look at him, but I always ended in doing so, and each time he seemed to be thinner and more ethereal looking. He literally went to skin and bone. He must have been such a splendid man, I longed for him to get better, but one morning when I passed, the bed was empty and a nurse was disinfecting the iron bedstead. For one moment I thought he had been moved. "Where—What?" I asked, disjointedly of the nurse. "Died in the night," she said briefly. "Don't look like that," and she went on with her work. No. 16 had somehow got on my mind, I suppose because it was the first bad typhoid case I had seen, and from the first I had taken such an interest in him. One gets accustomed to these things in time, but I never forgot that first shock. In the afternoons the men's temperatures rose alarmingly, and most of the time was spent in "blanket-bathing" which is about the most back-aching pastime there is; but how the patients loved to feel the cool sponges passing over their feverish limbs. They were so grateful and, though often too ill to speak, would smile their thanks, and one felt it was worth all the backaches in the world.
It was such a virulent type of typhoid. Although we had been inoculated, we were obliged to gargle several times during the day, and even then we always had more or less of a "typy" throat.
Our gallant sergeant, sister Wicks, who had organised and run the whole of the three Salles since November '14, suddenly developed para-typhoid, and with great difficulty was persuaded to go to bed. Fortunately she did not have it badly, and in her convalescent stage I was sent to look after her up at the "shop window." I was anxious to get her something really appetising for lunch, and presently heard one of the famous fish wives calling out in the street. I ran out and bargained with her, for of course she would have been vastly disappointed if I had given her the original price she asked. At last I returned triumphant with two nice looking little "Merlans," too small to cut their heads off, I decided. I had never coped with fish before, so after holding them for some time under the tap till they seemed clean enough, put them on to fry in butter. I duly took them in on a tray to Wicks, and I'm sure they looked very tasty. "Have you cleaned them?" she asked suspiciously. "Yes, of course I have," I replied. She examined them. "May I ask what you did?" she said. "I held them under the tap," I told her, "there didn't seem anything more to be done," I added lamely.
How she laughed—I thought she was never going to stop—and I stood there patiently waiting to hear the joke. She explained at length and said, "No, take them away; you've made me feel ever so much better, but I'll have eggs instead, thank you." I went off grumbling, "How on earth was I to know anyway they kept their tummies behind their ears!"
That fish story went all over the hospital.
Nursing in the typhoids was relieved by turns up to the trenches behind Dixmude, which we looked forward to tremendously, but as they were practically—with slight variations in the matter of shelling and bombardments—a repetition of my first experience, there is no object in recounting them here.
The typhoid doctor—"Scrubby," by name; so called because of the inability of his chin to make up its mind if it would have a beard or not—was very amusing, without of course meaning to be. He liked to write the reports of the patients in the Sister's book himself, and was very proud of his English, and this is what occasionally appeared:
Patient No. 12. "If the man sleep, let him sleep."
Patient No. 13. "To have red win (wine) in the spoonful."
Patient No. 14. "If the man have a temper (i.e. temperature) reduce him with the sponges." And he was once heard to remark with reference to a flat tyre: "That tube is contrary to the swelling state!"
So far, I have made no mention of the men orderlies, who I must say were absolute bricks. There was Pierre, an alert little Bruxellois, who was in a bank before the war and kept his widowed mother. He was in constant fear as to her safety, for she had been left in their little house and had no time to escape. He was well-educated and most interesting, and oh, so gentle with the men. Then there was Louis, Ziske, and Charlke, a big hefty Walloon who had been the butcher on a White Star liner before the war, all excellent workers.
About this time I went on night duty and liked it very much. One was much freer for one thing, and the sisters immediately became more human (especially when they relied on the pros. to cook the midnight supper!), and further there were no remarks or reflections about the defects of the "untrained unit" who "imagined they knew everything after four months of war." (With reference to cooking, I might here mention that since the fish episode Mrs. Betton and I were on more than speaking terms!)
There were several very bad cases in Salle II. One especially Sister feared would not pull through. I prayed he might live, but it was not to be. She was right—one night about 2 a.m. he became rapidly worse and perforation set in. The dreadful part was that he was so horribly conscious all the time. "Miske," he asked, "think you that I shall see my wife and five children again?" Before I could reply, he continued, "They were there la bas in the little house so happy when I left them in 1914—My God," and he became agitated. "If it were not permitted that I return? Do you think I am going to die, Miske?" "You must try and keep the patient from getting excited," said the calm voice of the Sister, who did not speak French. He died about an hour later. It was terrible. "Why must they go through so much suffering?" I wondered miserably. If they are to die, why can't it happen at once?"
This was the first typhoid death I had actually witnessed. In the morning the sinister coffin cart flapped into the yard and bore him off to his last resting place. What, I wondered, happened to his wife and five children?
When I became more experienced I could tell if patients were going to recover or not; and how often in the latter case I prayed that it might be over quickly; but no, the fell disease had to take its course; and even the sisters said they had never seen such awful cases.
THE ZEPPELIN RAID
Once while on night duty I got up to go to a concert in the town at the theatre in aid of the Orphelins de la Guerre. I must say when the Frenchman makes up his mind to have a charity concern he does it properly, and with any luck it begins at 2.30 and goes on till about 9 or possibly 10 p.m.
This was the first we had attended and they subsequently became quite a feature of the place. It was held on a Sunday, and the entire population turned out colimente and endimanche to a degree. The French and Belgian uniforms were extraordinarily smart, and the Belgian guides in their tasselled caps, cheery breeches, and hunting-green tunics added colour to the scene.
The Mayor of the town opened the performance with a long speech, the purport of which I forget, but it lasted one hour and ten minutes, and then the performance began. There were several intervals during which the entire audience left the salle and perambulated along the wide corridors round the building to greet their friends, and drink champagne out of large flat glasses, served at fabulous prices by fair ladies of the town clad in smart muslin dresses. The French Governor-General, covered with stars and orders, was there in state with his aides-de-camp, and the Belgian General ditto, and everyone shook hands and talked at once. Heasy and I stood and watched the scene fascinated. Tea seemed to be an unheard of beverage. Presently we espied an Englishman, very large and very tall, talking to a group of French people. I remark on the fact because in those days there were no English anywhere near us, and to see a staff car passing through the town was quite an event. We were glad, as he was the only Englishman there, that our people had chosen the largest and tallest representative they could find. Presently he turned, and looked as surprised to see two khaki-clad English girls in solar topees (the pre-war F.A.N.Y. headgear), as I think we were to see him.
The intervals lasted for half an hour, and I came to the conclusion they were as much, if not more, part of the entertainment as the concert itself.
It was still going strong when we left at 7 p.m. to go on duty, and the faithful "Flossie" (our Ford) bore us swiftly back to hospital and typhoids.
On the night of March 18th, 1915, we had our second Zeppelin raid, when the Hospital had a narrow escape. (The first one occurred on 23rd February, wiping out an entire family near the "Shop-window.") I was still on night duty and, crossing over to Typhoids with some dressings, noticed how velvety the sky looked, with not a star to be seen.
We always had two orderlies on at night, and at 12 o'clock one of them was supposed to go over to the kitchen and have his supper, and when he came back at 12.30 the other went. On this particular occasion they had both gone together. Sister had also gone over at 12 to supper, so I was left absolutely alone with the fifty patients.
None of the men at that time were particularly bad, except No. 23, who was delirious and showed a marked inclination to try and get out of bed. I had just tucked him in safely for the twentieth time when at 12.30 I heard the throb of an engine. Aeroplanes were always flying about all day, so I did not think much of it. I half fancied it might be Sidney Pickles, the airman, who had been to the Hospital several times and was keen on stunt flying. This throbbing sounded much louder though than any aeroplane, and hastily lowering what lights we had, with a final tuck to No. 23, I ran to the door to ascertain if there was cause for alarm. The noise was terrific and sounded like no engine I had ever heard in my life. I gazed into the purple darkness and felt sure that I must see the thing, it seemed actually over my head. The expanse of sky to be seen from the yard was not very great, but suddenly in the space between the surgical side and the Cathedral I could just discern an inky shadow, whale-like in shape, with one small twinkling light like a wicked eye. The machine was travelling pretty fast and fairly low down, and by its bulk I knew it to be a Zeppelin. I tore back into the ward where most of the men were awake, and found myself saying, "Ce n'est rien, ce n'est qu'un Zeppelin" ("It's nothing—only a Zeppelin"), which on second thoughts I came to the conclusion was not as reassuring as I meant it to be. By this time the others were on their way back across the yard, and I turned to give 23 another tuck up.
Such a long time elapsed before any firing occurred; it seemed to me when I first looked out into the yard I must be the only person who had heard the Zepp. What were the sentinels doing, I wondered? The explanation I heard later from a French gunnery lieutenant. The man who had the key to the ammunitions for the anti-aircraft guns was not at his post, and was subsequently discovered in a drunken sleep—probably the work of German spies—at all events he was shot at dawn the following day. In such manner does France deal with her sons who fail her. As soon as the Zepp. had passed over, the firing burst forth in full vigour to die away presently. So far, apparently, no bombs had been dropped. I suggested to Pierre we should relight one or two lamps, as it was awkward stumbling about in complete darkness. "Non, non, Miske, he will return," he said with conviction. Apparently, though, all seemed quiet; and Sister suggested that after all the excitement, I should make my way across the yard to get some supper. Pierre came with me, and at that moment a dull explosion occurred. It was a bomb. The Zeppelin was still there. The guns again blazed away, the row was terrific. Star shells were thrown up to try and locate the Zepp., and the sky was full of showering lights, blue, green, and pink. Four searchlights were playing, shrapnel was bursting, and a motor machine gun let off volleys from sheer excitement, the sharp tut-tut-tut adding to the general confusion. In the pauses the elusive Zepp. could be heard buzzing like some gigantic angry bee. I wouldn't have missed it for anything. It looked like a fireworks display, and the row was increasing each minute. Every Frenchman in the neighbourhood let off his rifle with gusto.
Just then we heard an extraordinary rushing noise in the air, like steam being let off from a railway engine. A terrific bang ensued, and then a flare. It was an incendiary bomb and was just outside the Hospital radius. I was glad to be in the open, one felt it would be better to be killed outside than indoors. If the noise was bad before, it now became deafening. Pierre suggested the cave, a murky cellar by the gate, but it seemed safer to stay where we were, leaning in the shadow against the walls of Notre Dame. Very foolish, I grant you, but early in 1915 the dangers of falling shrapnel, etc., were not so well known. These events happened in a few seconds. Suddenly Pierre pointed skywards. "He is there, up high," he cried excitedly. I looked, but a blinding light seemed to fill all space, the yard was lit up and I remember wondering if the people in the Zepp. would see us in our white overalls. The rushing sound was directly over our heads; there was a crash, the very walls against which we were leaning rocked, and to show what one's mind does at those moments, I remember thinking that when the Cathedral toppled over it would just fit nicely into the Hospital square. Instinctively I put my head down sheltering it as best I could with my arms, while bricks, mortar, and slates rained on, and all around, us. There was a heavy thud just in front of us, and when the dust had cleared away I saw it was a coping from the Cathedral, 2 feet by 4! Notre Dame had remained standing, but the bomb had completely smashed in the roof of the chapel, against the walls of which we were leaning! It was only due to their extreme thickness that we were saved, and also to the fact that we were under the protection of the wall. Had we been further out the coping would assuredly have landed on us or else we should have been hit by the shrapnel contained in the bombs, for the wall opposite was pitted with it. The dust was suffocating, and I heard Pierre saying, "Come away, Mademoiselle." Though it takes so long to describe, only a few minutes had elapsed since leaving to cross the yard. The beautiful East window of the Cathedral was shivered to atoms, and likewise every window in the Hospital. All our watches had stopped.
Crashing over broken glass to the surgical side, we pantingly asked if everyone was safe. We met Porter coming down the stairs, a stream of blood flowing from a cut on her forehead. I hastily got some dressings for it. Luckily it was only a flesh wound, and not serious. Besides the night nurses at the Hospital, the chauffeurs and housekeeper slept in the far end of the big room at the top of the building. They had not been awakened (so accustomed were they to din and noise), until the crash of the bomb on the Cathedral, and it was by the glass being blown in on to their stretcher beds that Porter had been cut; otherwise no one else was hurt.
I plunged through the debris back to the typhoids, wondering how 23 had got on, or rather got out, and, would you believe it, his delirium had gone and he was sleeping quietly like a child! The only bit of good the Boche ever did I fancy, for the shock seemed to cure him and he got well from that moment.
The others were in an awful mess, and practically every man's bed was full of broken glass. You can imagine what it meant getting this out when the patients were suffering from typhoid, and had to be moved as little as possible! One boy in Salle V had a flower pot from the window-sill above fixed on his head! Beyond being slightly dazed, and of course covered with mould, he was none the worse; and those who were well enough enjoyed his discomfiture immensely. Going into Salle III where there were shouts of laughter (the convalescents were sent to that room) I saw a funny sight. One little man, who was particularly fussy and grumpy (and very unpopular with the other men in consequence), slept near the stove, which was an old-fashioned coal one with a pipe leading up to the ceiling. The concussion had shaken this to such an extent that accumulations of soot had come down and covered him from head to foot, and he was as black as a nigger! His expression of disgust was beyond description, and he was led through the other two wards on exhibition, where he was greeted with yells of delight. It was just as well, as it relieved the tension. It can't be pleasant to be ill in bed and covered with bits of broken glass and mortar, not to mention the uncertainty of whether the walls are going to fall in or not. "Ah," said the little Sergeant to me, "I have never had fear as I had last night." "One is better in the trenches than in your Hospital, Miske," chimed in another. "At least one can defend oneself."
One orderly—a new one whom I strongly suspected of being an embusque—was unearthed in our rounds from under one of the beds, and came in for a lot of sarcasm, to the great joy of the patients who had all behaved splendidly. With the exception of Pierre and the porter on the surgical side, every man jack of them, including the Adjutant, had fled to the cave. A subsequent order came out soon after which amused us very much:—In the event of future air raids the infirmiers (orderlies) were to fly to the cave with the convalescents while the tres malades were to be left to the care of the Mees anglaises!
It took us till exactly 7 a.m. to get those three wards in anything like order, working without stopping. "Uncle," who had dressed hurriedly and come up to the Hospital from his Hotel to see if he could be of any use, brought a very welcome bowl of Ivelcon about 2.30, which just made all the difference, as I had had nothing since 7 the night before. It's surprising how hungry Zeppelin raids make one!
An extract from the account which appeared in The Daily Chronicle the following morning was as follows:—
"One bomb fell on Notre Dame Cathedral piercing the vault of one of the Chapels on the right transept and wreaking irreparable damage to the beautiful old glass of its gothic windows. This same bomb, which must have been of considerable size, sent debris flying into the courtyard of the Lamarcq Hospital full of Belgian wounded being tended by English Nurses.
"Altogether these Yeomanry nurses behaved admirably, for all the menfolk with the exception of the doorkeeper" (and Pierre, please), "fled for refuge to the cellars, and the women were left. In the neighbourhood one hears nothing but praise of these courageous Englishwomen. Another bomb fell on a railway carriage in which a number of mechanics—refugees from Lille—were sleeping, as they had no homes of their own. The effect of the bomb on these unfortunate men was terrible. They were all more or less mutilated; and heads, hands, and feet were torn off. Then flames broke out on top of this carriage and in a moment the whole was one huge conflagration.
"As the Zeppelin drew off, its occupants had the sinister satisfaction of leaving behind them a great glare which reddened the sky for a full hour in contrast with the total blackness of the town."
Chris took out "Flossie," and was on the scene of this last disaster as soon as she could get into her clothes after being so roughly awakened by the splinters of glass.
When the day staff arrived from the "Shop-window," what a sight met their eyes! The poor old place looked as if it had had a night of it, and as we sat down to breakfast in the kitchen we shivered in the icy blasts that blew in gusts across the room, for of course the weather had made up its mind to be decidedly wintry just to improve matters. It took weeks to get those windows repaired, as there was a run on what glaziers the town possessed. The next night our plight in typhoids was not one to be envied—Army blankets had been stretched inadequately across the windows and the beds pulled out of the way of draughts as much as possible, but do what we could the place was like an icehouse; the snow filtered softly through the flapping blankets, and how we cursed the Hun! At 3 a.m. one of the patients had a relapse and died.
CONCERNING BATHS, "JOLIE ANNETTE," "MARIE-MARGOT" AND "ST. INGLEVERT."
After this event I was sent back for a time to the blesses graves on the surgical side on day duty. All who had been on duty that memorable night had had a pretty considerable shock. It was like leaving one world and stepping into another, so complete was the change from typhoids.
The faithful Jefke was still there stealing jam for the patients, spending a riotous Saturday night au cinema, going to Mass next morning, and then presenting himself in the Ward again looking as if butter would not melt in his mouth!
A new assistant orderly was there as well. A pious looking individual in specs. He worked as if manual labour pained him, and was always studying out of a musty little book. He was desperately keen to learn English and spoke it on every possible occasion; was intensely stupid as an orderly and obstinate as a mule. He was trying in the extreme. One day he told me he was intended for higher things and would soon be a priest in the Church. Sister Lampen, who was so quick and thorough herself, found him particularly tiresome, and used to refer to him as her "cross" in life! One day she called him to account, and, in an exasperated voice said, "What are you supposed to be doing here, Louis, anyway? Are you an orderly or aren't you?" "Mees," he replied piously, rolling his eyes upwards, "I am learning to be a father!" I gave a shriek of delight and hastened up to tea in the top room with the news.
We were continually having what was known as alertes, that the Germans were advancing on the town. We had boxes ready in all the Wards with a list on the lid indicating what particular dressings, etc., went in each. None of the alertes, however, materialized. We heard later it was only due to a Company of the gallant Buffs throwing themselves into the breach that the road to Calais had been saved.
There were several exciting days spent up at our Dressing Station at Hoogstadt, and one day to our delight we heard that three of the F.A.N.Y.'s, who had been in the trenches during a particularly bad bombardment, were to be presented with the Order of Leopold II. A daily paper giving an account of this dressing station headed it, in their enthusiasm, "Ten days without a change of clothes. Brave Yeomanry Nurses!"
It was a coveted job to post the letters and then go down to the Quay to watch the packet come in from England. The letters, by the way, were posted in the guard's van of a stationary train where Belgian soldiers sorted and despatched them. I used to wonder vaguely if the train rushed off in the night delivering them.
There was a charm and fascination about meeting that incoming boat; the rattle of chains, the clang as the gangway was fixed, the strange cries of the French sailors, the clicking of the bayonets as the cordon formed round the fussy passport officer, and lastly the excitement of watching to see if there was a spy on board. The Walmer Castle and the Canterbury were the two little packets employed, and they have certainly seen life since the war began. Great was our excitement if we caught sight of Field Marshal French on his way to G.H.Q., or King Albert, his tall form stooping slightly under the cares of State, as he stepped into his waiting car to be whirled northwards to La Panne.
The big Englishman (accompanied by a little man disguised in very plain clothes as a private Detective) also scanned every passenger closely as he stepped on French soil, and we turned away disgustedly as each was able to furnish the necessary proof that he was on lawful business. "Come, Struttie, we must fly," and back we hurried over the bridge, past the lighthouse, across the Place d'Armes, up the Rue de la Riviere and so to Hospital once more.
When things became more settled, definite off times were arranged. Up to then sisters and nurses had worked practically all day and every day, so great was the rush. We experienced some difficulty in having baths, as there were none up at the "Shop." Dr. Cools from the Gare Centrale told us some had been fitted in a train down there, and permission was obtained for us to use them. But first we were obliged to present ourselves to the Commandant (for the Railway shed there had been turned into an Hopital de Passage, where the men waited on stretchers till they were collected each morning by ambulances for the different Hospitals), and ask him to be kind enough to furnish a Bon pour un bain (a bath pass)! When I first went to the Bureau at the gare and saw this Commandant in his elegant tight-fitting navy blue uniform, with pointed grey beard and general air of importance, I felt that to ask him for a "bath ticket" was quite the last thing on earth! He saw my hesitation, and in the most natural manner in the world said with a bow, "Mademoiselle has probably come for un bon?" I assented gratefully, was handed the pass and fled. It requires some courage to face four officials in order to have a bath.