10 P.M.—Just got them all off after a strenuous day, and we are to go up again at 11 P.M.
The two German divisions that reinforced are giving us a tremendous lot to do.
It is just as well that this department was prepared for this, as it all goes like clockwork and an enormous amount of suffering is saved by their preparedness.
The amount that cannot be saved is grim enough.
Must go to bed.
Tuesday, March 16th.—We loaded up very early this morning with 316 Indians, and are just getting into Boulogne. I expect we shall be sent up again this evening.
One of the Sikhs wailed before, during, and after his hand was dressed. A big Mussulman stuffed his hanky between his teeth and bit on it, and never uttered, and it was a much worse one. What was he to do with crying, he said; it was right for it to be done. May God bring blessings on my head; whereas it was full of pain, lo, now it was atcha.
Wednesday, March 17th.—I didn't tell you that yesterday a kind I.M.S. colonel at the place where we took the Indians on showed us a huge pile of used shell cases near the station, and we all had some. I've got a twelve-pounder and a sixteen-pounder, like my pom-poms, only huge. Next time he's going to get us some Gurkha's kukries. On the way down a little Gurkha happened to get off the train for a minute, and when he looked round the train had gone past him. He ran after it, and perched on one of the buffers till the next stop, when he reappeared, trembling with fright, but greeted with roars of amusement by the other Gurkhas.
We had some more to-day, including twelve with mumps, and one who insisted on coming with his mumpy friend though quite well himself!
We woke this morning at Merville, one of the railheads for Neuve Chapelle, and loaded up very early—guns going as hard as ever. Mine were a very bad lot—British (except the twelve native mumpers), including some brave Canadians. They kept me very busy till the moment of unloading, which is a difficult and painful business with these bad ones; but the orderlies are getting very gentle and clever with them. I had among them eight Germans, several mere boys. One insisted on kissing my hand, much to the orderlies' amusement.
(A truckful of pigs outside is making the most appalling noise. 11 P.M. I am writing in bed. We generally move up about 11.30 P.M.)
Every journey we hear thrilling accounts, rumours, and forecasts, most of which turn out to be true. We have had a lot of the St Eloi people.
There were several versions of a story of some women being found in a captured German trench. One version said they were French captives, another that they were German wives.
In one compartment were five Tommies being awfully kind to one German; and yet if he had a rifle, and they had theirs, he'd be a dead man.
The hospitals at Boulogne are so busy that no one goes off duty, and they are operating all night.
We had time for a blow across the bridge after unloading, and I happened to meet my friend S. (who was at Havre). She is on night duty, and they are grappling with those awful cases all night as hard as they can go. Four were taken out of the motor ambulances dead this week; the jolting is the last straw for the worst ones; it can't possibly be helped, "but it seems a pity."
In all this rush we happen to have had nights in bed, which makes all the difference.
The pigs still squeal, but I must try and go to sleep.
Thursday, March 18th.—We have had an off-day to-day at the place of woods and commons, which I hope and trust means that things are slackening off. It doesn't do to look ahead at what must be coming, now the ground is drying up before the job is finished; but we can be thankful for the spells of rest that come for the poor army.
We had a heavenly ramble this morning, and found blue periwinkles and anemones in the woods, but no primroses. Lots of palm and gorse. Robins, willow-wrens, and yellow-hammers were singing, the darlings, much prettier music than guns, and it is good to get away from the sound of motors and trains and whistles.
We also had home-made bread and butter to-day out of the village, which caused more excitement than the Russian successes. We are having much nicer food since the French chef left, and it costs us exactly half as much.
Friday, March 19th.—On the way down. Woke up at Bailleul, and loaded early wounded and sick. Not such severe cases among the wounded, but several pneumonias, enterics, &c., besides measles, diphtheria, and scarlet.
Very cold windy day, with snow on the ground and showers of snow at intervals.
Some of mine are from the St Eloi, fighting last Sunday and Monday.
Some of N.'s regiment were badly caught between two ruined houses, each containing Maxims and machine-guns. They had just been reinforced by some young recruits of K.'s Army who detrained that night to go straight into the charge. "They come on well, them youngsters," said an old soldier, "but they got terrible mowed down. We lost nine officers in a quarter of an hour."
It has been a very costly splash altogether.
One officer on the train has fourteen wounds.
Saturday, March 20th, Boulogne.—The hospitals here have been pretty well emptied home now, and are ready for the next lot.
Here we have been standing by all day while a big Committee at Abbeville is settling whether our beloved and beautiful No.— A.T. is to be handed back to the French railway; and if so, whether it will be replaced by inferior French carriages, or whether one of the four new British trains that are coming will be handed over to us, or whether all the personnel will be disbanded and dispersed. I have a feeling that its day is over, but perhaps things will turn out better than that.
I have been for five walks to-day, including a bask in the sun on the sands, and a bath at the Club and a visit to the nice old R.C. church and the flower-market.
Tuesday, March 23rd, 9 P.M.—Waiting all day at G.H.Q.; things are unusually quiet; one train has been through with only ninety, and another with a hundred. We went for a walk along the canal this morning with the wee puppy, and this afternoon saw over the famous jute factory Convalescent Home, where they have a thousand beds under one roof: it is like a town divided into long wards,—dining-rooms, recreation rooms, dressing station, chiropodist, tailor's shop, &c.—by shoulder-high canvas or sailcloth screens; they have outside a kitchen, a boiler, a disinfector for clothes, and any amount of baths. They have a concert every Saturday night. The men looked so absolutely happy and contented with cooked instead of trench food, and baths and games and piano, and books and writing, &c. They stay usually ten days, and are by the tenth day supposed to be fit enough for the trenches again; it often saves them a permanent breakdown from general causes, and is a more economical way of treating small disablements than sending them to the Base Hospitals. Last week they had five hundred wounded to treat, and two of the M.O.'s had to take a supply-train of seven hundred slightly wounded down to Rouen with only two orderlies. They had a bad journey. I had a French class after tea. We are now expecting to-day's London papers, which are due here about 9 P.M.
Have got some Hindustani to learn for my next lesson (from Sister B.), so will stop this.
Wednesday, March 24th.—Moved on at 11 P.M. and woke up at Chocques; a few smallish guns going. Loaded up there very early and at two other places, and are now nearly back to Boulogne, mostly wounded and a few Indians; some of them are badly damaged by bombs.
The men in the Neuve Chapelle touch were awfully disappointed that they weren't allowed to push on to Lille. The older men say wonderful things of K.'s boys: "The only fault we 'ave to find wi' 'em is that they expose theirselves too much. 'Keep your 'eads down!' we 'ave to say all the time. All they wants is to charge."
According to the men, we shall be busy again at the end of this week.
Midnight.—On way to coast near Havre where No.— G.H. is. Put all worst cases off at B., the rest mostly sleeping peacefully. Passed a place on coast not far S. of B., where six hundred British workmen are working from 7 A.M. to 10 P.M. building hospital huts for 12,000 beds, a huge encampment, ready for future business.
Have seen cowslips and violets on wayside. Lovely moonlight night. Train running very smoothly.
Thursday, March 25th.—There is a great deal of very neat and elaborate glass market-gardening going on round Rouen: it looks from the train an unbroken success; thousands of fat little plants with their glass hats off and thousands more with them on, and very little labour that can be seen. But the vegetables we buy for our mess are not particularly cheap.
9 P.M., R.—There are three trains waiting here, or rather at S., which means a blessed lull for the people in the firing line.
There was a day or two after Neuve Chapelle when the number of wounded overflowed the possibilities of "collection"; the stretcher-bearers were all hit and the stretchers were all used, and there were not enough medical officers to cope with the numbers (extra ones were hurried up from the Base Hospitals very quickly), and if you wanted to live you had to walk or crawl, or stay behind and die. We had a Canadian on who told me last night that he should never forget the stream of wounded dragging themselves along that road from Neuve Chapelle to Estaires who couldn't be found room for in the motor ambulances. Two trains picked them up there, and there were many deaths on the trains and in the motor ambulances. The "Evacuation" was very thorough and rapid to the bases and to the ships, but in any great battle involving enormous casualties on both sides there must be some gaps you can't provide for.
Friday, March 26th.—At Sotteville all day.
Saturday, March 27th.—Ditto. Piercing cold winds and no heating for a month past.
Sunday, March 28th.—Ditto.
Monday, March 29th.—Ditto.
Tuesday, March 30th.—Ditto. This cold wind has dried up the mud everywhere, and until to-day there's been a bright sun with it.
The men clean the train and play football, and the M.O.'s take the puppy out, and everybody swears a great deal at a fate which no one can alter, and we are all craving for our week-old mails.
Wednesday, March 31st.—We actually acquired an engine and got a move on at 4 o'clock this morning, and are now well away north. Just got out where we stopped by a fascinating winding river, and got some brave marsh-marigolds.
5 P.M.—Just getting into Boulogne.
With No.— Field Ambulance (1)
BILLETS: LIFE AT THE BACK OF THE FRONT
April 2, 1915, to April 29, 1915
"The fighting man shall from the sun Take warmth, and life from the glowing earth; Speed with the light-foot winds to run, And with the trees to newer birth; And find, when fighting shall be done, Great rest, and fulness after dearth."
With No.— Field Ambulance (1).
BILLETS: LIFE AT THE BACK OF THE FRONT.
April 2, 1915, to April 29, 1915.
Good Friday and Easter, 1915—The Maire's Chateau—A walk to Beuvry—The new billet—The guns—A Taube—The Back of the Front—A soldier's funeral—German Machine-guns—Gas fumes—The Second Battle of Ypres.
Good Friday, April 2nd.—We got into Boulogne on Wednesday from Sotteville at 5 P.M., and as soon as the train pulled up a new Sister turned up "to replace Sister ——," so I prepared for the worst and fully expected to be sent to Havre or Etretat or Rouen, and began to tackle my six and a half months' accumulation of belongings. In the middle of this Miss —— from the Matron-in-Chief arrived with my Movement Orders "to proceed forthwith to report to the O.C. of No.— Field Ambulance for duty," so hell became heaven, and here I am at railhead waiting for a motor ambulance to take me and my baggage to No.— F.A. wherever it is to be found.
The Railway Transport Officer at Boulogne let me come up as far as St Omer (or rather the next waiting place beyond), on No.— A.T., and get sent on by the R.T.O. there. We waited there all yesterday, lovely sunny day, and in the evening the R.T.O. sent me on in a supply train which was going to the railhead for No.— F.A. The officer in charge of it was very kind, and turned out of his carriage for me into his servant's, and apologised for not having cleared out every scrap of his belongings. The Mess of No.— saw me off, with many farewell jokes and witticisms.
This supply train brings up one day's rations to the 1st Corps from Havre, and takes a week to do it there and back. This happens daily for one corps alone, so you can imagine the work of the A.S.C. at Havre. At railhead he is no longer responsible for his stuff when the lorries arrive and take up their positions end on with the trucks. They unload and check it, and it is done in four hours. That part of it is now going on.
When we got to railhead at 10.15 P.M. the R.T.O. said it was too late to communicate with the Field Ambulance, and so I slept peacefully in the officer's bunk with my own rugs and cushion. We had tea about 9 P.M. I had had dinner on No.—.
This morning the first thing I saw was No.— A.T. slumbering in the sun on the opposite line, so I might just as well have come up in her, except that there was another Sister in my bed.
After a sketchy wash in the supply train, and a cup of early tea from the officer's servant, I packed up and went across to No.— for breakfast; many jeers at my having got the sack so soon.
The R.T.O. has just been along to say that Major —— of No.— Clearing Hospital here will send me along in one of his motor ambulances.
11 A.M.—Had an interesting drive here in the M.A. through a village packed with men billeted in barns and empty houses—the usual aeroplane buzzing overhead, and a large motor ambulance convoy by the wayside.
We are in the town itself, and the building is labelled No.— F.A. Dressing Station for Officers. The men are in a French Civil Hospital run very well by French nuns, and it has been decided to keep the French and English nurses quite separate, so the only difference between the two hospitals is that the one for the men has French Sisters, with R.A.M.C. orderlies and M.O.'s, and the other for officers has English Sisters, with R.A.M.C. orderlies and M.O.'s. There are forty-seven beds here (all officers). One Army Sister in charge, myself next, and two staff nurses—one on night duty. There are two floors; I shall have charge of the top floor.
We are billeted out, but I believe mess in the hospital.
All this belongs to the French Red Cross, and is lent to us.
The surgical outfit is much more primitive even than on the train, as F.A.'s may carry so little. The operating theatre is at the other hospital.
As far as I can see at present we don't have the worst cases here, except in a rush like Neuve Chapelle.
It will be funny to sleep in a comfortable French bed in an ordinary bedroom again. It will be rather like Le Mans over again, with a billet to live in, and officers to look after, but I shall miss the Jocks and the others.
Later.—Generals and "Red Hats" simply bristle around. A collection of them has just been in visiting the sick officers. We had a big Good Friday service at 11, and there is another at 6 P.M. The Bishop of London is coming round to-day.
Still Good Friday, 10 P.M.—Who said Active Service? I am writing this in a wonderful mahogany bed, with a red satin quilt, in a panelled room, with the sort of furniture drawing-rooms have on the stage, and electric light, and medallions and bronzes, and oil-paintings and old engravings, and blue china and mirrors all about. It is a huge house like a Chateau, on the Place, where Generals and officers are usually billeted. The fat and smiling caretaker says she's had two hundred since the war. She insisted on pouring eau-de-Cologne into my hot bath. It is really a lovely house, with polished floors and huge tapestry pictures up the staircase. And all this well within range of the German guns. After last night, in the A.S.C officer's kind but musty little chilly second-class carriage, it is somewhat of a change. And I hadn't had my clothes off for three days and two nights. This billet is only for one night; to-morrow I expect I shall be in some grubby little room near by. It has taken the Town Commandant, the O.C. of No.— F.A., a French interpreter, and an R.H.A. officer and several N.C.O.'s and orderlies, to find me a billet—the town is already packed tight, and they have to continue the search to-morrow.
This afternoon I went all over the big French hospital where our men are. The French nuns were charming, and it was all very nice. The women's ward is full of women and girls blessees by shells, some with a leg off and fractured—all very cheerful.
One shell the other day killed thirty-one and wounded twenty-seven—all Indians.
I am not to start work till to-morrow, as the wards are very light; nearly all the officers up part of the day, so at 6 P.M. I went to the Bishop of London's mission service in the theatre. A staff officer on the steps told me to go to the left of the front row (where all the red hats and gold hats sit), but I funked that and sat modestly in the last row of officers. There were about a hundred officers there, and a huge solid pack of men; no other woman at all. The Bishop, looking very white and tired but very happy, took the service on the stage, where a Padre was thumping the hymns on the harmonium (which shuts up into a sort of matchbox). It was a voluntary service, and you know the nearer they are to the firing line the more they go to church. It was extraordinarily moving. The Padre read a sort of liturgy for the war taken from the Russians, far finer than any of ours; we had printed papers, and the response was "Lord, have mercy," or "Grant this, O Lord." It came each time like bass clockwork.
Troops are just marching by in the dark. Hundreds passed the hospital this afternoon. I must go to sleep.
The Bishop dashed in to see our sick officers here, and then motored off to dine with the Quartermaster-General. He's had great services with the cavalry and every other brigade.
Easter Eve, 10 P.M.—Have been on duty all day till 5 P.M. They are nearly all "evacuated" in a few days, so you are always getting a fresh lot in.
Another Army Sister turned up to-day in a motor from Poperinghe to take the place of the two who were originally here, who have now gone.
At six this morning big guns were doing their Morning Hate very close to us, but they have been quiet all day. Two days ago the village two and a half miles south-east of us was shelled.
I found my own new billet this morning before going on duty; it is in a very old little house over a shop in a street off the big Place. It is a sort of attic, and I am not dead sure whether it is clean on top and lively underneath, but time will show. The shop lady and her daughter Maria Therese are full of zeal and kindness to make me comfortable, but they stayed two hours watching me unpack and making themselves agreeable! And when I came in from dinner from the cafe, where we now have our meals (quite decent), she and papa and M.T. drew up a chair for me to causer in their parlour, to my horror.
At 8 P.M. the town suddenly goes out like a candle; all lights are put out and the street suddenly empty. After that, at intervals, only motorcyclists buzz through and regiments tramp past going back to billets. They sound more warlike than anything. Such a lot are going by now.
Easter Sunday, 3 P.M.—The service at 7 this morning in the theatre was rather wonderful. Rows of officers and packs of men.
We have been busy in the ward all the morning. I'm off 2-5, and shall soon go out and take E.'s chocolate Easter eggs to the men in the hospice. The officers have any amount of cigarettes, chocs., novels, and newspapers.
A woman came and wept this morning with my billeter over their two sons, who are prisoners, not receiving the parcels of tabac and pain and gateaux that they send. They think we ought to starve the German prisoners to death!
This morning in the ward I suddenly found it full of Gold Hats and Red Tabs; three Generals and their A.D.C.'s visiting the sick officers.
Easter Monday.—It is a pouring wet day, and the mud is Flanderish. Never was there such mud anywhere else. A gunner-major has just been telling me you get a fine view of the German positions from the Cathedral tower here, and can see shells bursting like the pictures in 'The Sphere.' He said his guns had the job of peppering La Bassee the last time they shelled this place, and they gave it such a dusting that this place has been let severely alone since. He thinks they'll have another go at this when we begin to get hold of La Bassee, but the latter is a very strong position. It begins to be "unhealthy" to get into any of the villages about three miles from here, which are all heaps of bricks now.
I'm leaving my billet to-morrow, as they want us to be in one house. And our house is the Maire's Chateau, the palatial one, so we shall live in the lap of luxury as never before in this country! And have hot baths with eau-de-Cologne every night, or cold every morning. And the woman is going to faire our cuisine there for us, so we shan't have to wait hours in the cafe for our meals. There is only one waiter at the cafe, who is a beautiful, composed, wrapt, silent girl of 16, who will soon be dead of overwork. She is not merely pretty, but beautiful, with the manners of a princess!
I shall be glad to get away from my too kind billeters; every night I have to sit and causer before going to bed, and Ma-billeter watches me in and out of bed, and tells me my nightgown is tres pratique, and just like the officers Anglais have. But she calls me with a lovely cup of coffee in the morning. They've been so kind that I dread telling them I've got to go.
An officer was brought in during the night with a compound-fractured arm. He stuck a very painful dressing like a brick to-day, and said to me afterwards, "I've got three kids at home; they'll be awfully bucked over this!" He had said it was "nothing to write home about."
Another, who is chaffing everybody all day long, was awfully impressed because a man in his company—I mean platoon—who had half his leg blown off, said when they came to pick him up, "Never mind me—take so-and-so first"—"just like those chaps you read of in books, you know." It was decided that he meant Sir Philip Sidney.
Yesterday afternoon I had a lovely time taking round chocolate Easter eggs to our wounded in the French hospital. The sweetest, merriest Ma-Soeur took me round, and insisted on all the orderlies having one too. They adore her, and stand up and salute when she comes into the ward; and we had enough for the jeunes filles and the grannies in the women's ward of blessees. They were a huge success. Those men get very few treats. She also showed me the Maternity Ward.
Tuesday, April 6th, 10 P.M.—I am writing in bed in my lovely little room overlooking the garden, and facing some nice red roofs and both the old Towers of the town (one dating from le temps des Espagnols) in le Chateau, instead of in my attic in the narrow street where you heard the tramp of the men who viennent des tranches in the night. We had a lovely dinner, served by the fat and tres aimable Marie in a small, panelled dining-room, with old oak chairs and real silver spoons (the first I've met since August). So don't waste any pity for the hardships of War! And an officer with a temperature of 103 deg. explained that he'd been sleeping for sixteen days on damp sandbags "among the dead Germans."
Nothing coming in anywhere, but when it does begin we shall get them.
The A.D.M.S. is going to arrange for us to go up with one of his motor ambulances to one of the advance dressing stations where the first communication trench begins! It is at the corner of a road called "Harley Street," which he says is "too unhealthy," where I mayn't be taken. Won't it be thrilling to see it all?
Officers' "trench talk" is exactly like the men's, only in a different language.
It has been wet and windy again, so I did not explore when I was off this afternoon, but did my unpacking and settling in here. With so many moves I have got my belongings into a high state of mobilisation, and it doesn't take long.
Last night at the cafe, one of the despatch riders played Chopin, Tchaikowsky, and Elgar like a professional. It was jolly. The officers are awfully nice to do with on the whole.
Wednesday, April 7th. In bed, 10.30 P.M.—It has been a lovely day after last night's and yesterday's heavy rain. We are busy all day admitting and evacuating officers. The lung one had to be got ready in a hurry this morning, and Mr L. took him down specially to the train.
A very nice Brigade-Major came in, in the night, with a shell wound in the shoulder. This morning a great jagged piece was dug out, with only a local anaesthetic, and he stuck it like a brick, humming a tune when it became unbearable and gripping on to my hand.
I was off at 5 P.M., and went to dig out Marie Therese from my old billet, to come with me to Beuvry, the village about two and a half miles away that was shelled last week; it is about half-way to the trenches from here. It was a lovely sunsetty evening, and there was a huge stretch of view, but it was not clear enough to make anything out of the German line. She has a tante and a grandmere there, and has a "laisser-passer soigner une tante malade" which she has to show to the sentry at the bridge. I get through without. The tante is not at all malade—she is a cheery old lady who met us on the road. M.T. pointed me out all the shell holes. We met and passed an unending stream of khaki, the men marching back from their four days in the trenches, infant officers and all steadily trudging on with the same coating of mud from head to foot, packs and rifles carried anyhow, and the Trench Look, which can never be described, and which is grim to the last degree. Each lot had a tail of limping stragglers in ones and twos and threes. I talked to some of these, and they said they'd had a very "rough" night last night—pouring rain—water up to their knees, and standing to all night expecting an attack which didn't come off; but some mines had been exploded meant for their trench, but luckily they were ten yards out in their calculations, and they only got smothered instead of blown to bits. And they were sticking all this while we were snoring in our horrible, warm, soft beds only a few miles away. We went on past some of the famous brick stacks through the funny little village full of billets to the church, where le Salut was going on. We passed a dressing station of No.— Field Ambulance. The grandmere had two sergeants billeted with her who seemed pleased to have a friendly chat. Some of the men I said good-night to were so surprised (not knowing our grey coat and hat), I heard them say to each other "English!" Marie Therese simply adores the Anglais—they are so gais, such bon courage, they laugh always and sing—and they have "beaucoup de fiancees francaises pour passer le temps!" She told me they had yesterday a boy of eighteen who was always triste, but bien poli, and he knows six languages and comes from the University of London. When he left for the trenches he said, "Je vais a la mort," but he has promised to come and see them on Saturday or Sunday, "s'il n'est pas mort, ou blesse," she said, as an afterthought. Her own young man is a la Guerre, and she is making her trousseau. They do beautiful embroidery on linen.
I was pretty tired when we got back at 8 o'clock, as it was a good five-mile walk, part of the way on fiendish cobble-stones, and we are on our feet all day at the Dressing Station. But I am very fit, and all the better for the excellent fresh food we have here. No more tins of anything, thank goodness!
Thursday, April 8th.—Talking of billets, a General and his Staff are coming to this Chateau to-morrow and we three have got to turn out, possibly to a house opposite on the same square, which is empty. We live in terror of unknown Powers-that-Be suddenly sending us down. The C.O. and every one here are very keen that we should be as comfortably billeted as possible. He said to-day, "Later on you may get an awful place to live in." Of course we are aiming at becoming quite indispensable! If you can once get your Medical Officers to depend on you for having everything they want at hand, and for making the patients happy and contented, and the orderlies in good order, they soon get to think they can't do without you.
There are two nice tea-shops where all the officers of the 1st and 2nd Divisions go and have tea.
On Saturday morning they sent three hundred shells into Cuinchy, in revenge for their trench blown up (see to-day's Communique from Sir J.F.).
Friday, April 9th, 10.30 P.M.—An empty house was found for us on the same square, left exactly as it was when the owners left when the place was shelled. It was filthy from top to toe, but we have found a girl called Gabrielle to be our servant, and she has made a good start in the cleaning to-day. There are three bedrooms—mine is a funny little one built out at the back, down three steps, with two windows overlooking a corner of the square and our road past the hospital.
It is my fourth billet here in a week, and Gabrielle and I have made it quite habitable by collecting things from other parts of the house. We are back in our own rugs and blankets again without sheets, and there is no water on yet, but we filled our hot-water bottles at the hospital, and are quite warm and cosy, and locked up—I shall have to let Gabrielle in at 6.30 to-morrow morning. She is going to shop and cook for us, with help from the kind Marie at the Chateau, who is aghast at our present more military mode of living. The Chateau is now swarming with Staff Officers, to whom Marie pays far less attention than she does to us!
When the wind is in the right direction you can hear the rifle firing as well as the guns—and they are often shelling aeroplanes on a fine day. We have two bad cases in to-night—one wounded in the lung, and one medical transferred from downstairs, where the slight medicals are.
A Captain of the ——, hit in the back this morning when he was crossing in the open to visit a post in his trench, has a little freckled Jock for his servant, who dashed out to bring him in when he fell. "Most gallant, you know," he said. They adore each other. Jock stands to attention, salutes, and says "Yes'm" when I gave him an order. Their friends troop in to see them as soon as they hear they're hit. So many seem to have been wounded before—nearly all, in fact.
Letters are coming in very irregularly, I don't quite know why.
Saturday, April 10th, 10.30 P.M.—It is difficult to settle down to sleep to-night: the sky is lit up with flashes and star-shells, and every now and then a big bang shakes the house, above the almost continuous thud, thudding, and the barking of the machine-guns and the crackling of rifle firing; they are bringing in more to-day, both here and at the Hospice, and we are tired enough to go to sleep as if we were at home; I shouldn't wonder if the Night Sister had a busy night.
We had to rig up our day-room for an operation this evening—they have always taken them over to the Hospice, where they have a very swanky modern theatre.
We couldn't manage to get any food to-day for Gabrielle to cook for us, as our rations hadn't come up, so we went back to the cafe. She has been busy nettoying all day, and the house feels much cleaner.
The dead silence, darkness, and emptiness of the streets after 8 o'clock are very striking.
Sunday, April 11th.—This afternoon they shelled Beuvry (the village I went to with Marie Therese on Wednesday) and wounded eleven women and children; the advanced dressing station of No.— F.A. took them in. The promise to send us in one of the M.A.'s to "Harley Street" (the name of the first communication trench) has been taken back until things quiet down a little. There was an air battle just above us this evening,—a Taube sailing serenely along not very high, and not altering her course or going up one foot, for all the shells that promptly peppered the sky all round her. You hear a particular kind of bang and then gaze at the Taube; suddenly a shining ball of white smoke appears close to her, and uncurls itself in the sun against the blue of the sky. As it begins to uncurl you hear the explosion, and however much you admire the German's pluck, and hope he'll dodge them safely, you can't help hoping also that the next one will get him and that he'll come crashing down. Isn't it beastly? It was so near that the French were calling out excitedly, "Touche! Il descend," but he got away all right.
Another officer dangerously wounded was transferred to my ward to-day from the French hospital. He was feebly grappling with a Sevenpenny which he could neither hold nor read. "Anything to take my thoughts off that beastly war!" he said.
A small parcel of socks, cigs., and chocs, came to-day. Soon after, I found the road below was covered with exhausted trench stragglers resting on the kerb, the very men for the parcel. They had all that and one mouth-organ—wasn't it lucky? One Jock said, "That's the first time I've heard a woman speak English since I left Southampton six months ago!"
Gabrielle cooked a very nice supper for us to-night—which I dished up when we came in. It is much more fun camping out in our own little empty house than in the grand Chateau—but I didn't have time to look at nearly all the lovely engravings there.
Streams of columns have been passing all day; one gun-team had to turn back because one of the off horses jibbed and refused to go any farther.
Though it is past 11 P.M. the sounds outside are too interesting to go to sleep; the bangs are getting louder; those who viennent des tranches are tramping down and transport waggons rattling up!
Monday, April 12th.—No mail to-day. This has been a very quiet day, fewer columns, aeroplanes, and guns, and the three bad officers holding their own so far. The others come and go.
Tuesday, April 13th.—There is something quite fiendish about the crackling of the rifle firing to-night, and every now and then a gun like "Mother" speaks and shakes the town. Last night it was quite quiet. All leave has been stopped to-day, and there are the wildest rumours going about of a big naval engagement, the forcing of the Narrows, and the surrender of St Mihiel, and anything else you like!
These Medical Officers have always hung on to the most hopeless, both here and at the Hospice, beyond the last hope, and when they pull through there is great rejoicing.
It doesn't seem somehow the right thing to do, to undress and get into bed with these crashes going on, but I suppose staying up won't stop it!
Wednesday, April 14th.—Very quiet day; it always is after exciting rumours which come to nothing! But it has been noisier than usual in the daytime. I rested in my off-time and didn't go out.
The Victoria League sent some awfully nice lavender bags to-day, and some tins of Keating's, which will be of future use, I expect. Just now, one is mercifully and strangely free from the Minor Scourges of War.
The German trenches captured at Neuve Chapelle, and now occupied by us, are full of legs and arms, which emerge when you dig. Some are still caught on the barbed wire and can't be taken away.
We are not being at all clever with our rations just now, and manage to have indescribably nasty and uneatable meals! But we shall get it better in time, by taking a little more trouble over it.
We had scrambled eggs to-night, which I made standing on a chair, because the gas-ring is so high, and Sister holding up a very small dim oil-lamp. But they were a great success. And then we had soup with fried potatoes in it! and tea.
Thursday, April 15th.—This afternoon has been a day to remember. We've had our journey up to the firing line, to a dressing station just over half a mile from the first line of German trenches! It is between the two villages of Givenchy and Cuinchy, this side of La Bassee. The journey there was through the village I walked to with Marie Therese (which has been shelled twice since we came), and along the long, wide, straight road the British Army now knows so well—paved in the middle and a straight line of poplars on each side. As far as you could see it was covered with two streams of khaki, with an occasional string of French cavalry—one stream going up to the trenches after their so many days' "rest," and the other coming from the trenches to their "rest." We soon got up to some old German trenches from which we drove them months ago; they run parallel with the road. On the other side we saw one of our own Field Batteries, hidden in the scrub of a hedge—not talking at the moment. There were also some French batteries hidden behind an embankment. "The German guns are trained always on this road," said our A.S.C. driver cheerfully, "but they don't generally begin not till about 4 o'clock," so, as it was then 2.30, we weren't alarmed. They know it is used for transport and troops and often send a few shells on to it. We sat next him and he did showman. Before long we got into the area of ruined houses—and they are a sight! They spell War, and War only—nothing else (but perhaps an earthquake?) could make such awful desolation; in a few of the smaller cottages with a roof on, the families had gone back to live in a sort of patched-up squalor, but all the bigger houses and parts of streets were mere jagged shells. The two villages converge just where we turned a corner from the La Bassee road into a lane on our left where the dressing station is. A little farther on is "Windy Corner," which is "a very hot place." We had before this passed some of our own reserve unoccupied trenches, some with sandbags for parapets, but now we suddenly found ourselves with a funny barricade of different coloured and shaped doors, taken from the ruined houses, about 8 feet high on our right. This was to prevent the German snipers from seeing our transport or M.A.'s pass down that lane to the communication trench, which has its beginning at the ruined house which is used by the F.A. as one of its advanced dressing stations. It is called No. 1 Harley Street. Here we got out, and the first person we saw was Sergt. P., who was theatre orderly in No. 7 at Pretoria. He greeted us warmly and took us to Capt. R., who was the officer in charge. He also was most awfully kind and showed us all over his place. We went first into his two cellars, where the wounded are taken to be dressed, instead of above, where they might be shelled. They had a queer collection of furniture—a table for dressings, and some oddments of chairs, including two carved oak dining-room chairs. Round the front steps is a barricade of sandbags against snipers' bullets. The officer's room above the cellars was quite nice and tidy, furnished from the ruined houses, and with a vase of daffodils! He had been told the day before to allow no one up the staircase, because snipers were on the look-out for the top windows, and if it were seen to be used as an observing station it might draw the shells. However, just before we left he changed his mind and took us up and showed us all the landmarks, including the famous brick-stacks, where there must be many German graves, but we all had to be very careful not to show ourselves. The garden at the back has a row of graves with flowers growing on them, and neat wooden crosses with little engraved tin plates on, with the name and regiment. One was, "An unknown British Soldier." There were no wounded in the D.S. this afternoon.
The orderlies showed us lots of interesting bits of German shells and time fuses, &c. The house was full of big holes, with dirty smart curtains, and hats and mirrors lying about the floors upstairs among the brickwork and ruins.
They then took us a little way down the communication trench called "Hertford Street," under the "Marble Arch" to "Oxford Circus!" It is quite dry mud over bricks and very narrow, and goes higher than your head on the enemy side, and has zigzags very often. You can only go single file, and we had to wait in a zigzag to let a lot of men go by—they stream past almost continually. One officer invited us to come and see his dug-out, but it was farther along than we might go without being awfully in the way. We had before this given one stream of ingoing men all the cigarettes, chocolates, writing-paper, mouth-organs, Keating's, pencils, and newspapers we could lay hands on before we started, and we could have done with thousands of each. Every few minutes one of our guns talked with a startlingly loud noise somewhere near, but Captain R. said it was an exceptionally quiet day, and we didn't hear a single German gun or see any bursting shells. It was a particularly warm sunny day, and the men going into the trenches were so cheerful and jolly that it didn't seem at all tragic or depressing, and there was nothing but one's recollections of the Aisne and Ypres after what they call "a show" to remind one what it all meant and what it might at any moment turn into. One hasn't had before the opportunities of seeing the men who are in it (and not at the Bases or on the Lines of Communication) while they are fit, but only after they are wounded or sick, and the contrast is very striking. All these after their "rest" look fit and sunburnt and natural, and the one expression that never or rarely fails, whether fit, wounded, or sick, is the expression of acquiescence and going through with it that they all have. If it failed at all it was with the men with frost-bite and trench feet, who stuck it so long when winter first came on before they got the braziers, and in the long rains when they stood in mud and water to their waists. Now, thank Heaven, the ground is hard again.
I saw three small children playing about just behind the dressing station, where some men unloading a lorry were killed a few days ago. The women and children are all along the road, absolutely regardless of danger as long as they are allowed to stay in their own homes. The babies sit close up against the Tommies who are resting by the roadside.
We saw a great many wire entanglements, so thick that they look like a field of lavender a little way off. From the top windows of the ruined house we could see long lines of heads, picks and shovels, going single file down "Hertford Street," but they couldn't be seen from the enemy side because of the parapet.
Friday, April 16th.—At about 7.30 this evening I was writing the day report when the sergeant came in with three candles and said an order had come for all lights to be put out and only candles used. So I had to put out all the lights and give the astonished officers my three candles between them, while the sergeant went out to get some more. The town looks very weird with all the street lamps out and only glimmers from the windows. It was kept pretty darkened before. It may be because of the Zeppelin at Bailleul on Wednesday, or another may be reported somewhere about.
This afternoon I saw a soldier's funeral, which I have never seen before. He was shot in the head yesterday, and makes the four hundred and eleventh British soldier buried in this cemetery. I happened to be there looking at the graves, and the French gravedigger told me there was to be another buried this afternoon. The gravedigger's wife and children are with the Allemands, he told me, the other side of La Bassee, and he has no news of them or they of him.
It was very impressive and moving, the Union Jack on the coffin (a thin wooden box) on the waggon, and a firing party, and about a hundred men and three officers and the Padre. It was a clear blue sky and sunny afternoon, and the Padre read beautifully and the men listened intently. The graves are dug trenchwise, very close together, practically all in one continuous grave, each with a marked cross. There is a long row of officers, and also seven Germans and five Indians.
The two Zeppelins reported last night must have gone to bed after putting out all our lights, as nothing happened anywhere.
The birds and buds in the garden opposite make one long for one's lost leave, but I suppose they will keep.
We have only nine officers in to-day; everything is very quiet everywhere, but troop trains are very busy.
10.30 P.M.—It is getting noisy again. Some batteries on our right next the French lines are doing some thundering, and there are more star-shells than usual lighting up the sky on the left. They look like fireworks. They are sent up in the firing line to see if any groups of enemy are crawling up to our trenches in the dark. When they stop sending theirs up we have to get busy with ours to see what they're up to. It's funny to see that every night from your bedroom windows. They give a tremendous light as soon as they burst.
When I went into the big church for benediction this evening at 6.30, every estaminet and cafe and tea-shop was packed with soldiers, and also as usual every street and square. At seven o'clock they were all emptying, as there is an order to-day to close all cafes, &c, at seven instead of eight.
All lights are out again to-night.
Another aeroplane was being shelled here this evening.
Sunday, April 18th, 9.30 P.M.—It has been another dazzling day. A major of one of the Indian regiments came in this evening. He said the Boches are throwing stones across to our men wrapped in paper with messages like this written on them, "Why don't you stop the War? We want to get home to our wives these beautiful days, and so do you, so why do you go on fighting?" The sudden beauty of the spring and the sun has made it all glaringly incongruous, and every one feels it.
One badly wounded officer got it going out of his dug-out to attend to a man of his company who was hit by a sniper in an exposed place, one of his subalterns told me. His own account, of course, was a rambling story leaving that part entirely out.
This next shows how the Germans had left nothing to chance. They have about twelve machine-guns to every battalion, and are said to have had 12,000 when the War began. Passing through villages they pack ten of them into an innocent-looking cart with a false bottom. We captured some of these empty carts, and some time afterwards found them full of machine-guns!
Gold hats and red hats have been dropping in all day. They do on Sundays especially after Church Parade.
Saturday, April 24th.—We were watching hundreds of men pass by to-day, whistling and singing, on their way to the trenches.
News came to us this morning of the Germans having broken through the trench lines north of Ypres and shelled Poperinghe, which was out of range up to now, but it is not official.
The guns are very loud to-night; I hope they're keeping the Germans busy; something is sure to be done to draw them off the Ypres line.
Sunday, April 25th.—The plum-pudding was "something to write home about!" and the Quartermaster sent us a tin of honey to-day, the first I've seen for nine months.
A General came round this morning. He said the Canadians and another regiment had given the Germans what for for this gas-fumes business north of Ypres, got the ground back and recovered the four guns. The beasts of Germans laid out a whole trench full of Zouaves with chlorine gas (which besides being poisonous is one of the most loathsome smells). Of course every one is busy finding out how we can go one better now. But this afternoon the medical staffs of both these divisions have been trying experiments in a barn with chlorine gas, with and without different kinds of masks soaked with some antidote, such as lime. All were busy coughing and choking when they found the A.D.M.S. of the —— Division getting blue and suffocated; he'd had too much chlorine, and was brought here, looking very bad, and for an hour we had to give him fumes of ammonia till he could breathe properly. He will probably have bronchitis. But they've found out what they wanted to know—that you can go to the assistance of men overpowered by the gas, if you put on this mask, with less chance of finding yourself dead too when you got there. They don't lose much time finding these things out, do they?
On Saturday I shall be going on night duty for a month.
Monday, April 26th, 11 P.M.—We have been admitting, cutting the clothes off, dressing, and evacuating a good many to-day, and I think they are still coming in.
There is a great noise going on to-night, snapping and popping, and crackling of rifle firing and machine-guns, with the sudden roar of our 9.2's every few minutes. The thundery roll after them is made by the big shell bounding along on its way.
Two officers were brought in last night from a sap where they were overpowered by carbon monoxide. Three of them and a sergeant crawled along it to get out the bodies of another officer and a sergeant who'd been killed there by an explosion the day before; it leads into a crater in the German lines, and reaches under the German trenches, which we intended to blow up. But they were greeted by this poisonous gas last night, and the officer in front of these two suddenly became inanimate; each tried to pull the one in front out by the legs, but all became unconscious in turn, and only these two survived and were hauled out up twenty feet of rope-ladder. They will get all right.
The wounded ones are generally in "the excited stage" when they arrive—some surprised and resentful, some relieved that it is no worse, and some very quiet and collapsed.
Captain —— showed me his periscope to-day; you bob down and look into it about level with his mattress, and then you see a picture of the garden across the road. He has seen one made by Ross with a magnifying lens in it so good that you can see the moustaches of the Boches in it from the bottom of your trench. The noise is getting so beastly I must knock off and read 'Punch.'
Tuesday, April 27th.—Have been busy all day, and so have the guns. When the 15-inch howitzers began to talk the old concierge lady at the O.D.S. trotted out to see l'orage, and found a cloudless sky, and, mon Dieu, it was les canons. It is a stupendous noise, like some gigantic angry lion. The official accounts of the second dash for Calais reach us through 'The Times' two days after the things have happened, but the actual happenings filter along the line from St Omer (G.H.Q.) as soon as they happen, so we know there's been no real "breaking through" that hasn't been made good, or partially made good, because if there had, the dispositions all along the line would have had to be altered, and that has not happened.
The ambulance trains are collecting the Ypres casualties straight from the convoys at Poperinghe, as we did at Ypres in October and November, and not through the Clearing Hospitals, which I believe have had to move farther back.
Wednesday, April 28th.—Here everything is as it has been for the last few days (except the weather, which is suddenly hot as summer), rather more casualties, but no rush, and the same crescendo of heavy guns. Some shells were dropped in a field just outside the town at 8.30 yesterday evening but did no damage.
Thursday, April 29th, 4 P.M.—The weather and the evenings are indescribably incongruous. Tea in the garden at home, deck-chairs, and Sweep under the walnut-tree come into one's mind, and before one's eyes and ears are motor ambulances and stretchers and dressings, and the everlasting noise of marching feet, clattering hoofs, lorries, and guns, and sometimes the skirl of the pipes. One day there was a real band, and every one glowed and thrilled with the sound of it.
I strayed into a concert at 5.30 this evening, given by the Glasgow Highlanders to a packed houseful of men and officers. I took good care to be shown into a solitary box next the stage, as I was alone and guessed that some of the items would not be intended for polite female ears. The level of the talent was a high one, some good part songs, and two real singers, and some quite funny and clever comic; but one or two things made me glad of the shelter of my box. The choruses were fine. The last thing was a brilliant effort of the four part singers dressed as comic sailors, which simply made the house rock. Then suddenly, while they were still yelling, the first chords of the "King" were played, and all the hundreds stood to attention in a pin-drop silence while it was played—not sung—much more impressive than the singing of it, I thought.
We have had some bad cases in to-day, and the boy with the lung is not doing so well.
My second inoculation passed off very quickly, and I have not been off duty for it.
With No.— Field Ambulance (2)
FESTUBERT, MAY 9 AND MAY 16
May 6, 1915, to May 26, 1915
"We have built a house that is not for Time's throwing; We have gained a peace unshaken by pain for ever. War knows no power. Safe shall be my going, Secretly armed against all death's endeavour. Safe though all safety's lost; safe where men fall; And if these poor limbs die, safest of all."
With No.— Field Ambulance (2).
FESTUBERT, MAY 9 AND MAY 16.
May 6, 1915, to May 26, 1915.
The noise of war—Preparation—Sunday, May 9—The barge—The officers' dressing station—Charge of the Black Watch, May 9—Festubert, May 16—The French Hospital—A bad night—Shelled out—Back at a Clearing Hospital—"For duty at a Base Hospital."
Thursday, May 6th, 3 A.M.—It was a very noisy day, and I didn't sleep after 2 P.M. There is a good lot of firing going on to-night.
A very muddy officer of 6 ft. 4 was brought in early yesterday morning with a broken leg, and it is a hard job to get him comfortable in these short beds.
Yesterday at 4 A.M. I couldn't resist invading the garden opposite which is the R.A. Headquarters. It is full of lovely trees and flowers and birds. I found a blackbird's nest with one egg in. From the upper windows of this place it makes a perfect picture, with the peculiarly beautiful tower of the Cathedral as a background.
Friday, May 7th, 1 A.M.—The noise is worse than anywhere in London, even the King's Road. The din that a column of horse-drawn, bolt-rattling waggons make over cobbles is literally deafening; you can't hear each other speak. And the big motor-lorries taking the "munitions of war" up are almost as bad. These processions alternate with marching troops, clattering horses, and French engines all day, and very often all night, and in the middle of it all there are the guns. Tonight the rifle firing is crackling.
Sir John French and Sir Douglas Haig have been up here to-day, and every one is telling every one else when the great Attack is going to begin.
There are three field ambulances up here, and only work for two ( —th and —th), so the —th is established in a huge school for 500 boys, where it runs a great laundry and bathing establishment. A thousand men a day come in for bath, disinfection, and clean clothes; 100 French women do the laundry work in huge tubs, and there are big disinfectors and drying and ironing rooms. The men of the F.A. do the sorting and all the work except the washing and ironing. And the beautifully-cared-for English cart-horses that belong to the F.A., and the waggons and the motor ambulances and the equipment, are all kept ready to move at a moment's notice.
Colonel —— showed me all over it this evening. It is done at a cost to the Government of 7d. per man, washed and clothed.
My blackbird has laid another egg.
Friday, May 7th, 10 P.M.—A pitch-dark night, raining a little, and only one topic—the Attack to-morrow morning.
The first R.A.M.C. barge has come up, and is lying in the canal ready to take on the cases of wounds of lung and abdomen, to save the jolting of road and railway; it is to have two Sisters, but I haven't seen them yet: shall go in the morning: went round this morning to see, but the barge hadn't arrived.
There are a few sick officers downstairs who are finding it hard to stick in their beds, with their regiments in this job close by. There is a house close by which I saw this morning with a dirty little red flag with a black cross on it, where the C.-in-C. and thirty commanders of the 1st Army met yesterday.
The news to-day of Hill 60 and the gases is another spur to the grim resolve to break through here, that can be felt and seen and heard in every detail of every arm. "Grandmother" is lovingly talked about.
The town, the roads, and the canal banks this morning were so packed with men, waggons, horses, bales, and lorries, that you could barely pick your way between them.
Since writing this an aeroplane has been circling over us with a loud buzz. The sergeant called up to me to put the lights out. We saw her light. There is much speculation as to who and what she was; she was not big enough for our big "'Bus," as she is called, who belongs to this place. No one seems ever to have seen one here at night before.
We are making flannel masks for the C.O. for our men.
Our fat little Gabrielle makes the most priceless soup out of the ration beef (which none of us are any good at) and carrots. She mothers us each individually, and cleans the house and keeps her wee kitchen spotless.
4 A.M.—The 9.2's are just beginning to talk.
Here is a true story. One of our trenches at Givenchy was being pounded by German shells at the time of N. Ch. A man saw his brother killed on one side of him and another man on the other. He went on shooting over the parapet; then the parapet got knocked about, and still he wasn't hit. He seized his brother's body and the other man's and built them up into the parapet with sandbags, and went on shooting.
When the stress was over and he could leave off, he looked round and saw what he was leaning against. "Who did that?" he said. And they told him.
They get awfully sick at the big-print headlines in some of the papers—"The Hill 60 Thrill"!
"Thrill, indeed! There's nothing thrilling about ploughing over parapets into a machine-gun, with high explosives bursting round you,—it's merely beastly," said a boy this evening, who is all over shrapnel splinters.
Saturday, May 8th, 9 A.M.—This is Der Tag. Could anybody go to bed and undress?
I have been cutting dressings all night. One of the most stabbing things in this war is seeing the lines of empty motor ambulances going up to bring down the wrecks who at this moment are sound and fit, and all absolutely ready to be turned into wrecks.
10.30 P.M.—Der Tag was a wash-out, but it is to begin at 1.15 to-night. (It didn't!)
The tension is more up than ever. A boy who has just come in with a poisoned heel (broken-hearted because he is out of it, while his battalion moves up) says, "You'll be having them in in cartloads over this."
Sunday, May 9th, 1.30 A.M.—The Lions are roaring in full blast and lighting up the sky.
Have been busy to-night with an operation case who is needing a lot of special nursing, and some admissions—one in at 11 P.M., who was only wounded at 9 o'clock. I hope these magnificent roars and rumblings are making a mess of the barbed wire and German trenches. There seems to be a pretty general opinion that they will retaliate by dropping them into this place if they have time, and pulverising it like Ypres.
5.25 A.M.—It has begun. It is awful—continuous and earthquaking.
9.30 A.M.—In bed. The last ten minutes of "Rapid" did its damnedest and then began again, and we are still thundering hell into the German lines.
It began before 5 with a fearful pounding from the French on our right, and hasn't left off since.
Had a busy night with my operation case and the others (he is doing fine), and in every spare second getting ready for the rush. The M.O.'s were astir very early; the A.D.M.S. came to count empty beds. It is to-night they'll be coming in.
Must try and sleep. But who could yesterday and to-day?
Monday, May 10th, 9.30 A.M.—We have had a night of it. Every Field Ambulance, barge, Clearing Hospital, and train are blocked with them. The M.O.'s neither eat nor sleep. I got up early yesterday and went down to the barge to see if they wanted any extra help (as the other two were coping with the wounded officers), and had a grim afternoon and evening there. One M.O., no Sisters, four trained orderlies, and some other men were there. It was packed with all the worst cases—dying and bleeding and groaning. After five hours we had three-fourths of them out of their blood-soaked clothes, dressed, fed, haemorrhage stopped, hands and faces washed, and some asleep. Two died, and more were dying. They all worked like bricks. The M.O., and another from the other barge which hadn't filled up, sent up to the O.D.S., when my hour for night duty there came, to ask if I could stay, and got leave. At 11 P.M. four Sisters arrived (I don't know how—they'd been wired for), two for each barge; so I handed over to them and went to the O.D.S. to relieve the other two there for night duty. The place was unrecognisable: every corner of every floor filled with wounded officers—some sitting up and some all over wounds, and three dying and others critical; and they still kept coming in. They were all awfully good strewing about the floor—some soaked to the skin from wet shell holes—on their stretchers, waiting to be put to bed.
One had had "such a jolly Sunday afternoon" lying in a shell hole with six inches of water in it and a dead man, digging himself in deeper with his trench tool whenever the shells burst near him. He was hit in the stomach.
One officer saw the enemy through a periscope sniping at our wounded.
4 P.M.—In bed. It seems quiet to-day; there are so few guns to be heard, and not so many ambulances coming. All except the hopeless cases will have been evacuated by now from all the Field Hospitals. There was a block last night, and none could be sent on. The Clearing Hospitals were full, and no trains in.
Those four Sisters from the base had a weird arrival at the barge last night in a car at 11 P.M. It was a black dark night, big guns going, and a sudden descent down a ladder into that Nelson's cockpit. They were awfully bucked when we said, "Oh, I am glad you have come." They buckled to and set to work right off. The cook, who had been helping magnificently in the ward, was running after me with hot cocoa (breakfast was my last meal, except a cup of tea), and promised to give them some. One wounded of the Munsters there said he didn't mind nothink now,—he'd seen so many dead Germans as he never thought on. As always, they have lost thousands, but they come on like ants.
They have only had about seven new cases to-day at the O.D.S., but two of last night's have died. A Padre was with them.
They had no market this morning, for fear of bombs from aeroplanes. There's been no shelling into the town.
Tuesday, May 11th, 6.30 P.M.—In bed. I went to bed pretty tired this morning after an awful night (only a few of the less seriously wounded had been evacuated yesterday, and all the worst ones, of course, left), and slept like a top from 10.30 to 5, and feel as fit as anything after it.
The fighting seems to have stopped now, and no more have come in to-day. Last night a stiff muddy figure, all bandages and straw, on the stretcher was brought in. I asked the boy how many wounds? "Oh, only five," he said cheerfully. "Nice clean wounds,—machine-gun,—all in and out again!"
The Padre came at 7.30 and had a Celebration in each ward, but I was too busy to take any notice of it.
One of these officers was hit by a German shell on Sunday morning early, soon after our bombardment began. He crawled about till he was hit again twice by other shells, and then lay there all that day and all that night, with one drink from another wounded's water-bottle; every one else was either dead or wounded round him. Next morning his servant found him and got stretcher-bearers, and he got here.
I don't know how they live through that.
Wednesday, May 12th, 6.30 P.M.—Slept very well. I hear from Gabrielle that they have had a hard day at the O.D.S.; no new cases, but all the bad ones very ill.
My little room is crammed with enormous lilac, white and purple, from our wee garden, which I am going to take to our graves to-morrow in jam tins.
Thursday, May 13th, 11 A.M.—Can't face the graves to-day; have had an awful night; three died during the night. I found the boy who brought his officer in from between the German line and ours, on Sunday night, crying this morning over the still figure under a brown blanket on a stretcher.
Of the other two, brought straight in from the other dressing station, one only lived long enough to be put to bed, and the other died on his stretcher in the hall.
The O.C. said last night, "Now this War has come we've got to tackle it with our gloves off," but it takes some tackling. It seems so much nearer, and more murderous somehow in this Field Ambulance atmosphere even than it did on the train with all the successive hundreds.
We can see Notre Dame de Lorette from here; the Chapel and Fort stand high up in that flat maze of slag-heaps, mine-heads, and sugar-factories just behind the line on the right.
9 P.M., O.D.S.—Everything very quiet here.
A gunner just admitted says there will probably be another big bombardment to-morrow morning, and after that another attack, and after that I suppose some more for us.
Another says that the charge of the Black Watch on Sunday was a marvellous thing. They went into it playing the pipes! The Major who led it handed somebody his stick, as he "probably shouldn't want it again."
It is very wet to-night, but they go up to the trenches singing Ragtime, some song about "We are always—respected—wherever we go." And another about "Sing a song—a song with me. Come along—along with me."
11 P.M.—Just heard a shell burst, first the whistling scream, and then the bang—wonder where? There was another about an hour ago, but I didn't hear the whistle of that—only the bang. I shouldn't have known what the whistle was if I hadn't heard it at Braisne. It goes in a curve. All the men on the top floor have been sent down to sleep in the cellar; another shell has busted.
12.15.—Just had another, right overhead; all the patients are asleep, luckily.
1.30 P.M.—There was one more, near enough to make you jump, and a few more too far off to hear the whistling. A sleepy major has just waked up and said, "Did you hear the shells? Blackguards, aren't they?"
The sky on the battle line to-night is the weirdest sight; our guns are very busy, and they are making yellow flashes like huge sheets of summer lightning. Then the star-shells rise, burst, and light up a large area, while a big searchlight plays slowly on the clouds. It is all very beautiful when you don't think what it means.
Two more—the last very loud and close. It is somehow much more alarming than Braisne, perhaps because it is among buildings, and because one knows so much more what they mean.
Another—the other side of the building.
An ambulance has been called out, so some one must have been hit; I've lost count of how many they've dropped, but they could hardly fail to do some damage.
5 A.M.—Daylight—soaking wet, and no more shells since 2 A.M. We have admitted seven officers to-night; the last—just in—says there have been five people wounded in the town by this peppering—one killed. I don't know if civilians or soldiers.
That bombardment on Sunday morning was the biggest any one has ever heard,—more guns on smaller space, and more shells per minute.
Nine officers have "died of wounds" here since Sunday, and the tenth will not live to see daylight. There is an attack on to-night. This has been a ghastly week, and now it is beginning again.
The other two Sisters had quite a nasty time last night lying in bed, waiting for the shells to burst in their rooms. They do sound exactly as if they are coming your way and nowhere else!
I rather think they are dropping some in again to-night, but they are not close enough to hear the whistle, only the bangs.
There is an officer in to-night with a wound in the hand and shoulder from a shell which killed eleven of his men, and another who went to see four of his platoon in a house at the exact moment when a percussion shell went on the same errand; the whole house sat down, and the five were wounded—none killed.
Saturday, May 15th, 10 P.M.—Tension up again like last Saturday. Another TAG is happening to-morrow. Every one except three sick downstairs has been evacuated, and they have made accommodation for 1000 at the French Hospital, which is the 4th F.A. main dressing station, and headquarters. All officers, whether seriously or slightly wounded, are to be taken there to be dressed by the M.O.'s in the specially-arranged dressing-rooms, and then sent on to us to be put to bed and coped with.
Now we have got some French batteries of 75's in our lines to pound the earthworks which protect the enemy's buried machine-guns, which are the most murderous and deadly of all their clever arrangements, and to stop up the holes through which they are fired. We have also got more Divisions in it along the same front, and our heavy guns and all our batteries in better positions.
Some more regiments have been called up in a hurry, and empty ammunition-carts are galloping back already.
This morning I took some white lilac to the graves of our 12 officers who "died of wounds." Their names and regiments were on their crosses, and "Died of wounds.—F.A.," and R.I.P. It was better to see them like that Pro Patria than in those few awful days here.
10.30.—Just admitted a gunner suffering from shock alone—no wound—completely knocked out; he can't tell you his name, or stand, or even sit up, but just shivers and shudders. Now he is warm in bed, he can say "Thank you." I wonder what exactly did it.
The arrangements the — F.A. happen to have the use of at the French Hospital, with its up-to-date modern operating theatre for tackling the wounds in a strictly aseptic and scientific way within a few hours of the men being hit, are a tremendous help.
Certainly the ones who pass through No.— get a better chance of early recovery without long complications than most of those we got on the train. And while they are awaiting evacuation to the Clearing Hospitals they have every chance, both here and at the French Hospital, where all the trained orderlies except two are on duty, and practically all the M.O.'s. But, of course, there are a great many of the seriously wounded that no amount of aseptic and skilled surgery or nursing can save.
Sunday, 11.30 A.M. May 16th.—They began coming in at 3.30, and by 8 A.M. the place was full to bursting. We managed to get all the stretcher cases to bed, and as many of the others as we had beds for, without sending for the other two Sisters, who came on at 8.15, and are now coping. Most of them were very cheery, because things seem to be going well. Two lines of trenches taken, all the wire cut, and some of the earthworks down; but it is always an expensive business even when successful—only then nobody minds the expense. There are hundreds more to come in, and the seriously wounded generally get brought in last, because they can't get up and run, but have to hide in trenches and shell holes. One man, wounded on Sunday and found on Friday night, had kept himself alive on dead men's emergency rations. They were all sopping wet with blood or mud or both.
The —— lost heavily. I heard one officer say, "They drove us back five times."
After breakfast I went to the Cathedral, and then boldly bearded the big dressing station at the French Hospital, where all the dressings are done and the men evacuated, armed with a huge linen bag of cigarettes, chocolate, and writing-cases which came last night. I met the C.O., who said I could have a look round, and then rowed me for not being in bed, and said we should be busy to-night and for some time. It was very interesting, and if you brought your reason to bear on it, not too horrible.
Every corridor, waiting-room, ward, and passage was filled with them, the stretchers waiting their turn on the floors, and the walking cases (which on the A.T. we used to call the sitting-ups) in groups and queues. No one was fussing, but all were working at full pitch; and very few of the men were groaning, but nearly all were gruesomely covered with blood. And they look pretty awful on the bare gory stretchers, with no pillows or blankets, just as they are picked up on the field. Many are asleep from exhaustion.
What cheered me was one ward full of last Sunday's bad cases, all in bed, and very cheery and doing well. They loved the writing-cases, &c., and said it was like Xmas, and they wouldn't want to leave 'ere now.
A great many of this morning's had already been evacuated, and they were still pouring in. One has to remember that a great many get quite well, though many have a ghastly time in store for them in hospital.
The barge is in the canal again taking in the non-jolters.
Some stalwart young Tommies at No. 4 were talking about the prisoners. They told me there weren't many taken, because they found one in a Jock's uniform.
I've drawn my curtain so that I can't see those hateful motor ambulances coming in slowly full, and going back empty fast, and must go to sleep. I simply loathe the sight of those M.A.'s, admirable inventions though they are. Had a look into a lovely lorry full of 100-lb. shells in the square.
7 P.M.—Only one officer has died at the O.D.S. to-day, but there are two or three who will die. They have evacuated, and filled up three times already.
The news from the "scene of operations" is still good, so they are all still cheerful. The difference to the wounded that makes is extraordinary. That is why last Sunday's show was such a black blight to them and to us.
Monday, May 17th, 10 A.M.—Another night of horrors; one more died, and two young boys came in who will die; one is a Gordon Highlander of 18, who says "that's glorious" when you put him to bed.
It was a long whirl of stretchers, and pitiful heaps on them. The sergeant stayed up helping till 3, and a boy from the kitchen stayed up all night on his own, helping.
In the middle of the worst rush the sergeant said to me, "You know they're shelling the town again?" and at that minute swoop bang came a big one; and we looked at each other over the stretcher with the same picture in our mind's eyes of shells dropping in amongst the wounded, who are all over the town. I hadn't heard them—too busy—but they didn't go on long.
The Boches have been heavily shelling our trenches all day.
One boy said suddenly, when I was attending to his leg, "Aren't you very foolish to be staying up here?" "Oh, sorry," he said; "I was dreaming you were in the front line of trenches bandaging people up!"
Our big guns have been making the building shake all night. The Germans are trying to get their trenches back by counter-attacking.
Tuesday, May 18th, is it? 1 A.M., in bed.—It has been about the worst night of all the worst nights. I found the wards packed with bad cases, the boy of 18 dead, and the other boy died half an hour after I came on. Two more died during the night, two lots were evacuated, and had to be dug out of their fixings-up in bed and settled on stretchers, and all night they brought fresh ones in, drenched and soaked with clayey mud in spadefuls, and clammy with cold.
Wednesday, May 19th, 12 noon.—Mr —— has been working at No.— at full pitch for twenty-four hours on end, and had just got into bed when they sent for him there again. They are all nearly dead, and so are the orderlies at both places; but they never dream of grousing or shirking, as they know there's not another man to be had.
Two more officers died last night, and three more were dying.
The Padre came and had a Celebration in my ward. Three R.A.M.C. officers are in badly wounded. They are extraordinarily good.
Friday, 21st May, 3 A.M.—Last night the rush began to abate; no one died, and only one came in—a general smash-up; he died to-night, and a very dear boy died to-day. I've lost count now of how many have died,—I think about twenty-four.
The Guards' Brigade here went by to-night from the trenches to rest, singing "Here we are again," and the song about "The girls declare I am a funny man!"
11 A.M.—The little Canadian Sister has just been recalled, I'm sorry to say, but probably we shall get another one. Five Canadian officers came in last night. The guns are making the dickens of a noise, very loud and sudden. Yesterday they shelled the town again, and two more soldats anglais were wounded.
Saturday, May 22nd, 6.30 A.M.—Things have been happening at a great pace since the above, and we are now in our camp-beds in an empty attic at the top of an old chateau about three miles back, which is No.— C.H., at ——.
Just as I was thinking of getting up yesterday evening they began putting shells over into the town, and soon they were raining in three at a time. My little room here is a sort of lean-to over the kitchen with no room above it; so I cleared out to dress in one of the others, and didn't stop to wash. Gabrielle came running up to fetch me downstairs. At the hospital, which was only about 200 yards down the road, the wounded officers were thinking it was about time Capt. —— moved his Field Ambulance. One boy by the window had got some debris in his eye from the nearest shell, which burst in my blackbird's garden, or rather on the doorstep opposite. (That was the one that got me out of bed rather rapidly.) The orders soon came to evacuate all the patients. At the French Hospital, about six minutes away, three wounded had been hit in a M.A. coming in, and the Officers' Mess had one (none of them were in), and they were dropping all round it. Then the order came from the D.D.M.S. to the A.D.M.S. to evacuate the whole of the —th, —th, and —th Field Ambulances, and within about two hours this was done.
Everybody got the patients ready, fixed up their dressings and splints, gave them all morphia, and got them on to their stretchers.
The evacuation was jolly well done; their servants appeared by magic, each with every spot of kit and belongings his officer came in with (they are in all cases checked by the Sergeant on admission, no matter what the rush is), and the place was empty in an hour. The din of our guns, which were bombarding heavily, and the German guns, which are bombarding us at a great pace, and the whistle and bang of the shells that came over while this was going on, was a din to remember.
Then we went back to our billet to hurl our belongings into our baggage, and came away with the A.D.M.S. and his Staff-Major in their two touring-cars. The Division is back resting somewhere near here. We got to bed about 2 A.M. after tea and bread and butter downstairs, but slept very little owing to the noise of the guns, which shake and rattle the windows every minute.
We don't know what happens next.
At about four this morning I heard a nightingale trilling in the garden.
2 P.M.—In the Chateau garden. It is a glorious spot, with kitchen garden, park, moat bridge, and a huge wilderness up-and-down plantation round it, full of lilac, copper beeches, and flowering trees I've never seen before, and birds and butterflies and buttercups. You look across and see the red-brick Chateau surrounded by thick lines of tents, and hear the everlasting incessant thudding and banging of the guns, and realise that it is not a French country house but a Casualty Clearing Hospital, with empty—once polished—floors filled with stretchers, where the worst cases still are, and some left empty for the incoming convoys. Over two thousand have passed through since Sunday week. The contrast between the shady garden where I'm lazing now on rugs and cushions, with innumerable birds, including a nightingale, singing and nesting, and the nerve-racking sound of the guns and the look of the place inside, is overwhelming. It is in three Divisions—the house for the worst cases—and there are tent Sections and the straw-sheds and two schools in the village. We had our lunch at a sort of inn in the village. I've never hated the sound of the guns so much; they are almost unbearable.
It is a good thing for us to have this sudden rest. I don't know for how long or what happens next.
The General of the Division had a narrow escape after we left last night. The roof of his house was blown off, just at the time he would have been there, only he was a little late, but an officer was killed; six shells came into the garden, and the seventh burst at his feet and killed him as he was standing at the door. I'm glad they got the wounded away in time. Aeroplanes are buzzing overhead. The Aerodrome is here, French monoplanes chiefly as far as one can see.
10 P.M., in bed.—We have now been temporarily attached to the Staff here.
Miss —— has given me charge of the Tent Section, which can take eighty lying down.
Whitsunday, 1915.—In bed—in my tent, not a bell, but an Indian tent big enough for two comfortably. I share with S——. We have nothing but the camp furniture we took out, but will acquire a few Red Cross boxes as cupboards to-morrow. It is a peerless night with a young moon and a soft wind, frogs croaking, guns banging, and a nightingale trilling.
It has been a funny day, dazzling sun, very few patients.
Whit-Monday.—Very few in to-day again. I have only six, and am making the most of the chance of a rest in the garden; one doesn't realise till after a rush how useful a rest can be. There has been a fearful bombardment going on all last night and yesterday and to-day; it is a continual roar, and in the night is maddening to listen to; you can't forget the war. Mosquitoes, nightingales, frogs, and two horses also helped to make the night interesting.
8.30 P.M.—Waiting for supper. Wounded have been coming in, and we've had a busy afternoon and evening.
Wednesday, May 26th.—No time to write yesterday; had a typical Clearing Hospital Field Day. The left-out-in-the-field wounded (mostly Canadians) had at last been picked up and came pouring in. I had my Tent Section of eighty beds nearly full, and we coped in a broiling sun till we sweltered into little spots of grease, finishing up with five operations in the little operating tent.
The poor exhausted Canadians were extraordinarily brave and uncomplaining. They are evacuated the same day or the next morning, such as can be got away to survive the journey, but some of the worst have to stay.
In the middle of it all at 5 P.M. orders came for me to join No.— Ambulance Train for duty, but I didn't leave till this morning at nine, and am now on No.— A.T. on way down to old Boulogne again.
Later.—These orders were afterwards cancelled, and I am for duty at a Base Hospital.
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