September 15, 1914, to October 11, 1914
"No easy hopes or lies
Shall bring us to our goal,
But iron sacrifice
Of body, will, and soul.
There is but one task for all—
For each one life to give,
Who stands if freedom fall?
Who dies if England live?"
September 15, 1914, to October 11, 1914.
Station duty—On train duty—Orders again—Waiting to go—Still at Le Mans—No.— Stationary Hospital—Off at last—The Swindon of France.
Tuesday, September 15th.—The train managed to reach Le Mans at 1 a.m. this morning, and kindly shunted into a siding in the station till 6.30 a.m., so we got out our blankets and had a bit of a sleep. At 7 a motor ambulance took us up to No.— Stationary Hospital, which is a rather grimy Bishop's Palace, pretty full and busy. The Sisters there gave us tea and biscuits, and we were then sorted out by the Senior Matron, and billeted singly. I'm in a nice little house with a garden with an old French lady who hasn't a word of English, and fell on my neck when she found I could understand her, and patter glibly and atrociously back. My little room has a big window over the garden, and will, I suppose, be my headquarters for the present in between train and station duty, which I believe is to be our lot. We go to a rather dim café for meals, and shall then learn what the duty is to be. It is yet a long time coming. We haven't had a meal since the day before yesterday, so I shall be glad when 12 o'clock comes. Now for a wash.
Wednesday, September 16th.—Still here: only four of the twenty-five (five sets of five) who formed our unit have been found jobs so far: two are taking a train of sick down to St Nazaire, and two have joined No.— Stationary Hospital in the town. We still await orders! This is a first-class War for awaiting orders for some of us.
Yesterday it poured all day. We explored the Cathedral, which is absolutely beautiful, perched high up over an open space—now crowded with transport and motor ambulances. We made tea in my quarters, and then explored the town; narrow streets thronged with Tommies as usual.
We have lunch at eleven and dinner at seven, at a dingy little inn through a smelly back yard; there is not much to eat, and you fill up with rather nasty bread and unripe pears, and drink a sort of flat cider, as the water is not good.
To-day it is sunny again. I have just been to High Mass (Choral), and taken photos of the Cathedral and the Market below, where I got four ripe peaches for 1-1/2d.
Writing in the garden of Mme. Bontevin, my landlady.
There is any amount of work here at the Bishop's Palace; more than they can get through on night duty with bad cases, and another Jesuit College has been opened as No.— Stationary. Went up to No.— S. this afternoon where F—— has been sent, to see her; she asked me to go out and buy cakes for six wounded officers. They seemed highly pleased with them; they are on beds, the men on stretchers; all in holland sheets and brown blankets; only bare necessaries, as the Stationary Hospitals have to be very mobile: stretchers make very decent beds, but they are difficult for nursing.
They have had a good many deaths, surgical and medical, at L'Evêché; they have pneumonias, and paralysis, and septic wounds, and an officer shot through the head, with a temperature of 106 and paralysis; there is a civil surgeon with a leg for amputation at No.— Stationary.
Friday, September 18th.—Même chose. We go up to the Hospital and ask for orders, and to-night we were both told to get into ward uniform in the morning, and wait there in case a job turns up. I've just come to-night from No.— Station where F—— is, to take her some things she asked me to get for her officers.
They have been busy at the station to-day doing dressings on the trains. A lot have come down from this fighting on the Marne.
Yesterday I think one touched the bottom of this waiting business. The food at the dingy inn has dérangé my inside, and I lay down all day yesterday. The Sergeant at the Dispensary prescribed lead and opium pills for me when I asked for chlorodyne, as he said he'd just cured a General with the same complaint—from the sour bread, he said. Fanny, the fat cook here, and Isabel the maid, were overcome with anxiety over my troubles, and fell over each other with hot bottles, and drinks, and advice. They are perfect angels. Madame Bontevin pays me a state call once a day; she has to have all the windows shut, and we sit close and converse with animation. Flowery French compliments simply fly between us. We often have to help the Tommies out with their shopping; their attempts to buy Beecham's Pills are the funniest.
This afternoon I found 'The Times' of September 15th (Tuesday of this week) in a shop and had a happy time with it. It referred, in a Frenchman's letter, to a sunset at Havre on an evening that he would never forget—nor shall I—with an American cruiser and a troopship going out. (See page 24 of this effusion.)
Saturday, September 19th.—It seems that we five No.—s who came up last Monday are being kept to staff another Stationary Hospital farther up, when it is ready; at least that is what it looks like from sundry rumours—if so—good enough.
We have been all day in caps and aprons at L'Evêché, marking linen and waiting for orders on the big staircase. I've also been over both hospitals. The bad cases all seem to be dropped here off the trains; there are some awful mouth, jaw, head, leg, and spine cases, who can't recover, or will only be crippled wrecks. You can't realise that it has all been done on purpose, and that none of them are accidents or surgical diseases. And they seem all to take it as a matter of course; the bad ones who are conscious don't speak, and the better ones are all jolly and smiling, and ready "to have another smack." One little room had two wounded German prisoners, with an armed guard. One who was shot through the spine died while I was there—his orderly and the Sister were with him. The other is a spy—nearly well—who has to be very carefully watched.
They are all a long time between the field and the Hospital. One told me he was wounded on Tuesday—was one day in a hospital, and then travelling till to-day, Saturday. No wonder their wounds are full of straw and grass. (Haven't heard of any more tetanus.) Most haven't had their clothes off, or washed, for three weeks, except face and hands.
No war news to-day, except that the Germans are well fortified and entrenched in their positions N. of Rheims.
Sunday, September 20th.—Began with early service at the Jesuit School Hospital at 6.30, and the rest of the day one will never forget. The fighting for these concrete entrenched positions of the Germans behind Rheims has been so terrific since last Sunday that the number of casualties has been enormous. Three trains full of wounded, numbering altogether 1175 cases, have been dressed at the station to-day; we were sent down at 11 this morning. The train I was put to had 510 cases. You boarded a cattle-truck, armed with a tray of dressings and a pail; the men were lying on straw; had been in trains for several days; most had only been dressed once, and many were gangrenous. If you found one urgently needed amputation or operation, or was likely to die, you called an M.O. to have him taken off the train for Hospital. No one grumbled or made any fuss. Then you joined the throng in the dressing-station, and for hours doctors of all ranks, Sisters and orderlies, grappled with the stream of stretchers, and limping, staggering, bearded, dirty, fagged men, and ticketed them off for the motor ambulances to the Hospitals, or back to the train, after dressing them. The platform was soon packed with stretchers with all the bad cases waiting patiently to be taken to Hospital. We cut off the silk vest of a dirty, brigandish-looking officer, nearly finished with a wound through his lung. The Black Watch and Camerons were almost unrecognisable in their rags. The staple dressing is tincture of iodine; you don't attempt anything but swabbing with lysol, and then gauze dipped in iodine. They were nearly all shrapnel shell wounds—more ghastly than anything I have ever seen or smelt; the Mauser wounds of the Boer War were pin-pricks compared with them. There was also a huge train of French wounded being dressed on the other side of the station, including lots of weird, gaily-bedecked Zouaves.
There was no real confusion about the whole day, owing to the good organising of the No.— Clearing Hospital people who run it. Every man was fed, and dressed and sorted. They'll have a heavy time at the two hospitals to-night with the cases sent up from the trains.
M. and I are now—9 p.m.—in charge of a train of 141 (with an M.O. and two orderlies) for St Nazaire; we jump out at the stations and see to them, and the orderlies and the people on the stations feed them: we have the worst cases next to us. We may get there some time to-morrow morning, and when they are taken off, we train back, arriving probably on Wednesday at Le Mans. The lot on this train are the best leavings of to-day's trains,—a marvellously cheery lot, munching bread and jam and their small share of hot tea, and blankets have just been issued. We ourselves have a rug, and a ration of bread, tea, and jam; we had dinner on the station.
When I think of your Red Cross practices on boy scouts, and the grim reality, it makes one wonder. And the biggest wonder of it all is the grit there is in them, and the price they are individually and unquestioningly paying for doing their bit in this War.
Monday, September 21st.—In train on way back to Le Mans from St Nazaire. We did the journey in twelve hours, and arrived at 9 this morning, which was very good, considering the congestion on the line. In the middle of the night we pulled up alongside an immense troop train, taking a whole Brigade of D. of Cornwall's L.I. up to the front, such a contrast to our load coming away from the front. Our lot will be a long time getting to bed; the Medical Officers at St N. told us there were already two trains in, and no beds left on hospitals or ships, and 1300 more expected to-day; four died in one of the trains; ours were pretty well, after the indescribable filth and fug of the train all night; it was not an ambulance train, but trucks and ordinary carriages. The men say there are hardly any officers left in many regiments. There has never been this kind of rush to be coped with anywhere, but the Germans must be having worse. We had thirteen German prisoners tacked on to us with a guard of the London Scottish, the first Territorials to come out, bursting with health and pride and keenness. They are not in the fighting line yet, but are used as escorts for the G.P. among other jobs. One of the men on our train had had his shoulder laid open for six inches by a shell, where he couldn't see the wound. He asked me if it was a bullet wound! He himself thought it was too large for that, and might be shrapnel! He hadn't mentioned it all night.
We had some dressings to be done again this morning, and then left them in charge of the M.O. and two orderlies, and went to report ourselves to the A.D.M.S. and get a warrant for the return journey. We shall get in to Le Mans somewhere about midnight. I'm not a bit tired, strange to say; we got a few rests in the night, but couldn't sleep.
Tuesday, September 22nd.—Got back to Le Mans at 2 a.m.—motor-ambulanced up to the hospital, where an orderly made lovely beds for us on stretchers, with brown blankets and pillows, in the theatre, and labelled the door "Operation," in case any one should disturb us. At 6 we went to our respective diggings for a wash and breakfast, and reported to Matron at 8. We have been two days and two nights in our clothes; food where, when, and what one could get; one wash only on a station platform at a tap which a sergeant kindly pressed for me while I washed! one cleaning of teeth in the dark on the line between trucks. They have no water on trains or at stations, except on the engine, which makes tea in cans for you for the men when it stops.
We are to rest to-day, to be ready for another train to-night if necessary. The line from the front to Rouen—where there are two General Hospitals—is cut; hence this appalling over-crowding at our base. When we got back this morning, nine of those we took off the trains on Sunday afternoon had died here, and one before he reached the hospital—three of tetanus. I haven't heard how many at the other hospital at the Jesuit school—tetanus there too. Some of the amputations die of septic absorption and shock, and you wouldn't wonder if you saw them. I went to the 9 o'clock Choral High Mass this morning at that glorious and beautiful Cathedral—all gorgeous old glass and white and grey stone, slender Gothic and fat Norman. It was very fine and comforting.
The sick officers are frightfully pleased to see 'The Times,' no matter how old; so are we. I've asked M. to collect their 1/2d. picture daily papers once a week for the men.
Wednesday, September 23rd.—Have been helping in the wards at No.— to-day. The Sisters and orderlies there have all about twice what they can get through—the big dressings are so appalling and new cases have been coming in—all stretcher cases. As soon as they begin to recover at all they are sent down to the base to make room for worse ones off the trains. To-morrow I am on station duty again—possibly for another train.
There is a rumour that three British cruisers have been sunk by a submarine—it can't be true.
I don't see why this battle along the French frontier should ever come to an end, at any rate till both armies are exhausted, and decide to go to bed. The men say we can't spot their guns—they are too well hidden in these concrete entrenchments.
The weather is absolutely glorious all day, and the stars all night. Orion, with his shining bodyguard, from Sirius to Capella, is blazing every morning at 4.
Thursday, September 24th, 3 p.m.—Taking 480 sick and wounded down to St Nazaire, with a junior staff nurse, one M.O., and two orderlies. Just been feeding them all at Angers; it is a stupendous business. The train is miles long—not corridor or ambulance; they have straw to lie on the floors and stretchers. The M.O. has been two nights in the train already on his way down from the front (four miles from the guns), and we joined on to him with a lot of hospital cases sent down to the base. I've been collecting the worst ones into carriages near ours all the way down when we stop; but of course you miss a good many. Got my haversack lined with jaconet and filled with cut-dressings, very convenient, as you have both hands free. We continually stop at little stations, so you can get to a good many of them, and we get quite expert at clawing along the footboards; some of the men, with their eyes, noses, or jaws shattered, are so extraordinarily good and uncomplaining. Got hold of a spout-feeder and some tubing at Angers for a boy in the Grenadier Guards, with a gaping hole through his mouth to his chin, who can't eat, and cannot otherwise drink. The French people bring coffee, fruit, and all sorts of things to them when we stop.
We shall have to wait at St Nazaire all day, and come back by night to-morrow.
One swanky Ambulance Train carries four permanent Sisters to the front to fetch cases to Le Mans and the Base. They go to Villeneuve. They say the country is deserted, crops left to waste, houses empty, and when you get there no one smiles or speaks, but listens to the guns. The men seem to think the Germans have got our range, but we haven't found theirs. The number of casualties must be nearly into five figures this last battle alone; and when you think of the Russians, the Germans, the French, the Austrians, and the Belgians all like that, the whole convulsion seems more meaningless than ever for civilised nations.
This is in scraps, owing to the calls of duty. The beggars simply swarm out of the train at every stop—if they can limp or pull up by one arm—to get the fruit and things from the French.
Friday, September 25th.—In train back to Le Mans, 9 p.m. We landed our tired, stiff, painful convoy at St Nazaire at 8.45 yesterday evening. The M.O.'s there told us our lot made 1800 that had come down since early morning; one load of bad cases took eight hours to unload. The officers all seemed depressed and overworked, and they were having a very tight fit to get beds for them at the various hospitals at St Nazaire. At about 10 p.m. the last were taken off by the motor ambulances, and we got some dinner on the station with our Civil Surgeon, who was looking forward to a night in a tent out of a train.
The R.T.O. found us an empty 1st class carriage in the station to sleep in, and the sergeant found us a candle and matches and put us to bed, after a sketchy wash provided by the buffet lady.
The din was continuous all night, so one didn't sleep much, but had a decent rest (and a flea). The sergeant called us at 6.30, and we had another sketchy wash, and coffee and rolls and jam at the buffet. Then we found our way to the hospital ship Carisbrook Castle. The Army Sister in charge was most awfully kind, showed us over, made the steward turn on hot baths for us, provided notepaper, kept us to lunch—the nicest meal we've seen for weeks! The ship had 500 cases on board, and was taking 200 more—many wounded officers.
A captain of the —— told me all his adventures from the moment he was hit till now. His regiment had nine officers killed and twenty-seven wounded. He said they knew things weren't going well in that retreat, but they never knew how critical it was at the time.
After lunch, we took our grateful leave and went to the A.D.M.S.'s office for our return warrants for the R.T.O. (I have just had to sign it for fourteen, as senior officer of our two selves and twelve A.S.C. men taking two trucks of stores, who have no officer with them!) There we heard that ten of our No.— Sisters were ordered to Nantes for duty by the 4.28, so we hied back to the station to meet them and see them off. They were all frightfully glad to be on the move at last, and we had a great meeting. The rest are still bathing at La Baule and cursing their luck.
While we were getting some coffee in the only patisserie in the dirty little town, seven burly officer boys of the Black Watch came in to buy cakes for the train, they said, to-night. They were nearly all second lieutenants, one captain, and were so excited at going up to the Front they couldn't keep still. They asked us eagerly if we'd had many of "our regiment" wounded, and how many casualties were there, and how was the fighting going, and how long would the journey take. (The nearer you get to the Front the longer it takes, as trains are always having to shunt and go round loops to make room for supply trains.) They didn't seem to have the dimmest idea what they're in for, bless them. They are on this train in the next carriage.
The Padre told me he was the only one at St Nazaire for all the hospitals and all the troops in camp (15,000 in one camp alone).
He had commandeered the Bishop of Khartoum to help him, and another bishop, who both happen to be here.
We are now going to turn out the light, and hope for the best till they come to look at the warrant or turn us out to change.
6 a.m.—At Sablé at 4 a.m. we were turned out for two hours; a wee open station. Mr —— and our Civil Surgeon were most awfully decent to us: turned a sleepy official out of a room for us, and at 5 came and dug us out to have coffee and brioches with them. Then we went for a sunrise walk round the village, and were finally dragged into their carriage, as they thought it was more comfortable than ours. Just passed a big French ambulance train full from Compiègne.
At Le Mans the train broke up again, and everybody got out. We motor-ambulanced up to the Hospital with the three night Sisters coming off station duty. Matron wanted us to go to bed for the day; but we asked to come on after lunch, as they were busy and we weren't overtired. I'm realising to-night that I have been on the train four nights out of six, and bed is bliss at this moment.
I was sent to No.— Stationary at the Jesuits' College to take over the officers at one o'clock.
One was an angelic gunner boy with a septic leg and an undaunted smile, except when I dressed his leg and he said "Oh, damn!" The other bad one was wounded in the shoulder. They kept me busy till Sister —— came back, and then I went to my beloved Cathedral (and vergered some Highland Tommies round it, they had fits of awe and joy over it, and grieved over "Reems"). It is awfully hard to make these sick officers comfortable, with no sheets or pillow-cases, no air ring-cushions, pricky shirts, thick cups without saucers, &c. One longs for the medical comforts of ——
I hear to-night that Miss ——, the Principal Matron on the Lines of Communication (on the War Establishment Staff) is here again, and may have a new destination for some of us details.
The heading in 'Le Matin' to-night is:—
UNE LUTTE ACHARNÉE
DE LA SOMME A LA MEUSE
LA BATAILLE REDOUBLE DE VIOLENCE
If it redoubles de violence much longer who will be left?
Sunday, September 27th.—My luck is in this time. Miss —— has just sent for me to tell me I am for permanent duty on No.— Ambulance Train (equipped) which goes up to the Front, to the nearest point on the rail to the fighting line. Did you ever know such luck? There are four of us, one Army Sister and me and two juniors; we live altogether on the train. The train will always be pushed up as near the Field Hospitals as the line gets to, whether we drive the Germans back to Berlin or they drive us into the sea. It is now going to Braisne, a little east of Soissons, just S. of the Aisne, N.E. of Rheims. It is on its way up now, and we are to join it with our baggage when it stops here on the way to St Nazaire. We shall have two days and two nights with wounded, and two days and two nights to rest on the return empty. The work itself will be of the grimmest possible, as we shall have all the worst cases, being an equipped Hospital in a train. It was worth waiting five weeks to get this; every man or woman stuck at the Base has dreams of getting to the Front, but only one in a hundred gets the dream fulfilled.
There is no doubt that "the horrors of War" have outdone themselves by this modern perfection of machinery killing, and the numbers involved, as they have never done before, and as it was known they would. The details are often unprintable. They have eight cases of tetanus at No.— Stationary, and five have died.
All the patients at No.— have been inoculated against tetanus to-day. They have it in the French Hospitals too.
Went to the Voluntary Evening Service for the troops at the theatre at 5. The Padres and a Union Jack and the Allies' Flags; and a piano on the stage; officers and sisters in the stalls; and the rest packed tight with men: they were very reverent, and nearly took the roof off in the Hymns, Creed, and Lord's Prayer. Excellent sermon. We had the War Intercessions and a good prayer I didn't know, ending with "Strengthen us in life, and comfort us in death." The men looked what they were, British to the bone; no one could take them for any other nation a mile off. Clean, straight, thin, sunburnt, clear-eyed, all at their Active Service best, no pallid rolls of fat on their faces like the French. The man who preached must have liked talking to them in that pin-dropped silence and attention; he evidently knows his opportunities.
Monday, September 28th.—There are hundreds of people in deep new black in this town; what must it be in Berlin? The cemetery here is getting full of French and British soldiers' graves. Those 1200 sailors from the three cruisers had fine clean quick deaths compared to what happens here.
We have got our baggage (kit-bags and holdalls) down to the station at the Red Cross Anglaise, and are sitting in our quarters waiting for the word to come that No.— train is in. Met Miss —— in her car in the town, and she said that it was just possible that the train might go down to Havre this journey, she wasn't dead sure it was doing this route! If so we shall be nicely and completely sold, as I don't know how we should ever join it. But I'm not going to believe in such bad luck as that would be till it happens.
Tuesday, September 29th.—We were sold last night after all. Trailed down to the station to await the train according to orders, and were then told by the A.D.M.S. that it had gone to Havre this journey, and couldn't be on this line till next week, and we could go to bed. So after all the embraces of Mme. and Fanny and Isabel, I turned up at 10.30 to ask for a bed. "Ma pauvre demoiselle," said fat F., hastening to let me in.
This morning Miss —— came down with us to the A.D.M.S.'s Office to find out how we could join the train, and he said: "Wait till it comes in next week, and meanwhile go on duty at the Hospital." I don't mind anything as long as we do eventually get on to the train, and we are to do that, so one must possess one's soul in patience. I am back with the sick officers at No.— Stationary.
There are rumours to-night of bad news from the front, and that the German Navy is emerging from Kiel.
Wednesday, September 30th.—Have been doing the sick officers all day (or rather wounded). They are quite nice, but the lack of equipment makes twice the work. We are still having bright sunny days, but it is getting cold, and I shall be glad of warmer clothes. The food at the still filthy Inn in a dark outhouse through the back yard has improved a little! My Madame (in my billet) gives me coffee and bread and butter (of the best) at 7, and there is a ration tin of jam, and I have acquired a pot of honey.
On duty at 7.30 a.m.—At 12 or 1 we go to the Inn for déjeûner: meat of some sort, one vegetable, bread, butter, and cheese, and pears. Tea we provide ourselves when we can.
At 7 or 8 we go to the Inn and have pôtage (which is warm water with a few stray onions or carrots in it), and tough cold meat, and sometimes a piece of pastry (for pudding), bread, butter, and cheese, and a very small cup of coffee, and little, rather hard pears. I am very well on it now since they changed the bread, though pretty tired.
Thursday, October 1st.—The sky in Mid France on October 1st is of a blue that outblues the bluest that June or any other month can do in l'Angleterre. It is cold in the early mornings and evenings, dazzling all day, and shining moon by night.
The H.A.C. are all over the town: they do orderly duty at Headquarters and all the Offices; they seem to be gentlemen in Tommy's kit; fine big lot they are. Taking it all round, the Regular British Army on Active Service—from hoary, beribboned Generals, decorated Staff Officers of all ranks, other officers, and N.C.O.'s down to the humblest Tommy—is the politest and best-mannered thing I have ever met, with few exceptions. Wherever you are, or go, or have to wait, they come and ask if they can do anything for you, generally with an engaging smile seize your hand-baggage, offer you chairs and see you through generally. And the men and N.C.O.'s are just the same, and always awfully grateful if you can help them out with the language in any way.
This was a conversation I heard in my ward to-day. Brother of Captain —— (wounded) visits the amputation man, and, by way of cheering him up, sits down, gazes at his ugly bandaged stump on a pillow, and says—
"That must be the devil."
"Yes, it is," says the leg man.
"Hell," says the other, and then they both seemed to feel better and began to talk of something else.
We had a funeral of an Orderly and a German from No.— Sta. (both tetanus). On grey transport waggons with big black horses, wreaths from the Orderlies, carried by a big R.A.M.C. escort (which, of course, escorted the German too), with Officers and Padre and two Sisters.
Friday, October 2nd.—They continue to die every day and night at both Hospitals, though we are taking few new cases in now.
I am frightfully attached to Le Mans as a place. The town is old and curly, and full of lovely corners and "Places," and views and Avenues and Gardens. The Cathedral grows more and more upon one; I have several special spots where you get the most exquisite poems of colour and stone, where I go and browse; it is very quiet and beautifully kept.
No.— Sta. is also set in a jewel of a spot. A Jesuits' College, full of cloisters covered with vines, and lawns with silver statues, shady avenues and sunny gardens, long corridors and big halls which are the wards; the cook-house is a camp under a splendid row of big chestnut trees, and there is of course a chapel.
Our occupation of it is rather incongruous; there is practically no furniture except the boys' beds, some chairs, many crucifixes and statues, terribly primitive sanitary arrangements and water supply. We have to boil our instruments and make their tea in the same one saucepan in the Officers' Ward; you do without dusters, dishcloths, soap-dishes, pillow-cases, and many other necessities in peace time.
My little Train-Junior has been taken off that job and is to rejoin her unit, so I settled down to a prospect of the same fate (No.— G.H. is at Havre again! and has still not yet done any work! so you see what I've been rescued from). I met Miss —— to-night and asked her, and she says I am going on the train when it comes in, so I breathe again.
Tuesday, October 6th.—I am now dividing my time between the top floor of Tommies and five Germans and the Officers' Ward, where I relieve S. —— for meals and off duty. There are some bad dressings in the top ward. The five Germans are quiet, fat, and amenable, glad to exchange a few remarks in their own language. I haven't had time to try and talk to them, but will if I can; two of them are very badly wounded. Some of the medical Tommies make the most of very small ailments, but the surgicals are wonderful boys.
Wednesday, October 7th.—I have been down to the station this evening; heard that St Nazaire is being given up as a base, which means that no more ambulance trains will come through.
The five Germans in my ward told me this morning that only the Reichstag and the Kaiser wanted the War; that Russia began it, so Deutschland mussen; that Deutschland couldn't win against Russia, France, England, Belgium, and Japan; and that there were no more men in Germany to replace the killed. They smiled peacefully at the prospect and said it was ganz gut to be going to England. They have fat, pink, ruminating, innocent, fair faces, and are very obedient. I made one of them scrub the floor, as the Orderly had a bad arm from inoculation, and he seemed to enjoy it. Only one is married.
Thursday, October 8th.—There was a very picturesque and rather touching scene at No.— this afternoon. They had a concert in the open quadrangle, with vined cloisters on all four sides, and holy statues and crucifixes about. In the middle were the audience—rows of stretchers with contented Tommies smoking and enjoying it (some up in their grey-blue pyjamas), and many Orderlies, some Sisters and M.O.'s and French priests; the piano on a platform at one end.
Friday, October 9th.—My compound fractured femur man told me how he stopped his bullet. Some wounded Germans held up the white flag and he went to them to help them. When he was within seven yards, the man he was going to help shot him in the thigh. A Coldstream Guardsman with him then split the German's head open with the butt-end of his rifle. The wounded Tommy was eventually taken to the château of the "lidy what killed the Editor somewhere in this country."
Saturday, October 10th.—"Orders by Lt.-Col. ——, R.A.M.C., A.D.M.S., Advanced Base Headquarters, October 10th, 1914. Sister —— will proceed to Villeneuve Triage to-day, and on arrival will report to Major ——, R.A.M.C, for duty on Ambulance Trains."
So it's come at last, and I have handed over my officers, and am now installed by the R.T.O. in a 1st class carriage to myself with all my kit, and my lovely coat and muffler, and rug and cushion, after a pleasant dinner of tea, cheese, and ration biscuits in the Red Cross Dressing Room, with a kind Army Sister.
The R.T.O. this time has given me (instead of 12 A.S.C. men) a highly important envelope marked Very Urgent, to give to the Director of Supplies, Villeneuve, whoever he is.
Change at Versailles in about six hours, so I may as well try and get some sleep.
I was really sorry to say good-bye to my kind old Madame Bontevin, 22 Rue de la Motte, and fat Fanny, and charming Isabel, and my nice little room—(a heavenly bed!)—and ducky little gay garden, where I've lived for the last month; and my beloved Cathedral, and lots of the Sisters I have got to know.
Versailles, 7 a.m., Sunday, October 11th.—At 3 a.m. at Chartres an officer of a Zouave Regiment, in blue and gold Zouave, blue sash, crimson bags like petticoats, and black puttees, and his smartly dressed sister, came into my carriage; both very nice and polite and friendly. He was 21, had fought in three campaigns, and been wounded twice; now convalescent after a wound in the foot a month ago—going to the depôt to rejoin. Her husband also at the front, and another brother. I changed at Versailles, and was given tea, and a slight wash by the always hospitable station duty Sisters, who welcome you at every big station. The No.— G.H. here they belong to is a very fine hotel with lovely gardens, and they are very proud of it—close to the Palace.
10 a.m., Juvisy.—I am now in an empty 1st class saloon (where I can take a long walk) after a long wait, with café au lait and an omelette at Juvisy, and 'The Times' of October 5th.
There is a pleasing uncertainty about one's own share on Active Service. I haven't the slightest idea whether, when I get to Villeneuve in half an hour's time, I shall—
(a) Remain there awaiting orders either in a French billet, a railway carriage, or a tent;
(b) Be sent up to Braisne to join a train; or
(c) Be sent down to Havre to ditto.
We had a man in No.— Stationary who got through the famous charge of the 9th Lancers unhurt, but came into hospital for an ingrowing toe nail!
Villeneuve, 5 p.m.—Like a blithering idiot, I was so interested in the Gunner's Diary of his birthday "in my hole" that I passed Villeneuve Triage, and got out the station after! Had to wait 1-1/2 hours for a train back, and got here eventually at 12. Collared four polite London Scottish to carry my baggage, and found the Sister in charge of Train Ambulance people.
I wish I could describe this extraordinary place. It is the Swindon of France; a huge wilderness of railway lines, trains, and enormous hangars, now used as camps and hospitals. Sister B. is encamped in a shut-off corner of one of these sheds surrounded by London Scottish cooking and making tea in little groups; they swarm here. I sleep to-night in the same small bed in an empty cottage with a Sister I've never seen before. We meal at a Convent French Hospital. I delivered my "Very Urgent" envelope to the R.T.O. for the Director of Supplies, and reported to Major ——, and after lunch had an hour's sleep on The Bed. There are rows of enterics on stretchers in khaki in this shed, waiting for motor ambulances to take them to Versailles No.— G.H., being nursed here meanwhile. There are also British prisoners (defaulters) penned in in another corner, and French troops at the other end!