November 18, 1914, to December 17, 1914
"Because of you we will be glad and gay,
Remembering you we will be brave and strong,
And hail the advent of each dangerous day,
And meet the Great Adventure with a song."
—From a poem on "J.G."
November 18, 1914, to December 17, 1914.
The Boulogne siding—St Omer—Indian soldiers—His Majesty King George—Lancashire men on the War—Hazebrouck—Bailleul—French engine-drivers—Sheepskin coats—A village in N.E. France—Headquarters.
Wednesday, November 18th, 2 p.m.—At last reached beautiful Rouen, through St Just, Beauvais, and up to Sergueux, and down to Rouen. From Sergueux through Rouen to Havre is supposed to be the most beautiful train journey in France, which is saying a good deal. Put off some more bad cases here; a boy sergeant, aged 24, may save his eye and general blood-poisoning if he gets irrigated quickly. You can watch them going wrong, with two days and two nights on the train, and it seems such hard luck. And then if you don't write Urgent or Immediate on their bandages in blue pencil, they get overlooked in the rush into hospital when they are landed. So funny to be going back to old Havre, that hot torrid nightmare of Waiting-for-Orders in August. But, thank Heaven, we don't stop there, but back to the guns again.
5 p.m.—We are getting on for Havre at last. This long journey from Belgium down to Havre has been a strange mixture. Glorious country with the flame and blue haze of late autumn on hills, towns, and valleys, bare beech-woods with hot red carpets. Glorious British Army lying broken in the train—sleep (or the chance of it) three hours one night and four the next, with all the hours between (except meals) hard work putting the British Army together again; haven't taken off my puttees since Sunday. Seems funny, 400 people (of whom four are women and about sixty are sound) all whirling through France by special train. Why? Because of the Swelled Head of the All-Highest.
We had a boy with no wound, suffering from shock from shell bursts. When he came round, if you asked him his name he would look fixedly at you and say "Yes." If you asked him something else, with a great effort he said "Mother."
8 p.m.—Got to Havre.
Wednesday, 18th November, 6 p.m.—Sotteville, near Rouen. This afternoon's up-journey between Havre and Rouen has been a stripe of pure bliss with no war about it at all. A brilliant dazzling day (which our Island couldn't do if it tried in November), rugs, coat, and cushion on your bed, and the most heavenly view unrolling itself before you without lifting your head to see it, ending up with the lights of Rouen twinkling in the smoke of the factory chimneys under a flaring red sunset.
We are to stop here for repairs to the train—chauffage, electric light, water supply, and gas all to be done. Then we shall be a very smart train. The electric light and the heating will be the greatest help—a chapel and a bathroom I should like added!
At Havre last night the train ran into the Gare Maritime (where we left in the Asturias for St Nazaire early in September), which is immediately under the great place that No.— G.H. bagged for their Hospital in August. I ran up and saw it all. It is absolutely first class. There were our people off the train in lovely beds, in huge wards, with six rows of beds—clean sheets, electric light, hot food, and all the M.O.'s, Sisters, and Nursing Orderlies, in white overalls, hard at work on them—orderlies removing their boots and clothing (where we hadn't done it, we leave as much on as we can now because of the cold). Sisters washing them and settling them in, and with the M.O. doing their dressings, all as busy as bees, only stopping to say to us, "Aren't they brave?" They said we'd brought them an awfully bad lot, and we said we shed all the worst on the way. They don't realise that by the time they get to the base these men are beyond complaining; each stage is a little less infernal to them than the one they've left; and instead of complaining, they tell you how lovely it is! It made one realise the grimness of our stage in it—the emergencies, the makeshifts, and the little four can do for nearly 400 in a train—with their greatest output. We each had 80 lying-down cases this journey.
We got to bed about 11 and didn't wake till nearly 9, to the sound of the No.— G.H. bugle, Come to the Cook-house door, boys.
Thursday, November 19th.—Spent the day in a wilderness of railway lines at Sotteville—sharp frost; walk up and down the lines all morning; horizon bounded by fog. This afternoon raw, wet, snowing, slush outside. If it is so deadly cold on this unheated train, what do they do in the trenches with practically the same equipment they came out with in August? Can't last like that. Makes you feel a pig to have a big coat, and hot meals, and dry feet. I've made a fine foot muff with a brown blanket; it is twelve thicknesses sewn together; have still got only summer underclothing. My winter things have been sent on from Havre, but the parcel has not yet reached me; hope the foot muff will ward off chilblains. Got a 'Daily Mail' of yesterday. We heard of the smash-up of the Prussian Guard from the people who did it, and had some of the P.G. on our train. Ypres is said to be full of German wounded who will very likely come to us.
Friday, November 20th, 10 a.m., Boulogne.—Deep snow.
Boulogne, Saturday, November 21st.—In the siding all yesterday and to-day. Train to be cut down from 650 tons to 450, so we are reconstructing and putting off waggons. It will reduce our number of patients, but we shall be able to do more for a smaller number, and the train will travel better and not waste time blocking up the stations and being left in sidings in consequence. The cold this week has been absolutely awful. The last train brought almost entirely cases of rheumatism. Their only hope at the Front must be hot meals, and I expect the A.S.C. sees that they get them somehow.
A troop train of a very rough type of Glasgow men, reinforcing the Highlanders, was alongside of us early yesterday morning; each truck had a roaring fire of coke in a pail. They were in roaring spirits; it was icy cold.
My winter things arrived from Havre yesterday, so I am better equipped against the cold. Also, this morning an engine gave us an hour or two's chauffage just at getting-up time, which was a help.
Sunday, November 22nd.—Left B. early this morning and got to Merville about midday. Loaded up and got back to B. in the night. Many wounded Germans and a good lot of our sick, knocked over by the cold. I don't know how any of them stick it. Five bombs were dropped the day before where we were to-day, and an old man was killed. Things are being badly given away by spies, even of other nationalities. Some men were sleeping in a cellar at Ypres to avoid the bombardment, with some refugees. In the night they missed two of them. They were found on the roof signalling to the Germans with flash-lights. In the morning they paid the penalty.
The frost has not broken, and it is still bitterly cold.
Tuesday, November 24th.—Was up all Sunday night; unloaded early at Boulogne. Had a bath on a ship and went to bed. Stayed in siding all day.
Wednesday, November 25th.—Left B. about 9.30.
Last night at dinner our charming debonair French garçon was very drunk, and spilt the soup all over me! There was a great scene in French. The fat fatherly corporal (who has a face and expression exactly like the Florentine people in Ghirlandaio's Nativities, and who has the manners of a French aristocrat on his way to the guillotine) tried to control him, but it ended in a sort of fight, and poor Charles got the sack in the end, and has been sent back to Paris to join his regiment. He was awfully good to us Sisters—used to make us coffee in the night, and fill our hot bottles and give us hot bricks for our feet at meals.
Just going on now to a place we've not been to before, called Chocques.
The French have to-day given us an engine with the Red Cross on it and an extra man to attend to the chauffage, so we have been quite warm and lovely. We ply him at the stations with cigarettes and chocolate, and he now falls over himself in his anxiety to please us.
The officers of the two Divisions which are having a rest have got 100 hours' leave in turns. We all now spend hours mapping out how much we could get at home in 100 hours from Boulogne.
Wednesday, November 25th.—Arrived at 11 p.m. last night at a God-forsaken little place about eight miles from the firing line. Found a very depressed major taking a most gloomy view of life and the war, in charge of Indians. Pitch-dark night, and they were a mile away from the station, so we went to bed at 12 and loaded up at 7.30 this morning, all Indians, mostly badly wounded. They are such pathetic babies, just as inarticulate to us and crying as if it was a crêche. I've done a great trade in Hindustani, picked up at a desperate pace from a Hindu officer to-day! If you write it down you can soon learn it, and I've got all the necessary medical jargon now; you read it off, and then spout it without looking at your note-book. The awkward part is when they answer something you haven't got!
The Germans are using sort of steam-ploughs for cutting trenches.
The frost has broken, thank goodness. The Hindu officer said the cold was more than they bargained for, but they were "very, very glad to fight for England." He thought the Germans were putting up a very good show. There have been a great many particularly ghastly wounds from hand-grenades in the trenches. We have made a very good journey down, and expect to unload this evening, as we are just getting into Boulogne at 6.30 p.m.
Thursday, November 26th.—We did a record yesterday. Loaded up with the Indians—full load—bad cases—quite a heavy day; back to B. and unloaded by 9 p.m., and off again at 11.30 p.m. No waiting in the siding this time. Three hospital ships were waiting this side to cross by daylight. They can't cross now by night because of enemy torpedoes. So all the hospitals were full again, and trains were taking their loads on to Rouen and Havre. We should have had to if they hadn't been Indians.
We loaded up to-day at Bailleul, where we have been before—headquarters of 3rd and 4th Divisions. We had some time to wait there before loading up, so went into the town and saw the Cathedral—beautiful old tower, hideously restored inside, but very big and well kept. The town was very interesting. Sentries up the streets every hundred yards or so; the usual square packed with transport, and the usual jostle of Tommies and staff officers and motor-cars and lorries. We saw General French go through.
The Surgeon-General had been there yesterday, and five Sisters are to be sent up to each of the two clearing hospitals there. They should have an exciting time. A bomb was dropped straight on to the hospital two days ago—killed one wounded man, blew both hands off one orderly, and wounded another. The airman was caught, and said he was very sorry he dropped it on the hospital; he meant it for Headquarters. We have a lot of cases of frost-bite on the train. One is as bad as in Scott's Expedition; may have to have his foot amputated. I'd never seen it before. They are nearly all slight medical cases; very few wounded, which makes a very light load from the point of view of work, but we shall have them on the train all night. One of us is doing all the train half the night, and another all the train the other half. The other two go to bed all night. I am one of these, as I have got a bit of a throat and have been sent to bed early. We've never had a light enough load for one to do the whole train before. The men say things are very quiet at the Front just now. Is it the weather or the Russian advance?
Great amusement to-day. Major P. got left behind at Hazebrouck, talking to the R.T.O., but scored off us by catching us up at St Omer on an engine which he collared.
Saturday, November 28th.—Sunny and much milder. We came up in the night last night to St Omer, and have not taken any sick on yet. There seems to be only medical cases about just now, which is a blessed relief to think of. They are inevitable in the winter, here or at home. The Major has gone up to Poperinghe with one carriage to fetch six badly wounded officers and four men who were left there the other day when the French took the place over.
I was just getting cigarettes for an up-going train of field-kitchens and guns out of your parcel when it began to move. The men on each truck stood ready, and caught the packets as eagerly as if they'd been diamonds as I threw them in from my train. It was a great game; only two went on the ground. The "Surprise," I suppose, is in the round tin. We are keeping it for a lean day.
6 p.m.—We are just coming to Chocques for Indians again, not far from Armentières, so I am looking up my Hindustani conversation again.
On Friday—the day between these two journeys—Sister N. and I got a motor ambulance from the T.O. and whirled off to Wimereux in it. It is a lovely place on the sea, about three miles off, now with every hotel, casino, and school taken up by R.A.M.C. Base Hospitals. It was a lovely blue morning, and I went right out to the last rock on the sands and watched the breakers while Sister N. attended to some business. It was glorious after the everlasting railway carriage atmosphere. Then we found a very nice old church in the town. It is too wet to load up with the Indians to-night, so we have the night in bed, and take them down to-morrow.
A sergeant of the 10th Hussars told me he was in a house with some supposed Belgian refugees. He noticed that when a little bell near the ceiling rang one of them always dashed upstairs. He put a man upstairs to trace this bell and intercept the Belgian. It was connected with the little trap-door of a pigeon-house. When a pigeon came in with a message, this door rang the bell and they went up and got the message. They didn't reckon on having British in the house. They were shot next morning.
It takes me a month to read a Sevenpenny out here.
Sunday (Advent), November 29th.—On the way down from Chocques. We have got Indians, British, and eight Germans this time. One big, handsome, dignified Mussulman wouldn't eat his biscuit because he was in the same compartment as a Hindu, and the Hindu wouldn't eat his because the Mussulman had handed it to him. The Babu I called in to interpret was very angry with both, and called the M. a fool-man, and explained to us that he was telling them that in England "Don't care Mussulman, don't care Hindu"—only in Hindustan, and that if the Captain Sahib said "Eat," it was "Hukm," and they'd got to. My sympathies were with the beautiful, polite, sad-looking M., who wouldn't budge an inch, and only salaamed when the Babu went for him.
Monday, November 30th, Boulogne.—Yesterday a wounded Tommy on the train told me "the Jack Johnsons have all gone." To-day's French communiqué says, "The enemy's heavy artillery is little in evidence." There is a less strained feeling about everywhere—a most blessed lull.
We were late getting our load off the train last night, and some were very bad. One of my Sikhs with pneumonia did not live to reach Boulogne. Another pneumonia was very miserable, and kept saying, "Hindustan gurrum England tanda." They all think they are in England. The Gurkhas are supposed by the orderlies to be Japanese. They are exactly like Japs, only brown instead of yellow. The orderlies make great friends with them all. One Hindu was singing "Bonnie Dundee" to them in a little gentle voice, very much out of tune. Their great disadvantage is that they are alive with "Jack Johnsons" (not the guns). They take off all their underclothes and throw them out of the window, and we have to keep supplying them with pyjamas and shirts. They sit and stand about naked, scratching for dear life. It is fatal for the train, because all the cushioned seats are now infected, and so are we. I love them dearly, but it is a big price to pay.
Tuesday, December 1st.—We are to-day in a beautiful high embankment at Wimereux, three miles from Boulogne, right on the sea, and have been dry-docked there till 3 p.m. (when we have just started for?), while endless trains of men and guns have gone up past us. H.M. King George was in the restaurant car of one of them. We have been out all the morning, down to the grey and rolling sea, and have been celebrating December 1st by sitting on the embankment reading back numbers of 'The Times,' and one of the C.S.'s and I have been painting enormous Red Crosses on the train.
'Punch' comes regularly now and is devoured by our Mess. We are very like the apostles, and share everything from cakes and 'Spheres' to remedies for "Jack Johnsons." Bread-and-butter doesn't happen, alas!
6.30 p.m.—We've just caught up H.M. King George's train at St Omer, but he is evidently out dining with Sir John French. We are just alongside. He has red and blue curtains lining the bridges to keep his royal khaki shoulders from getting smutty. His chef has a grey beard. He is with Poincaré.
Wednesday, December 2nd.—We got to Chocques very late last night and are loading up this morning, but only a few here; we shall stop at Lillers and take more on. We went for our usual exploring walk through seas of mud. There are more big motor-lorries here than I've seen anywhere. We wandered past a place where Indians were busy killing and skinning goats—a horrible sight—to one of these châteaux where the staff officers have their headquarters: it was a lovely house in a very clean park; there was a children's swing under the trees and we had some fine swings.
Later.—Officers have been on the train on both places begging for newspapers and books. We save up our 'Punches' and 'Daily Mails' and 'Times' for them, and give them any Sevenpennies we have to spare. They say at least forty people read each book, and they finish up in the trenches.
H.M. King George was up here yesterday afternoon in a motor and gave three V.C.'s.
We have only taken on 83 at the two places. There is so little doing anywhere—no guns have been heard for several days, and there is not much sickness. An officer asked for some mufflers for his Field Ambulance men, so I gave him the rest of the children's: the sailors on the armoured train had the first half. He came back with some pears for us. They are so awfully grateful for the things we give them that they like to bring us something in exchange. Seven men off a passing truck fell over each other getting writing-cases and chocolate to-day. They almost eat the writing-cases with their joy.
9 p.m.—We filled up at St Omer from the three hospitals there. A great many cases of frost-bite were put on. They crawl on hands and knees, poor dears. Some left in hospital are very severe and have had to be amputated below the knee. Some of the toes drop off. I have one carriage of twenty-four Indians. A Sikh refused to sit in the same seat with a stout little major of the Gurkhas. I showed him a picture of Bobs, and he said at once, "Robert Sahib." They love the 'Daily Mirrors' with pictures of Indians. The Sikhs are rather whiney patients and very hard to please, but the little Gurkhas are absolute stoics, and the Bengal Lancers, who are Mohammedans, are splendid.
Thursday, December 3rd.—We kept our load on all night, as we got in very late. I went to bed 10.20 a.m., and then took all the train: unloaded directly after breakfast. Some men from Lancashire were rather interesting on the war; they thought it would do Europe so much good in the long-run. And the French might try and get their own back when they get into Germany, but "the British is too tender-'earted to do them things." They arranged that Belgium should have Berlin! They all get very pitiful over the Belgian homes and desolation; it seems to upset them much more than their own horrors in the trenches. A good deal of the fighting they talk about as if it was an exciting sort of football match, full of sells and tricks and chances. They roar with laughter at some of their escapes.
There was no hospital ship in, which spells a bath or no bath to me, but I ramped round the town till I found a hotel which kindly supplied a fine bath for 1.75. And I found another and nicer English church and a Roman Catholic one.
Grand mail when I came in—from home.
Friday, December 4th.—Had a busy day loading at three places: just going to turn in as I have to be up at 2 a.m.; we shall have the patients on all night. It is a fearful night, pouring and blowing. We have taken a tall white-haired Padre up with us this time: he wanted a trip to the Front. We happened to go to a place we hadn't been to before, in a coal-mining district. While we loaded he marched off to explore, and was very pleased at finding a well-shelled village and an unexploded shell stuck in a tree. It specially seemed to please him to find a church shelled! He has enjoyed talking to the crowds of men on the train on the way down. He lives and messes with us. We opened the Harrod's cake to-day; it is a beauty. The men were awfully pleased with the bull's-eyes, said they hadn't tasted a sweet for four months.
One of the C.S. has just dug me out to see some terrific flashes away over the Channel, which he thinks is a naval battle. I think it is lightning. It was. The gale is terrific: must be giving the ships a doing.
Saturday, December 5th, 7 a.m.—We had a long stop on an embankment in the night, and at last the Chef de Gare from the next station came along the line and found both the French guards rolled up asleep and the engine-driver therefore hung up. Then he ran out of coal, and couldn't pull the train up the hill, so we had another four hours' wait while another engine was sent for. Got into B. at 6 a.m.; bitterly cold and wet, and no chauffage.
Sunday, December 6th.—A brilliant frosty day—on way up to Bailleul. We unloaded early at B. yesterday, and waited at a good place half-way between B. and Calais, a high down not far from the sea, with a splendid air. Some of the others went for a walk as we had no engine on, but I had been up since 2 a.m., and have hatched another bad cold, and so retired for a sleep till tea-time.
Just got to Hazebrouck. Ten men and three women were killed and twenty wounded here this morning by a bomb. They are very keen on getting a good bag here, especially on the station, and for other reasons, as it is an important junction.
4 p.m.—We have been up to B. and there were no patients for us, so we are to go back to the above bomb place to collect theirs. B. was packed with pale, war-worn, dirty but cheerful French troops entraining for their Front. They have been all through everything, and say they want to go on and get it finished. They carry fearful loads, including an extra pair of boots, a whole collection of frying-pans and things, and blankets, picks, &c., all on their backs.
The British officers on the station came and grabbed our yesterday's 'Daily Mails,' and asked for soap, so what you sent came in handy. They went in to the town to buy grapes for us in return. This place is famous for grapes—huge monster purple ones—but the train went out before they came back. We had got some earlier, though.
9 p.m.—We are nearly back at Boulogne and haven't taken up any sick or wounded anywhere. One of the trains has taken Indians from Boulogne down to Marseilles—several days' journey.
Monday, December 7th.—Pouring wet day. Still standing by; nothing doing anywhere. It is a blessed relief to know that, and the rest does no one any harm. Had a grand mail to-day.
There is a heart-breaking account of my beautiful Ypres on page 8 of December 1st 'Times.' There was a cavalry officer looking round the Cathedral with me that day the guns were banging. I often wonder where the Belgian woman is who showed me the way and wanted my S.A. ribbons as a souvenir. She showed me a huge old painting on the wall of the Cathedral of Ypres in an earlier war.
I all but got left in Boulogne to-day. We are dry-docked about five miles out, not far from Ambleteuse.
It was bad luck not seeing the King. We caught him up at St Omer, and saw his train; and from there he motored in front of us to all our places. Where we went, they said, "The King was here yesterday and gave V.C.'s." We haven't seen the "d—d good boy" either.
Tuesday, December 8th.—Got up to Bailleul by 11 a.m., and had a good walk on the line waiting to load up. Glorious morning. Aeroplanes buzzing overhead like bees, and dropping coloured signals about. Only filled up my half of the train, both wounded and sick, including some very bad enterics. An officer in the trenches sent a man on a horse to get some papers from us. Luckily I had a batch of 'The Times,' 'Spectator,' and 'Punches.'
We have come down very quickly, and hope to unload to-night, 9.30.
Wednesday, December 9th.—In siding at Boulogne all day. Pouring wet.
Thursday, December 10th.—Left for Bailleul at 8 a.m. Heard at St Omer of the sinking of the three German cruisers.
Arrived at 2 p.m. Loaded up in the rain, wounded and sick—full load. They were men wounded last night, very muddy and trenchy; said the train was like heaven! It is lovely fun taking the sweets round; they are such an unexpected treat. The sitting-ups make many jokes, and say "they serve round 'arder sweets than this in the firing line—more explosive like."
One showed us a fearsome piece of shell which killed his chum next to him last night. There is a good deal of dysentery about, and acute rheumatism. The Clearing Hospitals are getting rather rushed again, and the men say we shall have a lot coming down in the next few days. A hundred men of one regiment got separated from their supports and came up against some German machine-guns in a wood with tragic results. We are shelling from Ypres, but there is no answering shelling going on just now, though the Taubes are busy.
We are wondering what the next railhead will be, and when. Some charming H.A.C.'s are on the train this time, and a typically plucky lot of Tommies. One of the best of their many best features is their unfailing friendliness with each other. They never let you miss a man out with sweets or anything if he happens to be asleep or absent.
Friday, December 11th.—They wouldn't unload us at 11 p.m. at Boulogne last night, but sent us on to the Duchess of Westminster's Hospital at a little place about twenty miles south of B., and we didn't unload till this morning. It was my turn for a whole night in bed. Not that this means we are having many nights up, but that when the load doesn't require two Sisters at night, two go to bed and the other two divide the night. After unloading we had a poke round the little fishing village, and of course the church. A company of Canadian Red Cross people unloaded us. The hospital has not been open very long. It was all sand-dunes and fir-trees on the way, very attractive, and cement factories.
Mail in again.
9 p.m.—We came back to B. to fill up with stores after lunch, and haven't been sent out again yet; but we often go to bed here, and wake up and ask our soldier servants (batmen), who bring our jugs of hot water it the morning, where we are. I like the motion of the train in bed now, and you get used to the noise.
Saturday, December 12th.—The French engine-drivers are so erratic that if you're long enough on the line it's only a question of time when you get your smash up. Ours came last night when they were joining us up to go out again. They put an engine on to each end of one-half of the train (not the one our car is in), and then did a tug-of-war. That wasn't a success, so they did the concertina touch, and put three coaches out of action, including the kitchen. So we're stuck here now (Boulogne) till Heaven knows when. Fortunately no casualties.
Sunday, December 13th.—We've been hung up since Friday night by the three damaged trucks, and took the opportunity of getting some good walks yesterday, and actually going to church at the English church this morning.
Sister B. has been ordered to join the hospital; she mobilised to-day, and we had to pack her off this morning. The staffs of the trains (which have all been shortened) have been put down from four to three. Very glad I wasn't taken off.
We saw a line of graves with wooden crosses, in a field against the skyline, last journey.
We have seen a lot of the skin coats that the men are getting now. Sheepskin, with any sort of fur or skin sleeves, just the skins sewn together; you may see a grey or white coat with brown or black fur or astrakhan sleeves. Some wear the fur inside and some outside; they simply love them.
Reduced to pacing the platform in the dark and rain to get warm. It is 368 paces, so I've done it six times to well cover a mile, but it is not an exciting walk! Funny thing, it seems in this war that for many departments you are either thoroughly overworked or entirely hung up, which is much worse. In things like the Pay Department or the Post-Office or the Provisioning for the A.S.C. it seldom gets off the overworked line, but in this and in the fighting line it varies very much.
"The number of victims of the Taube attack on Hazebrouck on Monday is larger than was at first supposed. Five bombs were thrown and nine British soldiers and five civilians were killed, while 25 persons were injured."—'Times,' Dec. 9th.
We were at H. on that day.
Monday, December 14th.—Got off at last at 3.30 a.m. Loaded up 300 at Merville, a place we've only been to once before, near the coalmines. Guns were banging only four miles off.
Had a good many bad cases, medical and surgical, this time: kept one busy to the journey's end. We are unloaded to-night, so they will soon be well seen to, instead of going down to Rouen or Havre, which two other trains just in have got to do.
We have a good many Gordons on; one was hugging his bagpipes, and we had him up after dinner to play, which he did beautifully with a wrapt expression.
We are going up again to-night. "Three trains wanted immediately"—been expecting that.
Tuesday, December 15th.—We were unloaded last night at 9.30, and reported ready to go up again at 11 p.m., but they didn't move us till 5 a.m. Went to same place as yesterday, and cleared the Clearing Hospitals again; some badly wounded, with wounds exposed and splints padded with straw as in the Ypres days.
The Black Watch have got some cherub-faced boys of seventeen out now. The mud and floods are appalling. The Scotch regiments have lost their shoes and spats and wade barefoot in the water-logged trenches. This is a true fact.
I'm afraid not a few of many regiments have got rheumatism—some acute—that they will never lose.
The ploughed fields and roads are all more or less under water, and each day it rains more.
We have got a Red Cross doctor on the train who was in the next village to the one we loaded from this morning. It has been taken and retaken by both sides, and had a population of about 2000. The only living things he saw in it to-day besides a khaki supply column passing through were one cat and some goldfish. In one villa a big brass bedstead was hanging through the drawing-room ceiling by its legs, the clothes hanging in the cupboards were slashed up, and nothing left anywhere. He says at least ten well-to-do men of 50 are doing motor-ambulance work with their own Rolls-Royces up there, and cleaning their cars themselves, at 6 a.m.
I happened to ask a man, who is a stretcher-bearer belonging to the Rifle Brigade, how he got hit. "Oh, I was carrying a dead man," he said modestly. "My officer told me not to move him till dark, because of the sniping; but his face was blown off by an explosive bullet, and I didn't think it would do the chaps who had to stand round him all day any good, so I put him on my back, and they copped me in the leg. I was glad he wasn't a wounded man, because I had to drop him."
He told me some French ladies were killed in their horse-and-cart on the road near their trenches the other day; they would go and try and get some of their household treasures. Two were killed—two and a man—and the horse wounded. He helped to take them to the R.A.M.C. dressing-station.
Wednesday, December 16th.—We are on our way up again to-day, and by a different and much jollier way, to St Omer, going south of Boulogne and across country, instead of up by Calais. We came back this way with patients from Ypres once. It is longer, but the country is like Hampshire Downs, instead of the everlasting flat swamps the other way. Of course it is raining.
6 p.m.—For once we waited long enough at St Omer to go out and explore the beautiful ruined Abbey near the station. We went up the town—very clean compared with the towns farther up—swarming with grey touring-cars and staff officers. Headquarters of every arm labelled on different houses, and a huge church the same date as the Abbey, with some good carving and glass in it. We kept an eye open for Sir J.F. and the P. of W., but didn't meet them. Saw the English military church where Lord Roberts began his funeral service. For once it wasn't raining.
Thursday, December 17th.—Left St O. at 11 p.m. last night, and woke up this morning at Bailleul. Saw two aeroplanes being fired at,—black smoke-balls bursting in the air. Heard that Hartlepool and Scarboro' have been shelled—just the bare fact—in last night's 'Globe.' R. will have an exciting time. We're longing to get back for to-day's 'Daily Mail.'
There has been a lot of fighting in our advance south-east of Ypres since Sunday.
The Gordons made a great bayonet charge, but lost heavily in officers and men in half an hour; we have some on the train. The French also lost heavily, and lie unburied in hundreds; but the men say the Germans were still more badly "punished." They tell us that in the base hospitals they never get a clean wound; even the emergency amputations and trephinings and operations done in the Clearing Hospitals are septic, and no one who knew the conditions would wonder at it. We shall all forget what aseptic work is by the time we get home. The anti-tetanus serum injection that every wounded man gets with his first dressing has done a great deal to keep the tetanus under, and the spreading gangrene is less fatal than it was. It is treated with incisions and injections of H2O2, or, when necessary, amputation in case of limbs. You suspect it by the grey colour of the face and by another sense, before you look at the dressing.
At B. a man at the station greeted me, and it was my old theatre orderly at No. 7 Pretoria. We were very pleased to see each other. I fitted him out with a pack of cards, post-cards, acid drops, and a nice grey pair of socks.
A wounded officer told us he was giving out the mail in his trench the night before last, and nearly every man had either a letter or a parcel. Just as he finished a shell came and killed his sergeant and corporal; if they hadn't had their heads out of the trench at that moment for the mail, neither of them would have been hit. The officer could hardly get through the story for the tears in his eyes.