Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front 1914-1915


On No.— Ambulance Train (6)


February 7, 1915, to March 31, 1915

"Under the lee of the little wood
I'm sitting in the sun;
What will be done in Flanders
Before the day be done?

Above, beyond the larches,
The sky is very blue;
'It's the smoke of hell in Flanders
That leaves the sun for you.'"


On No.— Ambulance Train (6).


February 7, 1915, to March 31, 1915.

The Indians—St Omer—The Victoria League—Poperinghe—A bad load—Left behind—Rouen again—An "off" spell—En route to Êtretat—Sotteville—Neuve Chapelle—St Eloi—The Indians—Spring in N.W. France—The Convalescent Home—Kitchener's boys.

Sunday, February 7th.—This is a little out-of-the-way town called Blendecque, rather in a hollow. No.— A.T. has been here before, and the natives look at us as if we were Boches. There are 250 R.E. inhabiting a long truck-train here. We have given them all our mufflers and mittens; they had none, and the officer has had our officers to tea with him. Our men have played a football match with them—drawn.

We went for a splendid walk this morning up hill to a pine wood bordered by a moor with whins. I've now got in my bunky-hole (it is not quite six feet square) a polypod fern, a plate of moss, a pot of white hyacinths, and also catkins, violets, and mimosa!

I suppose we shall move on to-night if there is a marche.

Many hundreds of French cavalry passed across the bridge over this cutting this morning: they looked so jolly.

One of the staff who has been to Woolwich on leave says that K.'s new army there is extraordinarily promising and keen. So far we have only heard good of those out here, from the old hands who've come across them.

9.45 p.m.—We are just getting to the place where all the fighting is—La Bassée way. Probably we shall load up with wounded to-night. There's a great flare some way off that looks like the burning villages we used to see round Ypres. It is a very dark night.

Monday morning, February 8th.—We stood by last night, and are just going to load now. All is quiet here. Said to have been nothing happening the last few days.

7 p.m.—Nearing B. We've had a very muddly day, taking on at four different places. I have a coach full of Indians. They have been teaching me some more Hindustani. Some of them suddenly began to say their prayers at sunset. They spread a small mat in front of them, knelt down, and became very busy "knockin' 'oles in the floor with their 'eads," as the orderly describes it.

We have a lot of woundeds from Saturday's fighting. They took three German trenches, and got in with the bayonet until they were "treading" on dead Germans! The wounded sitting-ups are frightfully proud of it. After their personal reminiscences you feel as if you'd been jabbing Germans yourself. They say they "lose their minds" in the charge, and couldn't do it if they stopped to think, "because they're feelin' men, same as us," one said.

A corporal on his way back to the Front from taking some people down to St O. under a guard saw one of his pals at the window in our train. He leaped up and said, "I wish to God I could get chilblains and come down with you." This to an indignant man with a shrapnel wound!

I've got five bad cases of measles, with high temperatures and throats.

Tuesday, February 9th.—Again they unloaded us at B. last night, and we are now, 11 a.m., on our way up again. The Indians I had were a very interesting lot. The race differences seem more striking the better you get to know them. The Gurkhas seem to be more like Tommies in temperament and expression, and all the Mussulmans and the best of the Sikhs and Jats might be Princes and Prime Ministers in dignity, feature, and manners. When a Sikh refuses a cigarette (if you are silly enough to offer him one) he does it with a gesture that makes you feel like a housemaid who ought to have known better. The beautiful Mussulmans smile and salaam and say Merbani, however ill they are, if you happen to hit upon something they like. They all make a terrible fuss over their kit and their puggarees and their belongings, and refuse to budge without them.

Sister M. found her orders to leave when we got in, but she doesn't know where she is going. So after this trip we shall be three again, which is a blessing, as there are not enough wards for four, and no one likes giving any up. It also gives us a spare bunk to store our warehouses of parcels for men, which entirely overflow our own dug-outs. As soon as you've given out one lot, another bale arrives.

We have had every kind of infectious disease to nurse in this war, except smallpox. The Infectious Ward is one of mine, and we've had enteric, scarlet fever, measles, mumps, and diphtheria.

7 p.m.—We got to the new place where we wait for a marche, just at tea-time, and we had a grand walk up to the moor, where you can see half over France each way. There is a travelling wireless station up there. Each pole has its receiver in a big grey motor-lorry by the roadside, where they live and sleep. The road wound down to a little curly village with a beautiful old grey church. On the top of the moor on the way back it was dark, and the flash signals were morsing away to each other from the different hills. It reminded me of the big forts on the kopjes round Pretoria.

I had my first French class this afternoon at St Omer, in the men's mess truck. There were seventeen, including the Quartermaster-Sergeant and the cook's boy. I'd got a small blackboard in Boulogne, and they all had notebooks, and the Q.M.S. had arranged it very nicely. They were very keen, and got on at a great pace. They weren't a bit shy over trying to pronounce, and will I think make good progress. They have a great pull over men of their class in England, by their opportunities of listening to French spoken by the French, such a totally different language to French spoken by most English people. My instruction book is Hugo's, which is a lightning method compared to the usual school-books. They are doing exercises for me for next time.

Wednesday, February 10th, 9 p.m.—We woke at Merville after a particularly rocky, noisy night journey, and loaded up there with woundeds and sick, also Indians (but not in my wards for once). My blessés kept me busy till the moment we unloaded this evening at B., and I had not time to hear much about their doings. One extraordinarily sporting boy had a wound right through his neck, involving his swallowing. It took about half an hour to give him a feed, through a tube, but he stuck it, smiling all the time.

Another older man was shot in the stomach, and looked as if he wouldn't get over it. He told me he'd already been in hospital eight weeks, shot in the head at the Aisne. I said what hard luck to have to go through it again. "It's got to be done," he said. "I didn't give it a thought. I think I shall get over this," he said, "but I don't want to go back a third time." He has a wife and three children in Ireland.

We are to move up again at 4 a.m. Just had dinner (soup, boiled beef as tough as a cable, and ration cheese and coffee), and the 'Daily Mail.'

Thursday, February 11th.—We have spent most of the day at St Omer, and got a lovely walk in this morning, along the canal, watching the big barges which take 2000 tons of beetroots for sugar.

There is a scheme on foot for fitting up these big barges as transport for the sick (this one came from Furnes) as moving Clearing Hospitals. I've been over one, in Rouen. They are not yet in use, but might be rather jolly in the summer.

It is the warmest spring day we've had. I had my second French class this afternoon again at St Omer. We are now moving on, up to Bailleul. I expect we shall take patients on this evening, and have them all night.

Friday, February 12th, 6 a.m.—We did a record loading up in fifty minutes last night, chiefly medical cases, and took eight hours to crawl to Boulogne. Now we are on the way for Havre, but shall not get there till about 10 p.m. to-night, so they will have a long day in the train.

A good many of the lying-downs are influenza, with high temperatures and no voice. It is a bore getting to B. in the night, as we miss our mails and the 'Daily Mail.'

7 p.m.—This is an interminable journey. Have not yet reached Rouen, and shan't get to Havre till perhaps 2 a.m. The patients are getting very weary, especially the sitting-ups. The wards of acute liers you can run like a hospital. Some of the orderlies are now getting quite keen on having their wards clean and swept, and the meals and feeds up to time, and the washings done, but it has taken weeks to bring them up to it. When they do all that well I can get on with the diets, temperatures, treatments, and dressings, &c. On the long journeys we take round at intervals smokes, chocolate, papers, hankies, &c., when we have them. The Victoria League has done me well in bales of hankies. They simply love the affectionate and admiring messages pinned on from New Zealand, and one of them always volunteers to answer them.

We shall be up in shifts again to-night.

We are all hoping to have a day in Rouen on the way back, for baths, hair-washing, shopping, seeing the Paymaster, and showing the new Sister the sights. For sheer beauty and interestingness it is the most endearing town; you don't know which you love best—its setting with the hills, river, and bridge, or its beautiful spires and towers and marvellous old streets and houses.

Saturday, February 13th, 2 a.m.—Still on the way to Havre! And we loaded up on Thursday. This journey is another revelation of what the British soldier will stick without grumbling. The sitting-ups are eight in a carriage, some with painful feet, some with wounded arms, and some with coughs, rheumatism, &c., but you don't hear a word of grousing. It is only when things are prosperous and comfortable that Tommy grumbles and has grievances. Some of the liers are too ill to know how long they've been on the train. One charming Scotchman, who enlisted for K.'s Army, but was put into the Regulars because he could shoot, has just asked me to write my name and address in his little book so that he can write from England. He also says we must "look after ourselves" and "study our health," because there's a bad time coming, and our Country will need us! He's done his share, after an operation, and will never be able to do any more. Everything points to this Service having to put out all it can, both here and at home. Many new hospitals are being organised, and there are already hundreds.

We have a poor lunatic on board who keeps asking us to let his wife come in. The train is crawling with J.J.'s.

Saturday, 4.30 a.m.—Just seen the last stretcher off; now going to undress (first time since Wednesday night) and turn in.

Saturday, 13th February, Havre.—It is four months to-day since I joined the train. It seems much longer in some ways, and yet the days go by very quickly—even the off-days; and when the train is full the hours fly.

We went into the familiar streets this morning that we saw so much of in August, "waiting for orders," and had a look at the sea. The train moved off at tea-time, so we had the prettiest part of the journey in a beautiful evening sunlight, lighting up the woods and hills. The palm is out, and the others saw primroses. We have also seen some snowdrops.

After a heavy journey, with two nights out of bed, you don't intend to do any letter-writing or mending or French classes, but look out of the window or sleep or read Dolly Dialogues. You always get compensation for these journeys in the longer journey back, with probably a wait at Rouen or Sotteville, and possibly another at Boulogne. We have been going up and down again very briskly this last fortnight between B. and the Back of the Front.

Sunday, 14th.—A dismal day at Sotteville; pouring cats and dogs all day, and the train cold.

Shrove Tuesday.—We were all day coming up yesterday. Got to B. in the middle of the night, and went on again to St Omer, where we woke this morning, so we missed our mails again; it will be a full week's mails when we do get them. Lovely blue sky to-day. Had a walk with Sister B. round the town, and now this afternoon we are on the way to Poperinghe, in a beaten country, where we haven't been for three months. French class due at 3 p.m. if we haven't got there by then.

We have just passed a graveyard absolutely packed with little wooden crosses.

Ash Wednesday, February 17th, 6 a.m.—We took on a very bad load of wounded at Poperinghe, more like what used to happen three months ago in the same place; they were only wounded the night before, and some the same day. The Clearing Hospital had to be cleared immediately.

We have just got to B., and are going to unload here at 8.30 a.m.

Must stop. Hope to get a week's mails to-day.

A brisk air battle between one British and one French and two Taubes was going on when we got there, and a perfect sky for it. Very high up.

A wounded major on the train was talking about the men. "It's not a case of our leading the men; we have a job to keep up with them."

It was a pretty sad business getting them off the train this morning; there were so many compound fractures, and no amount of contriving seemed to come between them and the jolting of the train all night. And, to add to the difficulties, it was pouring in torrents and icy cold, and the railway people refused to move the train under cover, so they went out of a warm train on to damp stretchers in an icy rain. They were nearly all in thin pyjamas, as we'd had to cut off their soaking khaki: they were practically straight from the trenches. But once clear of trains, stretchers, and motor ambulances they will be warmed, washed, fed, bedded, and their fractures set under an anæsthetic. One man had his arm blown to pieces on Monday afternoon, had it amputated on Monday night, and was put into one of our wards on Tuesday, and admitted to Base Hospital on Wednesday. But that is ticklish work.

One boy, a stretcher-bearer, with both legs severely wounded, very nearly bled to death. He was pulled round somehow. About midnight, when he was packed up in wool and hot-water bottles, &c., when I asked him how he was feeling, he said gaily, "Quite well, delightfully warm, thank you!" We got him taken to hospital directly the train got in at 4 a.m. The others were unloaded at 9 a.m.

We are now—5 p.m.—on our way to Étaples, probably to clear the G.H. there, either to-night or to-morrow morning. It hasn't stopped pouring all day. It took me till lunch to read my enormous mail.

Major T. has heard to-day that the French railway people want his train back again for passenger traffic, so the possibility of our all being suddenly disbanded and dispersed is hanging over us; but I believe it has been threatened before.

Thursday, February 18th.—In bed, 10 p.m. We have had a very heavy day with the woundeds again from Bailleul. We unloaded again at B. this evening, and are to go up again some time to-night.

There is a great deal going on in our front.

There was a boy from Suffolk, of K.'s Army, in my ward who has only been out three weeks. He talked the most heavenly East Anglian—"I was agin the barn, and that fared to hit me"—all in the right sing-song.

A sergeant of the D.C.L.I. had a fearful shell wound in his thigh, which has gone wrong, and as the trouble is too high for amputation they will have their work cut out to save his life. They were getting out of the trench for a bayonet charge, and he had just collected his men when he was hit; so the officer "shook hands with him" and went on with the charge, leaving him and another man, wounded in the leg, in the trench. They stayed there several hours with no dressings on, sinking into the mud (can you wonder it has gone wrong?), until another man turned up and helped them out; then they walked to the Regimental Aid Post, 200 yards away, helped by the sound man. There they were dressed and had the anti-tetanus serum injection, and were taken by stretcher-bearers to the next Dressing Station, and thence by horse ambulance to the Field Ambulance, and then by motor ambulance to where we picked them up. There are lots of F.'s regiment wounded.

Friday, February 19th.—We left B. at 5 a.m. to-day, and were delayed all the morning farther up by one of the usual French collisions. A guard had left his end of a train and was on the engine; so he never noticed that twelve empty trucks had come uncoupled and careered down a hill, where they were run into and crumpled up by a passenger train. The guard of that one was badly injured (fractured spine), but the passengers only shaken.

At St Omer Miss M. and Major T. and I were being shown over the Khaki Train when ours moved off. There was a wild stampede; the Khaki Train had all its doors locked, and we had miles to go inside to get out. Their orderlies shouted to ours to pull the communication cord—the only way of appealing to the distant engine; so it slowed down, and we clambered breathlessly on. We are side-tracked now at the jolly place of the Moor and the Wireless Lorries; probably move on in the night.

Saturday, February 20th, 9 p.m.—We've had a very unsatisfactory day, loading up at four different places, and still on our way down. I'm just going to lie down, to be called at 2 a.m. Now we're four: two go to bed for the whole night and the other two take the train for half the night when we have a light load, as to-day. If they are all bad cases, we have two on and two off for the two watches. We have some Indians on to-day, but most British, and not many blessés.

The other day a huge train of reinforcements got divided by mistake: the engine went off with all the officers, and the men had a joy-ride to themselves, invaded the cafés, where they sometimes get half poisoned, and in half an hour's time there was a big scrap among themselves, with fifty casualties. So the story runs.

A humane and fatherly orderly has just brought me a stone hot-water bottle for my feet as I write this in the rather freezing dispensary coach in the middle of the train, in between my rounds. All the worst cases and the Indians were put off at B., and the measles, mumps, and diphtherias, so there isn't much to do; some are snoring like an aeroplane.

Monday, February 22nd.—We got a short walk yesterday evening after unloading at Rouen. There was a glorious sunset over the bridge, and the lights just lighting up, and Rouen looked its beautifulest. We slept at Sotteville, and this morning Sister and I walked down the line into Rouen and saw the Paymaster and the Cathedral, and did some shopping, and had a boiled egg and real butter and tea for lunch, and came back in the tram. Sister S. is in bed with influenza.

The lengthening days and better weather are making a real difference to the gloom of things, and though there is a universal undercurrent of feeling that enormous sacrifices will have to be made, it seems to be shaping for a step farther on, and an ultimate return to sanity and peace. It is such a vast upheaval when you are in the middle of it, that you sometimes actually wonder if every one has gone mad, or who has gone mad, that all should be grimly working, toiling, slaving, from the firing line to the base, for more Destruction, and for more highly-finished and uninterrupted Destruction, in order to get Peace. And the men who pay the cost in intimate personal and individual suffering and in death are not the men who made the war.

Wednesday, February 24th.—We have been all day in Boulogne, and move up at 8.15 this evening, which means loading up after breakfast and perhaps unloading to-morrow evening. It has given Sister S. another day to recover from her attack of influenza.

Have been busy one way and another all day, but went for a walk after tea and saw over the No.— G.H. at the Casino—a splendid place, working like clockwork. Lots of bad cases, but they all look clean and beautifully cared for and rigged up.

Thursday, February 25th.—Moved up to the place with the moor during the night. Glorious, clear, sunny morning. Couldn't leave the train for a real walk, as there were no orders.

This time last year the last thing one intended to do was to go and travel about France for six months, with occasional excursions into Belgium!

'The Times' sometimes comes the next day now.

9 p.m.—The ways of French railways are impenetrable: in spite of orders for Bailleul before lunch, we are still here, and less than ever able to leave the train for a walk.

This is the fourth day with no patients on—the longest "off" spell since before Christmas. It shows there's not much doing or much medical leakage.

Friday, February 26th.—We loaded up this morning with a not very bad lot (mine all sitters except some enterics, a measles, and a diphtheria), and are on our way down again.

I am all ready packed to get off at B. if my leave is in Major M.'s office.

Saturday, February 27th, 9 p.m., Hotel at Boulogne.—All the efforts to get my seven days' leave have failed, as I thought they would.

Wednesday, March 3rd, Boulogne.—There is not a great deal to do or see here, especially on a wet day.

Friday, March 5th, 5 p.m.—On way down from Chocques—mixed lot of woundeds, medicals, Indians, and Canadians.

I have a lad of 24 with both eyes destroyed by a bullet, and there is a bad "trachy."

Nothing very much has been going on, but the German shells sometimes plop into the middle of a trench, and each one means a good many casualties.

10 p.m.—We've had a busy day, and are not home yet.

My boy with the dressings on his head has not the slightest idea that he's got no eyes, and who is going to tell him? The pain is bad, and he has to have a lot of morphia, with a cigarette in between.

We shall probably not unload to-night, and I am to be called at 2 a.m.

The infectious ward is full with British enterics, dips., and measles, and Indian mumpies.

Saturday, March 6th, Boulogne.—Instead of being called at 2 for duty, was called at 1 to go to bed, as they unloaded us at that hour.

Last night we pulled up at Hazebrouck alongside a troop train with men, guns, and horses just out from the Midlands.

Two lads in a truck with their horses asked me for cigarettes. Luckily, thanks to the Train Comforts Fund's last whack, I had some. One said solemnly that he had a "coosin" to avenge, and now his chance had come. They both had shining eyes, and not a rollicking but an eager excitement as they asked when the train would get "there," and looked as if they could already see the shells and weren't afraid.

Sunday, March 7th.—We are stuck in the jolly place close to G.H.Q., but can't leave the train as there are no orders. I've been having a French class, with the wall of the truck for a blackboard, and occasional bangs from a big gun somewhere.

Tail-end of Monday, March 8th.—On way down to Êtretat, where No.— G.H. is, which we shall reach to-morrow about tea-time. A load of woundeds this time; very busy all day till now (midnight), and haven't had time to hear many of their adventures. They seem to all come from a line of front where the Boches are persistently hammering to break through, and though they don't get any forrarder they cause a steady leakage. We heard guns all the while we were loading. A dressing-station five miles away had just been shelled, and a major, R.A.M.C., killed and two other R.A.M.C. officers wounded.

I have a man wounded in eight places, including a fractured elbow and a fractured skull, which has been trephined. What is left of him that hasn't stopped bullets is immensely proud of his bandages! He was one of nineteen who were in a barn when a shell came through the roof and burst inside, spitting shrapnel bullets all over them; all wounded and one killed. We have just put off an emergency case of gas gangrene, temp. 105, who came on as a sitter! They so often say after a bad dressing, "I'm a lot of trouble to ye, Sister."

Later.—Just time for a line before I do another round and then call my relief. It is an awfully cold night.

Tuesday, March 9th, 12 noon.—We are passing through glorious country of wooded hills and valleys, with a blue sky and shining sun, and all the patients are enjoying it. It is still very cold, and there is a little snow about. They call their goatskin coats "Teddy Bears." One very ill boy, wounded in the lungs, who was put off at Abbeville, was wailing, "Where's my Mary Box?" as his stretcher went out of the window. We found it, and he was happy.

Wednesday, March 10th.—We got to Êtretat at about 3 p.m. yesterday after a two days' and one night load, and had time to go up to the hospital, where I saw S. The Matron was away. We only saw it at night last time, so it was jolly getting the afternoon there. The sea was a thundery blue, and the cliffs lit up yellow by the sun, and with the grey shingle it made a glorious picture to take back to the train. It had been a heavy journey with bad patients, and we were rather tired, so we didn't explore much.

We woke at Sotteville near Rouen this morning, and later in the day had a most fatiguing and much too exciting adventure over catching the train. Two of the Sisters and I walked into Rouen about 10.30, and found No.— A.T. marked up as still at Sotteville (in the R.T.O.'s office), and so concluded it would be there all day. So we did our businesses of hair-washing, Cathedral, lunch, &c., and then took the tram back to Sotteville. The train had gone! The Sotteville R.T.O. (about a mile off) told us it was due to leave Rouen loaded up for Havre at 2.36; it was then 2.15, and it was usually about three-quarters of an hour's walk up the line (we'd done it once this morning), so we made a desperate dash for it. Sister M. walks very slowly at her best, so we decided that I should sprint on and stop the train, and she and the other follow up. The Major met me near our engine, and was very kind and concerned, and went on to meet the other two. The train moved out three minutes after they got on. Never again!—we'll stick on it all day rather than have such a narrow shave.

We are full of convalescents for Havre to go straight on to the boat. They are frightfully enthusiastic about the way the British Army is looked after in this war. "There's not much they don't get for us," they said.

There are crowds of primroses out on the banks. Our infant R.A.M.C. (Officer's Mess) cook (a boy of about twenty, who looks sixteen and cooks beautifully) has just jumped off the train while it was going, grabbed a handful of primroses, and leapt on to the train again some coaches back. He came back panting and rosy, and said, "I've got some for you, Sister!" We happened not to be going fast, but there was no question of stopping. I got some Lent lilies in Rouen, and have some celandines growing in moss, so it looks like spring in my bunk.

Thursday, March 11th.—Yesterday we took a long time getting to the ship from R., and unloaded at 10 p.m. Why we had no warning about the departure of the train (and so nearly got left behind) was because it was an emergency call suddenly to clear the hospitals at R. to make room for 600 more expected from the Front.

We are being rushed up again without being stopped at Rouen for the first time on record, so I suppose there is a good deal doing. (There was—at Neuve Chapelle.)

It is a comfort to remember that the men themselves don't grudge or question what happens to them, and the worse they're wounded the more they say, "I think I'm lucky; my mate next me got killed."

The birds are singing like anything now, and all the buds are coming out, and the banks and woods are a mass of primroses.

Friday, March 12th.—We came straight through Boulogne in the night, and have been stuck half way to the Front all day; I don't know why.

Saturday, March 13th.—We woke at the railhead for Béthune this morning, and cleared there and at the next place, mostly wounded and some Indians.

It was frightfully interesting up there to-day; we saw the famous German prisoners taken at Neuve Chapelle being entrained, and we could hear our great bombardment going on—the biggest ever known in any war. The feeling of Advance is in the air already, and even the wounded are exulting in it. The Indians have bucked up like anything. We are on our way down now, and shall probably unload at B.

No time for more now.

11 p.m.—We unloaded at B. by 10 p.m., and are now on our way up again; shortest time we've ever waited—one hour after the last patient is off. A.T.'s have been tearing up empty and back full all day, and are all being unloaded at B., so that they can go quickly up again. B. has been emptied before this began.

They were an awfully brave lot of badly woundeds to-day, but they always are. Just now they don't mind anything—even getting hit by our artillery by mistake. Some of them who were near enough to see the effect of our bombardment on the enemy's trenches say they saw men, legs, and arms shot into the air. And the noise!—they gasp in telling you about it. "You could never believe it," they say. An officer told me exactly how many guns from 9.2's downwards we used, all firing at once. And poor fat Germans, and thin Germans, and big Germans, and little Germans at the other end of it.

A man of mine with his head shattered and his hand shot through was trephined last night, and his longitudinal sinus packed with gauze. He was on the train at 9 this morning, and actually improved during the day! He came to in the afternoon enough to remark, as if he were doing a French exercise, "You-are-a-good-Nurse!" The next time he woke he said it again, and later on with great difficulty he gave me the address of his girl, to whom I am to write a post-card. I do hope they'll pull him through.

Sunday, March 14th, 4 p.m.—Just bringing down another load. I have a hundred and twenty wounded alone; the train is packed.

No time for more—the J.J.'s are swarming.

We unloaded at B. yesterday evening, and were off again within an hour or two.

Monday, March 15th, 2.30 a.m.—Woke up just as we arrived at Bailleul to hear most incessant cannonade going on I ever heard, even at Ypres. The sky is continually lit up with the flashes from the guns—it is a pitch-dark night—and you can hear the roar of the howitzers above the thud-thud of the others. I think we are too far N. for there to be any French 75's in it. I had to wake Sister D. to see it, as she had never seen anything like it before. We are only a few miles away from it.

Must try and sleep now, as we shall have a heavy day to-day, but it is no lullaby.

4.30 p.m.—Just time for a scrawl. The train is packed with wounded, most of whom, including the poor sitting-ups, are now dead asleep from exhaustion. The British Army is fighting and marching all night now. The Clearing Hospitals get 800 in at a time, many with no dressings on. We have twenty-seven officers on this train alone.

I have a boy of 22 with both legs off. He is dazed and white, and wants shifting very often. Each time you fix him up he says, "That's champion."

Forty of them were shelled in their billets.

The Germans are said to be, some of them, fighting in civilian clothes till they get their uniforms. The men say there are hundreds of young boys and old men among them; they are making a desperate effort and bringing everything they've got into it now.

Later.—We also have mumps, measles, scarlet fever, and diphtheria in the infectious coach.

A baby lieut. with measles showed me some marvellous sketch-maps of German trenches and positions he'd made from observations through a periscope. He also had the very latest thing in sectional war maps, numbered in squares, showing every tree, farm, and puddle and trench: a place with four cross-roads was called "Confusion Corner," leading to a farm called "Rest-and-be-Thankful."

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.

1 of 2
2 of 2