April 2, 1915, to April 29, 1915
"The fighting man shall from the sun
Take warmth, and life from the glowing earth;
Speed with the light-foot winds to run,
And with the trees to newer birth;
And find, when fighting shall be done,
Great rest, and fulness after dearth."
April 2, 1915, to April 29, 1915.
Good Friday and Easter, 1915—The Maire's Château—A walk to Beuvry—The new billet—The guns—A Taube—The Back of the Front—A soldier's funeral—German Machine-guns—Gas fumes—The Second Battle of Ypres.
Good Friday, April 2nd.—We got into Boulogne on Wednesday from Sotteville at 5 p.m., and as soon as the train pulled up a new Sister turned up "to replace Sister ——," so I prepared for the worst and fully expected to be sent to Havre or Êtretat or Rouen, and began to tackle my six and a half months' accumulation of belongings. In the middle of this Miss —— from the Matron-in-Chief arrived with my Movement Orders "to proceed forthwith to report to the O.C. of No.— Field Ambulance for duty," so hell became heaven, and here I am at railhead waiting for a motor ambulance to take me and my baggage to No.— F.A. wherever it is to be found.
The Railway Transport Officer at Boulogne let me come up as far as St Omer (or rather the next waiting place beyond), on No.— A.T., and get sent on by the R.T.O. there. We waited there all yesterday, lovely sunny day, and in the evening the R.T.O. sent me on in a supply train which was going to the railhead for No.— F.A. The officer in charge of it was very kind, and turned out of his carriage for me into his servant's, and apologised for not having cleared out every scrap of his belongings. The Mess of No.— saw me off, with many farewell jokes and witticisms.
This supply train brings up one day's rations to the 1st Corps from Havre, and takes a week to do it there and back. This happens daily for one corps alone, so you can imagine the work of the A.S.C. at Havre. At railhead he is no longer responsible for his stuff when the lorries arrive and take up their positions end on with the trucks. They unload and check it, and it is done in four hours. That part of it is now going on.
When we got to railhead at 10.15 p.m. the R.T.O. said it was too late to communicate with the Field Ambulance, and so I slept peacefully in the officer's bunk with my own rugs and cushion. We had tea about 9 p.m. I had had dinner on No.—.
This morning the first thing I saw was No.— A.T. slumbering in the sun on the opposite line, so I might just as well have come up in her, except that there was another Sister in my bed.
After a sketchy wash in the supply train, and a cup of early tea from the officer's servant, I packed up and went across to No.— for breakfast; many jeers at my having got the sack so soon.
The R.T.O. has just been along to say that Major —— of No.— Clearing Hospital here will send me along in one of his motor ambulances.
11 a.m.—Had an interesting drive here in the M.A. through a village packed with men billeted in barns and empty houses—the usual aeroplane buzzing overhead, and a large motor ambulance convoy by the wayside.
We are in the town itself, and the building is labelled No.— F.A. Dressing Station for Officers. The men are in a French Civil Hospital run very well by French nuns, and it has been decided to keep the French and English nurses quite separate, so the only difference between the two hospitals is that the one for the men has French Sisters, with R.A.M.C. orderlies and M.O.'s, and the other for officers has English Sisters, with R.A.M.C. orderlies and M.O.'s. There are forty-seven beds here (all officers). One Army Sister in charge, myself next, and two staff nurses—one on night duty. There are two floors; I shall have charge of the top floor.
We are billeted out, but I believe mess in the hospital.
All this belongs to the French Red Cross, and is lent to us.
The surgical outfit is much more primitive even than on the train, as F.A.'s may carry so little. The operating theatre is at the other hospital.
As far as I can see at present we don't have the worst cases here, except in a rush like Neuve Chapelle.
It will be funny to sleep in a comfortable French bed in an ordinary bedroom again. It will be rather like Le Mans over again, with a billet to live in, and officers to look after, but I shall miss the Jocks and the others.
Later.—Generals and "Red Hats" simply bristle around. A collection of them has just been in visiting the sick officers. We had a big Good Friday service at 11, and there is another at 6 p.m. The Bishop of London is coming round to-day.
Still Good Friday, 10 p.m.—Who said Active Service? I am writing this in a wonderful mahogany bed, with a red satin quilt, in a panelled room, with the sort of furniture drawing-rooms have on the stage, and electric light, and medallions and bronzes, and oil-paintings and old engravings, and blue china and mirrors all about. It is a huge house like a Château, on the Place, where Generals and officers are usually billeted. The fat and smiling caretaker says she's had two hundred since the war. She insisted on pouring eau-de-Cologne into my hot bath. It is really a lovely house, with polished floors and huge tapestry pictures up the staircase. And all this well within range of the German guns. After last night, in the A.S.C officer's kind but musty little chilly second-class carriage, it is somewhat of a change. And I hadn't had my clothes off for three days and two nights. This billet is only for one night; to-morrow I expect I shall be in some grubby little room near by. It has taken the Town Commandant, the O.C. of No.— F.A., a French interpreter, and an R.H.A. officer and several N.C.O.'s and orderlies, to find me a billet—the town is already packed tight, and they have to continue the search to-morrow.
This afternoon I went all over the big French hospital where our men are. The French nuns were charming, and it was all very nice. The women's ward is full of women and girls blessées by shells, some with a leg off and fractured—all very cheerful.
One shell the other day killed thirty-one and wounded twenty-seven—all Indians.
I am not to start work till to-morrow, as the wards are very light; nearly all the officers up part of the day, so at 6 p.m. I went to the Bishop of London's mission service in the theatre. A staff officer on the steps told me to go to the left of the front row (where all the red hats and gold hats sit), but I funked that and sat modestly in the last row of officers. There were about a hundred officers there, and a huge solid pack of men; no other woman at all. The Bishop, looking very white and tired but very happy, took the service on the stage, where a Padre was thumping the hymns on the harmonium (which shuts up into a sort of matchbox). It was a voluntary service, and you know the nearer they are to the firing line the more they go to church. It was extraordinarily moving. The Padre read a sort of liturgy for the war taken from the Russians, far finer than any of ours; we had printed papers, and the response was "Lord, have mercy," or "Grant this, O Lord." It came each time like bass clockwork.
Troops are just marching by in the dark. Hundreds passed the hospital this afternoon. I must go to sleep.
The Bishop dashed in to see our sick officers here, and then motored off to dine with the Quartermaster-General. He's had great services with the cavalry and every other brigade.
Easter Eve, 10 p.m.—Have been on duty all day till 5 p.m. They are nearly all "evacuated" in a few days, so you are always getting a fresh lot in.
Another Army Sister turned up to-day in a motor from Poperinghe to take the place of the two who were originally here, who have now gone.
At six this morning big guns were doing their Morning Hate very close to us, but they have been quiet all day. Two days ago the village two and a half miles south-east of us was shelled.
I found my own new billet this morning before going on duty; it is in a very old little house over a shop in a street off the big Place. It is a sort of attic, and I am not dead sure whether it is clean on top and lively underneath, but time will show. The shop lady and her daughter Maria Thérèse are full of zeal and kindness to make me comfortable, but they stayed two hours watching me unpack and making themselves agreeable! And when I came in from dinner from the café, where we now have our meals (quite decent), she and papa and M.T. drew up a chair for me to causer in their parlour, to my horror.
At 8 p.m. the town suddenly goes out like a candle; all lights are put out and the street suddenly empty. After that, at intervals, only motorcyclists buzz through and regiments tramp past going back to billets. They sound more warlike than anything. Such a lot are going by now.
Easter Sunday, 3 p.m.—The service at 7 this morning in the theatre was rather wonderful. Rows of officers and packs of men.
We have been busy in the ward all the morning. I'm off 2-5, and shall soon go out and take E.'s chocolate Easter eggs to the men in the hospice. The officers have any amount of cigarettes, chocs., novels, and newspapers.
A woman came and wept this morning with my billeter over their two sons, who are prisoners, not receiving the parcels of tabac and pain and gateaux that they send. They think we ought to starve the German prisoners to death!
This morning in the ward I suddenly found it full of Gold Hats and Red Tabs; three Generals and their A.D.C.'s visiting the sick officers.
Easter Monday.—It is a pouring wet day, and the mud is Flanderish. Never was there such mud anywhere else. A gunner-major has just been telling me you get a fine view of the German positions from the Cathedral tower here, and can see shells bursting like the pictures in 'The Sphere.' He said his guns had the job of peppering La Bassée the last time they shelled this place, and they gave it such a dusting that this place has been let severely alone since. He thinks they'll have another go at this when we begin to get hold of La Bassée, but the latter is a very strong position. It begins to be "unhealthy" to get into any of the villages about three miles from here, which are all heaps of bricks now.
I'm leaving my billet to-morrow, as they want us to be in one house. And our house is the Maire's Château, the palatial one, so we shall live in the lap of luxury as never before in this country! And have hot baths with eau-de-Cologne every night, or cold every morning. And the woman is going to faire our cuisine there for us, so we shan't have to wait hours in the café for our meals. There is only one waiter at the café, who is a beautiful, composed, wrapt, silent girl of 16, who will soon be dead of overwork. She is not merely pretty, but beautiful, with the manners of a princess!
I shall be glad to get away from my too kind billeters; every night I have to sit and causer before going to bed, and Ma-billeter watches me in and out of bed, and tells me my nightgown is très pratique, and just like the officers Anglais have. But she calls me with a lovely cup of coffee in the morning. They've been so kind that I dread telling them I've got to go.
An officer was brought in during the night with a compound-fractured arm. He stuck a very painful dressing like a brick to-day, and said to me afterwards, "I've got three kids at home; they'll be awfully bucked over this!" He had said it was "nothing to write home about."
Another, who is chaffing everybody all day long, was awfully impressed because a man in his company—I mean platoon—who had half his leg blown off, said when they came to pick him up, "Never mind me—take so-and-so first"—"just like those chaps you read of in books, you know." It was decided that he meant Sir Philip Sidney.
Yesterday afternoon I had a lovely time taking round chocolate Easter eggs to our wounded in the French hospital. The sweetest, merriest Ma-Sœur took me round, and insisted on all the orderlies having one too. They adore her, and stand up and salute when she comes into the ward; and we had enough for the jeunes filles and the grannies in the women's ward of blessées. They were a huge success. Those men get very few treats. She also showed me the Maternity Ward.
Tuesday, April 6th, 10 p.m.—I am writing in bed in my lovely little room overlooking the garden, and facing some nice red roofs and both the old Towers of the town (one dating from le temps des Espagnols) in le Château, instead of in my attic in the narrow street where you heard the tramp of the men who viennent des tranches in the night. We had a lovely dinner, served by the fat and très aimable Marie in a small, panelled dining-room, with old oak chairs and real silver spoons (the first I've met since August). So don't waste any pity for the hardships of War! And an officer with a temperature of 103° explained that he'd been sleeping for sixteen days on damp sandbags "among the dead Germans."
Nothing coming in anywhere, but when it does begin we shall get them.
The A.D.M.S. is going to arrange for us to go up with one of his motor ambulances to one of the advance dressing stations where the first communication trench begins! It is at the corner of a road called "Harley Street," which he says is "too unhealthy," where I mayn't be taken. Won't it be thrilling to see it all?
Officers' "trench talk" is exactly like the men's, only in a different language.
It has been wet and windy again, so I did not explore when I was off this afternoon, but did my unpacking and settling in here. With so many moves I have got my belongings into a high state of mobilisation, and it doesn't take long.
Last night at the café, one of the despatch riders played Chopin, Tchaikowsky, and Elgar like a professional. It was jolly. The officers are awfully nice to do with on the whole.
Wednesday, April 7th. In bed, 10.30 p.m.—It has been a lovely day after last night's and yesterday's heavy rain. We are busy all day admitting and evacuating officers. The lung one had to be got ready in a hurry this morning, and Mr L. took him down specially to the train.
A very nice Brigade-Major came in, in the night, with a shell wound in the shoulder. This morning a great jagged piece was dug out, with only a local anæsthetic, and he stuck it like a brick, humming a tune when it became unbearable and gripping on to my hand.
I was off at 5 p.m., and went to dig out Marie Thérèse from my old billet, to come with me to Beuvry, the village about two and a half miles away that was shelled last week; it is about half-way to the trenches from here. It was a lovely sunsetty evening, and there was a huge stretch of view, but it was not clear enough to make anything out of the German line. She has a tante and a grandmère there, and has a "laisser-passer soigner une tante malade" which she has to show to the sentry at the bridge. I get through without. The tante is not at all malade—she is a cheery old lady who met us on the road. M.T. pointed me out all the shell holes. We met and passed an unending stream of khaki, the men marching back from their four days in the trenches, infant officers and all steadily trudging on with the same coating of mud from head to foot, packs and rifles carried anyhow, and the Trench Look, which can never be described, and which is grim to the last degree. Each lot had a tail of limping stragglers in ones and twos and threes. I talked to some of these, and they said they'd had a very "rough" night last night—pouring rain—water up to their knees, and standing to all night expecting an attack which didn't come off; but some mines had been exploded meant for their trench, but luckily they were ten yards out in their calculations, and they only got smothered instead of blown to bits. And they were sticking all this while we were snoring in our horrible, warm, soft beds only a few miles away. We went on past some of the famous brick stacks through the funny little village full of billets to the church, where le Salut was going on. We passed a dressing station of No.— Field Ambulance. The grandmère had two sergeants billeted with her who seemed pleased to have a friendly chat. Some of the men I said good-night to were so surprised (not knowing our grey coat and hat), I heard them say to each other "English!" Marie Thérèse simply adores the Anglais—they are so gais, such bon courage, they laugh always and sing—and they have "beaucoup de fiancées françaises pour passer le temps!" She told me they had yesterday a boy of eighteen who was always triste, but bien poli, and he knows six languages and comes from the University of London. When he left for the trenches he said, "Je vais à la mort," but he has promised to come and see them on Saturday or Sunday, "s'il n'est pas mort, ou blessé," she said, as an afterthought. Her own young man is à la Guerre, and she is making her trousseau. They do beautiful embroidery on linen.
I was pretty tired when we got back at 8 o'clock, as it was a good five-mile walk, part of the way on fiendish cobble-stones, and we are on our feet all day at the Dressing Station. But I am very fit, and all the better for the excellent fresh food we have here. No more tins of anything, thank goodness!
Thursday, April 8th.—Talking of billets, a General and his Staff are coming to this Château to-morrow and we three have got to turn out, possibly to a house opposite on the same square, which is empty. We live in terror of unknown Powers-that-Be suddenly sending us down. The C.O. and every one here are very keen that we should be as comfortably billeted as possible. He said to-day, "Later on you may get an awful place to live in." Of course we are aiming at becoming quite indispensable! If you can once get your Medical Officers to depend on you for having everything they want at hand, and for making the patients happy and contented, and the orderlies in good order, they soon get to think they can't do without you.
There are two nice tea-shops where all the officers of the 1st and 2nd Divisions go and have tea.
On Saturday morning they sent three hundred shells into Cuinchy, in revenge for their trench blown up (see to-day's Communiqué from Sir J.F.).
Friday, April 9th, 10.30 p.m.—An empty house was found for us on the same square, left exactly as it was when the owners left when the place was shelled. It was filthy from top to toe, but we have found a girl called Gabrielle to be our servant, and she has made a good start in the cleaning to-day. There are three bedrooms—mine is a funny little one built out at the back, down three steps, with two windows overlooking a corner of the square and our road past the hospital.
It is my fourth billet here in a week, and Gabrielle and I have made it quite habitable by collecting things from other parts of the house. We are back in our own rugs and blankets again without sheets, and there is no water on yet, but we filled our hot-water bottles at the hospital, and are quite warm and cosy, and locked up—I shall have to let Gabrielle in at 6.30 to-morrow morning. She is going to shop and cook for us, with help from the kind Marie at the Château, who is aghast at our present more military mode of living. The Château is now swarming with Staff Officers, to whom Marie pays far less attention than she does to us!
When the wind is in the right direction you can hear the rifle firing as well as the guns—and they are often shelling aeroplanes on a fine day. We have two bad cases in to-night—one wounded in the lung, and one medical transferred from downstairs, where the slight medicals are.
A Captain of the ——, hit in the back this morning when he was crossing in the open to visit a post in his trench, has a little freckled Jock for his servant, who dashed out to bring him in when he fell. "Most gallant, you know," he said. They adore each other. Jock stands to attention, salutes, and says "Yes'm" when I gave him an order. Their friends troop in to see them as soon as they hear they're hit. So many seem to have been wounded before—nearly all, in fact.
Letters are coming in very irregularly, I don't quite know why.
Saturday, April 10th, 10.30 p.m.—It is difficult to settle down to sleep to-night: the sky is lit up with flashes and star-shells, and every now and then a big bang shakes the house, above the almost continuous thud, thudding, and the barking of the machine-guns and the crackling of rifle firing; they are bringing in more to-day, both here and at the Hospice, and we are tired enough to go to sleep as if we were at home; I shouldn't wonder if the Night Sister had a busy night.
We had to rig up our day-room for an operation this evening—they have always taken them over to the Hospice, where they have a very swanky modern theatre.
We couldn't manage to get any food to-day for Gabrielle to cook for us, as our rations hadn't come up, so we went back to the café. She has been busy nettoying all day, and the house feels much cleaner.
The dead silence, darkness, and emptiness of the streets after 8 o'clock are very striking.
Sunday, April 11th.—This afternoon they shelled Beuvry (the village I went to with Marie Thérèse on Wednesday) and wounded eleven women and children; the advanced dressing station of No.— F.A. took them in. The promise to send us in one of the M.A.'s to "Harley Street" (the name of the first communication trench) has been taken back until things quiet down a little. There was an air battle just above us this evening,—a Taube sailing serenely along not very high, and not altering her course or going up one foot, for all the shells that promptly peppered the sky all round her. You hear a particular kind of bang and then gaze at the Taube; suddenly a shining ball of white smoke appears close to her, and uncurls itself in the sun against the blue of the sky. As it begins to uncurl you hear the explosion, and however much you admire the German's pluck, and hope he'll dodge them safely, you can't help hoping also that the next one will get him and that he'll come crashing down. Isn't it beastly? It was so near that the French were calling out excitedly, "Touché! Il descend," but he got away all right.
Another officer dangerously wounded was transferred to my ward to-day from the French hospital. He was feebly grappling with a Sevenpenny which he could neither hold nor read. "Anything to take my thoughts off that beastly war!" he said.
A small parcel of socks, cigs., and chocs, came to-day. Soon after, I found the road below was covered with exhausted trench stragglers resting on the kerb, the very men for the parcel. They had all that and one mouth-organ—wasn't it lucky? One Jock said, "That's the first time I've heard a woman speak English since I left Southampton six months ago!"
Gabrielle cooked a very nice supper for us to-night—which I dished up when we came in. It is much more fun camping out in our own little empty house than in the grand Château—but I didn't have time to look at nearly all the lovely engravings there.
Streams of columns have been passing all day; one gun-team had to turn back because one of the off horses jibbed and refused to go any farther.
Though it is past 11 p.m. the sounds outside are too interesting to go to sleep; the bangs are getting louder; those who viennent des tranches are tramping down and transport waggons rattling up!
Monday, April 12th.—No mail to-day. This has been a very quiet day, fewer columns, aeroplanes, and guns, and the three bad officers holding their own so far. The others come and go.
Tuesday, April 13th.—There is something quite fiendish about the crackling of the rifle firing to-night, and every now and then a gun like "Mother" speaks and shakes the town. Last night it was quite quiet. All leave has been stopped to-day, and there are the wildest rumours going about of a big naval engagement, the forcing of the Narrows, and the surrender of St Mihiel, and anything else you like!
These Medical Officers have always hung on to the most hopeless, both here and at the Hospice, beyond the last hope, and when they pull through there is great rejoicing.
It doesn't seem somehow the right thing to do, to undress and get into bed with these crashes going on, but I suppose staying up won't stop it!
Wednesday, April 14th.—Very quiet day; it always is after exciting rumours which come to nothing! But it has been noisier than usual in the daytime. I rested in my off-time and didn't go out.
The Victoria League sent some awfully nice lavender bags to-day, and some tins of Keating's, which will be of future use, I expect. Just now, one is mercifully and strangely free from the Minor Scourges of War.
The German trenches captured at Neuve Chapelle, and now occupied by us, are full of legs and arms, which emerge when you dig. Some are still caught on the barbed wire and can't be taken away.
We are not being at all clever with our rations just now, and manage to have indescribably nasty and uneatable meals! But we shall get it better in time, by taking a little more trouble over it.
We had scrambled eggs to-night, which I made standing on a chair, because the gas-ring is so high, and Sister holding up a very small dim oil-lamp. But they were a great success. And then we had soup with fried potatoes in it! and tea.
Thursday, April 15th.—This afternoon has been a day to remember. We've had our journey up to the firing line, to a dressing station just over half a mile from the first line of German trenches! It is between the two villages of Givenchy and Cuinchy, this side of La Bassée. The journey there was through the village I walked to with Marie Thérèse (which has been shelled twice since we came), and along the long, wide, straight road the British Army now knows so well—paved in the middle and a straight line of poplars on each side. As far as you could see it was covered with two streams of khaki, with an occasional string of French cavalry—one stream going up to the trenches after their so many days' "rest," and the other coming from the trenches to their "rest." We soon got up to some old German trenches from which we drove them months ago; they run parallel with the road. On the other side we saw one of our own Field Batteries, hidden in the scrub of a hedge—not talking at the moment. There were also some French batteries hidden behind an embankment. "The German guns are trained always on this road," said our A.S.C. driver cheerfully, "but they don't generally begin not till about 4 o'clock," so, as it was then 2.30, we weren't alarmed. They know it is used for transport and troops and often send a few shells on to it. We sat next him and he did showman. Before long we got into the area of ruined houses—and they are a sight! They spell War, and War only—nothing else (but perhaps an earthquake?) could make such awful desolation; in a few of the smaller cottages with a roof on, the families had gone back to live in a sort of patched-up squalor, but all the bigger houses and parts of streets were mere jagged shells. The two villages converge just where we turned a corner from the La Bassée road into a lane on our left where the dressing station is. A little farther on is "Windy Corner," which is "a very hot place." We had before this passed some of our own reserve unoccupied trenches, some with sandbags for parapets, but now we suddenly found ourselves with a funny barricade of different coloured and shaped doors, taken from the ruined houses, about 8 feet high on our right. This was to prevent the German snipers from seeing our transport or M.A.'s pass down that lane to the communication trench, which has its beginning at the ruined house which is used by the F.A. as one of its advanced dressing stations. It is called No. 1 Harley Street. Here we got out, and the first person we saw was Sergt. P., who was theatre orderly in No. 7 at Pretoria. He greeted us warmly and took us to Capt. R., who was the officer in charge. He also was most awfully kind and showed us all over his place. We went first into his two cellars, where the wounded are taken to be dressed, instead of above, where they might be shelled. They had a queer collection of furniture—a table for dressings, and some oddments of chairs, including two carved oak dining-room chairs. Round the front steps is a barricade of sandbags against snipers' bullets. The officer's room above the cellars was quite nice and tidy, furnished from the ruined houses, and with a vase of daffodils! He had been told the day before to allow no one up the staircase, because snipers were on the look-out for the top windows, and if it were seen to be used as an observing station it might draw the shells. However, just before we left he changed his mind and took us up and showed us all the landmarks, including the famous brick-stacks, where there must be many German graves, but we all had to be very careful not to show ourselves. The garden at the back has a row of graves with flowers growing on them, and neat wooden crosses with little engraved tin plates on, with the name and regiment. One was, "An unknown British Soldier." There were no wounded in the D.S. this afternoon.
The orderlies showed us lots of interesting bits of German shells and time fuses, &c. The house was full of big holes, with dirty smart curtains, and hats and mirrors lying about the floors upstairs among the brickwork and ruins.
They then took us a little way down the communication trench called "Hertford Street," under the "Marble Arch" to "Oxford Circus!" It is quite dry mud over bricks and very narrow, and goes higher than your head on the enemy side, and has zigzags very often. You can only go single file, and we had to wait in a zigzag to let a lot of men go by—they stream past almost continually. One officer invited us to come and see his dug-out, but it was farther along than we might go without being awfully in the way. We had before this given one stream of ingoing men all the cigarettes, chocolates, writing-paper, mouth-organs, Keating's, pencils, and newspapers we could lay hands on before we started, and we could have done with thousands of each. Every few minutes one of our guns talked with a startlingly loud noise somewhere near, but Captain R. said it was an exceptionally quiet day, and we didn't hear a single German gun or see any bursting shells. It was a particularly warm sunny day, and the men going into the trenches were so cheerful and jolly that it didn't seem at all tragic or depressing, and there was nothing but one's recollections of the Aisne and Ypres after what they call "a show" to remind one what it all meant and what it might at any moment turn into. One hasn't had before the opportunities of seeing the men who are in it (and not at the Bases or on the Lines of Communication) while they are fit, but only after they are wounded or sick, and the contrast is very striking. All these after their "rest" look fit and sunburnt and natural, and the one expression that never or rarely fails, whether fit, wounded, or sick, is the expression of acquiescence and going through with it that they all have. If it failed at all it was with the men with frost-bite and trench feet, who stuck it so long when winter first came on before they got the braziers, and in the long rains when they stood in mud and water to their waists. Now, thank Heaven, the ground is hard again.
I saw three small children playing about just behind the dressing station, where some men unloading a lorry were killed a few days ago. The women and children are all along the road, absolutely regardless of danger as long as they are allowed to stay in their own homes. The babies sit close up against the Tommies who are resting by the roadside.
We saw a great many wire entanglements, so thick that they look like a field of lavender a little way off. From the top windows of the ruined house we could see long lines of heads, picks and shovels, going single file down "Hertford Street," but they couldn't be seen from the enemy side because of the parapet.
Friday, April 16th.—At about 7.30 this evening I was writing the day report when the sergeant came in with three candles and said an order had come for all lights to be put out and only candles used. So I had to put out all the lights and give the astonished officers my three candles between them, while the sergeant went out to get some more. The town looks very weird with all the street lamps out and only glimmers from the windows. It was kept pretty darkened before. It may be because of the Zeppelin at Bailleul on Wednesday, or another may be reported somewhere about.
This afternoon I saw a soldier's funeral, which I have never seen before. He was shot in the head yesterday, and makes the four hundred and eleventh British soldier buried in this cemetery. I happened to be there looking at the graves, and the French gravedigger told me there was to be another buried this afternoon. The gravedigger's wife and children are with the Allemands, he told me, the other side of La Bassée, and he has no news of them or they of him.
It was very impressive and moving, the Union Jack on the coffin (a thin wooden box) on the waggon, and a firing party, and about a hundred men and three officers and the Padre. It was a clear blue sky and sunny afternoon, and the Padre read beautifully and the men listened intently. The graves are dug trenchwise, very close together, practically all in one continuous grave, each with a marked cross. There is a long row of officers, and also seven Germans and five Indians.
The two Zeppelins reported last night must have gone to bed after putting out all our lights, as nothing happened anywhere.
The birds and buds in the garden opposite make one long for one's lost leave, but I suppose they will keep.
We have only nine officers in to-day; everything is very quiet everywhere, but troop trains are very busy.
10.30 p.m.—It is getting noisy again. Some batteries on our right next the French lines are doing some thundering, and there are more star-shells than usual lighting up the sky on the left. They look like fireworks. They are sent up in the firing line to see if any groups of enemy are crawling up to our trenches in the dark. When they stop sending theirs up we have to get busy with ours to see what they're up to. It's funny to see that every night from your bedroom windows. They give a tremendous light as soon as they burst.
When I went into the big church for benediction this evening at 6.30, every estaminet and café and tea-shop was packed with soldiers, and also as usual every street and square. At seven o'clock they were all emptying, as there is an order to-day to close all cafés, &c., at seven instead of eight.
All lights are out again to-night.
Another aeroplane was being shelled here this evening.
Sunday, April 18th, 9.30 p.m.—It has been another dazzling day. A major of one of the Indian regiments came in this evening. He said the Boches are throwing stones across to our men wrapped in paper with messages like this written on them, "Why don't you stop the War? We want to get home to our wives these beautiful days, and so do you, so why do you go on fighting?" The sudden beauty of the spring and the sun has made it all glaringly incongruous, and every one feels it.
One badly wounded officer got it going out of his dug-out to attend to a man of his company who was hit by a sniper in an exposed place, one of his subalterns told me. His own account, of course, was a rambling story leaving that part entirely out.
This next shows how the Germans had left nothing to chance. They have about twelve machine-guns to every battalion, and are said to have had 12,000 when the War began. Passing through villages they pack ten of them into an innocent-looking cart with a false bottom. We captured some of these empty carts, and some time afterwards found them full of machine-guns!
Gold hats and red hats have been dropping in all day. They do on Sundays especially after Church Parade.
Saturday, April 24th.—We were watching hundreds of men pass by to-day, whistling and singing, on their way to the trenches.
News came to us this morning of the Germans having broken through the trench lines north of Ypres and shelled Poperinghe, which was out of range up to now, but it is not official.
The guns are very loud to-night; I hope they're keeping the Germans busy; something is sure to be done to draw them off the Ypres line.
Sunday, April 25th.—The plum-pudding was "something to write home about!" and the Quartermaster sent us a tin of honey to-day, the first I've seen for nine months.
A General came round this morning. He said the Canadians and another regiment had given the Germans what for for this gas-fumes business north of Ypres, got the ground back and recovered the four guns. The beasts of Germans laid out a whole trench full of Zouaves with chlorine gas (which besides being poisonous is one of the most loathsome smells). Of course every one is busy finding out how we can go one better now. But this afternoon the medical staffs of both these divisions have been trying experiments in a barn with chlorine gas, with and without different kinds of masks soaked with some antidote, such as lime. All were busy coughing and choking when they found the A.D.M.S. of the —— Division getting blue and suffocated; he'd had too much chlorine, and was brought here, looking very bad, and for an hour we had to give him fumes of ammonia till he could breathe properly. He will probably have bronchitis. But they've found out what they wanted to know—that you can go to the assistance of men overpowered by the gas, if you put on this mask, with less chance of finding yourself dead too when you got there. They don't lose much time finding these things out, do they?
On Saturday I shall be going on night duty for a month.
Monday, April 26th, 11 p.m.—We have been admitting, cutting the clothes off, dressing, and evacuating a good many to-day, and I think they are still coming in.
There is a great noise going on to-night, snapping and popping, and crackling of rifle firing and machine-guns, with the sudden roar of our 9.2's every few minutes. The thundery roll after them is made by the big shell bounding along on its way.
Two officers were brought in last night from a sap where they were overpowered by carbon monoxide. Three of them and a sergeant crawled along it to get out the bodies of another officer and a sergeant who'd been killed there by an explosion the day before; it leads into a crater in the German lines, and reaches under the German trenches, which we intended to blow up. But they were greeted by this poisonous gas last night, and the officer in front of these two suddenly became inanimate; each tried to pull the one in front out by the legs, but all became unconscious in turn, and only these two survived and were hauled out up twenty feet of rope-ladder. They will get all right.
The wounded ones are generally in "the excited stage" when they arrive—some surprised and resentful, some relieved that it is no worse, and some very quiet and collapsed.
Captain —— showed me his periscope to-day; you bob down and look into it about level with his mattress, and then you see a picture of the garden across the road. He has seen one made by Ross with a magnifying lens in it so good that you can see the moustaches of the Boches in it from the bottom of your trench. The noise is getting so beastly I must knock off and read 'Punch.'
Tuesday, April 27th.—Have been busy all day, and so have the guns. When the 15-inch howitzers began to talk the old concierge lady at the O.D.S. trotted out to see l'orage, and found a cloudless sky, and, mon Dieu, it was les canons. It is a stupendous noise, like some gigantic angry lion. The official accounts of the second dash for Calais reach us through 'The Times' two days after the things have happened, but the actual happenings filter along the line from St Omer (G.H.Q.) as soon as they happen, so we know there's been no real "breaking through" that hasn't been made good, or partially made good, because if there had, the dispositions all along the line would have had to be altered, and that has not happened.
The ambulance trains are collecting the Ypres casualties straight from the convoys at Poperinghe, as we did at Ypres in October and November, and not through the Clearing Hospitals, which I believe have had to move farther back.
Wednesday, April 28th.—Here everything is as it has been for the last few days (except the weather, which is suddenly hot as summer), rather more casualties, but no rush, and the same crescendo of heavy guns. Some shells were dropped in a field just outside the town at 8.30 yesterday evening but did no damage.
Thursday, April 29th, 4 p.m.—The weather and the evenings are indescribably incongruous. Tea in the garden at home, deck-chairs, and Sweep under the walnut-tree come into one's mind, and before one's eyes and ears are motor ambulances and stretchers and dressings, and the everlasting noise of marching feet, clattering hoofs, lorries, and guns, and sometimes the skirl of the pipes. One day there was a real band, and every one glowed and thrilled with the sound of it.
I strayed into a concert at 5.30 this evening, given by the Glasgow Highlanders to a packed houseful of men and officers. I took good care to be shown into a solitary box next the stage, as I was alone and guessed that some of the items would not be intended for polite female ears. The level of the talent was a high one, some good part songs, and two real singers, and some quite funny and clever comic; but one or two things made me glad of the shelter of my box. The choruses were fine. The last thing was a brilliant effort of the four part singers dressed as comic sailors, which simply made the house rock. Then suddenly, while they were still yelling, the first chords of the "King" were played, and all the hundreds stood to attention in a pin-drop silence while it was played—not sung—much more impressive than the singing of it, I thought.
We have had some bad cases in to-day, and the boy with the lung is not doing so well.
My second inoculation passed off very quickly, and I have not been off duty for it.