The Military Memoirs of Captain Dark, MC.
Dr Eric Payten Dark, 1889 - 1987, was born in Mittagong, New South Wales and qualified as a medical practitioner at Sydney University in 1914, qualifying a year early because of the war. He was among the first hundred Australian doctors who sailed to England to join the RAMC. The following account of his experiences in Flanders, the Somme and Passchendaele was written in the 1970s when Dr Dark was in his eightieth decade and have been published here by kind permission of his son, Mr John Oliver Dark, who holds the copyright.. A copy of the original document is in the Dark Papers, MLMSS 5049 item 1, Box 1(1) held at the Manuscript Section, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and gratitude is expressed to the Mitchell Library for making this material available.
Dr Dark, who was recommended for the Military Cross after the battle of the Somme, was eventually awarded the Military Cross for his service at Passchendaele. The citation, dated 15th August 1917, reads:
"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in leading his bearers. He displayed great gallantry and disregard of danger in moving about in the open under the heaviest shell fire, collecting and evacuating the wounded. He worked continuously for thirty-six hours, by his energy and determination contributing largely to the rapid clearing of the battlefield."
Subsequently, during a gas attack, the eye pieces of the gas mask became fogged up while treating wounded soldiers in the dark and he deliberately removed his gas mask in order to see what he was doing, accepting the exposure to the gas. Corporal Sachs, the medical corporal assisting him, also removed his gas mask, but tragically failed to survive.
After convalescence in Scotland and Australia, Dr Dark served in a hospital in Macedonia where he remained until the war ended.
Dr Geoffrey Miller
Dr E. P. Dark, MC, RAMC, in the uniform of his substantive rank of Lieutenant
Dr Eric Payten Dark MC.
(From a portrait, painted in the early 1930s, by Brien O'Reilly, Dr Dark's brother-in-law .)
The infantry was divided into three Brigades of four battalions with a Field Ambulance attached to each Brigade. All the medical personnel of the Division were under the command of an A.D.M.S, a full colonel, and each Field Ambulance was commanded by a Lieut. Col, with a Major as second in command, and 7 other medical officers. When Drew (another Australian ) and I joined the 9th. Field Ambulance it was commanded by Lieut. Col, Bliss, with Major Fraser second in command; after we joined, the other 7 M.0.s were made up of two Englishmen, one Irish man, one Canadian, two Australians and one New Zealander, Wilson; Frazer was a Scot, about 30, with the nicest sense of humour of the lot, (Ed. note: Dr Dark usually spelt Major Fraser's name with a 'z', but his name was actually spelt 'Fraser') while the Irishman had none.
Some of the officers of the 9th Field Ambulance. Major Fraser is in the centre
We joined the Division soon after the battle of Loose when it was in a quiet part of the line a bit N. of Armentiers, We did not have time to find out what sort of a CO. Bliss was, as he soon after went to be ADMS of some other Division. It's always a bit worrying when a unit is waiting for a new CO as you don't know what sort of a man its going to be; all the original officers hoped that it might be Frazer, but thought it rather unlikely, as he was young for the job, but fortunately for the Ambulance he got it, for I have not the least. doubt that in all France there was not a better Ambulance CO., even if there was his equal. He was a man of first class intelligence who had done outstanding work with the Bruce Tse Tse Fly Commission, having one species named after him and getting a years accelerated promotion. At Loose he was in command of the bearers clearing the 2nd Guards Bgde., had a piece of high explosive lodged in his scalp went back to the A.D.S (advanced dressing station to you) had the bit of shell pulled out, and went on with the work. His quality was recognised, for by the end of the war he had a MC., a DSO. and bar, a C.M.G., the Legion of Honour, and a Croix de Guerre; he was a brilliant organiser, had the personality that could keep discipline without saying a word, in the most hectic conditions appeared to be as untroubled as if he was at a quiet tea party, under heavy shelling could act as if shells did not exist, and had the faculty of picking the man for the job. Once when our headquarters was about 10 miles behind the front line a long range shell killed a bearer sergeant, for whom he had a high regard and half a dozen bearers; the quality of the bearers was his passion, for on that depended the quick picking up of casualties in a battle, and a first class sergeant with the bearers was as important as a first class officer.
To replace Sergeant Crow he picked Lance Corporal Oliver from the Quarter Master's store. How did he know that if he had had the pick of all the men in the three field ambulances, sergeants and all, he could not have found a better bearer sergeant?
A field ambulance had to find replacements for battalion M.0.s who went on leave, or were sick, or became casualties, and for the next few months I was temporarily attached to a battalion of each regiment or the Division - Welsh, Irish Scots, Grenadiers, and Coldstream. The routine of getting casualties from a battalion is for their stretcher bearers to bring them to the battalion aid post, which is at, or close to, the headquarters, where the MO. fixes them up temporarily, and then the ambulance bearers, who are stationed at the Bne aid post, take them to the Ambulance HQ from where the more serious cases are sent down to the Casualty Clearing Station; the less serious are held for a few days and when fit returned to their battalion. The Bn. MO, if he knows his job and does it properly. should go round the trenches each day, having a look at everything and calling at each of the company head- quarters.
The men like to see the M.0. in the trenches - it makes them feel that he will be there when wanted. Relieving the M.0. of the Welsh Guards was my first job, where all was quiet. A little later 1 went to the 3rd. Grenadiers, commanded by Lt. Col. Brooks, who later commanded the 2nd. Guards Brigade, and finally an Army Corps. The Adjutant was Oliver Littleton, a very intelligent young man, about 20, belonging to a quite famous family, whom I thought, probably unfairly, rather supercilious; he later became Viscount Chandos.
The Bn. headquarters was in an old farm house, well sandbagged, about half a mile behind the front line trenches; here I had my first taste of shell fire, from 4.2in. high velocity guns ranged on the farm house. A few fell in the court yard, causing only slight casualties, which, of course, it was my job to fix up before sending them off to the ambulance.
One of the routine jobs of a Bn. M.0. was the morning sick parade, where all the men who were sick, or thought they were, reported for examination and treatment; those who were too sick to remain with the Bn. were sent to the Field Ambulance; those who were only a little off colour were given a suitable pill and sent back to their unit, any man whom you were sure was malingering had his sheet marked duty in red ink and sent back to his C.0. who would deal with him as he thought fit. This morning sick parade often had its difficulties, as every Bn. had its share of malingerers, and if a M.O. got the reputation of being too easy he soon had his sick parade swamped with them; that was most unfair to the decent majority who would have to do more work to make up for the absent malingerers. I very seldom marked a man duty, in red ink, but unless I was sure that a man was really sick he got Medicine & Duty. One of the real problems was a "pain in the back", with no temperature and a normal pulse, and no objective sign.
While with the Grenadiers I remember sending one man back marked M & D on three or four successive mornings; at last his company commander saw me to let me know that he was a first class soldier who was certainly not a malingerer so I sent for him again, explained the reason for my toughness and apologised. But if I did not know the man, toughness was necessary, or the morale of a battalion could suffer. Once when the Division was out in rest in a pleasant village one of the Bn. MOs was slack, and had sick parades of up to 80 men every morning, when the average was about a dozen - very aggravating for the decent soldiers, and asking for malingering.
Early in the winter we moved up into the Ypres Salient; the ambulance head-quarters was in Poperinghe, a large town about 10 miles from the front line, very comfortable, and usually quite quiet, though it was there that Sergeant Crow was killed. I at once went off to relieve the M.O. of the 2nd Irish Guards, who were just about to move up into Ypres, where they were billeted for a few days before moving into the front line. It should be explained that the H.Q. Mess of a battalion consisted of the OC., the second in command, the Adjutant, the intelligence officer, the padre, if one was attached to the BN., perhaps the bombing officer, and the M.O.
It was night when we got to Ypres, so I dined with the mess, and then went off to my billet in the aid post; this was in the old cavalry barracks, a vast empty building about 120 feet by 60, with walls about 30 feet high and the ceiling a series of brick arches, which appeared to me to have no reason whatever to stay up there. There was no one in that vast building, reverberating hollowly to the sound of the shelling that was going on all over the city, except the sick sergeant with his half dozen bearers and me. I rolled out my valise far enough from the men to let them feel free to have their own talk, and crawling into it, lay on my back staring up at that horrible roof, imagining what would happen if a shell landed on it bringing down about ten tons of bricks onto me. The men had some lanterns burning, and a brazier, just enough to cast flickering shadows on that damned ceiling. Soon they had a pot of tea going, and were talking quietly round the brazier, while I lay and watched the ceiling - I would have given a years pay to be able to join the comfortable group, but could not because I thought they would know that I joined them only because I was frightened. In the morning the sergeant came along to me with a cup of tea, saying "Good morning sir; we brewed a pot of tea in the night; pity you weren't awake to come along and have a cup."
The next night we went up into the trenches at a spot known as 'hellfire corner', near the tip of the salient. The aid post was in, a sort of sandbagged hut, just behind he support trench which was held by one company. Father Knapp, the battalion padre, came with me (why not with HQ I don't know) . He was a Trappist monk from a monastery in London and the only man I have ever met who was certainly a saint, He was elderly, tall, lean, stooping, with a most gentle voice; he was also excessively timid, dying emotionally every time a shell came within 50 yards, yet whenever a man was wounded he would be there to cheer him up, Or if he were dying, to give him extreme unction, however heavy the shelling. What the men thought of him can be judged from the fact that he firmly believed that the battalion was quite free from swearing or profanity, when of course they were just as foul-mouthed as any other lot when Father Knapp was not within hearing.
The night was unusually quiet until about midnight when a tremendous bombardment began with 5.9s, a very destructive shell, pouring into the trench. Father Knapp and I lay flat in the little aid post which was strong enough to stop fragments, but nothing more; he hated to lie in the dark, so every time the blast blew out our hurricane lantern I lit it again, so I seemed to spend most of the time striking matches. The shelling went on for half an hour, and then stopped abruptly. Bn HQ was a little in front of our trench, and they counted the shells as they came over - a steady stream at 30 a minute, so in the half hour 900 fell in or around the trench. As soon as the shelling stopped the CO. withdrew three of the four platoons that were holding the trench. We had half an hour's peace, and then the second storm began; I did not like the gimcrack Aid Post so went into the trench, and had been there only about ten minutes when Father Knapp joined me. He had quite properly gone back to the cellars with the three Platoons, and thought I had done the same; when he found that I was still with the remaining Platoon he walked back into that inferno, and sat down in the trench beside me , saying "I thought I'd like to come back and be with you, Doctor." Every step must have been an agony for him. In the middle of the third half of the bombardment I decided to walk along the line of shell holes that had been a trench and see what was happening. When I was about half way along I suddenly felt that 1 was utterly alone in that mad world of bursting shells and flying fragments, and had a few seconds of blind panic, and started to run; I took about ten paces, then suddenly realised that I was a bloody fool, being just an likely to run into a shell as away from it. Luckily there was no one to see my moment of panic. I have been scared several times after that but never again had such a horrible feeling of sheer terror.
There were altogether four periods of half hour shelling, always at the same rate, so that about 3600 heavy shells were fired at that 200 yards of trench; the result was quite incredible; although the trench ceased to exist, only twelve men were not too severely wounded. Nobody could imagine what the Germans were at; one had to guess that something had made them think that men were being massed there for an attack; the take over had not been as quiet as it should have been and a few fools had flashed torches.
While with that battalion I got to know two remarkable men; one, of course, was Father Knapp, and the other was one of the company commanders, Captain Alexander, who in the 2nd World War became Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Alamein. When the battalion came back to Ypres for a rest I became friendly with Alexander and his particular friend, Eric Greer, another company commander.
One quiet afternoon when we were sitting out in the sun Alexander showed me a scurrilous little manuscript book, which was in modern slang, a clever and virulent send up of the higher command, from Haig down. Alexander had done the pen & ink illustrations and Greer the libretto. One page pictured General Plumer as an old, old man with long white hair & beard, and a vacant smile, being wheeled along in a bath chair, reviewing his army, I cant remember the verses that went with it. If the wrong people had over heard of the little book both the authors would certainly have been court martialled.
Alexander was a quite competent painter in water colour, and in general a most intelligent young man - Osbert Sitwell has high praise for his intelligence in his autobiography, Greer was killed. Soon after I rejoined the Ambulance Frazer came up to the ADS on the Canal bank. It was a most unconventional thing for a CO to be in the ADS and leave the HQ to his second in command, now Wilson.
The Yser Canal ran from the west into Ypres and the ADS was in one of a line of dugouts about half a mile west of the town. Here dugouts were not dugouts because it was impossible to dig on account of the water-table being just below the surface, but were built of covered sheets of heavy corrugated steel covered with sand bags and might have with- stood a direct hit from a shell from a field gun (75mm).
Casualties from the 2nd. Brigade came to the battalion aid post at St. Jean where they were picked up each night by a motor field ambulance from Poperinghe. It was most unusual for an ambulance to be able to reach a battalion aid post. Of course it had to come up at night as the road from Ypres was under direct observation from the German lines, and it had to drive without lights. As the road was often pitted with shell holes it was a masterly bit of driving to get the ambulance there and back without wrecking it, but it was always done.
While we were on the Canal bank Fraser and I took it in turn to pick up the ambulance in Ypres at a given time. The road from the ADS intersected the road the ambulance took at the Ypres water towers which happened to be the point that the German artillery most often ranged on, so it was not a healthy spot for lingering however, as it was the most convenient meeting place Fraser chose it, but insisted that one just be exactly on time, not to keep the ambulance waiting.
Fraser had his own philosophy on how to treat shell fire; as where a shell might drop was utterly unpredictable the only sane thing was to act as if there were no shells - to do exactly as you would have done if there had been no shelling. it may sound lunatic, but Fraser always acted on it, and was never hit; I did my best to act on it, and only once got a negligible scratch.
One evening the Canal bank was being fairly heavily shelled and nervous soldiers crowding into the dugout; several were on their hands and knees crawling into ours just when it was time to leave for the ambulance; Fraser looked at his watch, remarked that it was time to go, put on his cap (it was before the time of the tin hat) and looking quite unconcerned stepped carefully over the bodies of the scared Tommies into the shelling.
On another evening I made the acquaintance of Sergeant Oliver when we were walking along the road to meet the ambulance. Soon after we had started I heard the sound of guns away to our left, on Pilkem ridge (a fairly high ridge that overlooked our positions) immediately after there was the swish of approaching shells, then the crash as they landed on the pave just behind us. We were walking about 10 yards apart. As soon as the shells had burst I turned and asked " Are you all right sergeant ?" and got the quite unruffled reply, "Yes sir, I'm all right." Naturally I was now looking toward Pilkem ridge and immediately saw the four flashes of another salvo; this time the shells landed in front of us. Five salvos were fired at the road, and every shell hit it, and every time Oliver answered " Yes Sir, I'm all right." It was astonishingly accurate shooting, as the guns were firing at right angles to the road.
Next morning Oliver told me "You know sir, its a queer thing, but I found after the shelling that I had turned up the collar of my tunic, just as if I had been caught in a shower of rain."
I have a clear memory of only one other incident of our stay at Ypres. My turn for leave had come, and I had just finished packing my valise when Frazer came into my room and told me that a relief was needed for the 3rd. Grenadiers, and that the ADMS had told him that Col. Brooke had specially asked for me. I was very peeved and remarked "Oh, God damn it Frazer, so I've got to go up to the tip of the Salient instead of to Piccadilly."
"No, Dark, your leave has come through, and you are entitled to take it. Col. Brooke has asked for you, but its your choice". Just then I loathed him; why couldn't he give me an order; that would make it quite simple, but he just stood there with a half smile on his face.
It was a horrible choice, but I suppose I put an absolute value on Frazer's opinion; so I said very grudgingly, "Very well, Sir, I'll go to the battalion." We had a perfectly soft time at the tip of the Salient, and my Piccadilly leave was delayed only a fortnight.
Note 1. Any salient, especially if it is a
narrow one, is a nasty place because one can be shot as from three sides - front, right and left,
Note 2. In the mess and when no stranger was present we all address the C.O. as Frazer; if any of the other ranks, or a stranger, were present it was "Sir." Nothing had over been said; it was simply a matter of the instinctive discipline he inspired.
Note 3. I once went to watch an 11 in. Howitzer firing; looking along the barrel as it fired one could pick up the shell a few hundred yards off and follow it as it climbed named higher and higher, not seeming to move very fast as it diminished to the size of a football, a cricket ball, a tennis ball, a golf ball, a marble, and then vanished at what seemed an immense altitude. It was quite a fascinating spectacle.
Note 4. In quiet times I strolled about the ruined city; the cathedral and the Cloth Hall were still impressive in their ruins, and must have been beautiful . Once I found the ruins of a large house and garden; in the garden was a large circular pond, full of water; it was 50 yards round the edge, and had been formed by a 17in. shell from a mortar with which Ypres had been strafed in the early days of the war.
It must have been late in June that the Division moved up to the Somme. It took over the line from the right of the little village of Ginchy to Delville Wood on the left. Guillemont had just been captured after vicious fighting, (Ed. note: The first attack on Guillemont was on the 23rd July, and the outskirts of the village were not taken until the 18th August, so that Dr Dark's recollection appears to be at fault) and my full realisation of what fighting on the Somme meant came as I walked along the sunken road that ran through the middle of the village; it is not much exaggeration to say that one could have walked the length of the village stepping from corpse to corpse without putting a foot on the ground.
The ambulance headquarters was near Trones Wood, which had been fought over several times, and was full of shattered trees and rotting men, when the wind was in the wrong direction it brought the horrible sickly sweet stink of rotting flesh.
Opposite the extreme right of the Division mas a very heavily fortified strong point full of machine gun posts, known as the Quadrilateral. The High Command naturally wanted that taken before the next offensive, but could not be made to realise its immense strength, and ordered an attack on it by a company. Against the most vigorous protest by the CO. of the battalion concerned, and by the Brigade, pushed almost to the point of mutiny, the high command insisted. The attack was made; most of the company was slaughtered, and not a yard of ground was gained. The attack was repeated at battalion strength, with the same result. The date for the offensive, on about a 40 mile front, in which tanks were to be used for the first time, was now very close, so it was decided to leave the Quadrilateral for that.
At that time the 24th. division took over several hundred yards of the line, including the part opposite the Quadrilateral, leaving the Guards Division a shortened front. During this time I had been running an ADS just in front of Trones Wood, it was simply a few yards of trench with no head cover. I was there for four days, and was kept busy with casualties all of each day and two of the nights. While I was there Frazer and Wilson, who was to be in command of the bearers of the ambulance came along on their way to have a look at the front line and get an idea of the country ahead. An hour or so later they were back, Wilson on a stretcher with a lump of shell in his chest. Just as they arrived shelling began, with high explosive so Wilson's stretcher was pushed into the trench; I was at the open and where the parapet was so low that I could see over it when kneeling; with Frazer standing next to me. When another salvo burst about 40 yards in front of the trench, I felt a sharp ping on my tin hat and a shrapnel bullet fell at my feet; a minute later the same thing happened., I picked up the bullets and said to Frazer "Where the hell did these come from?" He put his hand into his pocket and pulled out half a dozen more, and, grinning at me said "From there". A queer happening, which still remains a puzzle. For there was Wilson possibly going to die - a man for whom he had a very high regard, and of whom I'd heard him say half a dozen times "The best bearer officer in France". The offensive was due in a few days, and Frazer had been appointed to be in command of clearing the wounded from the whole division, and now he had to find someone to replace Wilson; yet he could play practical jokes.
Obviously it had to be Abraham or I, for we had been doing all the forward work, while none of the other officers had been out of the main dressing station. I was most painfully torn between two emotions; the desire that Frazer should choose me, and fear of the responsibility, taking the place of "The best bearer officer in France." Supposing I turned out to be not good enough, and made a mess of things ?
A little later I was at a battalion HQ to pick up some casualties and while in the mess heard the CO remark "I hear that Frazer has put Abraham in charge of the bearers ". That showed me in a flash what I wanted, for my heart went down into my boots. At the end of the four days in that ADS I rejoined the main dressing station just in time for dinner, promising myself that I would sleep till midday. During dinner Frazer said to me "Oh Dark, You'll be in charge of the bearers, and I want you to take up all the men of the ambulance and make a road fit for wheeled transport from the end of the present road to just behind the field guns; you had better get moving by six o'clock."
Well, there it was; the job was mine, and I wouldn't have cared a damn if he had ordered me to start on the road straight away. It was easy enough to build, for the ground had been churned up by shelling so it was only a matter of shovelling and levelling, and with about 250 men, 1000 yards of double track dirt road was finished before night. Nobody else in the Division had seen the importance of that road which allowed wheeled transport to get 1000 yards nearer the front line; when the attack came, next morning, not only the ambulance wagons used it but ammunition wagons, water carts, G. S. wagons - in short, all the wheeled transport of the division. Next morning, 15th. of July, 1916 the bearers moved up into position at 4 a.m. we were in a trench just in front of the field guns, 400 of them, which opened up the creeping, barrage for the infantry attack just after we reached our trench. Noone who has not sat just in front of 400 field guns firing as fast as they could be loaded can imagine the appalling din.
The Guards attacked from the right side of Ginchy along the crest of a low ridge to the right of Delville Wood - a front of a little less than a mile. They were supposed to take Les Boeufs.
From the trench where the bearers were waiting the ground sloped up, about as steeply as Katoomba Street, for about 400 yards to the crest of the ridge. As soon as our attack had gone through the German front line the Germans laid down a tremendous barrage along the crest At 8 o'clock Frazer told me to take eight squads of bearers and see how we got on - bearers were four to a stretcher and that was a squad.
The crest was still pretty black with bursting shells, so as we approached it I spread the men out in a thin line, When we were nearly through the barrage just to my left was the top half of a man's body, cut off at the waist, tossed 30 or 40 feet into the air, with his arms spread wide, spinning like a Catherine wheel. I must have been in a queer emotional state for I burst out laughing at the grotesque and ghastly sight.
The bearers had been told that if there were casualties among them they would have to carry with two to a stretcher instead of four; anyhow it would not be a long carry as they would not go far before finding a load for their stretcher. When they were on their way back it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to go on and find out how far the attack had gone. I had a bag of first field dressings with me of a supply of morphine tablets so, as I found a wounded man, I would fix him up as well as possible, give him half a grain of morphine under his tongue (that would soon make him drowsy and ease his pain) and tell him that stretcher bearers would be along soon.
The division had advanced about a mile, with the new front line a few hundred yards short of Les Boeufs. which they had expected to capture, but the attack on our right had been held up at the Quadrilateral so our right flank was quite up in the air, with a gap about a mile wide between it and the next division. Alexander had got his company through Les Boeufs, but realising what had happened on the right had got them back again before they were cut off so now there was the front line just a little short of the final objective. Of course to do the work of clearing it had been necessary to find out just where the front line was. The carrying was over a mile of ground so torn up by the guns that there was not a square foot of firm ground, one shell hole on top of another.
When I got back to Frazer he told me that, of my 32 bearers, 20 were casualties. It may be as well to explain that of any number of casualties on a rough average about a quarter would be dead, about a quarter of the rest would be stretcher cases, and the remainder walking wounded. So of the men I set out with, five would be dead, three or four would be stretcher cases, and 11 or 12 would be able to walk. Obviously a bearer division of 80 men could not keep on having that amount of casualties, so Frazer waited till 11 o'clock before sending us out again; by that time there was only desultory shelling along the ridge. The routine then was for me to take out half the bearers, fill the stretchers, carry them back and take out the other half, and so on through the day and most of the night, except that at 8 o'clock Frazer sent me back to the ADS for a hot meal, telling me not to hurry over it. He had noticed that each time I came back for another lot of bearers I drank a lot of water but ate nothing. He may also have noticed that I was beginning to get jumpy. Possibly morale may be a sort of function of physical fitness, for until the end of the day I had a quite confident feeling of invulnerability - no shell could get me but by the evening that lovely confidence began to wear off, and by night every shell that one could hear coming was aimed straight at me. After the rest and the hot dinner that blessed feeling of invulnerability was with me again.
By about 3 o'clock in the morning the bearers were all done - it was no use asking any more of them, but Frazer suggested that he and I should walk up to the front line so that he could see just how things were. When we were well on the way back Frazer stopped and said "I haven't the faintest idea where we are, we had better crawl into a shell hole and wait till it gets a bit light."
I too was absolutely confused, for there was gun fire all round us, and Verey lights going up in all directions, and there was the rattle of machine gun fire all over the place. However, just as I was about to agree a shell burst some 50 yards away, and by its momentary flash I saw the stump of a shattered telegraph post which I had passed a dozen times that day, and I knew that we were only a few hundred yards from our camp. So instead of agreeing I said casually "Oh its all right Frazer, I know exactly where we are", and guided him home. I never told him how I had known where we were, and from then on he was absolutely sure that in no possible circumstances could I be lost. Whenever I think of it I find it quite pleasantly amusing. Frazer knew such an awful lot about everybody under his command that it was nice to think that there was just one thing he did not know.
There were still plenty of casualties to pick up next day as there had been more fighting to get a protective flank out to cover the exposed right wing. In the early afternoon I took out 14 squads and found a forward trench with enough badly wounded men to fill the 14 stretchers and started the fairly long carry back to the camp. A corporal & I were at the head of the centipede, and Oliver was at the rear when I thought of something I wanted to tell him, so waited until he caught up; Just as he reached me there was the sound of a heavy shell coming over and the next moment it fell slap on the leading stretcher; when I reached the spot they were all dead - the four bearers, the man on the stretcher, and the corporal; some of the bodies were practically disintegrated; the man on the stretcher, the corporal; was lying apparently unwounded, but his head looked queer; there was not a spot of blood on it, but when I felt it it could be moulded into almost any shape, the bones of the skull grating under my hand; without any external wound they had been shattered by the concussion. Some months later one of our officers was in a cellar when a shell exploded in it killing him by the concussion without making a mark on his body.
By the second night most of the battle casualties had been picked up, but a few continued to come in from the now normal trench warfare. We were to be relieved early on the afternoon of the third day, but one or two bodies of our stretcher bearers had not been recovered, and Frazer told me to get a couple of squads out to look for them, remarking that the men were very sentimental about recovering the bodies of their dead. I asked him if I was to take them out; his characteristic answer was "That's for you to decide." It was really a corporal's job, but knowing Frazer's attitude I went with them, feeling exhausted, sulky at what seemed to we a ridiculous job, and of very low morale, for when I heard a shell coming I plunged into a shell hole; the burst was quite 50 yards away, and I crawled out feeling thoroughly cast down, and hoping that none of the men had noticed my idiotic antic. We did not find any bodies - probably they had been disintegrated by the shell that fell through the stretcher. Out of 80 stretcher bearers we had 45 casualties, which was not much different from the infantry rate - about 5000 odd, which seems a high price to pay for a little over a mile advance.
Oliver, of course had put up a magnificent performance; he was out with every batch of bearers, tireless and imperturbable; added to his military virtues were the most quiet and pleasing manners.
When we were relieved there had been 60 hours with no sleep, not much rest, and the almost continuous walking over country worse than ploughed fields. As we marched back to the main dressing station it felt as though there were 10 pounds of lead in each boot, and it was just possible to keep one lump of lead swinging after the other. I crawled into my sleeping bag at 4 p.m. and slept without a move until mid day .
Historical note. That was the first time tanks were used three to each division. Ours were practically useless, as two broke down about the front line, and the third a few hundred yards further. They were a marvelous success with the division on our left; the story, as we heard it, was that they straddled each trench as they came to it, machine gunned right and left, and the infantry followed, cheering. That division took all its objectives with the very lightest casualties.
We were in rest for several days; one afternoon, when riding with Frazer he said " You did damn well, Dark". Naturally I was immensely bucked, and did not mind when he put Abraham in command of the bearers for the next attack on July 25th, as he said "To give him his chance".
The division had been ordered in again to reach the objective just in front of Les Boeufs which they had failed to reach on the 15th. The attack began at 2 in the afternoon, and apparently was a complete surprise to the Germans, for the objective was reached with quite light casualties. I was back at what might be called the command post with Frazer attending to wounded as they came in until 8 p.m, when Frazer told me to up into Les Boeufs and give Abraham a hand, as "He is having rather a sticky time." I found a big cellar in the middle of the village full of badly wounded men who needed to be roughly fixed up and then sent off on stretchers, The town was being fairly heavily shelled, and every minute or so the lantern, which was the only light one had for doing the dressings, was blown out by the blast of some shell falling near the entrance to the cellar. The bearers got off with very few casualties, but one of those strange flukes depressed me greatly. Frazer thought that Oliver, who had done so magnificently in the previous attack, should have a rest, and was kept back at the main dressing station, miles behind the front line; there he was killed by a stray long-range shell. (Ed. note: Dr Dark's son, John Oliver Dark, was named after Sergeant Oliver.)
A little over a year later the same thing happened to Father Knapp, who had been with his battalion in every attack, and was constantly in the front line. For the beginning of the Paschendale offensive on August 31st. 1917 he was ordered, much against his will, to stay back at divisional H.Q. where he was killed just as Oliver had been. Which suggests that Frazer's attitude to shelling was not unreasonable when you consider those two men kept far back so that they would be safe, were killed; or the nearly 4000 heavy shells fired at 200 yards of trench resulting in a dozen slight casualties, while one stray shell kills 6, being absolutely unpredictable it might as well be ignored.
A couple of days after the capture of Les Boeufs Frazer invited me to come with him up to the front line to see a battle, The Corps on our left was going to make an attack, and as the ground over which the attack would pass was in a kind of saucer overlooked by our trenches we could get a sort of dress circle view.
Soon after we got to our seats we saw three lines of infantry advancing in open order, behind the barrage; the front line had not gone far when men began falling, and falling, and falling; then what were left of them turned and began to run back. Soon the whole valley was blotted out by the smoke of bursting shells; we saw no more, and never heard the result.
After the Les Boeufs attack the division came back for a short rest, and then took up a position in front of Combles, on the edge of the St. Pierre Vast Wood. Frazer had taken over the main dressing station, and was going off with me to take over the advanced dressing station, and have a look at the battalion aid posts when an officer of the division we were relieving came up and told him that the ADMS was waiting to see him. He took the messages turned to me and muttered "Let the old bugger wait, I want to see the forward area." When we got to the ADS Frazer asked the M.O. in command there to give us a guide to the battalion aid posts. The M.O. in a rather stammering way admitted that he could not do that because he had no idea where they were. He and his fellow officer had been sitting there for two weeks and neither they nor any of their bearers had put a nose in front of the ADS, but had sat there waiting for the battalion stretcher bearers to bring the casualties to them.
Frazer did not say a word, but gave them a contemptuous glance, telling me "Come along, Dark, and we will find them for ourselves," which we did without much trouble, leaving our bearers at each one.
The ADS was quite comfortable; a sort of little hut, pretty well sand-bagged, with a couple of bunks and a good brazier. We were lucky in that we found a large dump of coal briquettes in Combles, so had as much fuel as we wanted. The dressing station itself was a Nissen hut close by, also well sandbagged.
We had lost all the sergeants and corporals in the bearer division in the recent fighting and, with Frazer's passion for having a bearer division whose work was perfection , it was a worrying situation. He told me he would send up prospective NCO' s in relays, and instructed me to "Get them under shell fire as often as you can, and see how they act."
I was in the ADS, generally with another officers for 14 weeks, broken up by a fortnight' s leave in the middle. Every day I went round the Battalion HQs and aid posts; as there was not much shelling it was quite a pleasant walk, and having a yarn with the various officers made a nice day of it. Once when I got back to our ADS I was take to see the nose of a 20cm. shell poking up out of the ground in front of the ADS; it had landed just at the back and travelled under the whole length to poke up in front; if it had exploded when it was meant to there would have been just a big shell-hole where the ADS had stood. A shell that did just the opposite burst before it left the muzzle of one of our guns, a bit of the gun barrel three ft. long and up to 6in. wide landed at the door of our ADS living room.
To turn from the strange things that shells can do to the queerness of coincidences. One morning I had been telling the MO. who was sharing the ADS with me about the famous Tom Ugly's parrot, who was reputed to be 100 years old, had no feathers, and would hop about on his perch shrieking "I'll fly, I'll fly, by God I'll fly." When the mail arrived there was a Windsor Magazine with an article on that parrot. Then, one morning Frazer and I were watching some field guns firing; there were two six gun batteries in line, firing in succession from right to left at about a seconds interval; again and again along the line, as regularly as the ticking of a clock. It was a rather fascinating display of perfect precision.
After we had watched it for some time I remarked "If a man got his head in front of the recoil he would get his jaw well smashed." Back in the ADS they were just bringing in a gunner whose jaw had been fractured in just that way.
During the autumn and winter of '16-'17 we had first rain with the most appalling mud, and then a frost which lasted several weeks and froze the ground to a depth of 18 inches. Of course, the frost made it much easier to get about, but it made shelling more unpleasant, as the shells detonated the moment they landed on the iron-hard ground, scattering their fragment much more widely, On the whole it was much preferable to the mud, two stories of which will illustrate it's horrors. A CO. of one of the Guards battalions weighed the great coat of one of the men when they came out of the trenches - it weighed 80 lbs. The other story is that a man who wandered off the duckboards into a shell hole filled with mud like a thick porridge. His mates tried to pull him out but could not; then they tried to dig him out, but the mud flowed back as fast as they shoveled it away; at last a mule was brought up along the duckboards, a rope passed under the man' s shoulders, and he was hauled out, sadly wracking his spine. These stories came to me second hand, but I believe them.
Some time in the spring of 1917 the division, after a short rest, took over from an Australian division, in front of Delville Wood. I was sent ahead, with theTransport to take over the dressing station and then move on to the ADS. The congestion on the road was fearful - traffic moved on for a few yards and then stopped for anything up to a quarter of an hour before moving for another few yards. At the rate we were going it would be hours after the given time before we reached the Dressing Station, and I had just decided that I would have to leave the transport and go along on foot with some stretcher bearers and skeleton equipment when Frazer walked up; he looked at his watch and then at me and said "I didn't expect to find you here, Dark." It was no use saying that I had been on the point of getting along; it would have sounded like a weak excuse, so the rebuke had to be taken in silence. From Frazer that amounted to a severe reprimand, and made me feel very glum.
Late in the evening I reached the ADS, in front of Delville Wood, and found Tony Alcorn there. While we were fixing up the routine of the take-over he sent a sergeant to take my stretcher bearers to each of the 4 battalion Aid Posts. By then Tony had gone and there were no more guides around so it was hopeless to set out in pitch dark across a waste of mud, with no duckboards to find the four Aid Posts.
Next to the Dressing Station (a fairly well sand bagged hut) was a queer little shelter built of boxes of mills bombs just big enough for one to stretch out in, so I camped there. I knew that Frazer would come up immediately af ter breakfast to have a look round and to have to tell him I did not know where the Aid Posts were would be too shattering, on top of yesterday's failure to get on, so I had arranged for the sergeant to call me at the first glimmer of dawn. It was not hard to find the Aid Posts, where I saw that the stretcher bearers were all right and had a word with the CO.s of the battalions. On the way back to the ADS I found four of our bearers, only a couple of hundred yards from it, sprawled in the mud round the stretcher in a state of complete exhaustion, in worse condition than the patient. They knew where they were but were too exhausted to stagger the few yards to the dryness, warmth and hot tea of the ADS. Frazer turned up, as expected, and I was able to show him round. Not many COs of Field Ambulances would bother to look in at the ADS; fewer still would go round the battalion Aid Posts, and I don't suppose any but Frazer even went up to the front line in the middle of a battle in the early hours of the morning.
A few days later there was to be an attack on a battalion front to "straighten the line." We were to clear the wounded from the aid post. It was to be a night attack and there were no duckboards to mark the track, so a way had to be devised to stop our bearers from losing themselves in a kilometre of mud. I had about a hundred strips torn from a role of gooching and a length of white bandage tied to the top of each; they were to be placed at ten metre intervals along the route, Then it snowed, so the white bandage had to be replaced with a strip of dark brown blanket. Then it partly thawed, leaving a mottled brown and white landscape. I was just about to set off to see if it was possible to get a hundred steel posts with an eye at the top, and a kilometre of light telephone wire, thread through the eyes so that a man could walk touching the wire and guide the bearers. Then, thank heavens, the attack was called off. These limited attacks were always loathed by the infantry because the German artillery could shoot at them from front, right, and left instead of from in front only in a large scale offensive. The last we saw of the Somme was when the Germans fell back to the Hindenburg line. In the early hours of one morning a trench raiding party from one of our battalions came back and reported "They've gone." It felt very queer to follow after them over open country, with grass and trees growing, and for hours no sound of gun or machine gun or rifle.
While we were in rest in open country after the German retirement I had two rather quaint riding adventures. I had a very nice little horse, who was trotting me at full stretch along a pave road as we passed a long line of field guns and limbers; at the same time a big lorry was approaching us; there was only about four feet between the lorry and the guns, and at the moment we entered this a motor cyclist shot out from behind the lorry; there was no possibility of avoiding the crash, and as we met I thought "Gosh, I hope I don't get thrown under the wheels." The little horse turned a complete somersault over the cycle and rider; I fell clear and so did the cyclist. Neither he nor I nor the horse was hurt; the cycle had the handlebars bent, but could be ridden.
The second adventure, if it could be called so, happened when 1 was having a gallop across some open country; as the horse was in the air in mid stride I saw that she must land fair on top of a low mound of Mills bombs; there was time only for a flash of fright before she came down on them, scattering them in all directions. Probably the intense momentary frights fixed the incidents in my memory so that they are as clear to me today as they were in the second of happening.
In the early summer of 1917 the division moved back into the Ypres sector, having a good rest in pleasant country. It was here that I had my first experience of aerial bombing, and found it much more frightening than shelling. During dinner in the mess tent one evening we heard the sound of a plane overhead, and then the whine of descending bombs; we ran out of the tent and threw ourselves flat on the ground just as the bombs began to explode; eight fell in quick succession just a few yards from us. They fell in a straight line, making quite small craters about 5 yards apart. Most of the damage was done in the horse lines where several of the transport men were killed or wounded and 70 horses and mules were killed or so badly wounded that they had to be shot at once.
Going along the lines I found the transport sergeant lying on his back, most horribly mutilated; his left leg was curved in a rough semicircle, with his boot against his ear; his belly was torn open, but he was quite conscious, and begged "Please Sir, put me to Sleep." I had morphia with me, so gave him a whacking big dose, assuring him "All right sergeant, you'll be asleep in a couple of minutes." He went off very quickly, and, of course, never woke up.
The division moved into the line a good deal west of Ypres, the Yser canal forming the boundary between the Germans and us, with the front line just behind the canal, the ambulance headquarters was about a mile back, and to the best of my memory everything was worked from there, with no ADS. A few days before the Paschendale Offensive was due to begin Frazer announced that he was going to ride up to the front line and have a look along it from several points. I protested, rather vigorously, that it was damn silly of him to go mucking about there alone. He answered "Dark, you are an undisciplined young bugger. Allright, you can come along sitting on the carrier".
The ground had not been very heavily shelled, and there cannot have been too much wire, for Frazer got his motor bike right up to the front line of trenches, and here and there just behind it, having a thorough look at the country we would be working over soon. He probably got much quiet satisfaction from the wild jolting he he gave me over the rough ground, where most would think no motor bike could possibly be ridden.
He, of course, was in command of the collection of wounded for the whole division, while I had charge of our stretcher bearers. Going around the battalions I several times heard expressions of relief that Frazer was again to be in command of the picking up operations - the feeling obviously was that every stretcher case would be off the battle field as quickly as was possible.
The first attack of the long Paschendale offensive began on the 31st of August. The final barrage opened at about 3a.m.; all of us went up onto the roof of the Dressing station; all the guns were firing in a great are of 30 miles. I have a vague memory that 30,000 guns, from field to 12in. howitzers had been massed for the bombardment.
We were in front of all the guns in our area, and could see most of the great arc blazing with the light of the flashes, while the torrent of sound of shells passing over us battered one's ears as much as the sound of the guns - it was a stupendous spectacle, as impressive as a great natural cataclysm.
The first problem was to get the infantry across the canal, but that was easily done over the pontoon bridges built by the engineers.
The infantry took the various objectives, right up to the final one just short of the Steenbeek, a little creek behind which most of the German guns were sited. For once an offensive went according to plan, with comparatively slight casualties, all of whom were off the field before night.
There was one death that grieved me greatly; Bill East, one of our MOs, for whom I had a particular liking, kind, friendly, guieless, who had gone to a battalion just before the offensive. I got up to clear his Aid Post soon after he reached it, and found him well and cheerful with only a few stretcher cases, and not much shelling going on. When I went up again, a couple of hours later, he was dead.
The work was, as Tony would say, a meat pie & a cup of tea compared with that on the Somme, but, ironicallv, they gave me an M.C. for it. Although the shelling was, again comparatively, very light I had two rather strange near encounters with shells. In the first one I heard a shell coming and in a second it swished past on a level with my eyes, and I actually saw it as a grey streak; it passed and burst about 20 yards away. The second one came along as I was returning from the first visit to Bill East. A fairly big one came along, landing beside me; the blast blew onto my knees where I stayed for a few seconds, with my cane just over the edge of the crater, but I wasn't hit even by a clod of dirt. That seems to be another justification for Frazer's fatalistic attitude to shelling; if 1 had flung myself on the ground when I heard it coming I might have been lying just where it fell.
When we had cleared all the battle casualties I took over a German dugout for my ADS, but was not too happy there, being rather jumpy when shells were falling anywhere near. The great fault of a German dugout is that the front door faces the German lines, and seems to welcome their shells. The man whom I had liked best of all my Sydney University friends, Paddy Jekyll, was killed that way, with all of the battalion headquarters officers.
So when Frazer came up with Martin to relieve me a couple of days later I was immensely pleased. Martin must have a short introduction; he was a very immaculate and correct English officer, quite likeable, who had been with the ambulance from its formation. He had recently rejoined it after recovering from his second time of being shot through the head with a machine gun bullet. We sat in the trench that ran past the door of the dugout drinking a cup of tea and yarning. A little shelling was going on not very close. I noticed that Martin looked a bit tense. When we had finished the tea, Frazer took me into the dugout and said "I can't leave Martin here; he's not fit for it. You can hang on for another two days, can't you?"
During the next few weeks the British line moved further on, although I don't remember any set battle, and I took over a much more comfortable ADS, a mile or two north of the canal. Frazer told me I'd have a Capt. Slaughter with me; he had joined as a replacement for Bill East. He was a Special Reserve man much senior to me and the son of a General (what a name for a general!) I protested to Frazer, that I couldn't be in command of an officer so much senior to me, but got a brisk brush off - "You know the job and Slaughter does not. you are in command," It turned out all right, Slaughter was quite cooperative, showing no resentment.
At some time after the original attack I was standing in front of the dressing station, which faced a road on the other side of which some soldiers were walking; a few shells were falling, and one of them got a direct hit on a soldier, cutting off both his legs just above the knees; he fell onto the stumps of his thighs and, incredibly, took two or three stumbling steps before collapsing. In seconds we had tourniquets on his thighs, and in another minute or so a big injection of morphia into him, dressings on his stumps, and he was on his way to the Casualty Clearing Station. He may have lived, for he lost very little blood, and the morphia would minimise shock.
By the middle of October our front line had advanced well into the Roulthuist Forest, about a mile in front of the Broenbeek, a little creek on its edge. Our field guns were lined up along the near side of the creek, and a group of concrete block houses stood about a hundred yards on the other side. The block houses were occupied by the 2nd Brigade staff for a limited offensive planned for October 17th.
On the 16th, I went up with 11 squads of bearers, and established a dressing station under a kind of lean-to against the wall of the block houses on the creek side. About midnight fairly heavy shelling began, and continued off and on till dawn, and there was a lot of general strafing all along the front. Probably the Germans were expecting an attack. Most of the German shelling must have been aimed at our field guns, but fell about 50 yards short, between the creek and the block houses. They mixed a lot of gas shells with the high explosive - one could tell the gas shell as it went off with a little plop, instead of the roar of the high explosive. Unfortunately a gentle breeze blew the gas back over our position.
Brigade, of course, had a gas sentry mounted who sounded the gas alert at appropriate times; certainly, all the men with me put on their gas masks the moment the alert sounded and did not take them off until the all clear. Looking back on it I think the sentry did not allow enough time for the gas to disperse,-considering the very gentle breeze. I should probably have allowed a good margin for safety, but we had been told to depend on the sentry.
Wounded constantly came in, walking cases, and stretcher cases that the bearers brought from the forward area. No other MO. was with me so I was fully occupied with dressings. Just before dawn a heavy shell got a direct hit on one of the block houses, blowing it in, and seriously wounding two infantrymen. When I got there with a corporal, Sachs by name, and stretcher bearers, I found that both the men had compound fractures of the femurs (thighs).
We had our gas masks on, as the all clear had not yet sounded, and set about trying to fix the men up. In the conditions, with the men lying on the floor that was littered with smashed concrete, the air thick with the dust of the explosion, and our sight constantly blurred by fogged eye-pieces, it seemed impossible ever to get the wounds dressed and the fractures properly put up on Thomas's splints. After fumbling about for some time I made a decision, and told Sachs "Look Corporal we are getting nowhere; you and I will take off our masks so that we can do the job properly." He made no demur, and worked well and dexterously to help me get the men fixed and away.
It was a horrible night, and by dawn 32 of my 44 bearers were casualties, mostly gassed, ultimately 16 of them died, including Sachs, a good man, whom probably my order killed.
At dawn I went back to our advanced dressing station to report to Frazer, feeling very gloomy, there was the loss of the men, and there was my responsibility, for an officer was not supposed to let his men be gassed. Frazer did not say a word except "Bad luck; are you gassed?" He gave me extra bearers to clear the few remaining stretcher cases remaining to be shifted.
Some time about noon my relief came up as Frazer had promised (I had told him I wished to get the last cases cleared before being relieved) . Abraham found me nearly blind from intense irritation and swelling of the cornea, and constantly vomiting. The gas had been a mixture of mustard and phosgene. He put me on a stretcher where I felt horribly exposed, hoisted on the shoulders of the four bearers, for shells still fell sporadically.
I reached the CCS fairly late in the afternoon, and there I was put in a small tent, and apparently forgotten, for I lay there until long after darkness came, hearing people pass, and hoping that some time someone would pick me up and put me into bed. I could still tell the difference between light and darkness, but by morning even that amount of sight was gone, and I was quite blind for four or five days; also I had a violent bronchopneumonia, spitting up quarts of thin blood-stained serous muck. They gave me other quarts of what they told me was sodium hyperchlorite, which was supposed to be helpful; anyhow it was not bad stuff. The nursing staff there were quite magnificent, constant attention, and everything I needed there on the moment.
One of the sisters who was looking after me, although theatre work was her job, had been theatre sister in the 18th. General Hospital where I was an MO until I went to the ambulance, and I had liked her very well, she was Scottish -very- with a rather square face and a square figure compensated for by a good head and a good heart. I shall remember Sister Gregg with pleasure as shall remember Corporal Sachs with regret.
One night that seemed to be never passing I was lying awake in a good deal of pain; thinking it must be nearly morning; the next time a nurse came round I asked what time it was; she answered "Ten o'clock." Soon after that I went to sleep, and slept till morning. If I had not asked the time I would have sworn that I was awake until just before dawn.
They kept me at the C.C.S. for ten days, in which time I lost 20 pounds, and then sent me to the Duchess of Westminster's Hospital near Boulogne; although it was such a splendidly fitted out place the nursing was not half as good as in the C.C.S. After a week there they took me across to England.
On the crossing we were asked to say where we would like to go; I said somewhere near London, so I was sent, still a stretcher case, to Leith, (Ed. note: Leith is in Scotland.)to a broken down Poor House fitted out as a hospital, with a slovenly major in command. A woman doctor was supposed to look after me, but although I still had traces of pneumonia neither she nor the major ever put a stethoscope on my chest.
While there a grateful army gave me 6 months leave, without salary, but with permission to go home, if I paid my fares both ways. An soon as the leave came I asked to be discharged; the major simply asked if I was fit, and when I said yes he promptly discharged me without any examination,- the slovenly bastard.
The voyage from Liverpool to Halifax was
rough and wet (it was November), but I
got into a nice bridge four - another Australian and two Canadians, The Australian and I happened to cut together for the first rubber, and the Canadians suggested that we should make it an international contest for the trip. That suited me all. right, for it was quite obvious that my partner was a splendid player. We played from after breakfast till we went to bed, and those poor Canadians never once finished the day winning. One day they ended all square. Several times we suggested dropping the contest and cutting after each rubber, but they would not hear of breaking the agreement.
Probably getting away from the European winter into the Australian summer saved me from getting tuberculosis into my damaged lungs.
Soon after my return to England I was sent out to Macedonia to a General Hospital under canvas at the head of the Vardar Marshes, about the most malarial spot in Europe. A little further up among the foot hills there was no malaria, but not such a nice level place for pitching tents. A military general hospital is a large affair of 1040 beds with 34 doctors and a corresponding complement of nurses and orderlies. Life there was very restful with plenty of time for cricket, soccer or hockey, according to season, with bridge in the evenings, but I missed the fellowship of the ambulance with inspiration of Frazer's leadership.
Malaria avoided me, although each of the other officers had two or more attacks during the summer of 1918. As the war was petering out we became very bored, so bored that when the news of the armistice came it didn't raise a ripple of excitement. I was playing bridge when someone called from the telephone "They have signed the Armistice." My partner said "Really; two spades."
All our patients were Serbians as we were attached to the Serbian army; most of them
suffered from several attacks of malaria and dysentery, plus their wounds, so were in a very debilitated state, and were terribly vulnerable to the Spanish Influenza when came along. Of those attacked 50% died. I saw a good many of the post mortemed lungs, riddled with cavities, some about as big as a golf ball, half filled with pus and disintegrated lung. It was amazing that they had lived so long.
Soon after the Armistice our surgical specialist was transferred, and for a few months I was in charge of the surgical division of 520 beds, but without increase in rank, or pay. Apart from watching influenza patients die, most of the work was doing amputations or re-amputations where the previous operator had left a badly designed stump. I became quite expert, but unfortunately the ability to amputate a thigh does not help much in private practice, The really important part of the operation is in judging how much muscle to leave as a cushion at the end of the bone. Most of the re-operations had to be done because the end of the bone was pressing directly on the skin.
I got back to Australia early in July, 1919, four years and four months after first leaving it.
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