WITH THE 76TH DETACHMENT,
CHESHIRE COUNTY DIVISION,
BRITISH RED CROSS SOCIETY
VERNON INSTITUTE HOSPITAL,
GREAT SAUGHALL, NEAR CHESTER
THERE'S much to tell you since I wrote Easter afternoon. I spoke to you then about the three lovely days I spent with the Frosts; I can never forget the warmth and kindness of their hospitality; from the moment Mrs. Frost welcomed me Thursday, I felt as though I had a real home. We have had such a good time of all sorts, from lots of music to driving Mona, most adorable pony of all, bar one! Now I am at work again, and feel well settled in the new life which began on Monday at nine. There is much that is bewildering in the new routine, but everyone has been so good in "putting me wise," especially Staff-Nurse Wigg, our ranking V.A.D. and Sister Johnston's right hand. The hospital is not quite full, so we have extra time which Matron uses to get extras done, such as paint-washing and cupboards cleaned up. Matron is very nice and capable, and has splendid ideas in every way. Vernon Institute in peace times was the recreation centre of the village, with a large gymnasium, billiard-rooms, bathrooms, and a kitchen, so that it is admirably adapted to hospital use. Staff-Nurse, Sister, another V.A.D. and I sleep in a dear little cottage across the road from the hospital; in this same cottage the men have a billiard-room, with comfy chairs, a fireplace, and lots of books. Their dining-room is here, too, for though we get their other meals in the hospital kitchen, their dinner is cooked for them here by Mrs. Rowlands, who also cooks for us, and whose milk-puddings I adore. We take care of the men's table and ours, and serve them at dinner. My room is up under the eaves, and I'm very comfy there, and it's a joy to have a bathroom again, even though there are several of us to share it. The men are a fine lot; we get on splendidly, and already it all seems as natural as the life in France. One of the men in Vernon (formerly two billiard-rooms, and now the ward in which I am) has lost part of one foot from frost-bite. He suffers agonies when it is dressed, but he is so plucky that it helps one's own courage. His name is Heywood; he's a slight young chap, but he has seen lots of service in France and Gallipoli. In the next bed to him is a Welshman, with a delicious accent, who keeps the men laughing with an endless fund of stories. In the other ward is a young Canadian named Holland, with the strongest Yankee accent I've ever heard; he brought me your first letters since I've been here. The men who are up and able to, help a lot with some of the work. Otherwise, we shouldn't get on so well, as except for Mrs. Jones, who scrubs the kitchen tiles and blacks the stove, five V.A.D.'s on days and two on nights do all the work in this hospital of forty-six beds.
Tuesday afternoon we had a concert in Vernon Ward. Mrs. Frost brought over Linda, and an R.N.A.S. man, who has a splendid voice. One of our V.A.D.'s has a beautiful voice, and we four sang all sorts of things, Mrs. Frost and I dividing the playing. The R.N.A.S. man delighted the men with "Rolling down to Rio," Linda and I did "Some Sort of Somebody" from "Very Good Eddie," and "Poor Butterfly" was introduced to Saughall. Of course we ended with the Allies' hymns, and how proud I was to have "The Star-Spangled Banner" among them at last. It was the first time it had been heard in this part of the country, and the men cheered it to the echo. Altogether, it was a great party, though it meant a good bit of extra work before and after.
Saughall is a sweet village, neat yet picturesque. There are dear brick and plaster cottages, with spotlessly curtained windows, framing glowing plants, and outside trim little gardens. Already I am beginning to know what an English spring is; the trees are bursting with blossoms, birds sing all day long, grass and hedges grow greener every day, and banks are studded with adorable primroses, daffodils and violets, and oh, such delicious soft air. It's every bit as wonderful as one has imagined it, as all really wonderful things are.
Yesterday I had to go down to Birkenhead and register at the County Police and leave my finger-print! It was raining, but not so hard that I did n't enjoy the walk across country from here to Mollington, where I "entrained." This was my morning on dressings; Sister is a splendid surgical nurse, and Staff-Nurse a wonder, and I'm learning so much from them. I am just off duty after preparing for eight stretcher cases which are due this evening. Everyone is excited, as this is the first convoy in weeks, and the men are keen to get the latest news of Fritz. I have been filling hot-water bottles, laying out dressing-gowns, night-shirts, helpless shirts for possible arm cases, seeing that mugs, soap, and towels are in every locker, besides doing the usual last job of tidying the wards, empting ash trays and leaving fires and kitchen right for the night staff. Mrs. Frost has just come down to receive the convoy, and to get details of next of kin and so on from the men. She is in her commandant's uniform of scarlet, and looks stunning. I must get to bed, to be ready to cope with the new world to-morrow.
No more paint-cleaning! We got eight stretcher cases in about ten last night, and sixteen more came during the night. They are mostly from the Vimy Ridge fighting; one man "got his" at St. Eloi, and is terribly wounded and used up, but is as cheerful as can be. "We're winning," is everyone's tale. I was "on dinners" to-day, and twenty-nine men in bed meant carrying over seven trays twice, and it is quite a distance from the hospital to the cottage; also Dr. Lees came just at dinner-time, which delayed things, and we did not get our dinner until after two. But one did n't mind anything; the men were so happy and grateful. It was all just one big day of sunshine and joy. It has been a wonderful day for me in more ways than one....
Thursday was my afternoon off, and Mrs. Frost took me down to Tarporley with Linda and Mr. Wardell-Yerborough (the R.N.A.S. man). We gave a concert at Portal, Mrs. Marshall Brooks's house, which she has turned into a hospital. It's a beautiful old place, full of lovely things, standing high, with a glorious outlook. We had about thirty-five Tommies for our audience, and they seemed pleased at our show, which was much like the programme here, only we had n't Nurse Yeoward's lovely voice. Once again "The Star-Spangled Banner" had an ovation! Tarporley is in the hunting part of Cheshire; I saw some good horses about, and loved feeling the horse atmosphere again. Beeston Castle is near the village, a picturesque ruin, dating from the thirteenth century, and destroyed in Cromwell's time. It towers over the surrounding country; there is a dug well on the hill, said to be one of the deepest in England.
We had a tremendous day yesterday; even the afternoon was exciting, for ever so many of the men had had presents of eggs, and these were to be cooked at tea-time; this made our own tea late, and then came the usual routine of bed-making, washes, starting supper, and fourteen fomentations for me to do in Vernon alone! I was off at seven for good, and glad to lie in the hammock with my unread afternoon letters and a poetry book, and forget all but lovely thoughts. To-day was again my afternoon off, and I went to Chester, which was very brilliant. The streets were thronged with soldiers, and convalescents in picturesque blue hospital suits; the uniforms of different Scotch regiments, and an occasional French or Belgian soldier made the gray old walls bright with color. I opened an account at the bank, had tea at Bolland's (the confectioner), did the hospital errands, and came home. I should like to have been there yesterday; it was "America's day," and while our flag flew from the same pole as the Union Jack on the Victoria Tower of the Houses of Parliament, London, Chester, too, broke out the Stars and Stripes from every building, and the people wore tiny ones in their buttonholes. Linda sent me down a little silk one to celebrate the day, and I arranged it with the other Allied flags in Vernon, but Feeley, an R.F.A. driver, who enlisted from America, "pinched" it and stuck it over his bed! The men are getting ready for an exhibition and sale on St. George's Day of the work they have been doing during the winter; they work in beads, raffia and embroidery. It's a great interest and helps pass the long hours for the men who are in bed. The Anglo-American meeting in London must have been thrilling. You can have no idea the profound joy and gratitude there is everywhere in England. I shall never forget that glorious morning in London when I sat at breakfast reading Wilson's memorable speech.
Yesterday was my afternoon off, and Mrs. Frost took Linda and me down to Parkgate Military Hospital. It has a wonderful situation, right on the Esplanade, bordering the Dee estuary. We had tea with Mrs. Henry Gladstone, who is particularly interested in this hospital, and the Matron. Then we went over the building, which has a fine open-air ward and an operating-room, both added since the war. We had our music in the big recreation room, overlooking the bowling-green. One of the men played really well; two others sang; and eight together gave an amusing sketch with topical verses on the hospital. Mrs. Gladstone asked for the "Irish Folk Song" from me, and Linda sang lots of nice things, and we all sang "Love's Old Sweet Song"; what a volume of sound the men made! Miss Mary Carmichael, who came with Mrs. Gladstone, played her splendid "Triumphal March" and we finished with "La Marseillaise," "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "God Save the King." Then the men gave three cheers for us, and one Tommy stood up and made a nice short speech about the United States; already, when I had been introduced as representing "our latest Ally," the applause had rocked the house, and the speech brought another round. It was great fun altogether. We had a good run back: the country was so lovely and full of peace. One is always baffled when one looks at this country, and thinks of the devastated part of France. We passed what was left of a big stack of oats; an incendiary fire had destroyed almost all. One suspects a Hun origin of such fires; this was the second in the week. It is so dreadful to think of such waste just now. Romney's Lady Hamilton came from near Parkgate.
I have had such a splendid V.A.D. in the ward this week: Nurse Clayton, who lives near here; I am learning every day! Next week I am moving to a dear little cottage, called Wakefield. Mrs. Frost knew the lady who has the house, and that there was a room free; it will be quieter there when I am on night-duty. It's just a little way up the Blacon Road, and the walk to and from duty will be pleasant.
Many thanks for your good letters and the maple sugar, which came this morning. I was so interested in the recruiting notices, and loved the picture of Ensign Blake. The American number of the Illustrated London News had a picture of the "Lynx," and her commander at the wheel; everyone was delighted that the one picture of an American naval officer should turn out to be someone I knew. The maple sugar is delicious, and makes me think of days and places very different from these. There are three Canadians wounded at Vimy Ridge in Vernon, who came in last week's convoy; they, especially, loved the maple sugar, though there was a taste for every man in the ward. Work is hard this week. We have had an amputation to-day, and there are lots of big dressings. It's a good steady programme, but working conditions are good, and the system is admirable, and all goes well.
Since it is not comfortable for you to have me on the water just now, I shall not plan to come home at present. Conditions will improve with time, and meanwhile it is a joy for me to stay on here, for they need me more than ever; we have lost another V.A.D. from the staff, and the summer promises to be very busy. I wonder whether this is not the beginning of the distant end? Even with your big hearts and sympathy and imagination, you can hardly realize how terrible the strain is, nor how one longs for the end. England carries her sorrows differently from France; besides, she has been spared the unspeakable horrors of invasion, but she feels the war none the less deeply for France as well as herself. What she has done for France, besides fighting next her, will make a sublime story when it is told. Though one misses the thrill of being on the very soil where the struggle is going on, still it is wonderful to be living in England now. There is the same complete and sympathetic understanding of our problems here as there was in France. You must not think that life here makes me forget the troubles and cares and uneasiness at home; only there's nothing for us all to do now but sit tight and work and fight until we win, even if it takes all our lives; so uneasiness can have no lasting place in one's mind.
This is my first week of night-duty, and thanks to the kind V.A.D., Miss Podmore, who is on with me, I am getting on well. The nights are beautiful, warm and fragrant, and I spend my off-duty time sitting out back of the kitchen; it's a joy to be awake, and so soon comes the first faint light, then a bird's shy note, and little by little the incomparable pageant of a May dawn. The nights go very fast: we iron bandages and slings from nine till midnight, when it's time to cook dinner for Sister and ourselves; after that comes washing-up, stoking three fires, ward duty, and mending "hospital blues" until off-duty time. Sometimes the patients are restless, but tonight everything is very quiet. We shall have our tea at four, then cut mountains of bread for the men's breakfast, set the table, and at six wake the troops and give them morning tea, which helps in the waking. After that, marvels are accomplished; --- bed-patients given washes, and rubbed; beds made; and the ward is swept and polished. Fortunately, in each ward a certain number of convalescents take hold and help out, so all goes smoothly, and with a great flow of good-humor and jokes. By seven, work is well under way; brass and nickel being polished, floors shining like mirrors, cups and saucers appear at the bed-patients' tables, while the kitchen presents a scene of great activity. Toast is being made with a toasting-fork (slow work), bacon is cooking, water boiling for tea, and special diets are under way. About 7:30, it looks like a losing game, but somehow the bell rings at eight, bed-patients are already eating a good Blighty breakfast, and our hungry and industrious family are sitting down at two tables and make short work of everything. After that comes washing-up (again the men help), and leaving the kitchen swept and tidy for the day's start. Then comes our own breakfast, the letters, and a little walk before bath and turning in. I keep so well awake all night, I sometimes sleep till seven when I get to bed. Sister has me in the big ward this week, which is harder, but I have a splendid bed-maker in Barclay, a Gordon Highlander, and we get done very nicely after all. I heard a cuckoo as I was walking before duty last night; I have not heard one since we were in Münster am Stein!
2 A.M., May 6.
1 got up at 3.30 yesterday afternoon, and went to sing for the patients at Hoole House, a hospital of seventy beds, the other side of Chester. Mrs. Frost and Linda took me over, and Lady Hall, who is Commandant, and the Matron received us. Lady Hall has a daughter driving an ambulance in France, and a son in the R.F.C., whom I have met. Linda and I and a pretty girl named Hartridge sang; also a youngster named Richmond, who has just gone into a Cadet Corps. Also there was a man who told funny stories. I did all the playing; the men seemed very keen about the show, and we all joined in "When Irish Eyes are Smiling." There was great applause when Lady Hall made a little speech about my representing "our latest Ally"; it's always rather tremendous, that applause for U.S., and one remembers with what patience and restraint they waited for us to come in. Lady Hall took us home to supper; we had such a jolly time. This is the last of our sings, as Linda is going to work in London; I shall miss her. I must take up my nocturnal activities now.
We are having beautiful bright days, and the country is glorious; the fields glow like emeralds, and the fruit trees are a mass of bloom. Almost every cottage garden has wall-flowers, and the air is filled with their delicious fragrance. Everyone thought yesterday was too hot, but it felt nice to me, --- not really hot like our days. I was in Chester for my off-duty time, to send some of Charlotte's money to France. Afterwards I walked around the walls, and went into the Cathedral for a few minutes; it's such peace just to be there. Linda met me, and drove me home in the pony cart; it was a nice afternoon.
Everyone is getting on well; many men get out into the garden of the cottage and spend the whole day there, and the groups of "hospital blues" sitting or lying on the grass are a pretty picture. That's the proudest suit one can wear now! A splendid youngster from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders came to us straight from the field dressing-station last Saturday. He has a bad compound fracture of the tibia, but it's doing well; he got here frightfully exhausted, and for days took no notice of anything. No wonder, for he has been through terrible fighting. I said to him yesterday that his regiment must have lost-very heavily. He looked at me grimly, and said: "Nurse, the battalion was repulsed; do ye ken what repulsed means?" His name is Gray; his officer has recommended him for gallantry in action, and Gray treasures under his pillow such a nice letter the officer wrote Gray's mother.
I have much news from Tours. Lieut. Bourseul(1) is already flying at Avord; Fernand writes me that he has been en permission agricole, working sixteen hours a day in the Pas de Calais: the cannonading is fearful, and crowds of British wounded pour through his village daily. He says there is an American flag hanging over the entrance of 88 bis. More than that, he has seen some fusiliers marins américains on the Rue Nationale! ... I was coming back to duty from a little walk the other night and, passing the hospital, I heard three songs being played: three songs by an American composer I know very well! It was strange and sweet to hear them so, and they brought back many memories. I have lent all my serious music to an R.A.M.C. orderly, Armitage. Though he is a patient, he does so much to help us V.A.D.'s; music is his great talent and pleasure, so when he has a chance he likes to read through everything I have. We had an informal sing-song the other night. Nurse Yeoward sang "Mother Machree," and I sang a little, and we got all the men singing; Armitage played the rags the men love especially: "Mysterious Rag ... .. Alexander's Ragtime Band ... .. Ragtime Violin," and other old friends, including the "Quaker Girl Waltz," which is always sung with a will. It was 8.30 all too soon, and Matron came along to say, "Now, boys, time to be off to bed "; so we all sang "Auld Lang Syne," and everything was over.
Thanks so much for the letters, which came this morning, and the many cuttings. The package from Melvin and Badger has finally gotten through, but we won't try another.
We are having a soft spring rain to-day, so, I am spending my off -duty time by the fire in our cottage. It has been a gay week; we had a concert party from Chester one evening, and as they were one short, I filled in with American songs and "Annie Laurie," and played for Feeley. The next evening Mr. Morris came down from Shotwick Park, and sang "The Galloping Major"; sometime I'll tell you more about it. Gray almost fell out of bed laughing; he has not had many entertainments lately, being otherwise engaged! He is coming on well. He joined up under age, and I asked him if his people did n't mind. " They had to let me go, Nurse," he said; I expect he's a regular fire-eater, though he's gentle enough to take care of, and so plucky about his dressing, which is very painful just now. Our other Jock, in the Gordons, has gone on furlough, and will soon be in France again. Pennock, an insurance clerk, with whom I discuss during work many things, including Gregg shorthand, is going to Fazakerly this week for examination and probably operation by Robert Jones, the great orthopedic man. There are always changes. As you see, I am back on days, and in Vernon Ward again. Company Quartermaster Sergeant Crabtree has been moved up to the gallery from Thornycroft, and helps me mornings and evenings with the spreads. He is a Canadian, getting over trench fever; a slow business, there are so many ups and downs to it. The new cases, quite apart from their wounds, have a sort of reaction; little upsets, chills, and mysterious temperatures. One never knows how one will find them; and how they sleep, almost all day in the beginning.
It's a beautiful clear evening; we have been having warm days, but heavy thunder showers last night cooled the air, and our green world is lovelier than ever to-night. I came off duty at seven, and had an enchanting little walk along the lane which skirts our garden walls, and leads to the beautiful woods which are part of the Shotwick estate. We are allowed to wander through them all we like, and it's wonderful to have them so near. The Welsh hills were very clear to-night, and all was so peaceful and indescribably lovely; the fresh tender green of larches, willows and nut trees, and always the great glory of the fruit trees. But in the valley was the grim reminder of what is forever going on; the countless tall chimneys of the munition works, belching forth smoke and fumes, day and night.
The village street is full of life to-night; villagers and their Sunday visitors are wandering up and down, and a big official car has just rushed through. Matron is having overcoat inspection, for to-morrow we go to Chester to see the King. He is making a short tour in this part of the country, and comes to Chester for an Investiture, and to inspect certain industries in the neighborhood. This hospital will be represented by all the patients who are able to go, Mrs. Frost as Commandant, the original members of the V.A.D. detachment, Matron, and both Sisters. As Mrs. Frost will not need her ticket to the enclosure, Mr. Frost is taking me; is n't it wonderful! Matron has been so kind, and arranged for someone to take my place during the three hours I must be gone....
Evening work is hard now, as we have many cases of trench-feet, which means lots of rubs. Sergeant Jennings, a nice man of twenty-four, is one of my patients; he seems so much older than his age, like everyone who has been out. Crabtree and Drummond came and sat on the edge of the next bed while I was rubbing Sergeant's feet last night; the three talked so interestingly of the war, experiences of every sort, tactics, mistakes, comedy and tragedy, great moments and very small ones. It's wonderful stuff to listen to.
The great day is over, with nothing to mar it, but the troops are very tired to-night, and no wonder, for they began with breakfast at six. The Night-Staff worked heroically; all dressings were done before nine, and the ambulance took in the men who were going by ten. It was a heavenly morning, clear and fresh, with only a hint of cloud to disturb one. Ruffett and O'Neil, for whom there was no room in the ambulance, went in the train with me. O'Neil is a fresh-faced lad from County Mayo, who got hit with shrapnel in the arm at Vimy Ridge. He is now attached to the Middlesex Regiment, but really belongs to the Fifth Lancers, an Irish regiment, and had his horse shot under him in the Dublin disorders. We got through Chester nicely, though crowds were forming fast, and just as we neared the Castle, we had the pleasure of seeing our detachment march past, Mrs. Frost at the head; they looked splendidly. Ambulances filled with sitting wounded, private motors with more of the same, batches of convalescent officers from Eaton Hall and Hawarden, other V.A.D. detachments --all these poured by in a seemingly endless stream. Presently Mr. Frost arrived, and we walked in the Castle gate together. The Square was already lined; our detachment on the left, then wounded; back of the big statue of Queen Victoria, the home battalion of the Cheshires and their band; next them, convalescent officers, and on the other side, Hoole House, and other detachments, and army nurses of the Territorial Nursing Force. In the centre of the Square stood a platform, and facing that, the officers and men to be decorated and various Staff personages. Mr. Frost and I were taken to a small enclosure to the right of the gate, he receiving many salutes on the way. We waited a little, but the time passed quickly, as there were constant arrivals to interest one ---the Duke of Westminster--- and others. The band, which had been playing, suddenly stopped; up over the Castle tower went the Royal standard. We heard a roar of voices from the bridge, and turning, saw the Royal car slowly approaching. It rolled in through the gate, and I had such a good view of the King and Queen; they looked just like their pictures, and I seemed to have seen them often before. It was a: choky moment, for so much surged up in one's mind and heart. Mr. Gladstone,(2) who is Lord Lieutenant of Flintshire, whence they came, was with them.(3) The motor stopped by the platform, and they got out; I heard people saying how much more worn the King looked than the last time he was here. He was in uniform, of course, and the Queen was charming in a soft gray coat and skirt, to which her flower hat and cherry-colored sunshade gave color. When the King mounted the platform, the band played "God Save the King," and then there was a noise! Then silence; their Majesties took their places, A.D.C.'s and lady-in-waiting grouped themselves behind them, and the ceremony began. The Duke of Westminster was decorated first, a D.S.O.; then several other officers, and then some Tommies. As General Pitcairn-Campbell read the citations, my thoughts went back to Tours, and the remise de décoration. Here, too, the same beautiful precision of movement; each man went up the little steps, was decorated, had a few words and a hand-shake from the King, saluted, stepped back one pace, right turned, saluted the Queen, and went down other little steps. When all the men had been up, the King stepped down to decorate a Tommy from Hoole House with twelve wounds, who lay weak and helpless in his wheel-chair. His matron had been standing behind him, but she stepped back to leave him alone with his King and his Queen. He fainted from emotion and weakness, I suppose, and the matron had to wheel him off. It was immensely touching, and broke one up entirely. After that, their Majesties, the General and Staff passed the whole assemblage in review from right to left. The King stopped to speak to a few Tommies, usually ones in wheel-chairs, and when he got to our men, he spoke to Heywood, the plucky chap of whom I have written you; I was so pleased. I thought our Commandant made an especially nice courtesy when the Queen spoke to her. It was a brilliant picture; the khaki, the blue of the hospital suits, the varied uniforms of the nurses, and the scarlet of the commandants; the warm May sun brought out every detail against the old stone building. All of a sudden, everything was over. The big motor drew up, their Majesties got in, accompanied this time by the Duke, who is Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire, and they were off. I could hardly realize it had all happened. Presently the great mass of personages, convalescents, and nurses poured out; the streets were packed with ambulances, official motors, and people on foot, and getting back looked difficult. But Mrs. Frost took me home to luncheon with her, and I was on duty again before two. What an excitement there was in the hospital; the men were all gathered about Heywood, calling him Sir Harold, and Jock, whose bed had been carried out into the courtyard, was saying to anyone who had time to listen, that King George was "nae king of mine; I fought for my country, but nae English king. The English killed all our kings." We had hard work to bring him to terms. Such an afternoon of work it has been, but a great day altogether. I must turn in now, for Dr. Lees comes to-morrow for a general inspection, and it's my morning on dressings.
It's a warm, beautiful afternoon, and I'm just off duty, sitting in a cool. corner, looking out over this dear garden, which is lovelier than ever after two days' rain. The lilies of the valley are in full bloom, and the long borders are gay with yellow sweet alyssum, wallflowers, tulips, and forget-me-nots. Staff-Nurse and Earle are playing mild tennis, while Sister Jock and two patients look on from the summerhouse. Earle is a Yorkshireman, a shellshock patient, and getting on well. He's awfully keen on flowers, and keeps the hospital and cottage full of them all the time. The week has been a whirl. Wednesday came the men's party; Colwell, who was a clerk in a shipping office, and is making a slow recovery from trench feet, was the moving spirit in organizing the party, but every man in the hospital backed him up, financially and otherwise. Here is the invitation:
The Patients of the Vernon Institute Hospital
request the pleasure of your company
at the opening of the Tennis Court
and to tea on
Wednesday, May 16, at 3 P.M.
Miss Vernon has kindly consented to perform
the opening ceremony.
Kindly reply by Saturday, May 12, to
O. J. E. Colwell, on behalf of the patients.
By Tuesday the committee was at fever heat, and anxiety about the weather oppressed everyone. Every able bodied patient was busy, cutting the grass, rolling and marking out the tennis court, laying out clock golf and croquet. In the afternoon, the committee and Sister Jock betook themselves to Chester, whence they returned at tea-time in a taxi (!), tired but triumphant, bearing treasures in the shape of real butter, a special mixture of tea, cream, fruits for a salad, and watercress and cucumbers for sandwiches. One of the committee, Drummond, had even sent to his native Glasgow for cakes, which arrived by that afternoon post, creating more excitement. Wednesday dawned damp and overcast, but by three, when Miss Vernon sent the first ball over the net, the weather had cleared, and we couldn't have had a more perfect afternoon. Gray and two men were having a bad day, could n't be moved, but everyone else was carried out, --- in several cases beds and all, --- and lined up facing the tennis court, while the others who were n't able to move about, settled themselves on chairs and on cushions about the beds. Miss Vernon, charming in white and her pretty hat, stood by the entrance arch of the tennis court, and as she declared the season of tennis opened, untied the ribbons which stretched across; flanking the arch were the Union Jack and Tricolor, surmounted by the Stars and Stripes. Staff-Nurse and Drummond (who has played for Scotland) and Nurse Davey and Crabtree played a short convalescent set, and then came tea. Matron had lent her own silver for the tea-table, which was resplendent besides with a huge bowl of white lilacs. Mrs. Frost, Mrs. Nicholson (our Quartermaster), Miss Vernon, Miss Broadbent, Dr. Parry, Matron, the Sisters, and all of us sat at small tables, while the men served us. It was a delicious tea, and how wonderfully we were waited on. After tea, Thompson, whose foot came off last week, made a very nice speech of thanks on behalf of the patients to their guests, and "Sir Harold" presented Miss Vernon with a glorious bunch of roses. Then sports were resumed, and a fortune-teller was discovered in the summerhouse, who told amazing fortunes. This was Private Ford, who has lost five brothers in the war. Half-past six came all too soon; the Staff gave three cheers for the patients, the patients did the same for the Staff, the fortune-teller closed his tent, and we adjourned to the big ward for a splendid sing-song. The patients gave a deliciously funny glee party, full of local hits. Here's a conundrum they asked. "Why is a leave-train like the American flag?"
Because it's full of stars and stripes. " (Stars being rank insignia for officers up to major, stripes being privates' insignia.) Then there were topical verses sung to " Tennessee," "Swanee River ... .. Kentucky jubilee," and "There's a Girl in Havana." Even this wonderful party had to end, however, and soon after nine supper was over, we had "God Save the King," and before long our tired but happy family were asleep. Colwell said this morning, "We could have done much more, but not so nicely." But we can't imagine what more there was to wish for.
Thursday, part of the Staff and ten patients went to the Cathedral to the Red Cross service. Nurse Yeoward motored Staff-Nurse and me in, and we joined the others at the Town Hall, where Katharine, Duchess of Westminster, who is President of the Cheshire Branch of B.R.C.S., gave us all tea. She is a handsome woman, with a lovely gracious manner. After tea, we formed and marched by twos into the Cathedral, which was crowded. About two hundred V.A.D.'s and St. John's Ambulance workers sat in the choir stalls and in the stalls beyond, while in the congregation sat groups of convalescents from all the different hospitals, and Red Cross and St. John's men workers. The service was simple, beautiful, and very impressive. The Dean preached a short sermon on the work of the Red Cross and St. John's Ambulance, giving thanks for all that had been done, and praying that strength would be given them to go on. It was glorious to hear "God Save the King" ring out at the end of the service, both the volume of sound and the fervor were thrilling to hear and feel.
We have had a very strenuous morning to-day for six stretcher cases came in from Dover during the night. They are all bad fractures and one poor boy has terrible wounds at the top of his spine. He is in agony; I have turned him and tried to make him comfortable so many times this morning, and every time I went to him the slow tears were rolling down his cheeks. He's a little more at ease since his wounds were dressed, but the dressing was hideous.
Nurse Lloyd has gone home to convalesce after her measles. Mrs. Williamson has calcimined both our rooms and gone over the whole house with disinfectant, and everything is as sweet as can be. I am glad to be back at Wakefield, and am feeling as splendidly well and fit as ever. Mrs. Williamson spoils me dreadfully, but I love it
Their garden grows lovelier every day; Mr. Williamson was station-master at Capenhurst for a long time; the station was famous for its flowers, and he has carried his garden ideas into his retirement. This is the day I should be sailing for home. . . .
Last week brought still another excitement, for on Wednesday Miss Vernon gave us a garden party! Again the weather was kind, and blue skies and warm air made the day a delight. Except for the bed-patients, all the men who were hosts last week went up, and we V.A.D.'s took turns in going. Again there was mild tennis, croquet, and clock golf, and there was added fun, for we all had an exciting hunt through the rose-garden for mysteriously hidden presents, one for every member of the gathering. Shotwick was looking its loveliest; it's a big, friendly house, overlooking a broad expanse of lawn, meadow and woods. Sir William(4) joined us at tea-time, and seemed to enjoy moving around among the men in his wheel-chair. Miss Vernon had thought of everything for our pleasure, and the afternoon was perfect, except for one thing, Colonel Vernon had to be away. This was a great disappointment, and I heard so many of the men speak of missing him. He is a splendid man; besides doing an enormous amount for the hospital and the men, he takes a keen and practical interest in agricultural matters, and has accomplished a great deal in that as in everything that he has ever undertaken. He has an enviable record in the South African war, and raised and trained a line battalion of the King's Liverpool in this war, and is now in the Territorial Reserve.
I spent Sunday's leave with Mrs. Frost, biking over late Saturday night after duty. We went to afternoon service in the Cathedral, and it was as ever a joy.... In the chancel hangs the battle-scarred flag of the Cruiser "Chester," a mute, glorious reminder of Jack Cornwell, the heroic sixteen-year-old gunner who served his gun alone after all the rest of the gun crew was killed, until he, too, was shot to pieces.... Mollington was heavenly --- it's a most beautiful place; of course I'm fond of it, for it's like home to me.
Think of our flag hanging in St. Paul's! I can hardly realize that these great and glorious days of the new birth of our nation have come. It's summer to-day, in such a lovely world; thank Heaven there is still beauty to be found not too far from the front, for it helps so much.
Last night we had an entertainment for our Smokes Fund; we help it by selling all our waste paper, even torn envelopes and circulars, but it gets low easily. Some of the patients and staff gave an amusing sketch, and a Mrs. Griffiths came out from Chester and sang most awfully well. We have been busy to-day; Mrs. Nicholson and Matron had a great morning in the store-room working in men's kits, and in the midst of getting tea this afternoon we had a flying visit from Dr. Lees, and many telephones all day. This is the life! It's almost ten o'clock, and a perfect evening. The laburnum tree outside my window is a mass of golden blossoms, and delicately fragrant. Everyone is working in gardens these long evenings, for it's not dark at eleven. I think people at home will like daylight-saving when it comes --- it's surely wonderful at this time of year. I am hoping for good news of you this week. Life is endlessly busy here; one is deeply occupied, heart and soul, mind and body, but I'm thinking of you always.
It is 2.30 on a lovely moonlight night, and I'm sitting in the surgery, taking my time as a watch over Sheehan, who was operated on this morning. He came in the last convoy, minus one leg above the knee. Amputations are done as soon as possible after the wound is received, as in Sheehan's case, but a subsequent operation is often necessary. He has had a bad day, though the last hours have been more comfortable. Oh, the appalling, futile horror of it all! It has to be, but the longer one is in it, the more one is oppressed by the terrible waste of everything, from life downward, and to think of it constantly would drive one mad. We live in a beautiful world here, yet "every butterfly floating down English lanes is a thought of those who lie on the scarred soil of France," and brings home more poignantly the shadow of those who have given their all for us.
Glad as I am that we are in at last, I am sickened at what lies before our Expeditionary Force. All those poor souls, so far from home and their ties, must contend with so many things. Everyone agrees that the fighting is one thing, but the monotony of trench life, and the filth --- that's another story. Well, one must not dwell on this, only one is especially grateful for the Red Cross, and all such good works.
I've just had to go in to Sheehan; the effect of his hypodermic is wearing off, and he is suffering terribly. He tries hard not to complain. "Oh, Sister," he said, "this suffering is the will of God, but I wish he would take me." I told him he mustn't help to overtax poor St. Peter, and I reminded him what a time the officer in the West Ridings had who carried him the eight hundred yards to safety. "Aye, he should have had the V.C., he should," said poor Sheehan; --- but I daresay my talk is poor listening to when one is in such pain. What a doleful letter; I must tell you of some of my joys. The beautiful country is an endless one; just now the may is in bloom, and pink and white hawthorns and masses of the single white clematis. In the gardens are great mists of forget-me-nots, and columbines in all sorts of lovely colorings, and everywhere roses, roses, just ready to bloom. What shall I do for joy when they all come out? It will be too wonderful.
Yesterday came your nice letter of May 18, and many cuttings and Mamma's paper; you are both so good to send me so much. It was interesting to see that Mr. Gardner had started his military career; he will do a fine job and be happy in it. I am so sorry for your loss, and the world's, in Bela Pratt's death. But what a glorious immortality he has left behind. Your letter gives such a good idea of conditions at home; if only we could have been preparing during these past years. However, it can't be helped now. The sending, provisioning, and ammunitioning of a large expeditionary force and fleet, the handling of immense numbers of wounded and sick --- these are questions which perhaps even now are hardly grasped at home, but I hope the right men will be in the right places when we get going.
Helen has just written from Tours. She has been very ill with acute articular rheumatism, and must have suffered greatly, though she makes little of it. She is better now, but all her plans for working this summer are spoiled; I'm so disappointed for her.... All the things that were sent me and reached Tours after I left have been distributed. John and May's gift of dressings, cotton, adhesive plaster, gutta-percha tissue, and the ether from Genevieve Bennett, have been given to Descartes; they receive very little, and their need is so great.
Dr. Conant's contributions were divided among 88 bis, Quimper, and Quimperlé. Helen has made lists of each person to be thanked, so I hope they'll all get the letters.
Now I must trot down the ward again and see that Sheehan is O.K. Brown will be wanting a drink of milk and soda, and most likely he'll ask for "the medicine they gave me in France" (morphia). He had to have it there, but we have managed to keep him fairly comfortable without it. Also I must wake a man who is having a nightmare, and turn a snorer! Then a look at the Daily Telegraph, and the column, "America at War," which is proud reading nowadays, and after that it will be time for morning work. Night-duty in summer is very nice; one only copes with "feeding the troops" once, there is a great charm about the quiet, and the early dawn is so wonderful; and then the contrast of the happy bustle and hard work from six onwards. The period of dark is very short this week: we have done all our ironing without lighting up, and sometimes we have taken a little table just outside the kitchen door, so between bandages one could sniff the cool, fragrant air, and be refreshed.
5.30 P.M., June 20.
Having spent a quiet and profitable afternoon cleaning lockers in the Vernon Ward, and giving two "blanket baths," I am off for two hours of this lovely day. It seems strange to be back on day-duty, but nice on the whole, though I miss seeing dawn every morning. Heywood has "gone convalescent," and we miss him; Scott and others of the Vimy Ridge convoy have gone, too. Everyone is going on well except Brown, who is not gaining much; my last morning of night-duty I changed his whole bed. It was some achievement, even with help, to move a suffering, helpless patient, who is on a water bed, so I am rather proud of myself.
We had a great day yesterday; the Claytons gave the troops and Staff a wonderful garden party. Unfortunately, it rained, which spoiled bowling and the other sports. However, Mrs. Clayton had thought of that possibility, and as by magic a whist drive was started, with splendid prizes. Then there was music and a scrumptious tea, with strawberries and cream!! It was a most awfully jolly party --- all the Claytons are such dears. (Mrs. Clayton's sister nurses at the hospital, too.) And it's a joy to be in their wonderful old house, of which I shall tell you more some day. From the front door one has an enchanting view of the Cathedral towers. You ask about some of the patients. Cariou, the French Canadian, who borrowed my French books and French poetry, has gone; he was a nice child. Little Paget in Vernon walks quite well now, and I think will soon be off. He's a merry little soul, and has a devoted mother, who makes the long trip from Gloucester to see him as often as she can; she brings him many goodies, which he always shares generously with every one. Brown continues to worry us with a very high "temp." every night. Captain Buchanan came up from Fazakerly the other night, to consult with Dr. Lees about him. He was encouraging, thinks that the terrible cough and pain in the chest indicate fluid, and that relief will follow drawing it off. The wounds are horrible, and badly placed in his neck and at the top of his back, but they are clean. Poor little soul, --- he's a pathetic bit of human misery, of which there are such hundreds of thousands. I suppose one must feel grateful that he has escaped the shambles alive, yet the long, hard pull back is discouraging. Captain Buchanan's visit was most impressive. We weren't allowed to take off the spreads in the ward he was to be in, until he left, though it was almost nine when he came!
We have all been tremendously stirred by Haig's great success, and enthusiasm in France is immense. It's such a blessing to have the Salient wiped out, for it has cost so many thousands of lives. Men have told me stories of attacks under enfilading fire which sickened me with horror. This advance has been wonderfully prepared and carried out; it's just one more crown for the dauntless British arms. The last air-raid makes one feel that the time for reprisals has come. The Hun is beaten, and he knows it, but he means to give us some very bad moments in his final struggle, which I fear will be a matter of two years. The victory must be complete, even if it takes everything we all have and hope for; nothing else is possible.
IN THE GARDEN, July 6.
I've been as busy as can be this week, for one of the Staff had to go home, and we are full up. Jock has his splint off, and gets carried out into this dear garden on a stretcher, and we wheel Sheehan over in a bath-chair. Last night Nurse Lloyd and I wheeled him up to the bowling-green (another of the Vernons' good deeds for the village). We watched the bowling and Sheehan discoursed to us of life at the front in a most interesting, though at times, horrible, way. Little Brown has made great strides, and is now able to sit up and wash himself.
Wednesday, Fourth of July, our flag hung for the second time with the Union Jack all over London, and one of the lions at Portsmouth Town Hall wore the Stars and Stripes. There was a great fête at a local cricket club here for the benefit of the Jack Cornwell Fund for Disabled Soldiers and Sailors. It was a glorious day; twenty-five men went, and all the Staff who were off duty. We got to the grounds just as the fête opened, and the band of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers struck up "The Star-Spangled Banner"; there was tremendous applause, and you can't think what a feeling it gave me. We had a very good afternoon, and, as I heard someone say, "There's a fine showing of wounded." There was, indeed; even lots of wounded sailors came up from Liverpool. All of Chester was there, General Pitcairn-Campbell, and an Admiral gave the prizes; there were all sorts of stalls, no end of sports, sack races, plant-pot races, egg-and-spoon races, --- from all of which V.I.H. brought back two seconds and a third. Our musical R.A.M.C. and I entered the driving race. "Lady driving blindfolded wounded soldier or sailor around obstacles." We were running well, but the reins broke; however, tea was consoling! Anyway, there was lots of excitement, and it was delightful to see them able to enjoy so much, for some of the brave souls were sadly broken. It was a pretty sight; the beautiful green field, skirted on one side by the Canal, and framed in lovely trees, dotted over with summer frocks, khaki, and hospital blues, and white-capped nurses' uniforms. What a different Fourth from any I have ever spent or imagined. We have had many nice ones together, have n't we?
Yesterday Miss Vernon asked Nurse Lloyd and me to come up for some tennis in our off-duty time, and to bring some men for croquet and tea. It was hot, but nice just the same. The hay crop is well in hand, --- a big one; our strongest convalescents have been helping with it. We have been lucky in weather, and I hope you will be, too. Thank you for your splendid letter and cuttings, which, as usual, have been read and enjoyed by many.
It's good news to hear that George Hollister(5) is back safe and sound. His mother must be very happy to have him with her for a little while until he enlists; from what he has said to me, I think he'll choose infantry.
I have finally been able to send Madame Laporte the licorice-bark powder she wanted so much; you know it is the great refreshing drink in French military hospitals, and is at present very difficult to obtain in France. Cheers and Hopley, our Hospital chemists in Chester, got twenty pounds for me, and shipped it to Paris, so there is a little more of Fred's money gone. It has been very hot in France, so I am very happy to have started the licorice off. Good-bye for now; the most strenuous hours of the day are coming; washes, rubs, beds made, supper, and special diets. Then our supper, and afterwards special rubs and treatments.
England, July 27, 1917
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