We came straight through Boulogne in the night, and have been stuck half way to the Front all day; I don’t know why.
Yesterday we took a long time getting to the ship from Rouen, and unloaded at 10 P.M. Why we had no warning about the departure of the train (and so nearly got left behind) was because it was an emergency call suddenly to clear the hospitals at R. to make room for 600 more expected from the Front.
We are being rushed up again without being stopped at Rouen for the first time on record, so I suppose there is a great deal doing. (There was – at Neuve Chapelle). It is a comfort to remember that the men themselves don’t grudge or question what happens to them, and the worse they are wounded the more they say, “I think I’m lucky; my mate next to me got killed”.
The birds are singing like anything now, and all the buds are coming out, and the banks and woods are a mass of primroses.
We got to Étretat at about 3 P.M. yesterday after a two days’ and one night load, and had time to go up to the hospital.
The sea was a thundery blue, and the cliffs lit up yellow by the sun, and with the grey shingle it made a glorious picture to take back to the train. It had been a heavy journey with bad patients, and we were rather tired, so we didn’t explore much.
We woke at Sotteville near Rouen this morning. We are now full of convalescents for Havre to go straight on the boat.
There are crowds of primroses out on the banks. Our infant Officer’s Mess cook (a boy of about twenty, who looks sixteen) has just jumped off the train while it was still going, grabbed a handful of primroses and leapt on to the train again some coaches back. He came back panting and rosy, and said, “I’ve got some for you, Sister!” I got some Lent lilies in Rouen, and have some celandines growing in moss, so it looks like spring in my bunk.
We are passing through glorious country of wooded hills and valleys, with a blue sky and shining sun, and all the patients are enjoying it. It is still very cold and there is a little snow about. They call their goatskin coats “Teddy Bears”.
On way down to Étretat, where a GeneralHospital is, which we shall reach to-morrow about tea-time. A load of woundeds this time; very busy all day till now (midnight), and haven’t had time to hear many of their adventures. They seem to all come from a line of front where the Boches are persistently hammering to break through. We heard guns all the while we were loading. A dressing-station five miles away had just been shelled, and a major, R.A.M.C. [Royal Army Medical Corps], killed and two other R.A.M.C. officers wounded.
I have a man wounded in eight places, including a fractured elbow and a fractured skull, which had to be trephined [a trephine is a surgical instrument used to remove a circular area of tissue e.g. bone]. He was one of nineteen who were in a barn when a shell came through the roof and burst inside, spitting shrapnel bullets all over them; all wounded and one killed.
Later. – Just time for a line before I do another round and then call my relief. It is an awfully cold night.
We are stuck in the jolly place close to G.H.Q. [General Headquarters], but can’t leave the train as there are no orders. I’ve been having a French class, with the wall of the truck for a blackboard, and occasional bangs from a big gun somewhere.
Instead of being called at 2 for duty, was called at 1, as they unloaded us at that hour.
Last night we pulled up at Hazebrouck alongside a troop train with men, guns, and horses just out from the Midlands. Two lads in a truck with their horses asked me for cigarettes. Luckily, thanks to the Train Comforts Fund’s last whack, I had some. One said solemnly that he had a “coosin” to avenge. They both had shining eyes, and not a rollicking but an eager excitement as they asked when the train would get “there”, and looked as if they could already see the shells and weren’t afraid.
5 P.M. On way down from Chocques – mixed lot of woundeds, medicals, Indians and Canadians. I have a lad of 24 with both eyes destroyed by a bullet, and there is a bad trachy.
Nothing much has been going on, but the German shells sometimes plop into the middle of a trench, and each one means a good many casualties.
10 P.M. We’ve had a busy day, and are not home yet. My boy with the dressings on his head has not the slightest idea that he’s got no eyes, and who is going to tell him? The pain is bad, and he has to have a lot of morphia, with a cigarette in between.
We shall probably not unload to-night, and I am to be called at 2 A.M.
The infectious ward is full with British enterics [gastrointestinal disease], dips [diphtheria], and measles, and Indians with mumps.
No entry in Kate’s diary today.
There is not a great deal to do or see here, especially on a wet day.
No entry in Kate’s Diary on these days.
9 P.M. Hotel in Boulogne. - All efforts to get my seven days’ leave have failed, as I thought they would.
We loaded up this morning with a not very bad lot (mine are all sitters except for some enterics [gastrointestinal disease], a measles and a diphtheria), and are on our way down again.
Moved up to the place with the moor during the night. Glorious, clear, sunny morning. Couldn’t leave the train for a real walk as there were no orders.
9 P.M. – The ways of French railways are impenetrable: in spite of orders for Bailleul before lunch, we are still here. This is the fourth day with no patients on – the longest “off” spell since before Christmas.
We have been all day in Boulogne, and move up at 8.15 this evening, which means loading up after breakfast and perhaps unloading to-morrow evening. It has given one of the Sisters another day to recover from her attack of influenza.
No entry in Kate’s diary today.
We got a short walk yesterday evening after unloading at Rouen. There was a glorious sunset over the bridge, and the lights just lighting up, and Rouen looking its beautifulest. We slept at Sotteville.
The lengthening days and better weather are making a real difference to the gloom of things, and though there is a universal undercurrent of feeling that enormous sacrifices will have to be made, it seems to be shaping for an ultimate return to sanity and peace. It is such a vast upheaval when you are in the middle of it, that you sometimes actually wonder if everyone has gone mad, or who has gone mad, that all should be grimly working, toiling, slaving, from the firing line to the base, for more Destruction, in order to get Peace. And the men who pay the cost in intimate personal and individual suffering and in death are not the men who made the war.
No entry in Kate’s diary today.
9 P.M. – We’ve had a very unsatisfactory day, loading up at four different places, and still on our way down. I am just going to lie down, to be called at 2 A.M. A humane and fatherly orderly has just brought me a stone hot-water bottle for my feet as I write this in the rather freezing dispensary coach in the middle of the train, in between my rounds. All the worst cases were put off at B., so there isn’t much to do.
We left B. at 5 A.M. to-day, and were delayed all the morning farther up by one of the usual French collisions.
In bed, 10 P.M. We have had a very heavy day with the woundeds again from Bailleul. We unloaded again at B. this evening, and are to go up again sometime to-night.
There is a great deal going on in our front. A sergeant of the D.C.L.I. [Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry] had a fearful shell wound in his thigh, which has gone wrong, and as the trouble is too high for amputation they will have their work cut out to save his life. They were getting out of the trench for a bayonet charge when he was hit, leaving him and another man, wounded in the leg, in the trench. They stayed there several hours with no dressings on, sinking into the mud (can you wonder it has gone wrong?), until another man came and helped them out; then they walked to the Regimental Aid Post, 200 yards away, helped by the sound man. There they were dressed and had the anti-tetanus serum injection, and were taken by stretcher-bearers to the next Dressing Station, and thence by horse ambulance to the Field Ambulance [mobile medical unit], and then by motor ambulance to where we picked them up.
6 A.M. – We took on a very bad load of wounded at Poperinghe, more like what used to happen three months ago in the same place; they were only wounded the night before, and some the same day. The Clearing Hospital had to be cleared immediately.
We have just got to B., and are going to unload here at 8.30 A.M. Hope to get a week’s mail to-day. A wounded major on the train was talking abut the men. “It’s not a case of our leading the men; we have a job to keep up with them”.
It was a pretty sad business getting them off the train this morning; there were so many compound fractures, and no amount of contriving seemed to come between them and the jolting of the train all night. And to add to the difficulties, it was pouring in torrents and icy cold, and the railway people refused to move the train under covert, so they went out of a warm train on to damp stretchers in an icy rain. They were nearly all in thin pyjamas, as we’d had to cut off their soaking khaki; they were practically straight from the trenches. But once clear of trains, stretchers, and motor ambulances they will be warmed, washed, fed, bedded, and their fractures set under anaesthetic.
One man had his arm blown to pieces on Monday afternoon, had it amputated on Monday night, and was put into one of our wards on Tuesday, and admitted to BaseHospital on Wednesday.
We are now – 5 P.M. – on our way to Étaples, probably to clear the General Hospital there, either to-night or to-morrow morning. It hasn’t stopped raining all day. It took me till lunch to read my enormous mail.
We were all day coming up yesterday. Got to B. in the middle of the night, and went on to St Omer, where we woke this morning, so we missed our mails again. Lovely blue sky to-day. Now this afternoon we are on the way to Poperinghe.
We have just passed a graveyard absolutely packed with wooden crosses.
No entry in Kate’s diary today.
A dismal day at Sotteville; pouring cats and dogs all day, and the train cold.
2 A.M. – Still on the way to Havre! And we loaded up on Thursday. This journey is a revelation of what the British soldier will stick without grumbling. The sitting-ups are eight in a carriage, some with painful feet, some with wounded arms, and some with coughs, rheumatism etc., but you don’t hear a word of grousing. Some of the lyers are too ill to know how long they’ve been on the train. The train is crawling with J.J.’s [lice].
4.30 A.M. – Just seen the last stretcher off; now going to undress (first time since Wednesday) and turn in.
Havre. – It is four months to-day since I joined the train. It seems much longer in some ways, and yet the days go by very quickly – even the off-days; and when the train is full the hours fly.
We went into the familiar streets this morning that we saw so much of in August, “waiting for orders”, and had a look at the sea. The train moved off at tea-time, so we had the prettiest part of the journey in a beautiful evening sunlight, lighting up the woods and hills. The palm is out, and the others saw primroses. We have also seen some snowdrops.
After a heavy journey, with two nights out of bed, you don’t intend to do any letter-writing or mending or French classes, but look out of the window or sleep or read. You always get compensation for these journeys in the longer journey back.
6 A.M. – We did a record loading up in fifty minutes last night, chiefly medical cases, and took eight hours to crawl to Boulogne. Now we are on the way to Havre, but shall not get there till about 10 P.M. to-night, so they will have a long day on the train
7 P.M. – This is an interminable journey. Have not yet reached Rouen, and shan’t get to Havre till perhaps 2 A.M. The patients are getting very weary, especially the sitting-ups. The wards of acute lyers you can run like a hospital. Some of the orderlies are now getting quite keen on having their wards clean and swept, and the meals and feeds up to time, and the washings done, but it has taken weeks to bring them up to it. When they do all that well I can get on with the diets, temperatures, and dressings, etc. On the long journeys we take round at intervals smokes, chocolate, papers, hankies etc. The Victoria League has done me well in bales of hankies.
We have spent most of the day at St Omer, and got a lovely walk this morning, along the canal, watching the big barges which take tons of beet for sugar. There is a scheme on foot for fitting up these big barges as transport for the sick as moving Clearing Hospitals. I’ve been over one, in Rouen. They are not yet in use.
It is the warmest spring day we’ve had. I had my second French class this afternoon at St Omer. We are now moving on, up to Bailleul. I expect we shall take patients on this evening, and have them all night.
9 P.M. – We woke at Merville after a particularly rocky, noisy night journey, and loaded up with woundeds and sick. My blessés [wounded] kept me busy till the moment we unloaded this evening at B., and I had not time to hear much about their doings. One extraordinarily sporting boy had a wound right through his neck, involving his swallowing. It took about half an hour to give him a feed, through a tube, but he stuck it, smiling all the time. Another older man was shot in the stomach, and looked as if he wouldn’t get over it. He has a wife and three children in Ireland.
We are to move up again at 4 A.M. Just had dinner (soup, boiled beef as tough as a cable, and ration cheese and coffee), and the ‘Daily Mail’.
Again they unloaded us at B. last night, and we are now, 11 A.M., on our way up again.
We have had every kind of infectious disease to nurse in this war, except smallpox. The Infectious Ward is one of mine, and we have had enteric [enteric refers to a wide range of gastrointestinal diseases which includes enteritis and dysentery], scarlet fever, measles, mumps, and diphtheria.
7 P.M. – We got to a new place where we wait for a marche [break in train timetable], just at tea time, and we had a grand walk up to the moor, where you can see half over France each way. The road wound down to a little curly village with a beautiful old grey church. On the top of the moor on the way back it was dark, and the flash signals were morsing away to each other from the different hills.
I had my first French class this afternoon at St Omer, in the men’s mess truck. There were seventeen, including the Quartermaster-Sergeant and the cook’s boy. I’d got a small blackboard in Boulogne, and they all had notebooks. They were very keen, and got on at a great pace.
We stood by last night, and are just going to load now. All is quiet here. Said to have been nothing happening the last few days.
7 P.M. – Nearing B. We’ve had a very muddly day, taking on at four different places. I have a coach full of Indians. They have been teaching me some Hindustani.
We have a lot of woundeds from Saturday’s fighting. They took three German trenches. I’ve got five bad cases of measles, with high temperatures and throats.
This is a little out-of-the-way town called Blendecque. There are 250 R.E. [Royal Engineers] inhabiting a long truck-train here. We have given them all our mufflers and mittens; they had none, and the officer has had our officers to tea with him. Our men have played a football match with them – drawn.
We went for a splendid walk this morning up hill to a pine wood bordered by a moor with whins [gorse]. I’ve now got in my bunky-hole (it is not quite six feet square) a polypod fern, a plate of moss, a pot of white hyacinths, and also catkins, violets and mimosa! I suppose we shall move on to-night. Many hundreds of French cavalry passed across the bridge over this cutting this morning.
9.45 P.M. – We are just getting to the place where all the fighting is – La Bassée way. Probably we shall load up with wounded to-night. There’s a great flare some way off that looks like the burning villages we used to see round Ypres. It is a very dark night.
No entry in Kate’s diary today.
We did get in late last night, and got to bed at 1 A.M. They are unloading during the night again now, and also loading up at night.
One boy last night had lost his right hand; his left arm and leg were wounded, and both his eyes. “Yes, I’ve got more than my fair share”, he said, “but I’ll get over it all right”. He was ticketed to go straight to an eye specialist. “Thank God for that”, he said, as if the eye specialist had already cured him, but it is doubtful if any eye specialist will save his eyes.
To-day has been a record day of brilliant sun, blue sky and warm air, and it has transformed the muddy, sloppy, dingy Boulogne of the last two months into something more like Cornwall.
There were no orders likely and we went in the town in the morning, and on the long stone pier in the afternoon, and then to have tea at the Maritime (where you have tea with real milk and fresh butter, and jam not out of a tin, and a tablecloth, and a china cup – luxuries beyond description). On the pier there were gulls, and a sunny sort of salt wind and big waves breaking, and a glorious view of the steep little town piled up in layers above the harbour, which is packed with shipping.
For once we unloaded at B. and went to bed instead of taking them on all night to Rouen. Moved out of B. at 5 A.M., breakfast at St Omer, where we nearly got left behind strolling along the line during a wait. We are going to Merville in the mining district.
3 P.M. – We have just taken on about seventy Indians, mostly sick, some badly wounded. Aeroplanes are chasing a Taube [WW1 German monoplane] overhead, but it is not being shelled. Guns are making a good noise all round. The guns were shaking our train just now. We are waiting for a convoy of British now. It is a lovely afternoon.
We are filling up with British wounded now. It is getting late, and we shan’t unload to-night
Later. – We were hours loading up because all the motor drivers are down with flu, and there were only two available. The rest are all busy bringing wounded in to the ClearingHospital. The spell of having the train full of slight medical cases and bad feet seems to be over, and the wounded are coming on again.
Moved on last night and woke up at Bailleul. Some badly wounded on the train.
Beyond Rouen, the honey-suckle is in leaf, the catkins are out, and the woods are full of buds. What a difference it will make when spring comes. On this side it is all canals, bogs, and pollards, and the eternal mud.
We found pinned on a sock from a London school child, “whosoever receives this, when you return conqueror, drop me a line,” and then her name and address!
No entry in Kate’s diary today.
No entry in Kate’s diary today.
We did go on to Rouen. Boulogne is full to the brim.
I am beginning to think we waste a lot of sympathy on the poor wounded rocking in a train all night after being on it all day. One of mine with a bullet still in his chest, and some pneumonia, who seemed very ill when he was put on at Merville, said this morning he felt a lot better and had had the best night for five days!
Sotteville – There are four trains waiting here, and the Casualty Stations have been skating on floods. We move on at 1 o’clock to-night. One Ambulance Train had a bomb dropped each side of their train at Bailleul, but they didn’t explode
The French instruction books have come, and I am going to start the French class for the men on the train; they are very keen to learn, chiefly, I think, to make a little more running with the French girls at the various stopping places.
We got up to Merville at one o’clock last night, and loaded up only forty-five, and now just going to load up again at a place on the way back.
One of my badly woundeds says “the Major” (whose servant he has been for four years) asked him to make up a fire in his dug-out, while he went to the other end of the trench. While he was doing the fire a shell burst over the dug-out and a bit went through his left leg and touched his right. If the Major had been sitting in his chair where he was a minute before, his head would have been blown off. He said “When the Major came back and found me, he stayed with me all day, and made me cocoa, and at night carried my stretcher himself and took me right to Headquarters”.
There is a sergeant-major of the Royal Scots very indignant at having to go sick with bad feet. Any attempt to fuss over him is met with “I need no attention whatever, thank you, Sister. I feel more like apologising for being in here. Only five weeks of active service”, he growled.
One of those difficult-to-bear days; hung up at a place beyond St Omer, listening to guns, and doing nothing when there is so much to be done. The line is probably too busy to let us up. It happens to be a dazzling blue day, which must be wiping off 50 per cent of the horrors of the Front.
We are to go off in an hour’s time, “destination unknown”.
Got to Boulogne this morning. Have been getting stores in and repairs done; expect to be sent up any time. Sharp frost and cold wind.
They have found a way of warming our quarters when we have not an engine on. I don’t know what we would have done without it to-day; it is icy cold.
Mails to-morrow, hurrah! Going to turn in early.
A dazzling blue spring day. As we were not going in to load at Rouen till 3 P.M., we went for the most glorious walk. We crossed the ferry over the Seine to the foot of the steep high line of hills which eventually overlooks Rouen, and climbed up to the top by a lovely winding woody path in the sun. At the top we got to the Church of Le Bon Secours, which is in a very fine position with a marvellous view. We had some lovely cider in a pub with a garden, and then took the tram down a very steep track to Rouen.
9.30 P.M. – On way to Havre. I was just going to say that from the Seine to Havre there is nothing to report, when I came across a young educated German in my wards with his left leg off from the hip, and his right from below the knee, and a bad shell wound in his arm, all healed now, done at Ypres on 24th October. And I had an hour’s most thrilling and heated conversation with him in German. He had the cheek to say that three German soldiers were as good as twenty English, so I assured him that five English soldiers could do for fifty Germans!
Have just had orders to load up at Rouen for Havre to-morrow; then I hope we shall go back to Boulogne. We ought to get back there for a mail on Thursday.
Did I tell you that in one place (I don’t suppose it is the same all along the line) they are doing forty-eight hours in the trenches, followed by forty-eight hours back in the billets (barns etc.) for six times, and then twelve days rest, when they can get themselves and their rifles cleaned.
Just had a grand hot bath from a passing engine in exchange for chocolate. We shall have a quiet night to-night. Sotteville is the quietest place we ever sleep in; there is no squealing of whistles and shouting of French railwaymen as in all the big stations. Last night they were shunting and jigging us about all night between Rouen and Sotteville. But we shall miss the train when we get into a dull hotel room or billet, or perhaps a tent. My month at Le Mans in Madame’s beautiful bed was the one luxury I’ve struck so far.
They’ve had a pretty good night most of them. If you see any compartment, say six sitters and two top-lyers showing signs of being near the end of their tether, with bad feet and long hours on the train, you have only to say cheerfully, “How are you getting on in this dug-out?” for every man to brighten visibly, and there is a chorus of “If our dug-outs was like this I reckon we shouldn’t want no relievin’!” and a burst of wit and merriment follows. You can try it all down the train; it never fails.
9.30 A.M. – They have only four M.A.’s, [motor ambulances] and the hospital is 1 ½ miles off, so all our 366 limping, muddy scarecrows are not off yet. There is a mist and a piercing north wind, and lots of mud.
6 P.M. – Just getting to Rouen, probably to load for Havre. They do keep us moving. After the long load from Bailleul, I don’t think we shall take patients on to-night.
Another blue, sunny, frosty morning. Loading up this morning was hard to attend to, as a thrilling taube [WW1 German monoplane] chase was going on overhead, the sky peppered with bursting shells, and aeroplanes buzzing around: didn’t bring it down though.
The train is full of very painful feet: like a form of burning chilblain all over the foot, and you can’t do anything for them, poor lambs.
Still Saturday, January 23rd. This is our first journey to Versailles. Two kind sisters, living in a sort of little ticket office in the middle of the line, washed and fed me at 6 A.M. in between two trains, but I saw nothing of the glories of Versailles – hope to to-morrow
I don’t think the men will get much sleep, their feet are too bad, but we are going to give them a good chance with drugs, the last thing. We shall do the night in three watches.
We didn’t get in to B. till midnight, too late to get mails, and left early this morning. At Calais it was discovered that the kitchen had been left behind, in shunting a store wagon, so we have been hung up waiting for it at St Omer. Went for a walk. It is a most interesting place, swarming with every kind of war material, and the grey towers of the two cathedrals looked lovely in a blue sky. Such a dazzling day: we were able to get on with painting the train. But when at 6 P.M. it seemed the day would never end, an Ambulance Train steamed up with our kitchen tacked on, and in the kitchen was the mail bag – joy of joys!
We have just got to Bailleul, 10.30 P.M.: a few guns banging. We are wondering if we shall clear the Clearing hospitals to-night or wait till morning.
11 P.M. Fully rigged up for night duty, have just been gloomily exploring the perfectly silent and empty station and street, wondering when the motor ambulances would begin to roll up, when we were hailed from the train with “8 o’clock to-morrow morning” so we can now turn in, and load up happily by daylight.
We were not a whole day at Sotteville for once: moved out early this morning and are still travelling, 9 P.M. between Abbeville and Boulogne. It has been a specially slow journey. I believe we are to go straight on from Boulogne, so we may not get our six days’ mail, alas!
The others have all been out, but I’ve been a bit lazy and stayed in, washed my hair and mended my clothes. All the fields are flooded between us and the long line of high hills about a mile away, and it looks like a huge lake with the trees reflected in it.
No orders to move, as usual. Ambulance trains travel as ‘specials’ in a ‘marche’, which means a gap in the timetable. There are about two marches in twenty-four hours, and the R.T.O.’s [Railway Transport Officers] have to fit the Ambulance Trains in to one or other of these marches when orders come in that one is wanted. We do not get final orders of where our destination is till we get to Hazebrouck or St Omer. We have been six days without mail now, and have taken loads to Étretat and to Havre.
No entry in Kate’s diary today.
No entry in Kate’s diary today.
We didn’t unload at Boulogne last night, and are still (11 A.M.) taking them on to Étretat, a lovely place on the coast, about ten miles north of Havre. The hospital there is the General Hospital that I mobilised with. We are going though most lovely country on a clear sunny morning, and none of the patients are causing any anxiety.
3 P.M. We have been travelling all day, and shan’t get to Étretat till about 7 P.M. It is a mercy we got our bad cases off at Boulogne – pneumonias, enterics, two s.f.’s [scarlet fever], and some badly wounded, including an officer with bandages all over. When he was put into clean pyjamas and had a clean hanky with eau-de-Cologne, he said “By Jove, it’s worth getting hit for this, after the smells of dead horses, dead men, and dead everything”. He said no one could get into Messines, where there is only one house left standing, because of the unburied dead lying about. Like so many he was chiefly concerned about “giving so much trouble”. He looked awfully ill, but seldom stopped smiling.
Later. On way to Havre. – These are all bound for home and have been in hospital some time. They are clean, shaved, clothed, fed and convalescent. Most of the lying-downs are recovering from severe wounds of weeks back. It is quite new even to see them at this stage, instead of the condition we usually get them in. Some are the same ones we brought down from Béthune three weeks ago.
One man was in a dug-out going about twenty feet back from the trench, with sixteen others, taking cover from our howitzers and also from the enemy’s. The cultivated ground is so soft with the wet that it easily gives, and the bursting of one of our shells close by drove the roof in and buried these seventeen – four were killed and eleven injured by it, but only two were got out alive.
January 18th, 1915
No entry in Kate’s diary today.
January 19th, 1915
No entry in Kate’s diary today.
We got to Bailleul too late last night for loading, and went thankfully to bed instead. Now 3.30 P.M., nearly back at B., but expect to be sent on to Rouen: most sick this time, and bad feet, not exactly frostbite, but swollen and discoloured from the wet. It is a mild day, sunny in parts, and not wet.
We unloaded at 6 P.M. at B., and are to start off again at 4.15 A.M.;
Later. Hazebrouck . 9 P.M. – Another train full, and nearing Boulogne; a supply train full of minor cases came down just before us from the same place, where we’ve been three days running. The two Clearing Hospitals up there are working at awful high pressure – filling in from Field Ambulances and emptying into the trains. All cases now have to go through the Clearing Hospitals for classification and diagnosis and dressings, but it is of a sketchy character, as you may imagine. They are all swarming with J.J.’s [lice] even the officers. One of the officers is wounded in the head, shoulder, stomach, both arms and both feet. I have been busy bursting a bad quinsy [abscess formed due to inflammation of the tonsils] with inhalers and fomentations. After a few hours he could sing Tipperary and drink a bottle of stout!
We picked up a load in the dark and wet, with some very badly wounded, who kept us busy from 6 P.M. to 4 A.M. without stopping. Some were caked in mud exactly to their necks! One told me he got hit while trying to dig out three of his section who were half buried by an exploded coal-box. When he got hit, they were left, and eventually got finished by our own guns. Another lot of eleven were buried likewise, and are there still, but were all killed instantaneously. One man with part of his stomach blown away and his right thigh smashed was trying to get a corporal of his regiment in, but the corporal died when he got there, and he got it as well. He was smiling and thanking all night, and saying how comfortable he was.
We unloaded this morning, got a sleep this afternoon, and are now 5 P.M., on our way up again. The Clearing Hospitals are overflowing as of old, and like the Field Ambulances have more than they can cope with. We have to re-dress the septic things with hydrogen peroxide, which keeps them going till they can be specially treated at the base. Some of the enterics are very bad: train journeys are not ideal treatment for enteric [abdominal] haemorrhage, but it has to be done.
It is time the sun shone somewhere – but it will surely, later on.
Woke at Abbeville; now on the way to Boulogne, where I hope we shall have time to get mails.
5 P.M. We went through Boulogne without stopping, and got no mails in consequence. We have been on the move practically without stopping since 11 P.M. last night, and are just getting to Béthune, the place we went to two days after Christmas, where we were quite near the guns, and went over the ClearingHospital which had been shelled. Expect to take wounded up here. The country is wetter than ever – it looks like one vast swamp. Of course the rain has spoilt our lovely paint!
At S. all day. By some mistake it hasn’t rained all day, so we took the opportunity to get on with painting the train. We worked all the morning and afternoon, and it looks very smart: huge red crosses on white squares in the middle of each coach and the number of the ward in figures a foot long at each end: this on both sides of the coaches. We have done not quite half the coaches, and are praying that it won’t rain before it dries; if it does the result is pitiable. The orderlies have been shining up the brass rails and paraffining the outside of the train, and have also played and won a football match against No.1 A.T. [ambulance train]
- The approach to Rouen at six o’clock on a pitch-dark, wet, and starlight morning with the lights twinkling on the hills and on the river, and in the old wet streets, is a beautiful sight.
My mad boy has been very quiet all night.
Woke up at Bailleul, sun shining for once, and everything – floods and all – looking lovely all the way down. Loaded up early and got down to B. by 4 P.M. to hear that we are to go on to Rouen – another all-night touch. We have put off the fourteen worst cases at B., and are now on our way to R. This is the first time we have shipped Canadians, P.P.C.L.I. [Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry] the only regiment as yet in the fighting line. They are oldish men who have nearly all seen service before, many in South Africa.
Lots more wounded this time. Some S.L.I. [Somerset Light Infantry] got badly caught in a wood; they’ve just come from India. We have a boy on board with no wound and no disease, but quite mad poor boy; he has to have a special orderly with him.
One thing one notices about the Tommies is that they have an enormous tolerance for each other and never seem to want to quarrel. They take infinite pains in the night not to wake each other in moving over the heaps of legs and arms sprawled everywhere, and will keep in cramped positions for hours rather than risk touching some one else’s painful feet or hand. If you want to improve matters they say “I shall be all right Sister, it might jog his foot.” They never let you miss any one out in giving things round, and always call your attention to any one they think needs it, but not to themselves. They won’t fuss about themselves and in consequence you often find things out too late.
Another typical instance of Tommy’s reluctance to complain occurred on the last journey. I came on one compartment full, busily engaged in collecting J.J.s [lice] off one man in the middle, with a candle to see by. His blanket, I found, was swarming, and it was ours, not his, one of a lot taken on at Rouen as ‘disinfected’! I had the blanket hurled out of the window, and then they slept. But they weren’t going to complain about it.
There was one jovial old boy of 60 with rows of ribbons. He had three sons in the army, and when they went “he wasn’t going to be left behind,” so he re-enlisted.
Still pouring. We unloaded by 9 A.M., and got our mail in. My ward-master was so drunk to-night that the Q.M.S. [Quartermaster Sergeant] had to send for the O.C. [Officer Commanding]. And he had just got his corporal’s stripe. He was a particular ally of mine and was in South Africa.
We are in that foulest of homes for lost trains to-day, the Petit Vitesse siding out of B. station, with the filth of all ages around, about, and below us. You have to shut your window to keep out the smell of burning garbage and other horrors.
It is nearly three months since I sat in a chair, except at meals, and that is only a flap-down seat, or saw a fire, except the pails of coke the Tommies have on the lines.
I expect we shall be off again to-night somewhere.
January, 7th, 1915
We moved out of Boulogne about 4 A.M., and reached Merville (with many long waits) at 2 P.M. Loaded up there, and filled up at Hazebrouck on way back. Many cases of influenza with high temperatures, also rheumatisms, and bad feet, very few wounded.
9.30 P.M. We have 318 on board this time, including four enterics, four diphtherias, and eighteen convalescent scarlets (who caught it from their billet). A quiet-looking little man has a very fine new German officer’s helmet and sword. “He gave it to me,” he said. “I had shot him through the lung. I did the wound up as best I could and tried to save him, but he died. He was coming for me with his sword.”
The wet has outwetted itself all day – it must be a record flood everywhere. We shall not unload to-night, so I had better think about turning in, as I have a third watch at 4 A.M.
I found some lovely eau –de-Cologne and shampoo powders and a pet aluminium candlestick from G [Kate’s sister] among the mufflers. Such things give a Sister on an A.T. [ambulance train] absurd pleasure; you’d hardly believe it.
No entry in Kate’s diary today
No entries in Kate’s diary for 5th and 6th January
No entries in Kate’s diary for 4th, 5th and 6th January
A sergeant we took down to Havre yesterday told me of his battalion’s very heavy losses. He said of the 1400 of all ranks he came out with, there are only 5 sergeants, 1 officer and 72 men left. He said the young officers won’t take cover – “they get too excited and won’t listen to people who’ve ‘ad a little experience”. One would keep putting his head out of the trench because he hadn’t seen a German. “I kept tellin’ of him”, said the sergeant, “but of course he got ’it!”
Just loading up for Havre with many of the same men we brought down from Béthune on Sunday; it seems as if we might just as well have taken them straight down to Havre. They look clean now, and have lost the trench look.
Have been asked to say how extra-excellent the Xmas cake was; we finished it yesterday, ditto the Tiptree [Essex] jam. It is a week on Monday since we had any mails.
There is a Major of ours on the train, getting a lift to Havre, who is a specialist in pathology, and he has been investigating the bacillus of malignant oedema and of spreading gangrene. They are hunting anaerobes (Sir Almroth Wright at Boulogne and a big French Professor in Paris) for a vaccine against this, which has been persistently fatal. This man knew of two cases who were, as he puts it, “good cases for dying”, and therefore good cases for trying his theory on. Both got well, began to recover within eight hours. And one of them was my re-enlisted Warwickshire man with the arm amputated.
A Happy New Year to us all! We are not off yet, and several other trains are doing nothing here. We came into Rouen this afternoon, and heard that we are to clear the hospitals here to-morrow, and take them down to Havre.
Thank goodness we are to move at last. Went for a walk in the town, and after dinner the O.C. and Sister B. and one of the Civil Surgeons and the French Major and I went to the cinema. It was excellent, or we thought so, after months of train and nothing else.
Still at Sotteville, and clemmed with cold. There was no paraffin on the train this morning, so we couldn’t even have the passage lamps lit
This afternoon I went with Major – and the French Major and the little fat French Caporal into Rouen, and they trotted us round sight-seeing. The little Caporal showed us all the points of the cathedrals, and the twelfth-century stone pictures on the north porch and on the towers, and also the church of St Maclou with the wonderful “Ossuare” cloisters, now a college for Jeunes Filles. We had tea in the town and trammed back.
This evening, New Year’s Eve, the French Staff had decorated the Restaurant with Chinese lanterns, and we had a festive New Year’s Eve dinner, with chicken, and Xmas pudding on fire, and Sauterne and Champagne and crackers. The putting on of caps amused everyone infiniment, and we had more speeches and toasts.
The coach is mended and back from l’atelier [workshop], and we may go off at any moment. I hope we shall wake up on the way to Boulogne and mails.
Still at Sotteville. One of our coaches is off being repaired here, and goodness knows how long we shall be stuck.
We’ve had quite a useful day off to-day. Still at Sotteville; had a walk this morning, also got through arrears of mending and letter writing. They played another football match this afternoon.
This trip to Rouen will give us a longer journey up, and therefore more time. And we shall get another bath.
The following story is a typical example of what the infantry often have to endure. It was told to me by the Sergeant …. .
9 P.M. At Sotteville, off Rouen. We got unloaded at 1 P.M. and then made a dash for the best baths in France.
Woke up at Béthune. Went out after breakfast and saw over No.- Clearing Hospital which has only been there 48 hours, in a huge Girls’ College, partly smashed by big shell holes, an awful mess, but the whole parts are being turned into a splendid hospital. Several houses shelled, and the big guns shaking the train this morning.
We are taking on a full load of lying-downs straight from three Field Ambulances so we shall be very busy.
6 P.M. Nearing Boulogne.
I have one badly wounded Gurkha, and all the rest are British, some very badly frost-bitten.
The trenches are in a frightful state. One man said “There’s almost as many men drowned as killed”: when they’re wounded they fall into the water. Of three officers (one of whom is on the train and tells the story) in a deep-water trench for two days, one was drowned, and the other had to have his clothes cut off him (stuck fast in the mud) and be pulled out naked.
Saw my lambs off the train before breakfast. One man in the Warwicks had twelve years’ service, a wife and two children, but “when Kitchener wanted more men” he re-joined. This week he got an explosive bullet through his arm, smashing it up to rags above the elbow. He told me he got a man “to tie the torn muscles up” and then started to crawl out, dragging his arm behind him. At the Clearing H. his arm was taken off through the shoulder-joint, but I’m afraid it is too late. He is now a pallid wreck, dying of gangrene.
The V.A.D. [Voluntary Aid Detachment] here brought a present to every man on the train this morning, and to the orderlies. They had 25,000 to distribute, cigarette-cases, writing-cases, books, pouches, etc. The men were frightfully pleased, it was so unexpected.
We have chauffage on to-day to thaw the froidage; the pipes are frozen.
6 P.M. We all processed to the Orderlies Mess truck and the O.C. [Officer Commanding] made a speech, and the Q.M.S. [Quarter Master Sergeant] dished out drinks for us to toast with, and we had the King and all of ourselves with great enthusiasm; and it ended in a healthy splodge all round . Orders just come up to be at St Omer by 10 P.M. It means loading up further on about 1 A.M. Too noisy to sleep here this afternoon. And the men are just now so merry … that they will surely drop the patients off the stretchers, but we’ll hope for the best.
11 A.M. On way up again to Béthune. Sharp frost, fog becoming denser as we get nearer Belgium. A howling mob of reinforcements stormed the train for smokes. We threw out every cigarette, pipe, pair of socks, mits, hankies, pencils we had left; it was like feeding chickens, but of course we hadn’t nearly enough.
Everyone on the train has had a card from the King and Queen in a special envelope with the Royal Coat of Arms in red on it. And this is the message (in writing hand) –
“With our best wishes for
May God protect you and
bring you home safe.
Mary R. George R.I.”
That is something to keep isn’t it?
An officer has just told us that those men haven’t had a cigarette since they left S’hampton, hard luck. I wish we’d had enough for them. It is the smokes and the rum ration that has helped the British Army to stick it more than anything.
After all we are not going to Béthune but to Merville again. This is a very slow journey up, with long indefinite stops; we all got bad headaches by lunch time from the intense cold and a short night following a heavy day. At lunch we had hot bricks for our feet and hot food inside which improved matters, and I think by the time we get the patients on there will be chauffage.
The orderlies are to have their Xmas dinner to-morrow, but I believe ours is to be to-night, if the patients are settled up in time. Do not think from these details that we are at all miserable; we say “For King and Country” at intervals, and have many jokes over it all, and there is the never-failing game of going over what we’ll all do and avoid doing after the war.
7 P.M. Loaded up at Merville and now on the way back; not many badly wounded but a great many minor medicals. We may have to fill up at Hazebrouck, which will interrupt the very festive Xmas dinner the French Staff are getting ready for us. This lot of patients had Xmas dinner in their Clearing Hospitals to-day. Here they had oranges and bananas and hot chicken broth directly they got in.
12 Midnight – still on the road. We had a very festive Xmas dinner, going to the wards which were in the charge of nursing orderlies between courses. We had many toasts in French and English. The King, the President, Absent Friends, Soldiers and Sailors ….. We got up and clinked glasses with the French Staff at every toast, and finally the little chef came in and sang to us in a very sweet musical tenor. Our great anxiety is to get as many orderlies and N.C.O.’s [non-commissioned officers] as possible through the day without being run in for drunk … We are wondering what the chances are of getting to bed to-night.
4 A.M. Very late getting into B.; not unloading till morning. Just going to turn in now. End of Xmas Day.
– And no fire and no chauffage and cotton frocks; funny life, isn’t it? And the men are crouching in a foot of water in the trenches and thinking of “ ‘ome , ‘long o’ Mother”, — British, Germans, French, and Russians. We are just up at Chocques going to load up with Indians again. Had more journeys this week than for a long time; you just get time to get what sleep the engine-driver and the cold will allow you on the way up.
8 P.M. Just nearing Boulogne with another bad load, half Indian, half British. Railhead to-day was one station further back than last time, as the Headquarters had to be evacuated after the Germans got through on Sunday. The two regiments, Coldstream Guards and Camerons, who drove them back, lost heavily and tell a tragic story. There are two men (only one is a boy) on the train who got wounded on Monday night (both compound fractures of the thigh) and were only taken out of the trench this morning, Thursday, to a Dressing Station and then straight on to our train. Why they are alive I don’t know, but I’m afraid they won’t live long: they are sunken and grey-faced. They had drinks of water now and then in the field but no dressings, and lay in the slush. Stretcher- bearers are shot down immediately, with or without the wounded, by the German snipers.
And this is Christmas, and the world is supposed to be civilised. They came in from the trenches to-day with blue faces and chattering teeth, and it was all one could do to get them warm and fed.
Midnight. – Just unloaded, going to turn in: we are off again at 5 A.M. to-morrow. Mail in, but not parcels: there’s a block of parcels down at the base, and we may get them by Easter. With superhuman self-control I have not opened my mail to-night so as to have it to-morrow morning.
We loaded up at Lillers late on Monday night with one of the worst loads we’ve ever taken, all wounded, half Indians and half British.
You will see by Tuesday’s French communiqués that some of our trenches had been lost, and these had been retaken by the H.L.I. [Highland Light Infantry], Manchesters, and 7th D.G.s [Dragoon Guards].
It was a dark wet night, and the loading people were up to their knees in black mud, and we didn’t finish loading till 2 A.M., and they were hard at it to stop haemorrhage, etc., till we got them off the train at 11 yesterday morning; the J.J.’s [lice] were swarming, but a large Khaki pinny tying over my collar, and with elastic wristbands saved me this time. One little Gurkha with his arm just amputated, and a wounded leg, could only be pacified by having acid drops put in his mouth and being allowed to hug the tin. Another was sent on as a sitting up case. Half way through the night I found him gasping with double pneumonia; it was no joke nursing him with seven others in the compartment. He only just lived to go off the train. Another one I found dead about 5.30 A.M. We were to have been sent on to Rouen, but the O.C. train reported too many serious cases, and so they were taken off at B. It was a particularly bad engine-diver too.
I got some bath water from a friendly train, and went to bed at 12 the next day. We were off again the same evening, and got to B. this morning; train full, but not such bad cases; expect to be sent on to Rouen. Now we are three instead of four sisters, it makes the night work heavier. In the last journey some of the worst cases got put into the top bunks, in the darkness and rush, and one only had candles to do the dressings by. All the trains then had bad loads: the clearing hospitals were overflowing.
We have got some H.A.C. [Honourable Artillery Company] on this time, who try to stand up when you come in, as if you were coming into their drawing-room. The Tommies in the same carriage are quite embarrassed. One boy said just now, “We ‘ad a ‘appy Xmas last year”. “Where” I said. “At ‘ome, along o’ Mother”, he said beaming.
No entry in the diary today.
Got to Boulogne early this morning after an exceptionally rackety journey. Engine-driver rather ivré [drunk], I should think. Off again at 10.30 A.M. Mail in. Weather appallingly cold and no chauffage [heating].
On the way to Chocques, where we shall take up Indians again. How utterly miserable Indians must be in this eternal wet and cold. The fields and land generally are all half under water again. We have missed the last two days’ papers, and so have heard nothing of the war at home, except that the casualties are over 60,000.
At last we are on our way back to Boulogne and mails, and the News of the War at Home and Abroad. This morning was almost a summer day, warm, still, clear and sunny. We went for a walk, and then got on painting the red crosses on the train, which can only be done on fine days, of which we have had few. The men were paraded, and then sent route- marching, which they much enjoyed. The train moved out at 12. They had a mouth-organ and sang all the way.
We are dry-docked to-day at Sotteville, outside Rouen. It is lovely to get out of the train. This afternoon No.— played a football match against the Khaki train and got well beaten. We looked on.
“Judge of the passionate hearts of men,
God of the wintry wind and snow,
Take back the blood-stained year again,
Give us the Christmas that we know”.
F.G. Scott, Chaplain with the Canadians.
December 18th, 1914, 10.30 A.M.
We’ve had an all night journey to Rouen, and have almost got there. One of my sitting ups was 106 degrees this morning, but it was only malaria, first typical one I have met since South Africa.
This place before Rouen is Darnetal, a beautiful spiry town in the valley, pronounced by the Staff on the A.T. “Darn it all”.
6 P.M. – We unloaded by 12, and had just had time to go out and get a bath at the best baths in France. Shipped a big cargo of J.J. [lice] this journey, but luckily made no personal captures. Pouring cats and dogs as usual. No time to see the cathedrals. We had this time a good many old seasoned experienced men of the Regular Army, who came out in August.
One Company of R.E. [Royal Engineers] lost all its officers in one day in a charge. A H.L.I [Highland Light Infantry] man gave an account of how they got to fighting the Prussian Guard with their fists at Wypers [Ypres] because they were at too close quarters to get in with their bayonets.
Left St Omer at 11 P.M. last night, and woke up this morning in Bailleul. Saw two aeroplanes being fired at – black smoke-balls in the air. There has been a lot of fighting in our advance south-east of Ypres since Sunday.
The Gordons made a great bayonet charge, but lost heavily in officers and men in half an hour; we have some on the train. The French lost heavily, and lie unburied in hundreds. They tell us in the base hospitals they never get a clean wound; even the emergency amputations and trephinings and operations done in the Clearing Hospitals are septic, and no one who knew the conditions would wonder at it. We shall all forget what aseptic work is by the time we get home. The anti-tetanus serum injections that every man gets with his first dressing has done a great deal to keep the tetanus under, and the spreading gangrene is less fatal than it was. It is treated with incisions and injections of H2 O2, or, when necessary, amputation in the case of limbs. You suspect it by the grey colour of the face and by another sense, before you look at the dressing.
At B. a man at the station greeted me, and it was my old theatre orderly at No. 7 Pretoria.[Second Boer War].
We are on our way up again to-day, and by a different route instead of the everlasting flat swamps the other way. Of course it is raining.
6 P.M. For once we waited long enough in St Omer to go out and explore the beautiful ruined abbey near the station. We went up the town – swarming with grey touring-cars and staff officers.
We were unloaded last night at 9.30, and reported ready to go up again at 11 P.M., but they didn’t move us again till 5 A.M. Went to the same place as yesterday, and cleared the Clearing Hospitals again; some badly wounded, with wounds exposed and splints padded with straw as in the Ypres days.
The Black Watch have got some cherub-faced boys of seventeen out now. The mud and floods are appalling. The Scotch regiments have lost their shoes and spats and wade barefoot in the water-logged trenches. I’m afraid not a few of many regiments have got rheumatism – some acute – that they will never lose. The ploughed fields and roads are all more or less under water, and each day it rains more.
I happened to ask a man who is a stretcher-bearer belonging to the Rifle Brigade, how he got hit. “Oh, I was carrying a dead man”, he said modestly. “My officer told me not to move him till dark, because of the sniping; but his face was blown off by an explosive bullet, and I didn’t think it would do the chaps who had to stand round him all day any good, so I put him on my back, and they copped me in the leg. I was glad he wasn’t a wounded man, because I had to drop him.”
Got off at last at 3.30 A.M.. Loaded up 300 at Merville, near the coal mines. Guns were banging only four miles off.
Had a good many bad cases, medical and surgical this time: kept one busy to the journey’s end. We are unloaded tonight, so they will soon be well seen to, instead of going down to Rouen or Havre, which two other trains just in have got to do. We have a good many Gordons on; one was hugging his bagpipes and we had him up after dinner to play, which he did beautifully with a wrapt expression.
We’ve been hung up since Friday by the three damaged trucks, and took the opportunity of getting some good walks yesterday, and actually going to church at the English church this morning.
We saw a line of graves with wooden crosses, in a field against the skyline, last journey.
Reduced to pacing the platform in the dark and rain to get warm. It seems in this war that you are either thoroughly overworked or entirely hung up, which is worse.
“The number of victims of the Taube attack on Hazebrouck on Monday is larger than was at first supposed. Five bombs were thrown and nine British soldiers and five civilians were killed, while 25 persons were injured” – ‘Times’, Dec. 9th. We were at H. on that day.
The French engine-drivers are so erratic that if you’re long enough on the line it’s only a question of time when you get your next smash up. Ours came last night when they were joining us up to go out again. They put an engine on to each end of one-half of the train and then did a tug-of-war. That wasn’t a success, so they did the concertina touch, and put three coaches out of action, including the kitchen. So we are stuck here now (Boulogne) till heaven knows when. Fortunately no casualties.
They wouldn’t unload us at 11 P.M. at Boulogne last night, but sent us on to the Duchess of Westminster’s Hospital at a little place about twenty miles south, and we didn’t unload till this morning. It was all sand-dunes and fir-trees on the way, and cement factories.
9 P.M. We came back to B. to fill up with stores after lunch, and haven’t been sent out again yet.
Left for Bailleul at 8 A.M. Heard at St Omer of the sinking of the three German cruisers.
Arrived 2 P.M. Loaded up in the rain, wounded and sick – full load. They were men wounded last night, very muddy and trenchy; said the train was like heaven! One showed us a fearsome piece of shell which killed his chum next to him last night. There is a good deal of dysentery about, and acute rheumatism. The Clearing Hospitals are getting rather rushed again, and the men say we shall have a lot coming down in the next few days. A hundred men of one regiment got separated from their supports and came up against some German machine-guns with tragic results.
In siding at Boulogne all day. Pouring wet.
Got to Bailleul by 11 A.M., and had a good walk on the line waiting to load up. Glorious morning. Aeroplanes buzzing overhead like bees and dropping coloured signals about. Only filled up my half of the train, both wounded and sick, including some very bad enterics. We have come down very quickly, and hope to load up to-night.
Pouring wet day. Still standing by; nothing doing anywhere. It is a blessed relief to know that, and the rest does no one any harm. Had a grand mail today. There is a heart-breaking account of my beautiful Ypres on page 8 of December 1st ‘Times’.
A brilliant frosty day – on way up to Bailleul. We unloaded early in B. yesterday. Just got to Hazelbrouck. Ten men and three women were killed and twenty wounded here this morning by a bomb. It is an important junction.
4 P.M. – we have been up to B. and there were no patients for us, so we are to go back to the above bomb place to collect theirs. B. was packed with pale, war-worn, dirty but cheerful French troops entraining for their Front. They carry fearful loads, including an extra pair of boots, a whole collection of frying pans and things, and blankets, picks, etc., all on their backs.
The British officers on the station came and grabbed our yesterday’s ‘Daily Mails’, and asked for soap, so what you sent came in handy. They went in to the town to buy grapes for us in return. This place is famous for grapes – huge monster purple ones – but the train went out before they came back.
9 P.M. We are nearly back at Boulogne and haven’t taken up any sick or wounded anywhere. One of the trains has taken Indians from Boulogne down to Marseilles – several days’ journey.
We had a long stop on an embankment in the night, and the Chef de Gare from the next station came along the line and found both the French guards asleep and the engine driver therefore hung up. Then he ran out of coal, so we had another four hour’s wait while another engine was sent for. Got into B. at 6 A.M.; bitterly cold and wet, and no chauffage.
Had a busy day loading at three places: just going to turn in as I have to be up at 2 A.M.; we shall have the patients on all night. It is a fearful night, pouring and blowing.
We kept our load on all night, as we got in very late and unloaded directly after breakfast. There was no hospital ship in, which spells a bath or no bath to me, but I ramped round the town till I found a hotel which kindly supplied a fine bath. Grand mail when I came in – from home.
We got to Chocques very late last night and are loading up this morning, but only a few here; we shall stop at Lillers and take more on.
Later. – Officers have been on the train on both places begging for newspapers and books. We save up our ‘Punches’ and ‘Daily Mails’ and ‘Times’ for them. They say that at least forty people read each book, and they finish up in the trenches.
H.M. King George was up here yesterday afternoon and gave three V.C.s.
We have only taken on 83 at two places. There is so little doing anywhere – no guns have been heard for several days and there is not much sickness.
9 P.M. – We filled up at St Omer from the three hospitals there. A great many cases of frostbite were put on. They crawl on hands and knees. Some left in hospital are very severe and have had to be amputated below the knee. Some of the toes drop off. I have one carriage of twenty four Indians. A Sikh refused to sit in the same seat with a stout little major of the Gurkhas. The little Ghurkhas are absolute stoics, and the Bengal Lancers, who are Mohammedans are splendid.
We are to-day in a beautiful high embankment at Wimereux, right on the sea and have been dry-docked there till 3 P.M., while endless trains of men and guns have gone up past us
6.30 P.M. – We’ve just caught up H.M. King George’s train at St Omer, but he is evidently out dining with Sir John French. We are just alongside.