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.
We were late getting our load off the train last night, and some were very bad. One of my Sikhs with pneumonia did not live to reach Boulogne. Their great disadvantage is that they are alive with “Jack Johnsons” (not the guns) but lice. They take off all their underclothes and throw them out of the window, and we have to keep supplying them with pyjamas and shirts. They sit and stand about naked, scratching for dear life. It is fatal for the train, because all the cushioned seats are now infected, and so are we.
We have Indians, British and eight Germans this time. One big, handsome, dignified Mussulman wouldn’t eat his biscuit because he was in the same compartment as a Hindu, and the Hindu wouldn’t eat his because the Mussulman had handed it to him. The Babu I called in to interpret was very angry with both ….
Sunny and much milder. We came up last night to St Omer. There seems to be only medical cases about just now, which is a blessed relief to think of. The Major has gone up to Poperinghe to fetch six badly wounded officers.
I was just getting cigarettes for an up-going train of field kitchens and guns out of your parcel when it began to move. The men on each truck stood ready, and caught the packets as eagerly as if they’d been diamonds as I threw them in from my train.
6 P.M. We are just coming to Chocques for Indians again, not far from Armentières, so I am looking up my Hindustani conversation again.
On Friday – the day between these two journeys – Sister N. and I got a motor ambulance from the T.O. [Transport Office] and whirled off to Wimereux in it. It is a lovely place on the sea, about three miles off, now with every hotel, casino, and school taken up by R.A.M.C. Base Hospitals. It was a lovely blue morning, and I went to the last rock on the sands and watched the breakers. It was glorious after the everlasting railway carriage atmosphere.
It is too wet to load up to-night.
No entry in Kate’s diary for today
We did a record yesterday. Loaded up with the Indians – full load – bad cases – quite heavy day; back to B. and unloaded by 9.P.M., and off again by 11.30 P.M. No waiting in the siding this time. Three hospital ships were waiting this side to cross by daylight. They can’t cross now by night because of enemy torpedoes. So all the hospitals were full again, and trains were taking their loads on to Rouen and Havre.
We loaded up to-day at Bailleul, headquarters of the 3rd and 4th Divisions. We had some time to wait there before loading up, so went into the town …. the usual square packed with transport, and the usual jostle of Tommies and staff officers and motor-cars and lorries. We saw General French go through.
We have a lot of cases of frost-bite on the train. One may have to have his foot amputated. They are nearly all slight medical cases; very few wounded, which makes a very light load from the point of view of work. The men say things are very quiet on the Front just now. Is it the weather or the Russian advance?
Arrived at 11 P.M. last night at this God-forsaken little place about eight miles from the firing line. Found a very depressed major taking a most gloomy view of life and the war, in charge of Indians. Pitch-dark night, and they were a mile away from the station so we went to bed and loaded up at 7.30 this morning, all Indians, mostly badly wounded. I’ve done a great trade in Hindustani, picked up from a Hindu officer today! If you write it down you can soon learn it, and I’ve got all the necessary medical jargon now.
The frost has broken thank goodness. The Hindu officer said the cold was more than they had bargained for, but they were “very, very glad to fight for England”. There have been a great many particularly ghastly wounds from hand grenades in the trenches. We expect to unload this evening, as we are just getting into Boulogne at 6.30 P.M.
Left B. about 9.30. Last night at dinner our charming debonair French garcon was very drunk and spilt the soup all over me! There was a great scene in French and it ended in a sort of fight, and poor Charles got the sack in the end, and has been sent back to Paris to join his regiment. He was awfully good to us Sisters – used to make us coffee in the night, and fill our hot water bottles and give us hot bricks for our feet at meals.
Just going on to a place we’ve not been to before, called Chocques. The French have today given us an engine with the Red Cross on it and an extra man to attend to the chauffage, so we have been quite warm and lovely. We ply him at the stations with cigarettes and chocolate, and he now falls over himself in his anxiety to please us.
Was up all Sunday night; unloaded early in Boulogne. Had a bath on a ship and went to bed. Stayed in siding all day.
Left B. early this morning and got to Merville about midday. Loaded up and got back to B. in the night. Many wounded Germans and a good lot of our sick, knocked over by the cold. I don’t know how any of them stick it. The frost has not broken, and it is still bitterly cold.
In the siding all yesterday and today. The cold this week has been absolutely awful. The last train brought almost entirely cases of rheumatism. A troop train of Glasgow men, reinforcing the Highlanders, was alongside of us early yesterday morning; each truck had a roaring fire of coke in a pail. It was icy cold.
My winter things arrived from Havre yesterday, so I am better equipped against the cold.
10 A.M., Boulogne. – Deep snow.
This afternoon’s up-journey between Havre and Rouen has been a stripe of pure bliss with no war about it at all.
At Havre last night the train ran into the Gare Maritime which is immediately under the great place bagged by the GH for their Hospital in August. I ran up and saw it all. It is absolutely first class. There were people off our train in lovely beds in huge wards – clean sheets, electric light, hot food, and all the M.O.s, Sisters, and Nursing Orderlies, in white overalls hard at work on them – orderlies removing their boots and clothing (where we hadn’t done it, we leave as much on as we can now because of the cold).
We are to stop here for repairs to the train – chauffage, electric light, water supply and gas all to be done. The electric light and heating will be the greatest help – a chapel and a bathroom I should have liked to add!
Spent the day in a wilderness of railway lines at Sotteville – sharp frost; horizon bounded by fog. This afternoon raw, wet, snowing, slush outside. If it is so deadly cold on this unheated train, what do they do in the trenches with practically the same equipment they came out with in August? I’ve made a fine foot muff with a brown blanket; it is twelve thicknesses sewn together. My winter things have been sent on from Havre, but the parcel has not yet reached me.
Ypres is said to be full of German wounded who will very likely to come to us.
At last reached beautiful Rouen, through St Just, and up to Sergueux, and down to Rouen. Put off some more bad cases here; a boy sergeant, aged 24, may save his eye and general blood poisoning if he gets irrigated quickly. You can watch them going wrong, with two days and two nights on the train, and it seems such hard luck. And then if you don’t write Urgent or Immediate on their bandages in blue pencil, they get overlooked in the rush into hospital when they are landed.
5 P.M. This long journey from Belgium down to Havre has been a strange mixture. Glorious country with the flame and blue haze of late autumn on hills, towns, and valleys, bare beech woods with hot red carpets. Glorious British Army lying broken on the train – sleep (or the chance of it) three hours one night and four the next; haven’t taken off my puttees since Sunday. Seems funny, 400 people (of whom four are women and about sixty are sound) all whirling through France by special train.
8 P.M. – Got to Havre
When we got our load to Boulogne yesterday morning all the hospitals were full, and the weather was too rough for the ships to come in and clear them, so we were ordered on to Havre, a very long journey. A German died before we got to Abbeville, where we put off two more very bad ones; and at Amiens we put off four more, who wouldn’t have reached Havre. About midnight something broke on the train, and we were hung up for hours, and haven’t yet got to Rouen, so we shall have them on the train all to-morrow too, and have all the dressings to do for the third time.
Just got to St Just. That looks as if we were going to empty at Versailles instead of Havre. Lovely starlight night, but very cold.
7 A.M. After all, we must be crawling round to Rouen for Havre; passed Beauvais. Lovely sunrise over winter woods and frosted country. Our load is a heavy and anxious one – 344; we shall be glad to land them safely somewhere. The amputations, fractures, and lung cases stand these long journeys very badly.
We loaded up at Bailleul 344. The Clearing Hospitals were very full, and some came off a convoy. One, wounded above the knee, was four days in the open before being picked up; he had six bullets in his leg, two in each arm, and crawled about till found. I went to bed at 4. The news was all good, taken as a whole, but the men say they were “a bit short-handed!!”
We are all better for our week’s rest.
We got a move on in the middle of the night, and are now on our way up. The cold of this train is going to be rather a problem. Our quarters are not heated, but we have “made” (i.e. acquired or looted) a very small oil-stove which faintly warms the corridor, but you can imagine how no amount of coats or clothes keeps you warm in a railway carriage in winter. I’m going to make a foot muff out of a brown blanket, which will help. A smart walk out of doors would do it, but that you can’t get when the train is stationary for fear of its vanishing, and for obvious reasons when it is moving. I did walk round the train for an hour in the dark and slime in the siding yesterday evening, but it is not a cheering form of exercise.
To-day it is pouring cats and dogs, awful for loading the sick, and there will be many after this week for the trains. Everyone has of course cleared out of beautiful Ypres, but we are going to load up at Poperinghe, the town next before it.
Glorious sunny day, but very cold. Still in Boulogne, but out of the siding slum, and among the ships again. Some French sailors are drilling on one side of us.
Everything R.A.M.C. at the base is having a rest this week – ships, hospitals and trains. Major S. said there was not so much doing at the Front – thank Heaven; and the line is still wanted for troops. We have just heard that there are several trains to go off before our turn comes and that we are to wait about six miles off. Meanwhile we can’t get off, because we don’t know when the train will move out.
The tobacco and the cigarettes from Harrod’s have come in separate parcels, so the next will be the chocolate and hankies and cards, etc. It is a grand lot, and I am longing to get up to the Front and give them out.
Still here – fourth day of rest. No-one knows why; nearly all the trains are here. The news to-day is glorious. They say that the Germans did get through into Ypres and were bayoneted out again.
We have been all day in Park Lane siding among the trains, in pouring wet and slush. I amused myself with a pot of white paint and a forceps and wool for a brush, painting the numbers on both ends of the coaches inside, all down the train; you can’t see the chalk marks at night.
This unprecedented four days’ rest and nights in bed is doing us all a power of good; we have books and mending and various occupations.
Sometimes it seems as if we shall never get home, the future is so unwritten. I think the British men who have seen the desolation and the atrocities in Belgium have all personally settled that it shan’t happen in England.
You can tell they feel like that from their entire lack of resentment about their own injuries. Their conversation to each other from the time they are landed on the train until they are taken off is never about their own wounds and feelings, but exclusively about the fighting they have just left. If one only had time to listen or take it down it would be something worth reading, because it is not letters home or newspaper stuff, but told to each other, with their own curious comments and phraseology, and no hint of a gallery or a Press. Incidentally one gets a few eye-openers into what happens to a group of men when a Jack Johnson lands a shell in the middle of them. Nearly every man on the train, especially the badly smashed-up ones, tells you how exceptionally lucky he was because he didn’t get killed like his mate.
We had a lot of badly wounded Germans who had evidently been left many days; their condition was appalling; Two died (one of tetanus) and one British. We have a lot of the London Scottish, wounded in their first action.
Reinforcements, French guns, British cavalry are being hurried up the line.
Just going to load up; wish we had gone to Ypres. Germans said to be advancing.
The pressure on the medical Service is now enormous. One train came down to-day (without Sisters) and 1200 sitting-up cases; they stayed for hours in a siding near us without water, cigarettes, or newspapers. One ambulance train was badly shelled near Ypres yesterday. The Germans were trying for an armoured train. The naval officer had to stand behind the engine-driver with a revolver to make him go where he was wanted. They are again “urgently needing” ambulance trains; so I hope we are going there to-night.
Eighty thousand German reinforcements are said to have come up to break through the line, and the British dead are now piled up on the field. But they aren’t letting the Germans through. Three of our men died before we unloaded at 8 P.M. yesterday, two of shock from lying ten hours in the trench, not dressed.
We loaded up with British after all, late in the evening, and had a very heavy night.
12 noon – we are still unloaded, but I was up all night. After lunch, now they are all unloaded, one will be able to get a stuffy station sleep, regardless of noise and smells.
We carried thirty-nine officers on the train, mostly cavalry, very brave and angelic and polite in their uncomfortable and unwonted helplessness. One worn-out one murmured as he was tucked up, “By Jove, it is splendid to be out of the sound of those beastly guns”. An injured major says it’s only a question of where and when you get it, sooner or later; practically no one escapes.
The poor L- Regiment were badly cut up half an hour after coming into their first action; we had them on the train. Trains and trains full come in every day and night. We are waiting now for five trains to unload. It is a dazzling morning.
Left Boulogne at twelve, and have just reached Bailleul, 6 P.M. where we are to take up wounded Indians again. Big guns are booming again. (This was the most critical day of the first battle of Ypres).
The family sent me a lovely parcel of fifty packets of cigarettes and some chocolate and also a box of nutmilk choc. They will be grand for the men.
While we were at Nieppe, after passing Bailleul, a German aeroplane dropped a bomb on to Bailleul. After filling up at Nieppe we went back to Bailleul and took up 238 Indians. They are nearly all 47th Sikhs, perfect lambs. They behave like gentlemen, and salaam after you’ve dressed them. They have masses of long, fine, dark hair under their turbans done up with yellow combs, glorious teeth and melting dark eyes.
We carried 387 cases this time.
Later, – We got unloaded much more quickly to-day, and have been able to have a good rest this afternoon. It was not so heavy this time as the Indians were mostly sitting-up cases. Those of a different caste had to sleep on the floors of the corridors.
It is fine getting the same day’s London ‘Daily Mail’ here by the Folkestone boat.
Woke up to the familiar bangs and rattles again – this time at a wee place about four miles from Armentières. We are to take up 150 here and go back to Bailleul for 150 there. It is a lovely sunny morning but very cold; the peasants are working in the fields as peacefully as at home. We’ve just been giving out scarves and socks to some Field Ambulance men along the line. A German aeroplane dropped a bomb into this field on Tuesday meant for the Air Station here. This is the Headquarters of the 4th Division.
Got to Boulogne yesterday morning; then followed a most difficult day. It was not till 10 P.M. that they began to unload the sick. The unloading staff at Boulogne have been so overworked night and day that trains get piled up waiting to be unloaded. Fifty motor ambulances have been sent for to the Front, and here they have to depend largely on volunteer people with private motors. The trains get blocked by other trains each side of them, and nothing short of the fear of death will move a French engine-driver to do what you want him to do. Meanwhile two men on our train died, and several others are getting on with it, and all the serious cases were in great distress and misery. As a crowning help the train was divided into three parts, each five minutes’ walk from the other … Everybody got very desperate, and at last, after superhuman efforts, the train was cleared by midnight and we went thankfully to our beds, which we had not got into for the previous two nights.
Today was fine and sunny. Most welcome mail is in. We expect to move up again any time now. ‘The Times’ of yesterday (which you can get here) and to-day’s ‘Daily Mail’ say the fighting beyond Ypres is “severe” but that gives the British public no glimmering of what it really is.
There is a train full of slightly wounded Indians in: they are cooking chupatties along the quay. The boats were packed with refugee families yesterday.
We got loaded up and off by about 7 P.M., and arrived back here this morning. There are two trains to unload ahead of us. It is the second night running we haven’t had our clothes off – though we did lie down the night before. Last night we had each a four hour shift to lie down, when all the worst was seen to. One man died at 6 A.M. and another is dying: many as usual are delirious, and the haemorrhage was worse than ever: it is frightfully difficult to stop it with bad wounds and compound fractures. One sergeant has both eyes gone from a shell wound.
The twelve sitting-up cases on each carriage are a joy after the tragedy of the rest. They sit up talking and smoking till late. One man with a broken leg gave me both his pillows for a worse man, and said, “ I’m not bad at all – only got me leg broke”. A Reading man, with his face wounded and one eye gone, kept up a running fire of wit and hilarity during his dressing about having himself photographed as a Guy Fawkes …
We got here again about 10 P.M. last night in pouring wet, and expected another night like Friday night, but we for some reason remained short of the station, and when we found there was nothing doing, lay down in our clothes and slept, booted and spurred in mackintosh, aprons etc. We were all so tired and done up yesterday, M.O.s, Sisters and orderlies, that we were glad of a respite. There was a tremendous banging and flashing to the north about three o’clock, and this morning it was very noisy, and shaking the train. The noise this morning is like a continuous roll of thunder interrupted by loud bangs.
There are two other A.T.s [ambulance trains] in, but I hear that we are to load up first. A long line of our horse ambulances is coming slowly in.
Got leave to go into the town and see the Cathedral of St Martin. None of the others would budge from the train, so I went alone; town chock-full of French and Belgian troops and unending streams of columns, also Belgian refugees … The Cathedral is thirteenth century, glorious as usual. There are hundreds of German prisoners in the town in the Cloth Hall. It was a very warrish feeling saying one’s prayers in the Cathedral to the sound of guns of one of the greatest battles in the world.
An M.O. from the ClearingHospital, with a haggard face, asked me if I could give him some eau-de-Cologne and Bovril for a wounded soldier with a gangrenous leg – lying on the station. Sister X and I took some down, also morphia, and fed them all – frightful cases on stretchers in the waiting room. They are for our train when we can get in. He told me he had never seen such awful wounds, or such numbers of them. They are being brought down in carts or anything. He said there are 1500 dead Germans piled up in a field five miles off. They say that German officers of ten days’ service are commanding.
Couldn’t write last night: the only thing was to try and forget it all. It has been an absolute hell of a journey – there is no other word for it. First this big battle from Ostend to Lille is perhaps the most desperate of all, though that is said of each in turn – Mons, the Aisne, and this: but the men and officers who have been through all say this is the worst. … Consequently the ‘carnage’ is being appalling, and we have been practically in it, as far as horrors go. Guns were cracking and splitting all night, lighting up the sky in flashes, and fires were burning on both sides.
The ClearingHospital close by, which was receiving the wounded from the field and sending them on to us, was packed and overflowing with badly wounded, the M.O. [medical officer] on the station said: “We had 368; a good 200 were dangerously and seriously wounded, perhaps more. The compound fractured femurs were put up with rifles and pick handles for splints, padded with bits of kilts and straw; nearly all the men had more than one wound – some had ten; one man with a huge compound fracture above the elbow had tied on a bit of string with a bullet in it as a tourniquet … When I cut off his soaked three layers of sleeve there was no dressing on it at all”.
They were bleeding faster than we could cope with it; and the agony of getting them off the stretchers on to the top bunks is a thing to forget. We were full up by about 2 A.M., and then were delayed by a collision up the line, which was blocked by dead horses as a result. All night and without a break till we got back to Boulogne at 4 P.M. next day (yesterday) we grappled with them, and some were not dressed when we got in. The head cases were delirious , and some were trying to get out of the window, and we were giving strychnine and morphia all round. Two were put off dying at St Omer, but we kept the rest alive to Boulogne. The outstanding shining thing that hit you in the eye all through was the universal silent pluck of the men; they stuck it all without a whine or complaint …. . The bleeding made them all frightfully thirsty and luckily we had got in a good supply of boiled water beforehand on each carriage, so we had plenty when there was time to get it. In the middle of the worst of it in the night I became conscious of a Belgian boy scout of fourteen in the corridor with a glass and a pail of drinking water; that boy worked for hours on his own or wherever you sent him.
It took from 4 to 10 P.M. to unload our bad cases and get them into hospitals on motor ambulances: they lay in rows on their stretchers on the platform waiting their turn without a grumble. We are now in the filthiest of sidings, and the smell of the burning of our heaps of filthy debris off the train is enough to make you sick. We slept like logs last night, and could have gone on all day; but the train has to be cleaned down by the orderlies, and, everything got ready for the next lot: they nearly moved us up again last night.
I think if one knew beforehand what all this was going to be like one would hardly want to face it, but somehow you’re glad to be there.
All unloaded by 11 P.M. last night. (1800 in a day and a night). Bed by 12; clothes on for forty hours. Slept alongside quay. Two hospital ships in; watched them loading up from ambulances. The wounded officers we had this time said the fighting at the Front is very heavy. The men said the same. They slept from sheer exhaustion almost before their boots were got off.
11.15. – I was in the act of trotting off into the town to find the baths, when I met a London Scottish with a very urgent note “Your train is urgently required; how soon can you start?” So I had a lucky escape of being left behind. Then the Major nearly got left; we couldn’t start that minute, because our stores weren’t all in and the R.T.O. [railway transport officer] came up in a great fuss that we were holding up five supply trains and reinforcements; so the British Army had to wait for us
The worst discomforts of this life are cold, want of drinking water, difficulty of getting hot water, dirt, bad (or no) lights, difficulties of getting laundry done, personal capture of various live stock.
6 P.M. – Hazebrouck again. We are said to be going to Belgium this time – possibly Ypres. There are a terrible lot of wounded to be got down – more than all the trains can take.
There were two lovely French torpedo-boats alongside us at Boulogne.
7.30 P.M. Ypres Just arrived, all very bucked up at being in Belgium. An armoured train, protective coloured all over is alongside us in the station, manned by thirty men R.N. They are directed where to fire at German positions or batteries, and as soon as they answer, the train nips out of range. They have had no casualties so far. Our load hasn’t come in yet. We are two miles from our fighting line. No firing to-night to be heard – soon began though.
Took on from convoys all night in pitch darkness – a very bad case load this time; going to go septic; swelling under the bandages. There was a fractured spine and a malignant oedema, both dying; we put both these off to-day at St Omer. … we are now nearly back to Boulogne.
Arrived at Boulogne 6 A.M., on to Calais and reached St Omer at 2 P.M. where I believe we are to take up from the motor ambulances. A train of Indians is here.
No mail for me yet.
3.30 P.M. – off to Steenwerck, close to the Belgian frontier, N.W. of Lille. Have been warned by the Major to wear brassards [identifying armbands or badges] in prominent place, owing to dangerous journey in view!
4.30 – This feels like the front again. Thousands and thousands of Indian troops are marching close to the line, with long fair British officers in turbans, mounted, who salute us and we wave back; transport on mules. Gorgeous sunset going on; perfectly flat country.
6 P.M., Steenwerck. – Pitch dark; saw big guns flashing some way off. The motor ambulances are not yet in with the wounded. The line is cut farther on.
Just leaving Rouen for Boulogne. The Canadians seem to be still on Salisbury Plain. No one knows what we are going to Boulogne empty for.
We have been busy to-day getting the train ready, stocking dressings etc. All the 500 blankets are sent in to be fumigated after each journey and 500 others drawn instead. And well they might be; one of the difficulties is the lively condition of the men’s shirts and trousers (with worse than fleas) when they come from the trenches in the same clothes they’ve worn for five weeks or more. You can’t wonder we made tracks for a bath at Rouen.
Got here late last night, and all the wounded were taken off straight away to the two general hospitals here. One has 1300 cases, and has kept two people operating day and night. A great many deaths from tetanus.
This is the most glorious old city, two cathedrals of surpassing beauty, lovely old streets, broad river, hills, and lovely hot baths. What with two cathedrals, a happy hour in a hot bath, a shampoo, and delicious tea in town, we’ve had a happy day. The train stays here to-night and we are off to-morrow? for —– ?
Got underway at 6 A.M., and are now about half-way between Paris and Rouen. We outskirted Paris. Passed a train full of Indian troops.
We are to stay here till Monday, to go on taking up the wounded from the 1st Division. They went on coming in all yesterday in motor ambulances and came straight from the trenches.
10 P.M. Wrote the last before breakfast, and we haven’t sat down since. We are to move back to Villeneuve to-morrow, dropping the sick probably at Versailles. The gas has given out and the entire train is lit by candles. No outside person can realise the difficulties except those who try to work it. Your day is taken up in rapidly deciding which of all the things that want doing you must let go undone …
The guns have been banging all afternoon. Our meals are very funny- always candles stuck in a wine bottle-no tablecloth-everything on one plate with the same knife and fork-coffee in a glass, served by a charming dirty Frenchman.
I see some parsons are enlisting in the R.A.M.C. [Royal Army Medical Corps] I hope they know how to scrub floors, clean lavatories, dish out the meals, sleep on the floor, go without baths, live on Maconochie [tinned] rations, and heave bales and boxes about, and carry stretchers; the orderlies have a very hard life – and no glory’
Must turn in.
Have had a very busy time since the last entry. The shelling of the village was aimed at the church, the steeple of which was being used by the French for signalling. As the British Clearing Hospital was in the church and the French Hospital next door they were all cleared out into our train; many very bad cases, fractured spine, a nearly dying lung case, a boy with wound in lung and liver, some bad enterics (though the worst have not been moved); four badly wounded French women. It was not easy getting them all settled in, in a pitch-dark evening, the train is so high from the ground. It is a weird business at night [on the train] picking your way through kitchens and storerooms and wards with a lantern over the rickety bridges and innumerable heavy swing doors. We have a great many washings in the morning, and have to make one water do for one compartment (the Train ran out of water this morning – since refilled from the river alongside); and bed-makings, and a lot of four hourly treatments with the acutes. The enteric ward has a very good orderly and excellent disinfecting arrangements. Lack of drinking water makes things very difficult.
Four Tommies in one bunk yesterday told me things about the trenches and the fighting line; but how do they or any one ever live through it? These all came through the Retreat from Mons.
Got here about 8 o’clock. After daylight only evidence of war I could see were long lines of French troops in the roads, and a few British camps; villages all look deserted. Guns booming in the distance. There is an R.E. [Royal Engineers] camp just opposite in a very wet wood and quagmires of mud. They build pontoons over the Aisne at night and camp here by day
4 P.M. We have only taken twelve cases on as yet. Shells are coming at intervals into the village and one came right over our train. Our guns and a machine gun popping. There is a troop train just behind us they may be potting at, or some gunners in the village, or the R.E camp. There have been two aeroplanes over us this afternoon. You hear the shell coming a long way off and then it bursts (twice in the trees of this wood where we are standing). There is an endless line of French horse transport winding up the wood on the other side, and now some French cavalry. The R.T.O. is now having the train moved to a safer place.
There’s another close to the train. They make such a fascinating purring noise coming, ending in a singing scream; you have to jump up and see. It is a yellowish-green sound! But you can’t see it till it bursts.
Still in the siding “waiting for orders” to move on. There’s a lot of waiting being done in this war one way and another, as well as a lot of doing.
We seem to be going to Rouen and up from there. Villeneuve is going to be evacuated as a military P.O. centre and other headquarters, and Abbeville to be the place – west of Amiens.
Orders just come that we move at 8.46 for Abbeville, and get orders for the front from there.
6.30 P.M. Another order just come that our destination is Braisne, not Abbeville. They have always seen shells bursting at Braisne.
8.45 P.M. Started at last.
At last I am on the train and have just unpacked. There is an Army Sister and two Reserve, a Major, O.C. [Officer Commanding], and two junior officers. We each have a bunk to ourselves, with a proper mattress, pillow and blankets: a table and seat at one end, lots of racks and hooks. No one knows where we are going; we start this afternoon.
6 P.M. Not off yet. In between the actual dealing with the wounded, which is only too real, it all feels like a play or a dream: why should the whole of France, at any rate along the railways and places on them, be upside down, swarming with British soldiers, and all, French and English, working for and talking of one thing? everything, and every house and every hotel, school and college, being used for something different from what it was meant for; the billeting is universal. By day you see aeroplanes and troop trains and artillery trains; and by night you see searchlights … On every platform and at every public doors or gates are the red and blue French soldiers with their long spikey bayonets, or our Tommies with the short broad bayonets that don’t look half as deadly though I expect they are much worse. You either have to have a written passport up here, or you must know the ‘mot’ if challenged by the French sentries.
The train is one-third mile long. The ward beds are lovely: broad and soft, with lovely pillow-cases and soft thick blankets; any amount of dressings and surgical equipment, and a big kitchen, steward’s store , and three orderlies to each waggon.
At 3 A.M. at Chartres an officer of a Zouave Regiment [Algerian French infantry], in blue and gold Zouave, blue sash, crimson bags like petticoats, and black puttees, and his smartly dressed sister, came into my carriage. He was 21, had fought in three campaigns, had been wounded twice; now convalescent – going to the depôt to rejoin. I changed at Versailles, and was given tea by the always hospitable station duty Sisters, who welcome you at every big station.
10 A.M., Juvisy. I am now in an empty 1st class saloon after a long wait, with café au lait and an omelette at Juvisy, and ‘The Times’ of October 5th.
Villeneuve, 5 P.M. Like a blithering idiot I passed Villeneuve Triage, and got out the station after! Had to wait 1 ½ hours for a train back. I wish I could describe this extraordinary place. It is the Swindon of France; a huge wilderness of railway lines, trains, and enormous hangers, now used as camps and hospitals. I sleep to-night in the same small bed in an empty cottage with a Sister I’ve never seen before. We meal at a Convent French Hospital. There are rows of enterics on stretchers in khaki in the shed, waiting for ambulances to take them to Versailles. French troops at the other end.
“Orders by Lt.Col. – R.A.M.C. [Royal Army Medical Corps], A.D.M.S. [Acting Director of Medical Services], Advanced Base Headquarters, October 10th, 1914, Sister – will proceed to Villeneuve Triage to-day, and on arrival will report to Major – , R.A.M.C., for duty on Ambulance Trains.”
So it has come at last and am now installed by the R.T.O. [Railway Transport Officer] in a 1st class carriage to myself with all my kit. Change at Versailles in about six hours, so I may as well try and get some sleep.
I am now dividing my time between the top floor of Tommies and five Germans and the Officers’ Ward. There are some bad dressings on the top ward, two of the Germans are very badly wounded.
They continue to die every day and night at both hospitals, though we are taking few new cases now.
The town of Le Mans is old and curly, and full of lovely corners and ‘Places’ [squares] and views and Avenues and Gardens. I have several special spots where you can get the most exquisite poems of colour and stone.
No.—Sta. is also set in a jewel of a spot. A Jesuits’ College, full of cloisters covered with vines, and lawns with silver statues, shady avenues and sunny gardens, long corridors and big halls which are the wards. There is practically no furniture … many crucifixes and statues, terribly primitive sanitary arrangements and water supply. We have to boil our instruments and make their tea in the same one saucepan in the Officers’ ward; you do without … and many other necessities of peace time.
The sky in Mid France on October 1st is of a blue that outblues the bluest that June or any other month can do in l’Angleterre. It is cold in the early mornings and evenings, dazzling all day, and shining moon by night.
The H.A.C. [Honourable Artillery Company] are all over town. Taking it all round, the Regular British Army on Active Service – from hoary beribboned Generals, decorated Staff Officers of all ranks, other officers, and N.C.O.s [Non-Commissioned Officers] down to the humblest Tommy- is the politest and best mannered thing I have ever met, with few exceptions. … with an engaging smile seize your hand-baggage, offer you chairs and see you through generally…. and are grateful if you can help them out with the language in any way.
We had a funeral of an Orderly and a German (both tetanus). On grey transport wagons with big black horses, wreaths from the orderlies, carried by a big R.A.M.C. [Royal Army Medical Corps] escort, with Officers and Padre and two Sisters.
Have been doing the wounded officers all day … but the lack of equipment makes twice the work.
On duty at 7.30 A.M. – at 12 or 1 we go to the Inn for déjeuner. Tea we provide ourselves when we can. At 7 or 8 we go to the Inn and have pôtage (which is warm water with a few stray onions or carrots in it), and tough old meat, and sometimes a piece of pastry (for pudding), and little, rather hard pears. I am very well on it, though pretty tired.
We were sold last night after all. Were told by the A.D.M.S. [Acting Director of Medical Services] that the train had gone to Havre this journey, and couldn’t be on this line till next week. ‘Wait till it comes in next week and meanwhile go on duty at the hospital’.
The cemetery here is getting full of French and British soldiers’ graves. Those 1200 sailors from the three cruisers had fine clean quick deaths compared to what happens here. We have got our baggage down to the station at the Red Cross Anglaise and are waiting for the word to come that the train is in.
My luck is in this time. I have just been sent for to tell me that I am for permanent duty on No. - Ambulance Train (equipped) which goes up to the Front, to the nearest point on the rail to the fighting line. The train will always be pushed up as near the Field Hospitals as the line gets to. It is now going to Braisne, just S. of the Aisne, N.E. of Rheims. We shall have two days and two nights with wounded, and two days and two nights to rest on the return empty. The work itself will be the grimmest possible, as we shall have all the worst cases, being an equipped Hospital in a train.
We landed our tired, stiff, painful convoy at St Nazaire at 8.45 yesterday evening. The M.O.s there told us our lot made 1800 that had come down since early morning. The padre told me he was the only one in St Nazaire for all the hospitals and all the troops in camp (15,000 in one camp alone).
Taking 480 sick and wounded down to St Nazaire. Just been feeding them all at Angers; it is a stupendous business. The train is miles long – not corridor or ambulance; they have straw to lie on and stretchers. Got my haversack lined with jaconet and filled with cut dressings, very convenient, as you have both hands free. We continually stop at little stations, so you can get to a good many of them, and we get quite expert at clawing along the footboards; some of the men, with their eyes, noses or jaws shattered, are so extraordinarily good and uncomplaining. The French people bring coffee, fruit and all sorts of things to them when we stop.
Have been helping on the wards to-day. The Sisters and orderlies have all about twice what they can get through – the big dressings are so appalling and new cases have been coming in – all stretcher cases. As soon as they recover at all they are sent down to the base to make room for the worse ones off the trains. Tomorrow I am on station duty again – possibly for another train.
Got back to Le Mans at 2 A.M. Motor-ambulanced up to the hospital, where an orderly made lovely beds for us on stretchers. At 6 we went to our respective diggings for a wash and breakfast, and reported to Matron at 8. We have been two days and two nights in our clothes; food where, when, and what one could get; one wash only on a station platform at a tap. They have no water on trains or at stations, except on the engine, which makes tea in cans for the men when it stops.
We are to rest to-day, to be ready for another train to-night if necessary
In train on way back to Le Mans from St Nazaire. In the middle of the night we pulled up alongside an immense troop train, taking a whole Brigade of D. of Cornwall’s L.I. [Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry] up to the front, such a contrast to our load coming away from the front. The Medical Officers at St N. told us there were already two trains in, and no beds left on Hospitals or ships, and 1300 more expected to-day.
… and the rest of the day one will never forget. The fighting for these concrete entrenched positions of the Germans behind Rheims has been so terrific since last Sunday that the number of casualties has been enormous. Three trains full of wounded, numbering altogether 1175 cases, have been dressed at the station to-day; we were sent down at 11 this morning. The train I was put to had 510 cases. You boarded a cattle truck, armed with a tray of dressings and a pail; the men were lying on straw; had been in trains for several days; most had only been dressed once, and many were gangrenous. No one grumbled or made any fuss. For hours doctors of all ranks, Sisters and orderlies grappled with the stream of stretchers, and limping, staggering, bearded, dirty, fagged men … the staple dressing is tincture of iodine; you don’t attempt anything but swabbing with lysol, and then gauze dipped in iodine. They were nearly all shrapnel shell wounds – more ghastly than anything I have ever seen or smelt; the Mauser wounds of the Boer War were pin-pricks compared with them. Every man was fed, dressed and sorted. They’ll have a heavy time at the two hospitals tonight with the cases sent up from the trains.
M and I are now in charge of a train of 141 (with an M.O. and two orderlies) for St Nazaire. And the biggest wonder of it all is the grit there is in them, and the price they are individually and unquestioningly paying for doing their bit in this War.
It seems we five who came up last Monday are being kept to staff another Stationary Hospital farther up, when it is ready. We have been all day in caps and aprons at L’Eveche, marking linen and waiting for orders. I’ve also been over both hospitals. The bad cases all seem to be dropped here off the trains; there are some awful mouth, jaw, head, leg and spine cases, who can’t recover, or will only be crippled wrecks. [After travelling several days] no wonder their wounds are full of straw and grass. Most haven’t had their clothes off, or washed, for three weeks
Même chose. We go up to the hospital and ask for orders, and tonight we were told to get into ward uniform in the morning and wait …
Still here. We still await orders! Yesterday it poured all day. We explored the cathedral, which is absolutely beautiful, perched high up over an open space – now crowded with transport and motor ambulances; the narrow streets thronged with Tommies.
There is any amount of work here at the Bishop’s Palace; more than they can get through on night duty with bad cases. The officers are on beds, the men on stretchers; all in Holland sheets and brown blankets; only bare necessaries, as the stationary hospitals have to be very mobile: stretchers make very decent beds, but they are difficult for nursing.
The train managed to reach Le Mans at 1 A.M. this morning. At 7 a motor ambulance took us up to the Stationary Hospital, which is a rather grimy Bishop’s Palace, pretty full and busy. We were sorted out by the senior matron and billeted singly. I’m in a nice little house with a garden with an old French lady. It will, I suppose, be my headquarters for the present in between train and station duty. We haven’t had a meal since the day before yesterday, so I shall be glad when 12 o’clock comes. Now for a wash.
We five got into the train at 9.30 this morning. We are still on the same train and shall not reach Le Mans till 11 P.M. Then what? There is said to be any amount of work at Le Mans. We have an R.H.A. [Royal Horse Artillery] Battery on this train with guns, horses, five officers, and trucks full of shouting and yelling men all very fit, straight from home. The spirits of the men are irrepressible.
- Orders at last. Matron and I, an Army Sister, and two Army Staff Nurses are to go to Le Mans. It seems too good to be by any possibility true. We may be for Railway Station duty, feeding and dressings in trains or for a StationaryHospital, or anything, or to join No.5 General at Le Mans.
Rien à dire. Tous les jours même chose – on attend des ordres, ce qui ne viennent jamais.
It is said to-day that No. – is to open at Nantes immediately. We five French speakers are again told to stand by for special orders, but I know it won’t come off. There are rumours that all the hospitals will be getting to work soon, but I don’t believe it.
It is a month to-day since I left home, and it seems like six, and no work yet.
Orders came last night to each matron to provide three or five sisters who can talk French for duty up country with a Stationary Hospital. The duties will be ‘very strenuous’ for both night and day duty, and we are to carry very little kit. One of the minor errors has been sending the 600 sisters out with 600 trunks, 600 holdalls and 600 kit-bags!! We have been out nearly a month now and have not been near our boxes. We at last traced our people and found them encamped on the wharf among the stuff (each hospital contains 78 tons of tents, furniture, stores etc.). We have to go in to-morrow and repack for duty, – only sleeping kit and uniform to be taken. There were a lot of Cavalry already mounted just starting, and Welsh Fusiliers, and Argyll and Sutherlands , and swarms more.
The latest wave of this erratic sea has tossed us up on to two little French seaside places north of St Nazaire, the port of Nantes. There are over 500 sisters at the two places in hotels.
At last we are uprooted from that convent up the hot hill, and are on an enormous hospital ship. There are 240 sisters on her, one or two M.O.s [medical officers] and all the equipment. We are in the cabins, and the wards and operating theatres are all equipped for patients, but at the moment she is being used to transport us. We are supposed to be going to St Nazaire, the port for Nantes. … but why, oh why, are we not all in hospital somewhere?
We are leaving tomorrow, on a hospital ship, possibly for Nantes. You can imagine how hard it has been not getting any work all this time. It seems as if most of the ‘dangerously’ and many of the ‘seriously’ wounded must have died pretty soon, or have not been picked up. The cases that do come down are most of them slight. Some of the worst must be in hospital at Rouen.
No orders yet, so we are still waiting, packed up. Went … to see the big hospital ship Asturias with 3000 beds, and also to see the Maritime Hospital. They have been very busy there dressing the wounded for the ship. Troopships full of French and English troops are leaving Havre every day for Belgium.
We all got up at 5.30 to be ready, but I daresay we shan’t move to-day. A train of cattle-trucks came in at Rouen with all the wounded as they were picked up without a spot of dressing on their wounds, which were septic and full of straw and dirt. The matron, M.O., and some of them got hold of some dressings and went round doing what they could in the time, and others fed them.
Orders to-day for the whole Base at Havre to pack itself up and embark at a moment’s notice. Hospitals ….and Royal Flying Corps … and every blessed British unit are all packing up for dear life.
It is very difficult, this waiting. 450 wounded in yesterday were whisked off on the hospital ship. It doesn’t look as if there will be anything for us to do for weeks.
This morning matron took two of us out to our Hospital camp three miles along the Harfleur road. The tram threaded its way through thousands of our troops, who arrived this morning and through a regiment of French Sappers. There were Seaforths, R. Irish Rifles, R.B. [Rifle Brigade], Gloucesters, Connaughts and some D.G.s [Dragoon Guards] and Lancers. They were all heavily loaded up with kit and rifles (sometimes a proud little French boy would carry these for them). It was a good sight, and the contrast between the khaki and the red trousers and caps and blue coats of the French was striking. The camp is getting on well. All the hospital tents are pitched. The operating theatre is to have a concrete floor and is not ready. The ground is the worst part. It is a very boggy hay-field.
We went this afternoon to see over the hospital ship here, waiting for wounded to take back to Netley. It is beautifully fitted …., but no wounded.
We bide here. We shall be two base hospitals, each with 750 beds. It is a fortnight tomorrow since we mobilised, and we have had no work yet except our own fatigue duty in the convent.
The news looks bad today; people say it is très sérieux, ce moment-ci. The news is posted up at the Préfeture [administrative office] several times a day.
130 more sisters besides the 86 already here are packed into this convent, camping out in dining- halls and school rooms and passages. Troopships are arriving every day, and every fighting man is being hurried up to the front, and they cannot block the lines and trains with all these big hospitals yet. Everybody is hoping that it doesn’t mean staying here longer, but you never know your luck. We are simply longing to get to work, whether here or anywhere else.
There is a beautiful chapel in the convent. There is almost as much censoring about the movements of the French troops in the French papers as there is about ours in the English and not a great deal about the movements of the Germans.
The whole system of field medical service has altered since South Africa. The wounded are picked up on the field by the regimental stretcher-bearers, who are generally the band, trained in First Aid and Stretcher Drill. They take them to the Bearer Section of the Field Ambulance (which used to be called Field Hospital) who take them to the Tent Section of the same Field Ambulance, who have been getting the Dressing Station ready with sterilisers etc. They are all drilled to get this ready in twenty minutes in tents, but it takes longer in farmhouses. The Field Ambulance then takes them in ambulance waggons to the Clearing Hospital [casualty clearing station] with beds. From the Clearing Hospital they go on to the Stationary Hospital – 200 beds – which is on a railway, and finally in hospital trains to the General Hospital, their last stopping-place before they get shipped off to Netley [Military Hospital, Southampton, UK] and all the English hospitals. The General Hospitals are the only ones at present to carry Sisters; 500 beds is the minimum, and they are capable of expanding.
We got in about 9 o’clock this morning. Havre is a very picturesque town, with very high houses, and a great many docks and quays, and an enormous amount of shipping. The wharves were as usual lined with waving yelling crowds. We went off to the Convent de St Jeanne d’Arc, an enormous empty school, totally devoid of any furniture except crucifixes! A room full of mattresses has just been discovered to our joy. The whole town is flying flags since the troops began to come in.
I had a berth by an open port-hole, and rather cold with one blanket and a rug – cold sea bath in the morning. We live on oatmeal biscuits and potted meat, with chocolate and tea and soup squares, some bread and butter sometimes. The Tommies sleep on bales of forage in the after well-deck and all over the place. Two medical officers here were both in South Africa at No.7 when I was [Second Anglo-Boer War]. We had an impromptu service on deck this afternoon; I played the hymns – never been on a voyage without being let in for that. Now they are having a Tommies’ concert.
We had a great send-off in Sackville Street in our motor-bus, and went on board about 2 p.m. We watched the embarkation going on. We have a lot of Royal Engineers, Royal Field Artillery and Army Service Corps, and a great many horses and pontoons and ambulance wagons; the horses were very difficult to embark, poor dears. I don’t remember anything so thrilling as our start off from Ireland. All the 600 khaki men on board, and everyone on every other ship, and all the crowds on the quay, and in boats and on lighthouses, waved and yelled.
A new edition of unknown warriors is now available from local bookstores and online from Waterstones, Amazon and the Book Depository.
Please click on the link below to see the press release from the History Press.
Extracts from the Letters of K E Luard RRC, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918
with a Preface by Field-Marshal Viscount Allenby G.C.B., G.C.M.G.
‘Unknown Warriors’ is a long lost jewel of WW1 reportage. Its words resonate as powerfully today as when first written. It offers an extraordinary vantage point from which to view the realities of the Great War; a privileged and very personal glimpse into the hidden world of the military field hospital where patients struggled with pain and trauma and nurses fought to save lives and preserve emotional integrity.
The book’s author was one of a select number of fully trained professional nurses who worked in hospital trains and casualty clearing stations during the war, coming as close to the front as an early 20th century woman could be. ‘Unknown Warriors offers a rare insight into the experience of soldiers and the work of the nurses who cared for them.
K E L was already a war veteran when she arrived in France in 1914, aged 42, having served the British Army during the 2nd Boer War.
The author’s intention was to bear witness to the suffering of the ordinary soldier. It is their patient suffering that makes them true heroes. Kate was not writing for publication but for her large family living in a rural Essex vicarage. She was born in 1872, the tenth of thirteen children. It was probably the influence of the CroydonHigh School headmistress that set her on the long course of becoming a nurse, by no means an accepted profession for a middle class girl of the time.
She met the love of her life in South Africa and then for the last time in France in 1915: a long relationship with no hope of a happy ending as he was already married.
In 1915 her first book about her experiences on the ambulance trains was published anonymously. The book received rave reviews.
K E L was an extraordinary woman who was well read, spoke several languages, was very musical and had a strong faith which sustained her; she had a love and knowledge of the countryside and a real love of people, especially the ordinary ‘Tommies’ whom she nursed and comforted and who were truly ‘her boys’. In 1916 she was in charge of the most advanced abdominal care CCS of the war with a staff of 40 nurses.
She somehow survived the horrors of what she witnessed and the extreme danger of being so near the front line. It was not surprising that she was awarded the RRC and Bar (a rare distinction) and was mentioned in dispatches.
‘Unknown Warriors’ is both a vivid and honest portrait of wars’ wounded and a chronicle of women’s work in the Great War. It is also a portrait of close family affection and trust in a world of conflict.
Extracts from the Introduction by:
Christine Hallett, Professor of Nursing History, The University of Manchester.
Tim Luard, former BBC Correspondent and great-nephew of the author.
A new edition of Unknown Warriors will be published by The History Press in August 2014.