Friday, September 7, 2007

Requiem Mass at Notre Dame

Sunday, August 23rd.—The same dazzling blue sky, boiling sun, and sharp shadows that one seldom sees in England for long together; we've had it for days.

We've had yesterday's London papers to read to-day; they quote in a rather literal translation from their Paris Correspondent word for word what we read in the Paris papers yesterday. I wonder what the English hospital people in Brussels are doing in the German occupation,—pretty hard times for them, I expect. Two that I know are there doing civilian work, and Lord Rothschild has got a lot of English nurses there.

This morning I went to the great Requiem Mass at Notre Dame. It was packed to bursting with people standing, but we were immediately shown to good places. The Abbé preached a very fine war sermon, quite easy to understand. There was a great deal of weeping on all sides. When the service was finished the big organ suddenly struck up "God Save the King"; it gave one such a thrill. And then a long procession of officers filed out, our generals with three rows of ribbons leading, and the French following.

This is said to be our biggest base, and that we shall get some very good work. Of course, once we get the wounded in it doesn't make any difference where you are.

Havre Nothern Depot

Still in Havre

Saturday, August 22nd.—The worst has happened. No.— is to stop at Havre; in camp three miles out. So No.— and No.— are both staying here.

Meanwhile to-day Nos.—, —, and— have all arrived; 130 more Sisters besides the 86 already here are packed into this Convent, camping out in dining-halls and schoolrooms and passages. The big Chapel below and the wee Chapel on this floor seem to be the only unoccupied places now.

Havre is a big base for the France part of our Expeditionary Force. 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.

The news from the Front looks bad to-day—Namur under heavy fire, and the Germans pressing on Antwerp, and the French chased out of Lorraine.

Everybody is hoping it doesn't mean staying here permanently, but you never know your luck. It all depends what happens farther up, and of course one might have the luck to be added to a hospital farther up to fill up casualties among Sisters or if more were wanted.

The base hospitals, of course, are always filling up from up country with men who may be able to return to duty, and acute or hopeless cases who have to be got well enough for a hospital ship for home.

There is to be a Requiem Mass to-morrow at Notre Dame for those who have been killed in the war, and the whole nave and choir is reserved for officials and Red Cross people. It is a most beautiful church, now hung all over with the four flags of the Allies. An old woman in the church this morning asked us if we were going to the Blessés, and clasped our hands and blessed us and wept. She must have had some sons in the army.

We are simply longing to get to work, whether here or anywhere else; it is 100 per cent better in this interesting old town doing for ourselves in the Convent than waiting in the stuffy hotel at Dublin. There is any amount to see—miles of our Transport going through the town with burly old shaggy English farm-horses, taken straight from the harvest, pulling the carts; French Artillery Reservists being taught to work the guns; French soldiers passing through; and our R.E. Motor-cyclists scudding about. And one can practise talking, understanding, and reading French. It is surprising how few of the 216 Sisters here seem to know a word of French. I am looked upon as an expert, and you know what my French is like! A sick officer sitting out in the court below has got a small French boy by him who is teaching him French with a map, a 'Matin,' and a dictionary. A great deal of nodding and shaking of heads is going on.

Notre Dame de Havre

How the field ambulance works

Friday, August 21st.—Intercession Day at home. There is a beautiful chapel in the Convent.

There is almost as much censoring about the movement 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.

There are 43 Sisters belonging to No.— General Hospital on the floor below us camping out in the same way—86 altogether in the building, one wing of which is the Sick Officers' Hospital of No.— G.H.

The No.— people are moving up the line to-night. It will take a few days to get No.— together, and then we shall move on at night. The Colonel knows where to, but he has not told Matron; she thinks it will be farther up than Amiens or Rheims, where two more have already gone, but it is all guess-work. I expect No.— from C—— is in Belgium. (It was at Amiens and had to leave in a hurry.)

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, &c., while the Bearer Section are fetching them from the regimental stretcher-bearers. 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 (with lying down and sitting accommodation) to the Clearing Hospital, with beds, and returns empty to the Dressing Station. 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 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 indefinitely.

There is a large staff of harassed-looking landing officers here, with A.M.L.O. (on a white armband for the medical people; a great many troopships are coming from Southampton; you hear them booing their signals in the harbour all night and day.

I've had my first letter from England, from a patient at ——. The Field Service post-card is quite good as a means of communication, but frightfully tantalising from our point of view.

We had a very good night on our mattresses, but it was rather cold towards morning with only one rug.

They have a Carter-Paterson motor-van for the Military mail-cart at the M.P.O., and two Tommies sit by a packing-case with a slit in the lid for the letter-box.

Dressing station of 4th Field Ambulance, Australian Imperial Force

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Le Havre

Thursday, August 20th, 5 p.m., Havre.—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, and a great exchange of Vive l'Angleterre from them, and Vive la France from us went on, and a lusty roar of the Marseillaise from us. During the morning the horses and pontoons and waggons were disembarked, and the R.E. and Field Ambulances went off to enormous sheds on the wharf. We went off in a taxi in batches of five to the Convent de St Jeanne d'Arc, an enormous empty school, totally devoid of any furniture except crucifixes! Luckily the school washhouse has quite good basins and taps, and we are all camping out, three in a room, to sleep on the floor, as our camp kit isn't available. No one knows if we shall be here one night, or a week, or for ever! It is a glorious place, with huge high rooms, and huge open casements, and broad staircases and halls, windows looking over the town to the sea. We are high up on a hill. There's no food here, so we sit on the floor and make our own breakfast and tea, and go to a very swanky hotel for lunch and dinner. We are billeted here for quarters, and at the hotel for meals.

A room full of mattresses has just been discovered to our joy, and we have all hauled one up to our rooms, so we shall be in luxury.

Just got a French paper and seen the Pope is dead, and a very enthusiastic account of the British troops at Dunkerque, their marvellous organisation, their cheerfulness, and their behaviour.

Just seen on the Official War News placarded in the town that the Germans have crossed the Meuse between Liège and Namur, and the Belgians are retiring on to Antwerp. The Allies must buck up.

The whole town is flying flags since the troops began to come in; all the biggest shops and buildings fly all four of the Allies.

Le Havre boulevard in 1919

We are having a lovely calm and sunny voyage

Wednesday, August 19th.—We are having a lovely calm and sunny voyage—slowed down in the night for a fog. I had a berth by an open port-hole, and though rather cold with one blanket and a rug (dressing-gown in my trunk), enjoyed it very much—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, and cocoa at bed-time.

There is a routine by bugle-call on troopships, with a guard, police, and fatigues. The Tommies sleep on bales of forage in the after well-deck and all over the place. We have one end of the 1st class cabin forrard, and the officers have the 2nd class aft for sleeping and meals, but there is a sociable blend on deck all day. Two medical officers here were both in South Africa at No. 7 when I was (Captains in those days), and we have had great cracks on old times and all the people we knew. One is commanding a Field Ambulance and goes with the fighting line. There are 200 men for Field Ambulances on board. They don't carry Sisters, worse luck, only Padres.

We had an impromptu service on deck this afternoon; I played the hymns,—never been on a voyage yet without being let in for that. It was run by the three C. of E. Padres and the Wesleyan hand in hand: the latter has been in the Nile Expedition of '98 and all through South Africa. We had Mission Hymns roared by the Tommies, and then a C. of E. Padre gave a short address—quite good. The Wesleyan did an extempore prayer, rather well, and a very nice huge C. of E. man gave the Blessing. Now they are having a Tommies' concert—a talented boy at the piano.

At midday we passed a French cruiser, going the opposite way. They waved and yelled, and we waved and yelled. We are out of sight of English or French coast now. I believe we are to be in early to-morrow morning, and will have a long train journey probably, but nobody knows anything for certain except where we land—Havre.

It seems so long since we heard anything about the war, but it is only since yesterday morning. (The concert is rather distracting, and the wind is getting up—one of the Tommies has an angelic black puppy on his lap, with a red cross on its collar, and there is a black cat about.)

S.S. Athenic (used as a troopship) in 1915

Orders just gone round

Tuesday, 8 p.m., August 18th.—Orders just gone round that there are to be no lights after dark, so I am hasting to write this.

We had a great send-off in Sackville Street in our motor-bus, and went on board about 2 p.m. From then till 7 we watched the embarkation going on, on our own ship and another. We have a lot of R.E. and R.F.A. and A.S.C., and a great many horses and pontoons and ambulance waggons: the horses were very difficult to embark, poor dears. It was an exciting scene all the time. I don't remember anything quite so thrilling as our start off from Ireland. All the 600 khaki men on board, and every one on every other ship, and all the crowds on the quay, and in boats and on lighthouses, waved and yelled. Then we and the officers and the men, severally, had the King's proclamation read out to us about doing our duty for our country, and God blessing us, and how the King is following our every movement.

We are now going to snatch up a very scratch supper and turn in, only rugs and blankets.

Scots Guards leaving Southampton