Saturday, 29 May 2010

A Little Episode

Winter 1915-1916

It was bitterly cold last Sunday night, and as we came out of chapel after Evensong my senior partner said to me, "Come down to the hut and have a warm, Grib." Now that always appeals to me, as being employed in the operating theatre I do not often go inside a hut. So we trotted down to Crystal Palace somewhere in C Block. We had been in the hut about five minutes when the door flew open and two starved-looking little urchins marched in, selling evening papers. They, too, were very cold, and when they saw the stove made a bee-line for it, and were with difficulty prevented from embracing it. The men had finished their supper, and Sister said to the small boys;
"Would you like something to eat?"
"Not 'arf!" one of them replied. "Come on, Arfer; come and have supper wiv the soldiers. I never had supper wiv soldiers before. 'Evening, Sergeant, how are you? I wish I was a soldier, I do!"
They pleased the men, and the ward was in an uproar at their quaint remarks and manners. One of them was much more hungry than the other, and ate everything that came his way. The other appeared to be afflicted with a strange disease known as 'shyness.'

And when Tich's hunger was appeased he turned to the congregation and said, "Now I'll arst you a riddle. Any of you good at telling riddles?" We all said we were, so he enquired; "Why are they widening the streets of Berlin?" No reply from the assemblage - to the gentleman's joy - and he told us triumphantly; "Because they don't like the Allies, of course. See?"
We did see, and the conversation became general, and one of the Tommies enquired what their dinner had consisted of. "Bacon and greens," replied Tich. "Garn!" said Arthur. "Bacon bones, you mean. Now I had giblets." "Giblets?" asked the Tommies - "what are giblets?" "Well, the insides of ducks or chickens or pigeons, or anything like that; you boil 'em up, and that's giblets." And the congregation marvelled.

Tich then told us a little family history. "Oh, yes, I've got a good home, and me faver's a brass-finisher ... He finishes all me muvver's brass, anyhow."
Sister now enquired if he would like any more food.
"No, thank you, Missis!" The rest of the nurses were 'Miss' only. The Tommies then offered them cigarettes, and we felt it our duty to tell them how smoking stopped little boys from growing, but Tich said brightly, "Yes, Miss, but it's an 'abit, and an 'abit is an 'ard thing to break off."

Arthur suddenly remembered that they wouldn't sell their papers if they didn't go; so off they went, with many expressions of gratitude to Sister and her Tommies; and as they went out of the hut I heard Tich say; "Well, we touched lucky tonight, didn't we?"


[Mary Gertrude Gribble was born in September 1887, the daughter of an Oxford 'College Servant.' She trained as a nurse at Marylebone Infirmary, London between 1909 and 1912, was mobilised with the Territorial Force Nursing Service on 7 September 1914, and served for six years until her demobilisation in August 1920. Mary Gribble died in Battle, Sussex, in 1975.]

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

A Message from the Principal Matron

Winter 1915-1916

After reading and thoroughly enjoying the last numbers of The Gazette, the only criticism which occurred to my mind was that there was not enough in them about the nursing staff. Perhaps this is just as well, as probably they themselves are thankful to have eluded the artists' pencils - as the pictures of them in 'The Missing Banana Skin' and 'Things We May Hope to See,' if they are meant for Nursing Sisters, may be regarded more in the light of 'chasteners' than as pleasing portraits! I feel sure, at any rate, that they do not in the least resemble the mental picture carried away by each patient who has been nursed at the 3rd London General!

It is my duty and privilege to recommend to the War Office for appointment the different members of the ever-increasing nursing staff working in our wards, and what a world of interest this task opens out. Not only do our nurses come from every part of Great Britain, but from every different training school and every branch of the profession. Some have been Matrons in their own institutions, others Sisters; and all must hold a three years' certificate. Some have specialised in research work and held important Public Health appointments, others have been district nurses, private nurses, school nurses, tuberculosis nurses, etc.; some are married, with homes of their own. But one and all have come forward (for this is an entirely voluntary service) to do their 'bit' in this great crisis. Not only have the nurse in this country volunteered in overwhelming numbers, but we have also recently had the pleasure of welcoming our sisters from Australia, who, leaving their different posts and braving all the dangers of the sea, have come to prove in very practical fashion their zeal and loyalty to the Throne and Empire.

To many it has meant a big effort, not only to come, but also to remain here. I realise this when I have to struggle on their behalf with committees who do not wish to lose their staff and want them to return, and with Matrons who are in despair at parting with their 'treasures.' To some their coming has meant financial sacrifices, and - what is perhaps more difficult - the taking of subordinate positions and the feeling almost like returning to school. It is not in human nature to find it easy to come as a staff nurse when you have been a Matron or Sister or held independent positions. All the more honour assured; when the war is over and they resume their civil duties the petty trials and pinpricks which may have loomed large at the moment will fade from their memory, and they will remember the interests, the jokes, and pleasure and cheeriness which each day's work at the 3rd London General brought with it. And they will be thankful, not only that they were able to do their duty, practically in the fighting line with our soldiers, but also for any hardship which that duty may have entailed. I should like to have said a word about our gallant V.A.D. helpers, but fear that already the Editor will be cross with me for taking up so much space.


Sunday, 23 May 2010

My First Day in a Military Hospital

Winter 1915-1916

... By one who has never been there, but has read a lot about it in the papers.

I opened one eye and asked for a cigarette. I opened the other eye. I found myself in a long, low room - full of beds. An orderly was bending over me with a lighted match. He asked me where I was hit. I knew that was an old catch. If I told him in what part of my anatomy I had got it, he would say he meant in what part of the firing line had I been wounded - and vice versa. So I said 'In the leg at Hooge' - and I scored off him.

This orderly, by the way, proved to be an American of no little standing in financial circles. As president of the Eagle Chewing Gum Merger he had found himself in London when the war began and enlisted at once in the R.A.M.C. But orderlies are the most extraordinary race of men. Two others who waited on me proved to have been in civilian life at opposite poles of the social scale (if a scale can be said to be bounded by poles). One was a ratcatcher and the other the third son of a Norwegian count. They worked together like brothers. After the extraordinary antecedents of all the orderlies, I found the outstanding fact about a military hospital was the stream of distinguished visitors who came in. It would be inadvisable for me in the public interest to name them here, but I may say that in my first forenoon I had four calls from the Secretary of State for War, who always leant over the end of the bed and told me to carry on; and there shoals of others. Their visits were always a complete surprise, but we generally had time to get out the red carpet and warn our press photographer. Cheerfulness and cigarette smoke make up the atmosphere. No non-smokers were allowed in our hospital at all. There was a special ward for them at the end of the garden. Great difficulty has been experienced from time to time in wedging in the meals without suspending the cigarette consumption. The Chancellor of the Exchequer happened to look in the day after he had imposed the new Budget tax on tobacco. He was immensely pleased, and just kept walking about the ward nodding and murmuring 'Carry on.'

One thing worried me horribly. I had lost all my kit. I found myself to be arrayed in a nice suit of blue pyjamas, but that was all I had. It was a fearful dilemma - and, knowing as I did that it was the sort of thing that could not possibly have happened to anyone before, it was difficult to see a way out of it. I might lie here for weeks - so near and yet so far - unable to communicate with my wife who lives in Camden Town on an allowance of £1,500 a year that I made to her when I enlisted. Somehow I must contrive to borrow sixpence for a telegram, and (like the Germans) time was operating against me; as if I waited much longer it would have to be ninepence. I did not like the idea of borrowing money off people, especially after all the kindness they had shown me. And I had nothing left that I could pawn.

There is not much else to report about this hospital. It was really very much as you would have expected it to be, and quite full of the usual coincidences. The man in the bed to the left of me, for instance, not only had thirty-seven shrapnel bullets in him (which was the record for the hospital), but also turned out to be my cousin Percy, whom I had last seen seven years before in Buenos Ayres. I had no idea he had enlisted. I borrowed a quid off him. Then I turned expectantly to the bed on the other side, and was not disappointed. The patient turned out to be a Frenchman whom I had met in February on the summit of the Hartmannweilerskopf (when on a visit to the French lines). But there is no need to dwell upon these discoveries. I know they are not peculiar to myself.
After all, one military hospital is very like another.


Thursday, 20 May 2010

My First Absence from the 3rd London

Winter 1915-1916


In October I was ordered by the War Office to go as medical member on a mission to Sicily to choose sites for hospitals and convalescent homes in the South. The present war is on a scale never before dreamt of, and various alterations have been made in the original scheme for the care of the sick and wounded. In former wars men were kept in hospitals till fit for duty, but now camps are formed in which men are cared for and prepared by training between the acute phase of illness and the day of complete fitness for the trenches. Another reason for this is the shortage of the medical profession. There is not, in time of peace, a very large floating surplus of doctors, and the call for the thousands needed to deal with the Army in the field has thrown a strain on the resources of the profession. Therefore the bad cases must be grouped in some hospitals, and these must have proportionately a larger staff of doctors and nurses and a more complicated equipment. However, the official part of my work abroad has naturally no direct interest for the Hospital, but the incidents connected with the journey may be of interest.

The kindness of everyone I met convinced me of the real affection the Italian people possess for England and the English, and, whether dealing with the civil authorities or the Ministry for War, as represented by General Elia, we met with the same unvarying courtesy; and, once the official consent was given to our requests, every facility was placed in our way in the carrying out of our mission. At Syracuse we were shown the ruins of the old cities, and saw everything of interest for miles. When crossing the island to Palermo we passed in the train between two towns perched on hills so close to one another that voices will carry across, yet a day's journey is required to go from the one town to the other. The scarcity of the population in those great tracts, owing to malaria, is very striking. The people who work here during the day go away at night; and until the mosquito as a carrier of malaria was recognised, the officials of the railway stations in these districts left by the last train every evening for the larger towns. Now the houses are fitted with wire netting for doors and windows, and so it is safe to live there.

At Palermo we had a charming Italian officer, Captain Faraone, placed at our service by the General Commanding the Army Corps. He had travelled in most parts of the world, and his knowledge of English was perfect. On one occasion when driving with him to see the wonderful church at Monreale we gave rise to a good deal of excitement amongst the natives of the neighbourhood. They had never seen khaki before. As it happened, there is, next door to the church, a monastery now used as a prison. The consequence was that the people on the roadside were quite satisfied that we were prisoners. And no doubt they were equally sure that the war would soon be ending, as we looked so pleased to be captured. We heard, by the by, that the Austrians have learnt the brutal methods of the Germans. Their way of preventing the men bringing in prisoners is simple; if an Austrian brings in a prisoner, his food is given to the prisoner and he goes without. The church at Monreale is one of the most wonderful I have ever seen, and cannot be described in an article, so I leave it at that.

While at Palermo we saw the Bersaglieri and other drafts going by the night boat to Naples. Another officer of our mission and I had quite a reception from the men on board. The bandmaster on the quay sent his apologies for not having an English tune to play, but informed us that he would play the Marseillaise. On this being done, we had to stand in front of the band and take the applause. Amongst the men with whom we spoke were some who had left their families in America and come back to fight for Italy, and were proud of the opportunity. When on the way home Colonel Norris and I had to break the journey either at Naples or Rome for some hours, so decided to do so at Naples. Here we were met by a Staff Officer and a motor, detailed by the General in Command of the Army Corps at Naples at the request of the General at Palermo. This officer, Lieutenant Orlando, took us out to Pompeii, and, by the courtesy of the Director of the Ruins, we saw parts of the city actually in process of excavation. These are not shown to any of the ordinary visitors.

To anyone who has not been to Pompeii, but has heard how on the walls there is writing which is as distinct and fresh as it must have been nearly 2,000 years ago, it may be a puzzle to understand how the material covering that writing is got away without damage to the walls. The whole of the street up to the level of the tops of the houses is filled with small pieces of pumice very much like pebbles on the seashore, and as the centre of the street is cleared the parts near the wall fall away, leaving the wall and its paintings quite free. The pumice is very dry, and so has protected everything from damp. Looking over the portion not yet dealt with, it has the appearance of an ordinary field in cultivation, the earth being the usual red-brown of volcanic areas. Below this earth there is a darker stratum of harder scoria, and under that lies white pumice. After the first eruption many people returned to the city and got into the houses through the roofs, and in one house I saw the hole in the wall by which they had got into the adjoining one.

The care devoted to the restoration is wonderful. Though many of the usual workers have gone to the front, the old and young remain to carry on; and, as I watched their toil, the madness of the present era was a very real thought. Here were people trying to restore an ancient city, hunting for scraps of treasure in the rubbish, and restoring the paintings on the walls inside the houses so that future generations may see them - and a few hours further away by train in the same country the so-called civilised and cultured nations were trying to destroy Venice by dropping bombs on its churches and ancient buildings. The paintings and sculpture in the churches of Venice are beautiful, and are the property of all the world, and the destruction of the whole of Venice, including the small arsenal, could not affect the issue of the war for five minutes, so only insanity can explain the action of the dircting minds that decree the destruction of the beautiful in Venice.
But this is a digression.
In the recently-explored street is a wine shop, and when one of the water jars were opened it was found still to contain water; the dust had sealed it in for all those years. Most of the treasure has been found in the streets, as the people were overwhelmed while trying to escape with their possessions. The labourers who are employed in the restoration begin as small boys and end their lives in the task.

The time we had to spend was all too short, but I had to return to Rome and London. At Turin I saw a coach on the train filled with Austrian prisoners, and they certainly did not give me the impression that they were anything other than well-cared-for soldiers; there were no old men or young boys among them. The journey across the Channel was a demonstration in itself of the cool pluck of our sailors. We travelled most of the way without lights, and, owing to the shortage of vessels, the captain had to return with a fresh load the same night. The shipping off Folkestone was held up owing to mines being loose, and the lights of the ships were like candles instead of big ones.
London was very dark, when we got back, after the lights of Rome and Paris.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Hospital Notice Board

Winter 1915-1916

is open at the following hours: 9-12.30, 1.45-2.30, 3.30-4, 5.15-5.45, 6.30-7, 8.45-9.30.
- Patients wishing to receive their letters promptly should urge their friends to put the number of the ward upon the envelope. Letters so marked can be delivered at once, but others are liable to considerable delay, as they all have to be looked up in the books.


THE HOSPITAL BARBERS - The Barber's Shop is open for patients' haircutting from 1 to 4 p.m., and orderlies from 6.30 to 7.45 a.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, from 1 to 4 p.m., walking patients will be shaved, but only those who, owing to injury to the right arm or for some other reason are unable to shave themselves. The barbers also go round the wards. When an urgent case is in need of the barber, the Sister is requested to leave a message with the Ward Master. Attention is also drawn to the fact that Pte. Chasty (Barber) can be called in to deal with chiropody cases.


- Friends who have come from a distance to visit patients here, and who wish to stay in the neighbourhood for a night or two, can obtain a list of suitable apartments, let at reasonable rates, on applicatIon to Mr. Brown at the Post Office in Trinity Road (close to the hospital gates). It is advisable to send a postcard to Mr. Brown in order that the rooms may, if possible, be engaged in advance.


Sunday, 16 May 2010

Timetable of the 25th

Xmas Day Festivities (?) in a German Military Hospital
By L/Cpl Towler (Returned Prisoner of War)

1. 5.30: Reveille (very humorous)

2. 5.40: Washing (absurdly funny - no soap and no flannel)

3. 7.30: V.A.B. (Very appetising breakfast) Menu: Black bread, two slices; jam

4. 8.30: Bosche doctor arrives. Tells us 'Mr Grey' is the cause of all our trouble; does dressings.

5. 11 o'c: Dinner (not prepared by Savoy chef): Horseflesh; vegetables; that's all

6. 6.30 p.m.: Tea (extra-superfine Ceylon); black bread; jam

7. 7.30 p.m.: Supper (highly delectable): Basin vegetable soup; H2O blend wine

8. 8 p.m.: Lights out. Chorus by hospital staff: "Gott strafe England"

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Last Christmas Eve

Winter 1915-1916

The Assistant Matron has specially written for The Gazette the following short account of last Christmas Eve's charming festivities at the 3rd L.G.H.

The exciting time of year had dawned again; the time which sees everyone enthusiastic, hurrying to and fro with that look of pleasure which always comes when one is thinking out means of giving pleasure to others. This was the dawn of Christmas Eve. Each member of our nursing staff had her own part to play. First the patients were attended to, as usual - for not even on December 24th can the routine of a hospital be interrupted. Then some of us hurried forth and returned presently with armfuls of flowers; these were followed later by cases of plants. These, with the flags of all the Allies, made the wards festive and bright - each ward keeping its own character, though so similarly decorated. It must have been interesting, and a source of keen pleasure to any onlooker, to observe how the differences in the aspect of the various wards indicated the varying tastes of the respective Sisters.

Christmas Eve is always a hard day in every hospital, and ours was no exception. But, heavy though the work had been, it had not damped the ardour of our nursing staff. When nine o'clock struck a procession appeared. The sisters, nurses, and some orderlies, each with a lighted Chinese lantern suspended from a cane, toured the wards singing carols. It was a most effective sight as the stream of variegated lights wound in and out of the darkened wards and corridors, and the refrain from the carols was very appealing - one caught wafts of the music as the procession wended round corners, and in and out of doors, loud at first, and growing softer and softer as the singers withdrew to the more distant parts of the hospital. The patients were all very interested, and many joined in the carols. It was striking to watch the varied expressions on the faces as the procession proceeded through each ward. A good many of the wounded had never been in a hospital before, and thought it very lovely; others were thinking of home and their loved ones far away; they wore a look of thankfulness that they were spending Christmas in England again - albeit wounded - surrounded by comfort and consideration on every side.

The carol singers' procession returned in due course to the front entrance and lined up on either side of the corridor which leads to the C.O.'s office. Raising their lanterns, they formed an illuminated archway, under which the C.O. and the Matron passed. The C.O. then gave us his good wishes and expressed the hope that we should all have a happy time in spite of the severe strain which our work involved. After giving a hearty cheer both for him and for the Matron, we all proceeded to the Recreation Room, where steaming hot soup and mince pies were distributed - and taken with alacrity. The company then dispersed, to rest before the toils of Christmas Day, though all seemed to forget that they had any cause for weariness in the extra work which they had been doing, and only wished to make sure that they would be fresh enough on the morrow to give the patients a happy time.


Friday, 14 May 2010

Things We May Hope to See ...

... If the War lasts till next Christmas (2)

Things We May Hope to See ...

... If the War lasts till next Christmas (1)

[Although not signed, this page, and the one that follows are undoubtedly the work of Pte. Stephen Baghot de la Bere]

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

A Tea-Fight

Winter 1915-1916
A Short Impression by the Matron, of the Party on Friday, November 12th

First thing in the morning the Receiving Hall was cleared of all the beds, and then we began to collect tables and forms from the wards. Very soon the Hall was transformed into a big café; lines of tables up and across the Hall, all of which were decorated by plants and flags, until the whole place was a mass of colour.

Long before tea-time the men began to come trooping in; and in a very short time there was a big buzzing tea-party. All the stretcher and wheeled-chair cases went round to the Recreation Room, and had tea given them there by many willing hands. The boys from Dr. Barnardo's Home played from the balcony, the men joining in the songs they knew, whistling and singing as they ate the many good things provided for them by our good friend Mr. Howard Williams. When everyone had eaten until it was impossible to eat any more we cleared the Hall, and many of us helped to get out the tables and rearrange the room for the concert. In a surprisingly short time the men were all back in their seats listening to one of the finest concerts we have ever had. By this time our Queen Amélie had come, and I am sure everyone was glad to see Her Majesty back again; she has become 'one of us,' and we all love her dearly.

I went up to the gallery and looked down on a blaze of colour. The men's blue coats, the scarlet jackets (which they ought to leave in the ward, and I never have strength of character enough to say they must, because they look so attractive), with patches of white here and there where the Sisters were sitting, struck one as so wonderful. A perfect volley of sound came up, and I can now hear
'Never-the-less I want to go back'
sung as if there were no trouble in the world, as if war with all its horrors did not exist; and one felt with a great thankfulness that Hospital was indeed a happy place - perhaps the only one at the moment, when all around is misery and suffering. Song followed song - several old favourites being cheered again and again - till at last the end came and we sang 'God Save the King.' After the C.O. had called for cheers for our Royal Family, we all gave three very special ones for Queen Amélie. We also had the opportunity of welcoming the Australian Nurses, who arrived in the middle of the afternoon, having come to work in our hospital. Many of them, I was glad to see, stayed for the concert.

Then the men began to file out and go home to bed - just like children tired out after a party - whistling and singing - and I felt, tired out as I was after a very hard day, that nothing is a trouble 'as long as we 'ave the 'eart.'


Sunday, 9 May 2010

First Impressions of Night Duty

Winter 1915-1916
By a Girl Orderly

My first and most lasting impression was the Dark; an awful and overwhelming darkness, pierced at rare intervals by distant, faintly-gleaming lights, which swayed in the breeze, but always kept their distance. It was my luck to have the nurse from my ward called away, and for what seemed like endless ages I sat alone in the one small oasis of light in a ward that appeared to be of interminable length surrounded by an unknown number of equally unknown patients. Suppose anything happened; haemorrhage - fits - and it really did sound as though the man snoring on my left would choke that very next minute! What were those hosts of unattached, unaccounted-for sounds; stealthy footsteps that came so far, and stopped - where? Sighs, groans, and thuds that might mean nothing or anything! The 'silent night' seemed a thing of imagination only ... And in the midst of these ridiculous, but at the moment very real, horrors, Salvation appeared in the form of the orderly officer - to whom I am eternally grateful for effectually breaking the spell.

One more impression is the immensity of the distance 'from one given spot to another.' On that memorable night I went with a message to Night Sister's office - 'just down the corridor and round to the left' - and by the time I'd got 'just down the corridor' I hardly knew which was left or right! I gingerly turned the corner and wandered on for about another couple of miles down what felt like a tube tunnel - on and ever onward towards a faint ray of light ... which marked the beginning of another corridor! Having walked for hours - more or less - I was finally fortunate enough to meet one of that rare and elusive species, a male orderly, who nobly showed me my destination and set me on my homeward way.

These, of course, are only very first impressions. Having since developed the eyes of a cat and an instinctive feeling of ' 'ware mat!' in my feet - night duty is really great. but I should like to know if the day orderlies strew the corridors with bath-chairs, trolleys, and stretchers especially for my benefit!

Friday, 7 May 2010

Thursday, 6 May 2010

The Ambulance Column

The Organisation which brings each Patient from the Train to the War Hospital: A Note by our C.O.

The general run of patients have but little knowledge of the organisation that is responsible for their transport from the station to the hospital. It is a purely voluntary one, started by Mr. and Mrs. Lancelot Dent in the early days of the war, and it has grown under their care with the increasing demands that have been made upon them. The ladies who help are largely those who before this have had their time entirely at their own disposal. Now night and day they are at the call of their country. There is no band playing when in the small hours they meet the trains which bring home the maimed of the war. The stretcher bearers are men, who, for various reasons, must stay at home, and they at a moment's notice leave their offices and work at the unloading.

There are a couple of things I still wait for, and am confident I shall never see, when a train of sick and wounded is being detrained - one is a howl of pain from the wounded man, and the other is a suspicion of impatience on the part of the ambulance column. The same gentleness is present today as was noticeable a year ago. Often the members of the column have had but little rest, and less prospect of any, yet the patients would not suspect it, and each patient is handled on his stretcher as if he were the one person for whom they had come. There are, to my mind, no words of praise too great for this column, and their record will take a good deal of beating. They have moved 45,715 cases in a year, and of these 13,452 were so severely injured that they were stretcher cases, and this has been done without a single death occurring en route.

One of the little acts which are symptomatic of the whole work was this - when the exchanged wounded came home each man had a rose handed to him by Mrs. Dent as he was brought to the column. Many of the men were too touched to speak.


Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Editorial Notes - Tthe Season's Word

[With apologies for Christmas arriving in May]
Winter 1915-1916

It is considered correct, for a well-behaved magazine, whenever the month of December comes round, to produce a Christmas number. We have a suspicion that the average Christmas number is apt to be just a shade too Christmassy. Yuletide has the bloom rubbed off it by being too feverishly rubbed in, and to turn the exuberant pages of some of the publications which adorn our bookstalls is to grow tired of a sentiment which, long before the 25th, has lost its spontaneity. Perhaps those who love Christmas best feel most deeply this resentment against the over-stressing of the date's traditional jocosities. And this year, when to many sorrowful souls there is a bitter irony in the season's chosen text, we think the danger of an artificial insistence on the Christmas note is enormously increased. The beautiful old phrase, "On earth peace, goodwill towards men," still holds its meaning for the faithful, but might with terrible facility lend itself in this tragic era of strife to the sceptic's derision.

It will be found, therefore, that though this little magazine of ours presents some Christmas features, as is only right and proper, it makes no very strained attempt to depart from the normal in the major portion of its contents. There are elaborate preparations afoot to give the hospital a very merry Christmas; much hard work is being expended on that laudable task, which means that not a few of our staff are sacrificing their precious spare time for their fellows' benefit. So, though The Gazette is not very liberally besprinkled with orthodox holly and mistletoe, Christmas itself, when it arrives, will be duly celebrated throughout our community.

A strange Christmas it will be, indeed, to many of us. Some are far from home, some are in bodily pain, some are fresh from scenes of the utmost horror, some are preparing to face the world with the cruel hardship of the cripple, some are still in danger of loss of life itself. Yet we venture to prophesy that nowhere will there be more truly a happy Christmas than at the 3rd L.G.H. For it is a singular paradox - a paradox of which every Briton has a right to be proud - that this, and our other war hospitals, are famed for their high spirits. Our wounded are indomitably gay. They decline to be solemn. It is a blessed kink in the national character, and augurs well for our ultimate triumph not only over a foe notorious for his lack of humour, but also over the burden of anxiety and grief which might overwhelm a less spirited people. If we have been perpetually in the mood for jests throughout the year, it is safe to say that we shall not need to fear a flat Christmas. There is no call to make up our minds to force the gaiety; the season will go with a swing, of its own accord. The wounded - God bless them! - would see to that, even without the help of the staff or of our good friends from outside.

If there is peace and goodwill anywhere this year it will be amongst precisely those who have suffered most from the motto's denial - the inmates of our war hospitals.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Our Unfortunate Alphabet

[For the uninitiated, the wards in the hospital were identified by both letters and numbers]

Winter 1915-1916

During a recent take-in of wounded, a car containing three officers arrived at the main entrance. The Matron, standing at the door with the list of vacant beds in officers' wards, was asked what was to be done with the trio of newcomers.
"Take them to L," she replied.
There was a shriek of laughter from inside the car - and Matron wonders why.

Monday, 3 May 2010

England at Last, by an Australian Patient

Winter 1915-1916

When the medical officer came round one day in our ward at the Floriana Hospital, Malta, and wrote on our diet-sheets "For England," an immediate change was noticeable on the faces of the favoured ones. Those not so lucky cast envious glances in our direction. We were to see old England at last! I think every Australian has an ambition to see the old Mother Country at some time in the distant future when he has made his pile, but few of us dreamt a year or so ago that we should see it so soon - and under such circumstances too. Some of us, indeed, had hardly hoped ever to see it.

It wasn't long before we got notice that we were to embark on a hospital ship and soon found ourselves on board the Dunluce Castle in Dockyard Creek, and we steamed out of the Grand Harbour just as the retreat gun was being fired at the saluting battery. On the morning of the fourth day our from Malta we arrived at Gibraltar and anchored under the fortress for a day, which gave us a good opportunity of seeing from a distance, for the first time, that sentinel of the Empire. It was here that some of us began to know what it means to spend three or four years in the Tropics without experiencing a winter. One man I know hasn't seen winter for nine years. The Bay of Biscay, quite contrary to expectations, behaved itself, and our ship only pitched slightly. Early on the fourth day from Gibraltar we caught sight of "the sceptred isle set in a silver sea," only it wasn't set in a silver sea when we saw it, but in a very grey one. It was a cold and cloudy day with a mist hanging over the water, which only permitted us to catch an occasional glimpse of what we were told was the coast of Cornwall. As our port was Southampton, we travelled along the south coast all the rest of the day, and in the evening, in the twilight, we were going round the Isle of Wight, so close to shore that we could plainly see the fields and the cottages nestling high up among the hills. I shall never forget that evening. Although I felt the cold intensely, I managed to stay on deck well swathed in woollens and my overcoat. I have never seen the sea look the same dull grey. To one accustomed to the sunny Pacific its sober grandeur made a strong appeal. And as the light began to fail we could see the ever-watchful searchlights playing on the sea and sky in quest of any invisible enemies. I don't think we slept very soundly that night. I know we didn't.

In the morning we were alongside the wharf in Southampton. Southampton made no other impression on me that that it was cold, damp, and smoky. We were a motley crew as we disembarked - Australians, New Zealanders, and Tommies from almost every unit, some on crutches, some on stretchers, men with empty sleeves, and others - walking cases - showing the ravages of dysentery and fever on their thin faces and wasted frames. After various delays, waiting for the men to be sorted out to their different destinations, we were at last put on a very comfortable hospital train and made a start on our two hours' journey to Clapham Junction. Being now a walking case I was able to secure a seat near a window, hoping to get a glimpse of the country now and again. I was richly rewarded. One often hears about England's unrivalled rural beauty, but one never gets a true conception of it. One cannot, of course, see the best from a fast-travelling train, but what I saw eclipsed my ideal. Now that the autumn leaves were falling and all the crops were gathered in, one was seeing it perhaps at a disadvantage. But what a sight for sore eyes to see green grass again; and such a green, too!

The journey was soon over, and we caught sight, for the first time for many months, of men in uniform other than khaki, namely, the men of the British Red Cross Society, who looked very spick and span in their dark blue uniforms. It was not long before we were run up here in the motor ambulances and had a good hot drink of cocoa (real cocoa made with milk), and were allotted to our wards. After having a hot bath and getting dressed in our hospital blues, we waited beside our ward stove for some tea before going to bed.
Square Dinkum, it was cold!
With all the warm things available, with my dressing-gown on and my feet resting on the top of the stove, I still felt cold. It was not till after being put in a warm bed with a hot-water bottle at my feet for a few hours that I at last felt warm again. I am still here, but hope soon to be well again. It won't be the fault of the kind treatment received from the hands of all here (particularly the sisters and nurses) if I am not.

For rest and comfort who would not be
In London General No. 3;
From there the sick and wounded in pain
Are soon set forth, happy, well again,
And for the nurses our prayers rise,
For they are all angels in disguise.
Please accept these humble words of praise
From a soldier who means what he says.


Saturday, 1 May 2010

Miss Barton's New Book

Autumn 1915

Our Principal Matron has written a wise and timely little book. In turning its pages we are reminded, again and again, of the phrase of a famous divine, who spoke of the quality of 'sanctified common-sense.' Commonsense of a delightfully human and gentle sort breathes from every chapter; in some mysterious manner the authoress, even when treating in the most businesslike fashion of some technical point of nursing, infuses a tenderness into her words, and appears rather as a helper than an instructor of her readers. To quote from a work of this nature is always unsatisfactory as an indication of its scope, but we can at any rate give some suggestion of the pleasantly conversational style, alluded to above, by offering a selection of the authoress's aphorisms, taken more or less at random from passages full of her characteristic quiet kindliness.

"Beware of false sentimentality. Sentiment is very different from sympathy. The sentimental person is usually one whose thoughts and ideals are largely centred on self."

"In counselling our V.A.D. members as to how they should best approach this work we would advocate a spirit of earnestness, coupled, if possible, with that most saving grace - a sense of humour."

"Each V.A.D. member has probably had many lessons and practical demonstrations in the art of making beds, but this has been usually without anyone in them, or else with healthy little messenger boys, who were docketed for the occasion with labels describing different complaints. This is a very different matter from assisting in making a bed for someone who is seriously injured... The V.A.D. member will be well advised if, instead of trying to show off her knowledge, she will watch and assist as helpfully as she possibly can, and learn the methods in use in whatever ward she is sent to, never either quoting her own special handbook or what she has seen done in other wards."

"Many patients have dreaded the advent of the nurse who, with the best and most conscientious intentions, comes to the bedside with puckered, anxious brow and 'Duty' with a large D imprinted on every feature, and proceeds grimly to carry out such nursing duties as have been indicated above, and then passes on silently and mysteriously to the next victim. The patient feels relieved that that unpleasant business is over, but it leaves him depressed and uneasy, and thinking perhaps that he may be worse than he really is."

"I would earnestly warn all V.A.D. members against gossiping and 'talking shop' when out and off duty. It is horribly bad form, when on the tops of omnibuses, or in trains or teashops, to discuss the hospital, the patients, or the daily work in the wards."

"It is a good plan to make it a practice to take an interest in the outside world - the war, everything that is going on, if possible to see pictures, hear music, read interesting books, and where possible carry on some hobby. This, though it may entail more exertion, will counteract the tendency to gossip and will keep the mind healthy and vigorous."

Miss Barton's book is one that says a great many things which, at the present moment, badly needed saying; simple things, yet essential ones. Many of her readers will feel, when laying it down, that they have gained not only a revered adviser but also an affectionate friend.

Hints to V.A.D. Members in Hospitals by E. C. Barton (Matron of Chelsea Infirmary and Principal Matron of the 3rd London General Hospital, Wandsworth). With a Foreword by Queen Amelie of Portugal and a Preface by James Cantlie, M.B., F.R.C.S., Member of the Council of the British Red Cross Society. Published by The Nursing Times, St. Martin's Street, W.C., price 6d. nett.