Sunday, 26 December 2010

In a London Hospital

August 1916
Impressions of a Canadian

I arrived in England at the end of March, and after a short period in camp I succeeded in obtaining leave for five days in order to visit London. I had intended to stay with friends, but I found myself a guest of the 3rd London in Ward 7.

I am not quite clear as to what happened during the early part of my visit, except that I think the Sister feared that I should not be warm enough - anyhow, they frequently warmed me up some, with hot stuff applied to my chest, and although I begged them to be less good-natured in their attentions they absolutely refused to desist. One other thing I remember is the visit from a Colonel, who used to practise Morse Code on my ribs, and insisted on my repeating 99 in various tones of voice. I repeated this so often that when I was asked my age I automatically answered 99, greatly to the astonishment ofthe tall lady who came round collecting information.

After this business had gone on for some time, I was quite delighted when the Colonel suggested a visit to the theatre. I did not know whether it was pictures or Grand Opera, but I jumped at the chance to go. I was taken to the theatre next day, but I must confess that I lost interest in the performance - in fact I went to sleep before the show commenced, and when I awoke I was back in bed in Ward A4. Later in the day I was taken to reside on the balcony, where I am still staying. From this point of vantage I see many interesting things, such as the Wild Horse of Tartary trying to kick the groom, varied by attempts to kick the donkey, and the donkey doing her best to kick any male person trying for a ride. Then again there is the farm - how dull and uninteresting would be the day were it not for the visits of the Matron and the Colonel officially inspecting the chicken run! Doubtless the hens thoroughly appreciate the honour, and do their best to show it by getting busy with the hen fruit. My sympathy goes out to the lonely goose (or is it a gander?). He or she endeavours to be pally with the hens, but there is "'nothin' doing'".

Altogether I have had a fine time, and although disappointed that a chance of a dig at the Germans is denied me, I shall always look back on the splendid work of the Sisters and surgeons of the 3rd London with the deepest appreciation and gratitude, and feel more than compensated. I would also like to avail myself of the opportunity of expressing my grateful thanks to the Canadian Red Cross Society, from whose visitors I have received the greatest kindness.

53rd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force
'Northern Saskatchewan Timber Wolves'

Time, please!


Sunday, 19 December 2010


August 1916

We wash our hands of all responsibility for this series of contributions. The writer seems to us to become every month more outrageous. We are not surprised that he continues to preserve a strict anonymity.


It was a corridorderlim whom we encountered at the entrance to X103, and, in the discharge of our high function, we ventured to detain him.
"Where," we enquired, "shall we find Sister?"
He regarded us with something of a truculent air. "Search me," he replied briefly. "I haven't got her."
His air of marked hostility was explained by his further remarks.
"Ticking me off," he exclaimed indignantly, "because she happened to find two of my white mice in the Dressings Box ... I wish to Hades it was winter!"
"... Winter?" we queried, slightly puzzled.
"I'd stop her coke," he said with simple malevolence. "Not a scuttleful should she see - not if it snowed icicles; not a ruddy clinker. As it is, I shall have to think of some other way to slip it across her. Leave it to me; I bet my spectacles I'll make her spit blood before the week's out. Look to it, my Bird of Paradise, look to it!" And the indignant youth departed.

Just inside the ward we perceived an orderlette mopping furtively at her eyes with her handkerchief. Our duty to our journal compelled us to make some enquiry as to the cause.
"It's the Diet Sheets again," she explained wearily. "Sister never can understand the difference between today's Diet and tomorrow's Extras. It makes Sergeant Peacemaker so cross, and I get told off at each end. You'll find her in there, making them out now.

It was with some trepidation that we found ourselves in the presence of Sister herself. A noble figure of a woman, planned on a generous scale, she seemed born to command - and be obeyed. On her table were spread a number of printed sheets, a dictionary, and a Lightning Calculator.
"I'm very busy," she said doubtfully when we stated our errand. "This Diet Sheet has to be in by 10.30, and I'm not half-way through with it yet. I never can get the bl..., the blinking thing right, somehow."
She regarded the result of her labours with a puzzled frown. "I know there's a mistake somewhere - seven and eight are fourteen ... How many 'g's' are there in 'egg'?
We hazard a guess, and quietly lead her back to the subject of our visit. "Tell us something," we begged, "of the personnel of the Ward. Firstly, as to the staff ... ?
"I should hardly call it a staff," Sister corrected us; "a gang of impudent, incompetent ... Well, what would you think if you found your Staff Nurse in the kitchen boiling eggs in the steriliser while the V.A.D. stood smoking a gasper and making glad eyes out of the window at the corporal of the Linen Store?"
With a brief expression of pained astonishment we turned to a subject calculated, as we imagined, to awaken more pleasing thoughts. "Your patients," we suggested, "what of the Boys in Blue - the lads of Loos and Suvla? Surely there you find your recompense?"
A hypercritical observer might have detected a grudging inflection in Sister's reply.
"I've nothing particular to complain of," she admitted. "They run much alike, I suppose, all over the hospital. There was one man," she added indignantly, "a one-legged man with a mouth-organ; I caught him playing it after hours - and he was saucy about it into the bargain. I got him sent to D Ward over that."
"For long?"
Sister's austere countenance assumed a still more grievous aspect. "He refused to come back!" she almost shrieked. "He said it was like a peaceful dream after my ward; said it reminded him of a little home he had in the country where he used to keep chickens. Wait till he does come back! Will I not tick him off ... !

We were distinctly conscious of a feeling of embarrassment, and it was with something like a sigh of relief that we greeted the entrance of the Mainorlawdly.
"Matron wants to see you Sister, at once," he announced with a cheerful grin. I shouldn't keep her, Sister; she's waiting for you now in her office, with her tongue hanging out. I think it's about that dose of Perchloride of Mercury you gave Robinson by mistake instead of the 2oz. Mist. Alb."

The corridor was unaccountably lined by a double row of expectant faces. On each was reflected the same gleam of pleasurable anticipation. Unconsciously the sentence which was formulating in our brain rose to our lips; "Who, I wonder, is going to get ticked off now?"
And, like the distant murmur of the surf where it breaks upon a sun-kissed shore, the answer floated back; "Sister."

Monday, 13 December 2010

Night Duty

August 1916
Impressions of a V.A.D.

It was on a day during the latter end of March that the Sister appeared at dinner-time with the fateful list, and we each awaited with throbbing hearts to hear our names called, and the awful sentence, "Will those nurses whose names have been called go to bed at two o'clock ready for duty tonight?" Our fate was sealed for the next nine weeks! We all went to our rooms and to bed - some to sleep, others to a restless wondering as to which ward would they be sent, which Sister would they be under, and what sort of patients would they have.

At last the hour of 7.30 p.m. arrived, and we assembled for breakfast! At eight o'clock another fateful list was read appointing each nurse to a ward. Having secured our 'stores' we wended our way along the dark corridors, our arms nearly breaking with the weight of our night equipment, and into the darkened wards. Happy were the nurses who were sent to wards where they had been working on day duty, for then they knew their patients, and also the ins and outs of the ward; but, alas for those who were sent to strange wards and strange patients. It was a long night that first night - wild and stormy without, trembling and fearful within; but nothing very dreadful happened, and at last dawn appeared. The dawn and the sunrises one can see while on night duty help to make up for the long, dark hours of watching. When we all met the following morning many were the questions asked and varied the experiences we had to relate.

Then came a night when the telephones started ringing, and the message sped quickly from ward to ward: 'All lights out; Zepps are expected.' Then for several hours we were in the dark save for a small storm lamp, which was lit in case of emergency, but so covered up as to shed none of its light around. There each nurse sat, faithful to her post, in utter darkness and absolute silence, save for the deep breathings and occasional groans from the patients. Never before did we realise what company even the sounds of trains whistling, rumbling along could be, and the striking of clocks. But all these things were silenced, until at last the welcome message came that lights could be turned on, and a feeling of thankfulness came over us that once more our hospital and all its patients had been saved from the hand of the enemy.

There are many things a nurse has to contend with in a ward on night duty, and not least of these is the presence of mice. She goes timidly into the ward kitchen, perhaps at the witching hour of midnight, to have her meal, and she pauses in the doorway to listen. On turning up the light she sees only a little grey mouse running across the floor, or even on the dresser top. She makes a noise in order to hurry it to its home and then, with some amount of heart-beating, she prepares her meal and tries to make herself think she is hungry and ready to enjoy it. With one ear listening for any sound from the patients in the ward, with the other intent on listening for any movement on the part of the mouse (which she knows is watching her from the corner), the nurse takes her frugal repast, and then returns to the 'dug-out' in the ward with a feeling of relief that nothing more dreadful has happened. Perhaps later on she hears another faint scratching. She listens, and all is silent, but a faint odour comes her way. She quickly makes for the bed whence it comes, but lo! the patient appears to be sweetly sleeping until she flashes her torch light in his face, and there she sees a wicked look. "You are smoking!" "No, nurse," comes the naughty answer. Then there is a search for his hands, and behold the cigarette hidden away. She tries to confiscate the offending thing, but the pleading voice, "Just two draws, nurse, and then I will go to sleep" sometimes wins.

Then there are the welcome visits of the Night Sister, with her bright face and cheery word, and her quick glance round to see if the patients are comfortable and asleep, but woe betide the nurse who has made herself too comfortable and is caught napping! There is a certain fascination about night duty. You feel you are doing something which everybody is not doing, and only those who know can realise what a comfort a night nurse can be to a restless patients in helping to lessen his pain and soothe him to sleep. But the weeks slip by, and we find ourselves in sight of the end of our night duty, and most of us (there are exceptions) look forward with eager anticipation to the time when we shall once more take up the routine of day duty. But a true V.A.D. is willing at all times to do the duty set before her, whether it be pleasant or otherwise.

Saturday, 4 December 2010


August 1916

By Pte. Vernon Lorimer (5th Field Ambulance, A.I.F.)

1. Don't smoke after 9 a.m. unless the Sister's back is turned. You will make her envious.

2. Don't forget to stand to your bed when the doctor comes into the ward, or he might think you are a patients.

3. Don't lie on the bed in the daytime if you are not feeling too good; remember, the floor's more comfortable.

4. Don't play the gramophone after 8 p.m. The Night Sister has to get some sleep.

5. Don't shave more than twice a week. Your visitors are more likely to believe your sob-stories if you look the part.

6. Don't throw your cigarette ash or dead matches round the stove. Remember, the pot plants are in the ward for that purpose.

7. Don't get up when you are told. The Night Nurse will enjoy tipping you out.

8. Don't fail to enjoy your dinner. Remember, you will get the same tomorrow.

9. Don't tell your visitors the tale within the Sister's hearing. She has read your case-sheet.

10. Don't wear your boots in the ward. Keeping your slippers on will occupy your mind.

11. Don't keep your locker tidy, or you will do the Matron out of her job.

12. Don't slang-wang the Registrar if you fail to get a pass. Remember, he will know you the next time.

13. Don't swear at the Sister. It's not necessary. She has heard you talk in your sleep.

14. Don't close the windows if you feel it draughty. A cold is a fine opportunity to swing the lead.

15. Don't fail to make the kitchen untidy. The charwoman has never been known to lose her temper.

16. Don't worry about having more than two visitors. The Sister will entertain your overflow meeting in the corridor.