Sunday, 11 September 2011

My One Eye and I - by a Patient in D2

December 1916
This title sounds rather egotistical, with so much of the first person singular contained in it, doesn’t it, dear reader? Well, as a matter of fact, it is dualistic, as it concerns my eye as much as myself; and if he did not exist I should not be able to write this at all.

I must inform you that I am the possessor of a lonely eye. It isn’t my fault entirely. You see, I am blessed with a slight dint upon my countenance, and before the dint was graciously bestowed upon me a twinkling (not wicked) eye adorned the spot where the aforesaid dint now is. Ergo, I have one eye left, all on his own; but he is nevertheless a good and faithful optic. He is deeply attached to me (I don’t mean physiologically only); and I to him. We often have little talks together, though we have to call in a mirror to help us so that we can see each other. Sometimes he betrays that my temper is out of joint by blazing truculently. Now and again he shows that my emotions are affected, by allowing a few drops of salt moisture to make their way past him. Very often, however, I catch him indulging in this sloppy practice himself, and on enquiring the reason he says that he is grieving for his lost brother, and he has a horrible feeling that his poor brother has been captured as a souvenir, and that he is at present bumping up and down in a German’s haversack. My lonely eye teaches me many things.

Last night, about eight o’clock (I was not in an amiable mood, as the doctor had seen me that afternoon, and this particular doctor possesses some extra long forceps), I remembered that I had a message to give to a chum in the main building. So, reinforcing my trousers with an extra safety-pin, and girding my eyeshade about my noble napper, I ventured bravely forth. As a start I nearly fell down the balcony steps. That did not improve my temper. Then I nearly broke my leg on a confounded dustbin. That did less to soothe my irascible frame of mind. I went on a little further. One of my slippers disengaged itself from my foot, and I only noticed it when I trod upon something which possessed the disagreeable quality of being sharp.* I am afraid I muttered something that sounded German, but is nevertheless an expression in plain English. Suddenly I crashed into a tree with tremendous force – and learnt that it isn’t only love that makes the world go round. I felt like breaking out with a torrent of forcible solecisms, but then my lonely eye asserted himself.

“Now,” he said, “what’s the use of showing your temper? Keep that vile temper of yours under better control, or you’ll be losing me also. You nearly ran me into a branch, and you make me blaze so that it is a wonder I am not burnt up.”

My lonely eye and myself once had a talk on the wonderful things that surgical skill has done. Then I mentioned to him that it would be very advantageous to me if he were removed from his present quarters and affixed into the centre of my forehead. “Or,” I went on, “if you were placed at the end of one of my fingers it would be extremely profitable. I should be able to stick my finger over the fence and see the football match for nothing.” My lonely eye shed a tear or two, and begged not to be moved from his old home; he preferred to remain in the old rut alongside the one that his brother used to occupy.

I could tell you much more about my lonely eye and myself, but there is not room. I might tell you that my lonely eye and I have seen a lot in our time, and have been in some tight corners, but when we leave the hospital we intend to settle down in a nice little home with another pair of eyes to look after us – a pair of hazel eyes. If you suspect that this pair of eyes does not belong to such a strong sex as my lonely eye and myself, you are not far wrong.
*Note by the Censor: Why were you out without your boots on?

(Lincolnshire Regiment)

All My Eye

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A Shakespeare Play

The Uniform Habit

December 1916
It strikes one forcibly at times how many little privileges are attached to uniform - markedly so when travelling. In V.A.D. uniform a girl may quite comfortably sleep off the effects of a heavy day or late night in train, tram, or 'bus, and draw forth only compassionate glances and sympathetic murmurs from her fellow-travellers. It once drew forth eau de Cologne and milk chocolate, but that is another story.
Imagine her, with dark-rimmed eyes and pathetically drooping mouth, under the ugly regulation hat, and her fellow-travellers say "Poor thing, nursing is such trying work," and they give her the corner seat and generally fuss around. But should the same girl, after the same heavy day or late night, travel in mufti, the atmosphere is inclined to be hostile, and the glances savour of the virtuous serves-you-right-if-you-will-stay-out-late spirit, which is particularly irksome, especially if it was a late night - the moral for which is, of course, always travel in uniform on the morning after the night before!
One does things in uniform that at times rather horrify one's pre-war self, as when on a Sunday night one comes in suffering from that 'Art thou weary, ditto languid' feeling, and the sight of one's laundry bag draws forth an emphatic "No, I think not." It follows, of course, that one takes it down oneself - blatantly and obviously washing - either in the busiest part of Monday morning or at calling time on Monday afternoon, quite unblushingly and oblivious to the curiosity of the passers-by, serene in the shelter of one's uniform.

In the days before the mess room, if an orderlette did happen to awake peevish and 'Mondayish' at 6 a.m., she smothered the alarm and slept till 6.30, when she rose and dressed, feeling much better for the extra thirty minutes, seized a piece of toast and a sausage (it has been done with an egg), and went on her way rejoicing, to arrive in the ward at 6.55, refreshed and strengthened by an al fresco street breakfast. This was done by V.A.D.'s - not once, but often - who would have been horrified at the mere suggestion of such a thing a short eighteen months before! And the query is, will those rather stodgy days ever come back - the days when one elevated one's nose and passed by on the other side, as it were, if a stranger dared to speak, thereby missing many a pathetic confidence that is now imparted to V.A.D.'s - chiefly, perhaps, because of the uniform - by these queer folk, who must 'tell somebody.' Let us hope that we always keep the wider sympathy of our discarded uniform, and be able to answer the troubled S.O.S. of these lonely ships that pass in the night, and perhaps, well, Mrs. Grundy may never survive the shocks of these days - après la guerre.


Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Dental Room

December 1916

If no convoy of wounded is coming in, and you pass through the big Receiving Hall, by the rows of grey-blanketed beds waiting for their burdens, and then to the right-hand corner, to a door in the wainscot - the left one, please - and then walk on two or three steps, you may see on the left hand a little wooden stairway putting its feet on to the passage. It is better to wait and listen here: there may be a patient or someone with a pail coming down, and the way is dark and difficult and narrow; and waiting, you may wonder if all back staircases in Franco-Scottish halls (in which style this building is said to be) were really like this, or whether 'tis another example of the days of sham Gothic architecture, of dimly lit stone stairways, with cold iron railings, for little girls on chill dark November days; the days of the invention of the word utilitarian, perambulator, lati__ . But the person has come down with some clatter, and you pass up to the landing, where patients, men in blue, sit and lie on the floor in the little space awaiting their turns. (There are having a comfortable waiting-room now). At last we have arrived.

It is Sunday morning - a busy day. Sunlight comes through the iron-sashed window, lighting up the dental surgeons and a lean elderly corporal, their henchman.
"No. 5," last of the simple extractions, is called: he jibbed last week. "I can stand it all right today, sir." The gums are chilled, and three teeth are out in eight seconds. Never a murmur. He gets a pat on the back, and passing out whispers, "I'm only ten days out of the trench, Corp."
Next are cases for gas. The anaesthetist arrives just in time; the first man is in the chair, the gag between his teeth, hands clasped, neckcloth loosened, a rubber apron over the chest. He takes it quietly. "Hope I didn't swear, sir."
The next is for four big stumps, and, taking the gas, is a kicker. The corporal sits on his knees. The forty-five seconds are up and the work done. The patient comes round with a wild look, shouting, "Who are you? What are you? Who the hell are you?" The eyes calm quickly, and he adds quietly, "I thought I was in heaven."
No. 8 roars like a bull, and thought he was at the concert.
No. 9 had cleared; the roaring was a bit too much.

An hour finished this part. Then comes the most interesting work of the dental surgeons; the building up of fractured jaws, work asking for the nicest skill and knowledge of possibilities. The consulting dental surgeon will show you in a moment the great difference between civilian and war practice. The simple fractures, bound and held together at once with the Hammond wire splint, will probably join and heal.
In No. 14, the front part of the lower jaw, shot right through, left the two sides working independently. A splint now holds the whole jaw firmly together; the chin is built up and looks almost normal.
No. 20. A large part of the lower jaw was shot away. The surgeons have made up the external wound, which was the size of a hen egg. The remains of the jaw fell away to the man's right; the dental surgeons coaxed and brought it into position, and have built up and preserved the bite, spite of the loss of bone.

A case now being treated had the whole upper jaw and left eye carried away, leaving only one thing human-looking, on a strange front to a man's head, an eye - an eye that, through the pain, the operations, stayed bright. Now a palate has been introduced, a nose made up, the cheek built by plastic operation by the surgeon in charge, and there will be a presentable face. The clear eye - the very expression of patience and cheeriness - twinkles, as the dental surgeon says, he will be made a good-looking chap yet, and a queer voice comes out:
"It'll be all right. I never was a Don Juan."

Thursday, 14 July 2011

How to be Loved

Some further words of advice from Cpl. G. H. Varley.
At the Admission and Discharge Office ('Sergeant-Major's Office', so called because the Sergeant-Major is in the Staff Clerks' Office).

1. When going about a Case Sheet, never know any particulars. Just ask for Jones's or Smiths's Case Sheet. Sherlock Holmes, the Staff Sergeant, loves unravelling mysteries, and it helps to fill up his time.

2. Always take old Diet Sheets to this office, and always ask, when you enter, if it is the Board Room. The old Diet Sheets really go to the Matron's Kitchen, but the Discharge Office men like to see you - they are very lonely there.

3. Smoking is not allowed in the corridors, so drop in to the Discharge Office. Cigarettes and lounges are specially provided.

4. If you want a window mended, call and ask to see the Quartermaster. He isn't there, but Barker will sympathise with you. (N.B. - If possible, leave the window there - and the door open - you can then call back later and have some more sympathy.)

5. Always buy your stamps here instead of at the Post Office. (The men get 1d. in 1s. on all they sell.) If you don't want any yourself, buy some for your friends.

6. If you want to know the time (of a train) call in when the staff are extra busy. They revel in looking up trains for other people to go away in. Tell them all about the lovely holiday you are going to have.

7. If some men in your ward have to report here at, say, ten o'clock, don't let them go till later. L/Cpl. Christian will run down and fetch them; he is in training for the next Marathon Race, and wants practice.

8. All letters of patients who have left should be taken to this office. The staff here will send them to the Post Office for you with pleasure the next time a motor lorry is going that way. (Any self-respecting, properly managed hospital would have a post office conveniently situated, not miles away.)

9. "Have you got our list?" - the war-cry of the Stores. Go in and chant this as often as possible. They are all musical in this office, and the more you chant it the more they'll love you.

10. But if you want to be really adored, 'phone up and ask them if they are the switchboard or have they a taxi.

In short, if you want to be loved at this office, treat it as a railway station, a lost property office, a tram terminus, a post office, a lounge, an information bureau; treat the staff as guides, philosophers, and friends, but never mention admissions or discharges.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Some Reminiscences by the Matron

December 1916

Our Editor said to me the other day, "Matron, I remember when I was a ward orderly, one day you came through the ward. It seemed to me that you flashed through. Very soon afterwards Sister got a message from you to send the two bed-tables with the broken legs that were being used up to the office to be mended." He then asked me how I apparently went through a ward, not taking much notice, but in reality taking everything in practically at a glance.

This takes me back to my first probationer days in hospital. I started on a Sunday morning in a large ward for women. All were so busy they had no time for the new probationer, so I took shelter in the kitchen with a very superior ward-maid, who gave me to understand that I was only a pro., and had better not make a mess in her kitchen. She was busy washing up dishes, and suggested to me that if I had nothing to do I might help her. So I began. I wasn't left in peace very long, though. Sister came out and wanted to know "What I was doing in the kitchen when there was an emergency operation just going down to theatre." I inwardly wondered what that was, but was too frightened to ask, so meekly went into the ward again and waited till a staff nurse (whom I got to love very dearly afterwards) saw me, and said, "Well, is there anything you can do? Can you wash the baby?" I said I could try (with my heart in my mouth). Wash a baby indeed - when I had never even seen one, close to, before! However, I tried, and, after undoing numerous garments - it seemed to me - I managed to get that infant into a bath. I never was so frightened in my life, and I almost prayed its head would not roll off before I got it out. It was a dreadful experience, but I lived through it, and afterwards, when I had charge of that same ward, and walked about during the best part of the night with a roaring infant under my arm, I often thought of that first baby I bathed and did not kill.

I don't remember much else about that first day in hospital, but I gradually found my way round, and soon got into the work of the ward. I often think what a hopeless idiot I was and of the many stupid things I did, and wonder how my staff nurse had the patience to go on teaching me. She used to talk to me while we were rushing round in the morning making beds (and only those who have trained know what that means). It was the only time we had for talking to each other. One day she said to me, "Never go out of the ward empty-handed, there is always something to take out with you. Tidy up your ward as you go along." I never forgot that, and I think this was the beginning of my taking an interest in my work and cultivating my powers of observation. Often during those dreadful first days in hospital I should have gone back home - I was so utterly tired out and crushed by everything - if it had not been for my pride. I wanted to do something, like so many other girls, and I worried my family to such an extent that at last my father said, "Very well, let her go, she will be back in a week." It it hadn't been for that remark I certainly should have been back in less than a week. But I made up my mind to stay over the week, so that my father could not say, "I told you so." And at the end of that time I didn't want to go back. The work was far too interesting, and, in spite of aching feet and tired body, the work never lost its interest.

Today when I open a ward door I see at a glance which of the nursing Sisters 'tidy up as they go along.' The work in a large military hospital like this is enormous, where we bet sometimes as many as twenty new patients, mostly stretcher cases, into a ward at one convoy. We never even dreamed of it before the war. If we got two or three new patients into a ward in one day we were very busy indeed. But now we take in by hundreds, and still we work on, and, in spite of being tired out sometimes, we love it, and cannot do enough for the men who are doing such a lot for us.

The other night I was watching the men go out of the concert - a happy, cheerful crowd. Nearly at the end of the procession I could see the D corridor men lining up, the blind ones carefully being put in between those who had one eye left, single file, with their hands on each other's shoulders. At a given order from the front they began to march, and when they got opposite to me they all roared, "Good night, Matron." Evidently the blind ones had been told where I was, and had agreed all to say "Good night" to me together. When things like that happen it makes one feel one can't bear it, but when I heard them marching out of the room singing and keeping in step with the music, one thanks God that we are able to do something for them, and whatever private grievances we may have, and however badly we consider we are treated at times, we all know our patients are happy.


Friday, 24 June 2011

On Becoming a Successful Orderly

November 1916

When we orderlettes came here, we were, taking us on the whole, a beautiful verdant green. Surely nothing so soft and green had ever been thrust ruthlessly through the gates of a military hospital before - not even the patient who enquired whether the sisters' capes might be used as pen-wipers! But we soon started to get knocked into shape - literally in some cases - by our kind R.A.M.C. sergeants and their willing helpers; we don't bear them any ill-will - on the contrary, we wish to congratulate them on the thorough and energetic manner in which they carried out this painful duty.

Now, after a twelve months' struggle, the green is beginning to wear off in patches, and the black underneath is showing through; some day we hope to be quite black all over like the men orderlies. To be successful, we found that we must imitate our colleagues the men orderlies, and we gradually discovered that the reason for their being able to live such happy butterfly existences was because they were all past-masters in the art of the misrepresentation of facts - they often take enormous risks, certainly, but the means justify the end as a rule. Of course, we had to set ourselves to acquire this art as soon as possible, and very difficult we found it at first. We realised that the little white lies that had served us so well in the past, such as "I didn't know where it was," or "I thought so-an-so was doing it," etc., were of no use to us here - what is more, they did us harm, for they exhausted the patience of the sisters (and the sisters' patiences are like clinical thermometers - there is a very limited supply in stock and none in reserve). It is often better to be silent and take the blame for someone else's crimes than to offer a common or garden excuse.

There are many different kinds of excuses, for after all 'excuse' is a nicer term, isn't it? There is the thoughtless excuse, given on the spur of the moment (which is usually sheer waste of breath); for instance, when the sister fixes you with her eagle eye and enquires as to the whereabouts of two missing teacloths (not being a conjuror by profession and having no idea where they are), in the excitement of the moment you may say, "They must have blown out of the bundle on the way down," or "I expect B2 borrowed them in the night." This kind of excuse is worse than useless, and usually brings its own reward, but if you quietly think for a moment or two and concoct something which needs thrashing out, it very often has the desired effect. For instance, if you put on an expression of thoughtful concern, and say, "Well sister, the day before yesterday I know there were four teacloths in the bundle, and when the man orderly brought the linen back I was over at the Dispensary, and I have only seen two since," and while the hue and cry is being raised for the elusive man orderly you can go off quietly and have a good look for the missing articles yourself.

Nothing succeeds like success in hospital life, and the more worldly-wise and keen-witted a person is, the more woolly and lamblike he becomes in appearance; always beware of a member of the staff who gazes up into your face with pure, clear eyes - fly from them as you would fly from the Stewards' Stores with an unsterile milk can! And always remember this, that 'a lie that is half the truth is a harder matter to fight'; therefore, when you think you see a patient smoking in bed during the prohibited hours and you hurry up and ask him what he is doing, and with an innocent smile he informs you, "Just lying in bed, nurse," you will know that he is telling a perfectly true lie!


Thursday, 16 June 2011

A Picturesque Department

The Massage Department

The Massage Department


Throughout Wandsworth Hospital, during the morning, the busiest portion of the day, there is no place busier or more animated than the massage rooms. Here, good-natured banter, laughter, cheerfulness, and strenuous activity intermingle to form an atmosphere exclusively its own; and from here one emerges with both a mental and physical tonic - feeling that a most pleasant break has been made in the more or less monotony of routine hospital life, as viewed from the aspect of a patient.
Your first impression is rather apt to be a staggering one, and you certainly feel inclined to retire precipitately when your eye meets all the boxes of tricks around, the apparent instruments of torture and weird contrivances. But escape is impossible when a most businesslike person in an undraped surplice, whom you afterwards learn to be called a masseuse, comes up and says, "Yes, over on this bed, please!"
Safely ensconced, one begins to individualise and to realise what is being done. Here an arm is massaged, there a leg being moved like a pump handle (a delightful treatment, this, dignified by the name of 'passive movement'), while other patients are indulging in a radiant heat bath (really appreciated by the writer, this weather especially), or submitting unkindly to the tender mercies of the electric buzzer ('nuff said).
In one corner the latest theatre is an absorbing topic; in another, 'How we should win the war' - while someone emphatically remarks that he wishes the Cabinet could have what he is getting. Then a female voice is heard demanding emancipation and votes for women, at which the conversation becomes general, ending in absurd suggestions and laughter. Through it all the work never ceases; patients come and go continually, and then the masseuses disappear to various wards to give treatment to those physically unable to visit the massage room.
Even a layman can see that there is nothing haphazard, nothing indefinite, for each patient has his own special course of treatment, calculated to produce the best effect for his particular ailment or disability. And of the many hundreds who have passed through, rarely, if ever, has one been heard to say he has not benefited.  The department is recognised as indispensable to the hospital - so much so that it is understood that the authorities shortly intend to provide increased space, and install even larger and more complete apparatus.


Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Medical Board

November 1916

The War Office 'Forms' are a wonder to see,
The questions are many and wide as can be;
And the full information which they must afford
Just puzzles the heads of the Medical Board.
Were you wounded in France, the place you must name.

"Don't know it?" Well, France - it will work out the same.
Was it shrapnel or shell, or bayonet or sword?
They are all represented by some cunning word.
Then 'Shell Shock's' a wound, or at least so will rank;
'Neurasthenia' you call it - that is, if you're frank.
Some sixty odd numbers for wounds they have got,
And you must use the right one or else you'll be shot.

P'raps Fibula Fracture will be on the way -
Compound, comminuted, or simple, pray say;
Is the wound incised, lacerated, or flap?
Infected by poison, organic, or what?
Dislocation perhaps is complete or compound,
Still, simple or partial, it ranks as a wound;
Inorganic, perhaps, or septic infected -
Incomplete, indirect, or perhaps it's impacted.

Were you poisoned by Gas, then a wound you have got,
Although you perhaps were not hit by a shot.
Still, by War Office orders, six papers you get
Which the Board in its wisdom must classify yet.
So the three on the Board hold a long consultation,
Because Army Forms they fill up for the nation;
And to send in the wrong one would rank as a crime -
So they have to consider it many a time.

A Pensioner, p'raps, must be Boarded one day,
So the three take a taxi the whole of the way;
But they're told at the house, when they knock at the door,
That the man whom they seek 'died a twelve-month before.'
We may be at war, but it matters no jot -
Army forms must be filled up, according to rote;
So the three that are chosen agree in accord
That they have a hard time on the Medical Board.


Saturday, 4 June 2011


November 1916
By a Girl Orderly

To the outsider and the uninitiated, the 3rd L.G.H. is all that its title implies, but to some at least of the dwellers within its gates it is nothing more nor less than a home for cats of every persuasion – cats with four legs, cats with two, striped cats, plain cats, the domestic cat, and the undomesticated cat – but it is of the first mentioned we would write; the second class is apt to be viewed with a jaundiced eye (we have suffered at their hands!), and so on to the third and fourth generation as it were.

Now if any cat of the feline tribe requires a home, it simply leaps the railings, and rejoices in fruitful searchings in pig-buckets by day and in mouse hunts by night, varied by slumbers long and deep in sequestrated spots, preferably under a hut, thus being immune from the activities of the playful R.A.M.C. Should any cat be wearied of this world, but wishful to enter its Nirvana minus the sin of self-destruction, it merely has to get under the feet of any dispenser on any dark night when he is roused from his slumbers to work, and, by the light of the electric torch that he invariably carries (for dispensers are men of infinite resource and sagacity), it is thenceforward a marked cat, and may be safely posted “Missing, believed killed,” on the day following.

Naturally, there are one or two outstanding characters in this happy fellowship, the most noted being the Guard Cat – a tabby of slightly sandy hue, who mounts guard at the main gate. Of course, there is an R.A.M.C. guard as ornament and to open the gate. Tabby does all the rest, meeting one well outside the precincts with tail erect and martial bearing, and woe betide the prospective visitor who has no satisfactory answer to its challenging “Per-er-ow-w.?” On leaving, the same watchful query detains one – “Miow-ou?” “All serene; pass, friend.”

Dogs, of course, are barred by this most active sentry, which is another point on which it scores off the R.A.M.C., who have been known to encourage visitors of this description. The Brown Residential Dog is tolerated, but allowed no liberties in the shape of visitors, leave, etc. With our own eyes we beheld a canine friend utterly routed with one well-directed blow between the eyes from Tabby (“a fair knock aht,” in the vernacular), and the B.R.D. was hustled home, possibly to the guard room, and all in the twinkling of an eye. An R.P. band and red cap are surely the lowest reward of such vigilance?

Who does not know the Mad Cat of the Corridors? Which of the Girl Orderlies has not been scared stiff in the long black corridors on night duty by the sound of the heavy padded feet and a stealthy Presence that springs from nowhere to just beyond the lonely traveller, and lies in wait, with gleaming eyes and twitching tail, to follow one in a zigzag fashion and with a low growlish noise that raises the hair and lends wings to one’s feet, till one reaches the Wardmaster’s room in an hysterical, semi-petrified state, to burble incoherently of the tiger that has escaped from heaven knows where, and is waiting round the corner to devour the unfortunate girl, and on turning has beheld the Mad Cat, a lean, dark creature, with the evil eye and tiger stripes and tail of stupendous length!

There are others of equal note, but the Editor looms in the distance, and, fortunately perhaps, “space does not permit – “ etc., etc!

The Saturday Cinema-goers

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Observations on an Outing

Ward Muir, the editor of the 'Gazette,' was a writer and journalist by profession, and in 1917, while working as an orderly at the 3rd London General Hospital he published his 'Observations of an Orderly.' This little book is both humorous and informative and these days easily found on the internet for free download. So although not published in the 'Gazette of the 3rd London General Hospital' I thought it worth including a small part here, which never fails to make me laugh. To avoid a long introduction, this starts with one, Corporal Smith, vowing never again to take a party of blind men from 'D' block on an outing to the theatre:


Out of his party, four were totally blind, two could recognise dimly the difference between light and darkness, and one had a single good eye. Queen's Hall was reached, by bus, without mishap. After the performance there was tea at an A.B.C. shop. Here Jock, one of the totally blind men - a Scotchman, and all Scots are "Jocks" in the army — distinguished himself by facetiæ (audible throughout the whole shop) on the English pronunciation of the word 'scone,' and intimated his desire to treat the company to a ballad. This project was suppressed, but "a silly fool in a top hat threatened to report me for having given my men drink," said Corporal Smith. "Jock gave him the bird, not 'arf. But I thought it about time to be going home."

So the party prepared to go home. The bus was voted dull. Somebody suggested the tube. Corporal Smith consented.

He had forgotten that at Oxford Circus station the lifts have been abolished in favour of sliding staircases. Confronted by the escalator, Corporal Smith halted his party and informed them that they must walk down by the ordinary stair. The escalator was not safe for blind men. Unfortunately, Jock had sniffed a lark; the one-eyed man backed him up; the party — elated perhaps by their tea — would not hear of anything so humdrum as a descent by the ordinary stair. They were going on the sliding stair. They insisted. Corporal Smith argued in vain. In vain he exerted his (purely nominal) authority. His charges mocked him. The one-eyed man leading, with Jock in his wake, they launched themselves at the sliding stair. In sheer desperation Corporal Smith brought up the rear, supporting two of the more timid venturers as best he might. None of the group except Corporal Smith himself, as it turned out, had ever travelled on an escalator before. But they had heard a comic song about a sliding stair, and they wished — Jock especially — to sample this metropolitan invention.

By dodging forward to place each blind man's hand upon the banister, Corporal Smith managed to send off his patients without a stumble. But as the stair inexorably lowered them into the bowels of the earth he realised, only too vividly, what might happen at the foot of the descent. The evening rush of suburb-bound passengers had begun and the staircase was rather crowded. Nobody seemed to realise that the khaki-overcoated men who stood so still upon the steps were not the usual hospital convalescents out on leave and able to look after themselves. Corporal Smith, delayed by one man who had hesitated at the top before taking the plunge, beheld his charges below him, hopelessly dotted, at intervals, amongst the general public. It was impossible for him to struggle down ahead, to the bottom of the staircase, to guide the men off as they arrived. This task, he hoped, would be adequately performed by the one-eyed man.

It might have been. The one-eyed man was game for anything. But Jock, arriving in the highest good humour at the bottom of the staircase, was tilted sideways by the curve, and promptly sat down on the landing-place. Instead of rising, he proclaimed aloud that this was funnier even than England's pronunciation of the word 'scone.' Whereupon various hurrying passengers, including an old lady, tripped over his prone form. The sensation of being kicked and sat upon appealed to Jock's sense of humour. The more people avalanched across him the more comic he thought it. And in a moment there was quite a pile of wriggling bodies on top of him. For though the public managed on the whole to leap over, or circumvent, the obstacle presented by Jock's extremely large body, none of his blind comrades did so.

"Every single one of them fell flop," said Corporal Smith; "I give you my word."

But were they downhearted? No! They regarded this mysterious hurly-burly of arms and legs as a capital jest. So far from being alarmed or annoyed, they shouted with glee. The old lady, who had gathered herself together and was directing a stream of voluble reproof at Corporal Smith for his "callousness and cruelty to these unhappy blind heroes," retired discomfited. Jock's comments routed her more effectively than the Corporal's assurance that the episode was none of his choosing.

The party at last sorted itself out and was placed upon its feet once more. It was excessively pleased with its exploit. Hilarity reigned. Corporal Smith, relieved, made ready to conduct his squad to the platform.
Alas, a bright idea occurred to Jock. Why not go up the other sliding stair and down again?
Agreed, nem. con. At least, Corporal Smith's con. was too futile to be worth counting.

"I had to go with the blighters," said he. "There was no end of a crowd by this time. And Jock and some of the others fell over at the top again. And there was a row with the ticket-collector. And people kept saying they'd report me. Me! And when I'd got my party down to the bottom for the second time, and some of the tube officials had come and said they couldn't allow it and we must buzz off home, I lined the fellows up to march 'em to the train, and dash me if two weren't missing. They'd given me the slip."

The two truants, it may be added, could not be found. Corporal Smith had to return without them. At a late hour of the evening they appeared, not an atom repentant, at the hospital, having persuaded someone to put them into the correct bus. One of them, Jock, explained that, being from the North, he had desired to seize this opportunity of seeing the sights of London. Jock, I may remind you, is totally blind. Jock's guide, the man who had volunteered to show him the sights and who had only once been in London before, could see very faintly the difference between light and dark.... Thus this pair of irresponsibles had fared forth into the dusk of Regent Street.

It sounds a very horrible fate to be blinded. But somehow the blind men themselves seldom seem to be overwhelmed by its horribleness. If you want to hear the merriest banter in a war hospital, visit the blind men's wards. The pathos of them lies less in the sadness of the victims than in the triumphant, wonderful fact that they are not sad. I wish we others all inhabited the same mysteriously jocund spiritual realm as Jock and his comrades, who come tramp-tramping to the concert-room down the corridor from the D wards.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

How to be Loved though an Orderly

November 1916

By Cpl. G. H. Varley

At the Steward's Stores and Kitchens.

1. Stroll in, read the notice on door in 3in. letters, 'STEWARD'S STORES,' say "Is this the Steward's Stores?" and, when one of the staff suggests, politely, a visit to Captain Cruise, threaten to 'run him' to the Colonel. It is so helpful.

2. If you don't get what you want at the Kitchen, blame the Staff-sergeant. He will refer you to the Stores. Go there and blame the Corporal; that's what he is there for. Don't go to your ward and see if it's ordered. It might not be. Then the Sister would blame you.

3. When going for Specials, always enter at the wrong door. It's much quicker than waiting your turn in the queue, and the Kitchen staff like you better.

4. When given four portions of fish, say the Sister ordered six. Always do this; it is most important. The staff get miserable if you take things without question or argument.

5. If a box is provided for empties, don't put any in it; drape them round it. 'Fweddie' loves picking them up afterwards. Besides, if you did put them in, the shock might kill someone.

6. Never clean out milk cans, it wears them out so quickly. Besides, the dirt turns the milk sour, and the staff will always give you more. They love doing it.

7. When the V.A.D.s in the Store tell you that the Diet Summary is wrong, don't believe them. Ask for the Sergeant or the Corporal; it pleases the ladies so.

8. 'These Stores are closed between __ and __.' Make a note of the times and go there between the hours specified. If you don't want anything, it doesn't matter; the Sergeant enjoys his meals better if the bell is ringing, and he likes getting up to thank you for calling.

9. When addressing the N.C.O.s in charge, always call them 'Orderly.' If you can shout it at them, so much the better; it makes them happy. If they don't seem happy enough, say, "You ought to be at the Front." This sends them into an ecstasy of delight. (N.B. - Soliders always arrange where they should be stationed. The War Office has nothing to do with it.)

Friday, 20 May 2011

Lord French

And just to prove that the events in the last post were not entirely fabricated ....

Hope Deferred

November 1916

Announcement by Trooper Dinkum, from an imaginary paragraph of the morning paper (as his habit is):
"Lord French will today visit No.3 London General. He will interview the heroes of the 'Big Push.' You will be shook by the 'and with tears in your eyes, and gratefully accept the thanks of your country. A9 Ward will clear for action, and stand to for an unpleasant afternoon."

Ominous signs of the coming visit became visible directly after dinner. The parrot was banished, the gramophone was taboo, and smoking was cut out for the afternoon. Sister spent an energetic hour with her willing staff and unwilling patients tidying, cleaning, applying those touches of spick-and-spanness that are absolutely necessary for the atmosphere that wounds are healed in. Then, with a sigh of satisfaction, she surveyed the result. It was good. We knew it was good, for had not we undergone three months' solid training in such matters at Tel-el-Kebir? - Getting tents in a line, packs in a line, guns in a line. Finally, a word of warning, in case Sister made a mistake.
"Remember, if I do happen to take the General to the wrong man, you must say you were wounded in August in the 'Big Push.'"
O Sister, disingenuous Sister!
At 3.30 Dick bustled in with the news that a party of staff officers were already in A2. Dick is our Intelligence Department. He is also our orderly. We lay back and waited, as immovable, motionless, beneath our smooth coverlets, as Egyptian mummies. Sister, restless in unwonted idleness, hovered between the door of the ward and the corridor. Dick went out again to reconnoitre. Another tense wait. At last hurried footsteps and Dick's voice.
"Lord French has turned down B and D blocks. He will NOT visit this ward today!"


Saturday, 7 May 2011

3rd London General Jottings

November 1916

A very hearty welcome will be extended to a little volume that has just been published by John Murray at 1s. net, and the author of which is a well-known member of the 3rd L.G.H. staff - Capt. Somerville Hastings. It is called 'First Aid for the Trenches,' and fully bears out its sub-title, 'Some Simple Instructions for Saving Live that Every Soldier should Know.'
'First Aid for the Trenches' is admirably illustrated with photographs, under Capt. Somerville Hastings' personal supervision, and most, if not all, of them taken in the grounds of the 3rd London. They clearly illustrate the carrying of wounded, first aid, etc., and we think we recognise not a few of the figures who appear in them. An extraordinary amount of practical information has been crammed into this little book - it is of pocket size - and a noteworthy merit is its readableness. It is written in plain conversational language, and covers a great variety of possibilities. An excellent feature is its index. No soldier going to the Front should omit to study 'First Aid for the Trenches.'


It was with real regret that we recently bade farewell to Sister Northover, who left to take up the post of Matron of the 30th General Stationary Hospital at Salonika. Great sympathy will be felt at the news that soon after arriving she was taken seriously ill. After being removed to Malta, Sister Northover was sent back to England, and is now in hospital in London.


The 3rd London recently housed four patients, simultaneously, who had gained the V.C. The newspapers deal so fully with these distinctions that we generally regard them as outside the purview of The Gazette; but 'four-at-once' seems to be an event in itself worth chronicling.


We have a blind patient in D1 - he is in our hospital for the third time - who recently won the sculling championship of St. Dunstan's. Trooper E. C. Matheson, for that is his name, was wounded in Gallipoli, having had no less than three machine gun bullets in the head. But he seems more interested in two subjects which, before he lost his sight, were unknown to him - sculling and basket-making - than in his adventures on the Peninsula.


A picturesque event in hospital last month was the billiard match between Miss Ruby Roberts, lady champion of the world, and Dr. Moore. The game, which attracted a large audience of wounded, was played in the new recreation room. Miss Roberts won. Dr. Moore may be congratulated on having put up a very fine fight.


Friends of The Gazette will be interested to hear that its sale outside the hospital is increasing mightily. There is now a large and valuable list of postal subscribers. We are especially indebted to the London County and Westminster Bank, Wandsworth, which has obtained for The Gazette over two hundred new subscribers since August.


A Sister writes: "There was one dressing, a rather bad fractured tibia, which I had always done myself. One day, wheeling up the dressing trolley, I proceeded as usual, watched with great interest by the patient. Suddenly he looked up, with a radiant smile on his face, and said, 'Ain't our leg getting on a treat, Sister!' I will leave you to imagine how the remark was received by those who heard it in the ward."


Saturday, 30 April 2011

Our Growing Departments

November 1916
By the Matron

With our ever-increasing beds, all the departments in the hospital increase accordingly. In the early days we had R.A.M.C.T. men entirely in the offices, stores, post office, etc. Now nearly all - or at least the greater proportion - of the men have disappeared. Some have gone abroad with the R.A.M.C., others have transferred to fighting units, and many are on hospital ships. Then the problem was, who was to replace them? I remember, a very long time ago, one of the heads of the Red Cross Society coming down and discussing with us how women could be employed. Gradually a scheme evolved, and the first military hospital to try it was the 3rd London. The lady orderlies came, were approved of, and proved the greatest help to us; and, gradually, lady clerks, typists, postwomen, enquiry department, linen storekeepers, steward store assistants, telephone operators, cooks and charladies became installed; and today the ever green picture, "Can Women do our Work?' is answered, I think, by everyone concerned - Yes.

From a Matron's point of view I looked on this influx of women with a sinking heart. I already had over 300 women for whom I was responsible; and when the War Office decided that all women employed in a military hospital should come directly under the Matron I nearly wept - and felt certainly that it was more than one could bear. Now when I look back over all those changes I still marvel how it was done. But the fact remains today that we have somewhere about 500 women employed in the different departments of the hospital; and - apart from this making my office work very heavy - I do not feel the responsibility any greater. This in itself, I think, speaks volumes for the loyal help we get.

The different departments all run smoothly. The Quartermaster's office has two lady clerks, the C.O. has one, the Matron one, the Registrar's office has many. I shall never forget poor Captain Gosse's face when he first heard that ladies were going to be admitted into his office. He looked hopeless. And until the day he went away he always referred to them as 'the little bits of fluff in my office.' Two ladies are responsible for the card index where, within a few minutes, you can look up any patients who has ever been in the hospital. Another does typing, another helps with the discharges. Three ladies answer all enquiries in the front hall, and seem to me to spend half their time directing people to the D corridor. I often hear, "Yes, left, right, left, right, then you had better enquire again"; and I wonder whether the visitor ever finds his way to D at all. We have two ladies on the telephone and four in the post office. The postal arrangements are to my mind perfect, and hardly ever is there a complaint of letters going astray or being misdirected, which is wonderful considering the thousands of letter and parcels that pass through this office. Then in the pay office we have a lady clerk. Next along the passage is the massage room. I see that a very excellent article has already been sent about this department, so there is no need for me to say anything. I hope, however, it won't be long before Miss Layton and her helpers will get their new room.

Then we come to the stores. All clean linen is given out by ladies, who work under the supervision of the Quartermaster. In the steward's stores, in charge of the Quartermaster, much of the work is now done by ladies, who all come under what we call the General Duty Section. The kitchens, too, now have many women replacing men. In the general kitchen we still have the staff-sergeant cook, who is responsible, but in the sick officers' kitchen there is a V.A.D. cook, and also in the orderlie's kitchen. The scrubbers are also a great feature - and it is astonishing how easily they lose themselves in this huge place and what a lot of finding they require sometimes!

I feel that this article sounds rather like an essay on 'Women's Rights.' I am not a suffragette, and no one will welcome men back to their old jobs more than I shall, but I do feel that women have shown how much they can help, in this war, as well as men. And I know they will continue as long as they are needed. When we are not needed, then we shall just let the men have their own back again, and look after us as they used to - and it will be very pleasant to be looked after again, I think!


Friday, 22 April 2011

Odds and Ends from my Ward

October 1916

Notes by a 3rd London General Sister

The bayonet is not at all a funny thing, I imagine, yet I can never forget the naive remark of one of my patients:
"Bayonet fighting isn't what you think it is Sister. You see, he grabbed my rifle, and I grabbed his. And there we stood. I couldn't think of what else to do ... so I spat in his eye."

Celebrating St. Patrick

Of another patient, whom I shall call Gavan, I gathered that, while soldiering in India, his chief distinction was a chronic thirst. Gavan drank his second pair of boots and as much of his kit as he could turn into cash. On the shelf above his bed he displayed what appeared to be a beautifully kept kit. Closer inspection proved it to consist of:
a. an overcoat
b. newspapers cunningly disposed as padding, and
c. the soles of a pair of boots to which there were no uppers.
Furthermore, Gavan had a glass eye, which he pawned on occasion. One St. Patrick's Day he wanted to go on the spree with some of the boys, but owing to the circumstance that his eye was in pawn Gavan was not able to get out. So the party hied them to the wheelwright's and made an eye of wood. And in honour of the day they painted it green.
Everybody satisfied.

A Compliment
There are compliments which I treasure, some of them rather touching. The other day one of them reached me in a letter from a former patient. Clancy had come home from Gallipoli desperately wounded, and for a long time 'twas thought that he'd not recover. But eventually, after being for many months in my ward, he became convalescent. In due course he rejoined his regiment, and I now hear that he has just been sent to France. Says Clancy, writing to tell me this news:
"Reserve Bed 5 for me, please, Sister."

A Slight Misunderstanding
Mrs. Jones came from Lancashire to see her husband, who was a patient in this hospital. When the train neared London, she enquired how to get to Wandsworth.
"Take a 'bus," a Cockney advised her.
"I want no Bass," she answered, "a cup of tea will do me."
Relating the incident to her husband in the ward she cried, "Do I look like a boozer, Bill?"

Of Course!
When a new patient was asked what his name was, he replied, "Smith, H."
"And what does the H stand for?"

Concerning Correspondence
Sometimes one is asked to write a letter for a man who cannot manage this himself ... but nearly always can he summon sufficient strength to make the crosses at the bottom of the page - the kisses, which are a language understood all the world over. One patient who had never learnt to write, always left to me the details of what should be said in the regular letter to his wife. Only once, when I read over to him what I had written, he suggested a postscript. "Please, Sister, write that I don't smoke a pipe now; I like cigarettes best."
The cigarettes duly arrived.
This same man, when he had put a row of crosses at the foot of the letter, would place it at once in the envelope, in order that I shouldn't 'read the kisses.' Similarly, when a reply came from his wife, and was read to him, I had to refrain from 'reading' her kisses.

The Significant Adjective
It's a little trying to receive a letter from some patient's sweetheart or wife thanking me for my 'motherly care' of him. They all use the word 'motherly' - and it sounds a trifle pointed ... one isn't so very ancient after all.


Monday, 11 April 2011

Observations of an Orderlette

October 1916

Exactly one year ago on the 6th of this month, at 6.45 a.m. precisely, six V.A.D.'s presented themselves in fear and trembling to Night Sister, for they were the first of the girl orderlies, and though 'Pioneering' may be good work, it is distinctly terrifying! They were scattered down the B corridor - itself in the throes of creation - into a world entirely new and almost chaotic, a world which very quickly dispelled any illusions as to the 'picturesqueness' of V.A.D.-ing. Nobody loved us, and apparently nobody wanted us; neither did they know what to do with us. Our raison d'etre being to relieve the male orderlies, we were handed over to them to be initiated into the mysteries of laundrying, dispensary-ing, storing, and the hundred and one jobs that belong to the orderly - including 'funk holes' and 'sprucing spots,' which were introduced with explicit directions as to when and how they should be used! We have heard of an orderly who besought his lady successor (who'd been to the Dispensary and back in 10 minutes) to 'Play the game and not hustle too much, or __,' but perhaps that's telling tales out of school!

Reinforcements arrived almost daily, and we soon felt ourselves a real part of the hospital. Of course, we made mistakes, and bad ones sometimes, and, of course, we got hopelessly lost - starting off gaily from a given point in a given direction, and arriving, breathless and panting, at the same spot. Or starting out with, say, a breakage form for the dispensary - to be told that it was nothing to do with them but must go to the Lieutenant Quartermaster's office, and from there being sent to the Engineer, who refused even to look at it without a written permit from the Lieutenant Quartermaster, who, when you arrived at his office, had just gone over to the Store; and having run him to earth there you would probably be told that it went direct to the Geyser man behind the incinerator! Verily, the Army believeth in not letting its right hand know what its left hand doeth!

There have been times when N.C.O.'s in charge of stores have wished devoutly that we were male orderlies to be 'told off' in the Army vernacular - when Quartermasters have torn their hair, and Sisters have become almost feline in their despair over us. But we've stuck to it and really tried to succeed, and we have to thank everybody from the 'Chiefs of Staff' downwards for a deal of patience and a thoroughly sporting chance to 'make god,' and especially to the N.C.O.'s and 'orderlims' are we very grateful. For the spirit of splendid camaraderie in which they have worked with us has made a very difficult task relatively easy.

One of the things that puzzled us rather was the prevalence among some of our colleagues of the idea that Orderlettes were a quite inferior brand of V.A.D., and the tone in which they called us 'Awderly' made us almost wonder if we were some new species of insect after all - and then, fortunately, the humour of it struck us. Whereupon we were sorry for them, for we at any rate had the satisfaction of knowing we had actually helped release a man; which comfort, by the way, has dragged us from many a Slough of Despond and pushed many a disagreeable job through - a sort of very present help in trouble.

By the time this appears the Orderlettes will be almost non est - for through trial and tribulation have they attained to another sphere. Good luck to them, and the best of luck to our successors the 'Junior Pros.,' and may they be richly blessed with the saving sense of humour, without which this life is insupportable - almost impossible.


Thursday, 31 March 2011

Back in Blighty

Or 'The scenes on page 5' referred to in the poem below

A Philosopher in Blue

(A propos of the scenes on page 5)

A pawn in the game;
That's what some fellow said I am (or was,
Before I got knocked out, and put on Blues).
All my life lame -
(I, who was champion sprinter!) just because
Some folk enjoy a game of chess
With living chess-men. I'm one. Yes.
They moved me to a square called Loos,
And that was where it ended ...
I've come here to be mended.

Here on the lawn
Out in the sun I listen to the band
And rest and smoke and watch the trains go by ...
Was I 'a pawn'?
Well, anyhow, I think I understand
The game I played in. I obeyed,
And willingly - proud to be played
From square to square - 'pawn' but still 'I';
(My game's by no means ended -
They've nearly got me mended!)

These moralists may sadly prate
Of 'pawns' ... But don't forget one thing:
When there's a chance of check-mate
The pawns may save the King!


Monday, 21 March 2011

The Mother

October 1916

It was ten years since he had gone out, a lithe, dark-haired lad, to whom the cramped life of an office had proved an abomination not to be endured. To many of us it had come to seem a very long time ago, and he a very long way away. Then one morning his Mother told us, with that half-proud, half-frightened smile, which so many mothers wore just then,
"Donald is coming with the Australians."
And suddenly the two-fold gulf of years and distance was bridged, and it needed but to set his name beneath his brother's on the Roll of Honour to make him one of that little circle to whom our thoughts would henceforth turn at the words of intercession, "For all who are serving this nation, and especially for those gone forth from this Church and congregation."
In that dim sanctuary, where they had once sat beside her, she tried to realise this new and world-shattering thing, that the sons she had borne and nurtured should be soldiers, that at the call this strange replying Thing should have wakened to life in them, making them seem almost strangers to her. How many mothers looked on their sons in those first ardent days and felt that they had never really known them until then? Was it otherwise even with the French women, whose lifelong creed had taught them, 'A man shall love his Country first and after that his Mother?' She gave us news of Donald from time to time; he was in training; he had moved to another camp; finally he had sailed. Then came the first great disappointment; he had been landed at Egypt - he was not coming to England after all. Still he seemed a little nearer than in Australia, and he sent her long, rather bored letters and picture post-cards of the Sphinx and the Pyramids. At any rate, he was seeing the world.

He survived in the landing, and for long months she knew that he was on the Peninsula. Well for her, and for countless other Mothers, that there was so much she could not know, that her eyes were holden, and even her imagination incapable of picturing that Gehenna, where once our race endured to the uttermost, and where the flower of the army lies in sepulchre. He went down at last, shattered by a Turkish shell, and the Sister wrote from Cairo that his condition was very serious. But the Mother could only wait; for her there could be no hurried journey, no arrival at hospital, no keeping watch beside him.
"Ah," we said, "if he dies now, before she has seen him again, it will be too hard!"
Surely the last words of human desolation finds voice in that childish thought before the Calvary - 'Where Thy very Mother could do nought for Thee."

They cabled at last that his case was hopeless and she must prepare for the worst. In France his brother was facing death in some of the most desperate fighting of the year. But we knew that the strength of a world other than this upheld her in that hour of unutterable suspense, and that her prayers knocked ceaselessly upon the gates of Heaven for them both - knocked, and at length prevailed. As by a miracle, Donald rallied. Step by step he fought his way back to life. Doctor and nurse stood amazed as before one all but risen from the dead. They sent her a photograph of him at last, scarcely recognisable in its extreme emaciation and premature age. But it showed him out of bed, and they wrote that he was learning to walk again, with the slow and faltering steps of the child she had steadied so many years before. Later he wrote himself, but his letters were few and far between, and after a time there came a longer interval than before.

And then one midday she came to us, a telegram in her hand. He was in England - in hospital some twenty miles away. I am supposed to be an authority on hospitals, and she came to ask whether I thought they would let her in if she went then and there without waiting for a pass.
"If it were our hospital I am quite sure they would," I told her with conviction, "and I can't imagine there is any hospital where they'd keep you out if you told them you hadn't seen him for ten years."
"Then I shall go now!" she said.
One of us found a timetable, and we looked her out a train, and watched her set out with an excitement akin to her own. Often and often I helped to send such a telegram from the Hospital post office. Today for the first time I was, so to speak, at the other end of the wire, and could see what happened when it reached its destination.

Late that night I was going back to the Hospital, and on the way I called to ask how she had fared. It had been a longer and more tiresome journey than we had expected, but she had reached the hospital safely and asked for her son. Motherlike, it had never occurred to her that there could be two of his name, and, after prolonged search in the grounds, they had presented her triumphantly with the wrong man!
"But they were all very kind," she said, "and after that they took me to a ward. It was getting rather late, but I was explaining to the Sister when suddenly I saw him. And, oh, my dear, weren't we pleased to see one another!"

We sat silent in the quiet lamplit room, but how often since have those simple, but all expressive, words come back to me as I have caught a glimpse of such reunions in this Hospital. One likes to think that in another Homeland those other sons, who did not come back from Gallipoli, are waiting for the mothers whom Death, no more than time or distance, can keep from them at last.
"Well, there is one redeeming feature about this beastly war," I reflected, stepping out into the darkness, through which the dark pile of the Hospital loomed up against a palid sky - "it does bring the Colonials home as nothing else could, and gives the mothers a chance to see their boys again. It isn't quite all sad."


Anxious Moments ...

Friday, 11 March 2011

The Post Office

October 1916

The following description of the working of the hospital post office (one of our most valuable departments) has been penned by Mr. A. Pitts, who, for eighteen months, voluntarily attended to the by no means light task of re-addressing the letters of patients who had left us. Our Censor appends this note -
"The Censor would like to add a word of encouragement and approbation on the excellent work done in our post office. Week in and week out these post-ladies continue their toil. The room they now occupy is far too small for the ever-increasing host of parcels and letters; but I hope in the near future to help them and perhaps add even more useful work to their already splendid efficiency."

The work of the post office is by no means the least important of the various duties that pertain to a large military hospital. When one remembers the different parts that a letter plays in the economy of a soldier's life, it is easy to see that accuracy, intelligence, and promptitude are essential factors in the routine of distributing, despatching, letters, parcels and telegrams. In the early days of the hospital, before the extension of the A, B, C, and D blocks, the post office was carried on in a sort of glorified cupboard about 4ft. wide, adjoining the C.O.'s room. This place was so small that only one person could enter at a time. There was no window, so the door was always open. A few plain boards lined one side, with the letters of the wards marked on them. The mail was delivered about 8 a.m., parcels later, 9.30, and at intervals during the day. The work of the office was carried on by two orderlies, and was much coveted, as it gave relief from the requisitions of the Sergeant-Major, and also permitted egress from the grounds at any time under the plea of taking telegrams, etc.

It was in March, 1915, that I joined this limited staff in order to re-address letters to men who had left. Pte. E. (now Sgt.), who had with various assistants run it from the commencement, complained to the Colonel that the work was getting on his nerves. Could he have some assistance? So, happily, I dropped in for this job. Picture to yourself that little box, with a table and chair - three men struggling with parcels which the postman had just shot out of two or three bags, nurses and men enquiring for letters, an orderly from the staff office with an urgent telegram to be taken at once, two or three people wanting stamps, enquiries as to whether the C.O. was in his room, and so on. There seemed to be some justification to poor E.'s complaint of nerves. Oftentimes when both orderlies were out I had to fall back on a convalescent soldier to take round the letters. On one occasion the S.M. brought Jimmy, the Irish boy, immortalised by Mr. Harold Begbie in his article 'Keep Smiling,' who assisted in this work with his imperturbable good humour. When it was done to his and our satisfaction he would come in and say in that rich brogue of his, "Sorr, isn't that worth a drink?"

In the early days of the war parcels were very badly packed. Eggs were broken and streamed out of the corners, a yellow sticky mess, in juxtaposition with a light drapery parcel for a nurse; soft fruit completely smashed; and flowers, alas! that could only be thrown away. Once a plum cake arrived with no address. It was so heavy it fell to the ground like a cannon ball, but nevertheless was enjoyed by the mess in No.6. One morning as I entered I noticed a very disagreeable smell. Our chief said, "Yes, I've noticed it for some days; it's the drains. It's very bad this morning, I shall go in and ask the Colonel to have a sniff." I suggested we should investigate more closely first, and, sniffing around, I came upon a parcel, not very large, but obviously the cause. It had been sent to France from Canada, wandered around for some time, and finally found its way to its owner in the 3rd L.G.H. I took it down to Ward E at arm's length, where it was promptly suspended out of the window till the owner came. I think it was a special brand of tobacco, very high. Needless to say, the drains were quite innocent.

And so the post office went on, with a few changes of personnel. Pte. H., the champion chess and tennis player, and Pte. M., the poet, succeeded Cpl. E., who was promoted to the staff office, until the work increased so immensely (with the opening of the new wards) that it was imperative to find us larger accommodation. The work began at 7 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m. My own assistance was only for a few hours each morning. In May, 1915, we moved into the present quarters, and soon after, by arrangement with the V.A.D., four ladies took possession of the postal work. Then the work began to be organised; order and efficiency took the place of the hurried scramble. The system in use up to now had been this: as men came in their names were entered in a book; this book we had to borrow to find the men's wards. As the receiving Sergeant was always wanting his book, a lot of time was wasted. The same with discharges; we had to pick out the names from several pages. Our V.A.D. ladies immediately saw the weakness of this, especially as the number of entries grew to thousands, so entirely at their own expense they provided a series of card indices for officers, men, and discharged, thus simplifying the work enormously. In addition, they provided letter and parcel scales, baskets, trays, and other office etcetera. A new trolley was provided for parcels. The custom had been for our men orderlies to borrow one from the kitchen, accompanied by much language. Once, being unable to get one, they commandeered a stretcher. Meeting the C.O. they got a wigging, but a new trolley followed.

The ladies have proved a tremendous success. Since the advent of our Colonists, there has been a great increase in the work. Foreign telegrams involving technicalities of rates perfectly bewildering to the ordinary mind, changing foreign money, selling stamps, weighing parcels, answering endless questions, entering-in new names, distributing letters and parcels to about seventy wards, are all done with the utmost exactitude and amiability. To have seen them at their best was at Christmas time, when a second room was improvised for the occasion. Parcels in hundreds, letters in thousands, sacks of delayed letters from Malta and the Dardanelles, poured in. Nevertheless every inmate got his letter or parcel before the day was over. I must not close without a word about Cpl. P., who is the official taker of telegrams and parcels and executor of multitudinous commissions. He is one of the picturesque sights of Wandsworth, with his beloved donkey; always polite and reliable, he is worth a mine of gold.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The Voyage of 'The 40th General'

October 1916

A Letter from the C.O.

The mobilisation of the 40th General Hospital was (from the point of view of the C.O.) a very different picture from that of the 3rd London.
At Aldershot the stores were collected from the various places and in two days after my arrival at the Depot the stores were ready to be taken over. When the amount of material is considered, this is quick work. To give a list of the equipment would fill a Gazette, but an idea of its quantity may be gathered when I tell you that two trains, each of thirty-six wagons, were needed to carry the equipment - nothing was left to chance, or to be supplied out East, everything from portable tables to 1,040 bedsteads, with spring mattresses and mosquito nets, being taken.

On Wednesday 19th, and Thursday 20th, the stores were loaded on trucks and sent to the port from which they go East. On the 21st we marched off the parade ground for the Government siding, where we entrained for Southampton and sailed the same evening. The various working parties about the docks gave us a good send-off, and Captain Humphris with Col. Cattell came down from London to wish us 'God speed.' The passage was very fine in the Mediterranean and not too hot till the Canal and the Red Sea. The men are comfortable housed and the junior officers are bedded in an Officers' ward. The War news came by wireless each morning till Port Said, and was pinned up in the smoking room; so, except for personal and family news, we were not cut off from the world till we left Port Said.
The N.C.O.'s and men are from various training Depots. Some have been in France, and Gallipoli, and the Cameroons, thus bringing experience of active service; and, as at the 3rd London, everyone did and does his best to keep at a high level of efficiency, and I am sure I shall have the new units' help to make the 40th General a success.

A voyage cannot be described nowadays when regard must be paid to the Censor's pencil, but a couple of points are worthy of The Gazette. When we got into the Mediterranean the Boom was put out for the Deep Sea sounding. One of the men, on his first voyage, enquired from Sergeant-Major Pinfold (who has been a 1st Class Petty Officer in the Royal Navy, and consequently is the authority in the Unit on things nautical) what the pole was for? He said for taking in the mails during the night. Next morning about thirty trusting men called on the Sergeant-Major to enquire for letters. When off Algiers an absent-minded Irish Cleric was gazing at the coast and enquired from Captain Cope, "Is that the West Coast of Africa or South Africa?" This I should think a good 1st for absent-minded enquiries.

There is much musical talent amongst the men on board. Concerts are held every night unless some other entertainment is provided, such as boxing, cock-fighting or pillow-fighting. The voyage would probably be even more pleasant but for the vaccinations and inoculations which must be done. Going into a country of evil repute it is as well to take every possible step to protect young soldiers. The heat in the Red Sea is unpleasant, but on a ship fitted for hospital use anyone who wrote that his experiences were trying would know but little of what discomfort can be on an ordinary trooper. I have seen much along the route which would be of interest but the regulations are strict. I often think of the 3rd London and its cool green lawns, and no doubt before I return will think of them a good deal more.

This is but a short note which may be of interest to my friends in the Hospital. The Concerts on the ship carry me back each time to the Recreation Room, and the men's voices, blending as they do, have an especially strong power of recalling to me the room which can have nothing but the pleasantest memories for the inmates of the 3rd London. I am sure all friends of the past two years will continue their kindness to the Hospital and its inmates. The good behaviour of the patients and the loyalty of the Staff were reward in themselves for any work I did during those two years, and if the workers of No.3 will send me from time to time an account of the doings of their departments I shall be very grateful, and though I may only send a brief acknowledgment it won't be for lack of appreciation, but for lack of time.

I intended posting this note at Aden but we did not call there, going out direct into the monsoon. Those who sing in Concert Rooms, from a steady platform, 'A life on the ocean wave and a home on the rolling deep,' had better try the monsoon in the Indian Ocean in August when it is described by ship's officers as a very strong monsoon, and I think four days' continuous rolling deep will stop their making a song about it. There is an odd feeling in being - as we shall have been by the time we arrive in Bombay - about ten days without a word as to what is happening on the various fronts, or how much the War has progressed.


Tuesday, 22 February 2011

An Appreciation

October 1916

A Word of Encouragement from the Principal Matron

May I take this opportunity of the first issue of Volume II of The Gazette to thank it and its perpetrators for very many delightful hours during the last year. My little dog has often looked up in surprise to hear a burst of laughter when we seemed alone, but by degrees he is getting to understand the cause of this strange behaviour, and to recognise the cover of The Gazette, even though it occasionally changes it colour. Whenever I feel in the blues I long to find time to go to the 3rd London, and when I encounter any specially depressed friends would like to order them the same prescription.

Where is the spell? Partly, I think, the secret lies in the fact that our C.O., nobly seconded in all his work by Miss Holden, not only had great powers of organisation, but also possessed the gift - owing, in a large degree, to his own vivid, sympathetic and original personality - of collecting round himself and drawing into his work so many interesting and clever people, and inspiring them to devote, each in his own line, not only their brains but also their hearts, to help those who in this great Armageddon have found their way to the 3rd London; and though for a time he has been called to foreign fields of action, this same influence permeates every corner of the place.

This helps one to realise the various touches of genius which confront one at every turn of the hospital, and one is not surprised to see the notice boards in the corridors ornamented with sparkling little artistic gems by way of announcements of the various entertainments, and to find the men's recreation room hung with drawings by well-known artists, and to discover that these artists, whose pictures have adorned the Academy, are the khaki-clad R.A.M.C., who in their different ranks are devoting their energies to the cause of the patients. Whether their ward work is up to Academy pitch only the 'Sisters' could say! But the results are very excellent.

Then again, on entering the Splint Department, we are prepared to find it presided over by a celebrated sculptor, who not only directs the moulding of the most scientifically useful and comfortable of splints, but also has brought his genius to bear in building up the features of the patients, so that many who seemed to have been hopelessly disfigured in defence of their country are turned out from this department even handsomer than before they entered the battle at all.

On the musical side also the 3rd London contains its undefeated sportsmen. It is rumoured that one afternoon, a concert party failing to turn up, rather than disappoint the audience, the matron went to the piano and, as if by wireless telegraphy, the word went round, and one of the best and most enjoyable concerts of the season was carried out without a moment's hesitation. If I began to write about the wards I should never end. The results speak for themselves. Among many of the good jokes that are always going round the hospital none give me as much pleasure as that of the patient who, returning to visit his old ward, told the Sister, as the highest form of appreciation and gratitude, that she was 'well known in all the public houses.'


Sunday, 13 February 2011

Some 'Don'ts' for Patients - by One in C8.

September 1916

put 'Tonight's the Night' on the gramophone when Nurse is cross. (Her evening off has probably been postponed till Friday.)

DON'T ask Sister for cigarette cards if she looks worried. (She is most likely having an interview with Matron tomorrow morning.)

DON'T develop new symptoms when the M.O. is snappy. (You will get scant sympathy if he was three tricks down on his 'no trumps redoubled' last night.)

If the M.O. prescribes No.9's, DON'T argue. (He might change his mind and make it Castor Oil.)

If you are an Infantryman, DON'T talk about the little girl in the Estaminet at B__, who was so keen on you. (We have ALL met her.)

If you belong to the A.S.C., DON'T tell Nurse anything about the saphead you held at Wipers - or whatever other name you think of. (Some rotten Infantryman is sure to ask his neighbour the difference between 'saphead' and 'softhead.')

If you belong to the A.O.C., DON'T forget to wear your spurs as you walk down the ward saying 'Goodbye' the day you are discharged from hospital. (It impresses the Orderlette.)

If the fellow in the next bed snores, DON'T forget to accuse the night Nurse of it. (It will make you popular with her.)

If there is a sergeant in your ward, DON'T forget to laugh at his jokes. (Sergeants have been known to get boxes of 'Abdullas' sent them occasionally.)
(Note to Editor.- Please alter brand in above paragraph if you can get another firm to pay me more for the advertisement. - AUTHOR.)

If you must relate funny stories, for Heaven's sake DON'T tell the one about the girl and the soldier. (You never know when Sister will come in.)

Even if you are fond of music, DON'T put 'Salut d'Amour' on the gramophone more than four times in succession. If you do, some other silly idiot, whose brain does not soar above ragtime, will develop a headache and Sister will ban the gramophone for the rest of the day. ('I' got a headache once, so I know.)

If your egg should happen to be a little.. er.. so-so, DON'T take it lying down. Go to the O.C. Chicken Run and lay a complaint.
(Note to Editor.- This paragraph is NOT intended as a reflection on the Wandsworth hens, but 'eggs is eggs,' as Omar - or was it George Robey - once said.- AUTHOR.)

DON'T go into hospital with influenza or such-like simple complaints. (The Officers and Sisters will like you much better if yours is an interesting case.

C.B. (18th Royal Fusiliers).

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Main Hall Sketches

September 1916

In the old coaching days the lot of a turnpike keeper must have been quite an amusing one. Human beings on all manner of journeys of business and pleasure would pass him by - from the romantic young couple on their way to Gretna Green to the sleepy waggoner, in the early hours of the morning, on his way to London Town with his market produce. Something of the same variety of passers-by helps very efficiently to 'kill time' for the clerical V.A.D. in the Hospital Main Hall. All sorts and conditions from the mud-stained, tattered hero straight from France to the small girl with a paper bag of eggs and a bunch of flowers for the soldiers who wants 'to see the Mytron.'

In a rather detached way one gleans much of the daily history of the whole hospital. A telephone message from one of the distant huts to the Wardmaster to find Captain This or Dr. That, and presently an orderlette, at something between a flutter and 'the double' in an agitated quest for oxygen or brandy, means that some poor boy is having a pretty hard struggle with the enemy. Sheafs of telegrams are left in the hall for despatch by one of the many coming and going messenger boys, from which one can often patch a little story from a few words.
"To Miss Priscilla Maidenaunt. So sorry; not feeling quite up to visitors today. - from NEPHEW JACK."
"To Miss Blanche Blossom. So glad you are in town. Call for you in taxi 7. Dine at Regent Palace. Wherever you like, to follow. Feeling very fit. - JACK."
Both are signed at the back by Second Lieutenant Blank, X Ward, 3rd L.G.H. !
Patients waiting for the arrival of friends will often entertain us with light conversation. A wounded warrior was waiting for his wife, who was coming up from the country to see him.
"My wife, she doesn't half like the idea of coming to see me at a hospital. She's a nervous sort of body; can't bear the sight of blood or anything. As for me - well, that sort o' thing doesn't bother me a bit. You see I was a barber as well as a tobacconist by trade before the war."

Many and varied are the 'emergency' calls for the Wardmaster from various quarters of the Hospital. Not the least so was a call from the Matron one day - the Wardmaster was not long gone, and when he returned he was carrying a hat box from which came the strangest sounds. Behold, a family of kittens - for whose nursery, Pussy, with excellent taste, had chosen Matron's best hat! Many dear old ladies arrive on kindly errands at our Enquiry Office. One wished to see a certain Australian.
"I don't know his name, but you will know the one I mean; he has a swollen leg and foot, not wounded, but swollen."
We looked rather blank, so to make the matter quite clear she continued:
"Last Sunday week he was sitting on a chair in the drive just outside the door for the first time!"
She thought us strangely unobservant and inefficient, and I am sure, even when we explained that there were over 1,400 patients in hospital at the time, and that we had no method of recording them either by the state of their legs or by their first outings in the hospital grounds. Another dear old lady not easily forgotten is one in a beady bonnet and 'mantle,' who came to take four patients for an afternoon's outing - I forget whether it was the Zoo or the 'Trenches' in Knightsbridge where they were going. This was to be followed by tea, and "What time shall I bring them back?" said the little old lady. "When do they go to bed?"

My last picture is of a 'Clerical' trying to soothe an agitated specialist waiting for a taxi - which will not arrive - and very conscious of an already overdue appointment on the other side of London. And as this attempt almost proved the finish of a busy day, I will make it my finis also.