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.