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 facetiƦ (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."