Wednesday, 31 August 2011

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 - apr├Ęs la guerre.


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