Mary King Waddington was born in New York City. She married a French statesman, William Henry Waddington, his parents were naturalised citizens of France and he went on to became prime minister of his country. Mary was a prolific diarist and her account of her experiences as the wife of a diplomat ran to several volumes and were well regarded and quite popular at the time. At the outbreak of the First World War, Mary was living in Paris. Hers was the war the civilians knew and her diary gives the reader interesting insights into the domestic life of the French nation during the conflict. As Helen Prince writes in the introduction to this book, ‘one fact is gossip—two related facts are history.’ So we read of the two grandsons who discover a German skull, how lawns were given over to growing potatoes; we experience railway station goodbyes and many other poignant events and scenes which will vividly bring this time of tragedy back to life. Once again the reader will discover the indomitable spirit that many women displayed in times of adversity whilst caring for children, the poor, the dispossessed, attending to the wounded and other charitable acts.
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One end of the winter garden (it is a very long room), is cut off with a high wooden screen, and behind that C. has a gas-stove (which the proprietress of the villa left here when she went away) and a big petroleum-lamp. Two long tables and a variety of kettles and saucepans.<br>
Her woman and Sister D. make all the little jellies, and cook an occasional chop which the boy wants.
She has also made great friends with the bouchère across the street, who told her one day she would make her dinner and send it over to her. She had been a cook herself, knew all about it. Would Madame come and see her kitchen? C. said it was beautifully clean, so she accepted, and the woman sends her over very good soup, chops, filet, anything she wants.<br>
Francis dined one night (for a wonder didn’t ask any one) and said he hadn’t had such a good dinner since the war.<br>
There is a large old-fashioned Flemish kitchen opening into the courtyard, as they all do here, with a fireplace big enough to roast an ox. But the English have it. Enfin, à la guerre comme à la guerre! They are camping and not at all badly off. The boy is very happy in his big room. His bed is drawn up to the open window, and he loves to see the flowers and the gardener at work. When it gets too dark to see anything, he knows all the steps; the doctor who is very good to him, his father’s horse in the courtyard, and above all the quick light step of Sister D., his English nurse.<br>
I can’t say enough about the English nurses, particularly the military nurses. In fact, the whole English equipment is wonderful; all the details so well carried out. What they have done since the beginning of the war is admirable. When one thinks that they had practically no army, and that everything had to be organised!<br>
Francis had great difficulty in getting a nurse. He telegraphed to Lord Bertie, the British ambassador, and to various people in Paris, but the formalities were endless. It seems the British are very strict about having their lines entered. Finally one of the high officers here telegraphed for a military nurse from London. She was told one afternoon she must leave the next morning for France to nurse a serious case at Hazebrouck. She crossed to Boulogne in a troop-ship, stood all the way over—they were packed like sardines—found an ambulance waiting for her at Boulogne, and came straight off to Hazebrouck—three hours’ run. Francis was standing at the door of the hospital; saw the nurse arrive; couldn’t believe it was his nurse—as she had only been telegraphed for the day before, but went to see if he could help her as she seemed to have some difficulty in making herself understood in French.<br>
She told him she was Sister D., had left London that morning, and was told to come to Hazebrouck to nurse a serious case in Mr. Waddington’s family. “I’m Mr. Waddington,” he said; “and you are to nurse my boy.” He took her directly upstairs—said in half an hour she was installed—didn’t mind apparently the very primitive, uncomfortable surroundings, hardly wanted a cup of tea.<br>
They are mobilised like soldiers. She came with her rations and her kit-bed; had no idea if she was coming to a camp or a tent or a hospital.<br>
She hadn’t been half an hour in the room when a soldier appeared bringing her her billet de logement for the next day. She is a night-nurse. She got all her instructions from the doctor, arranged herself on the table in the dortoir all she might need for the night, made friends with the child; and his poor mother went to bed with a feeling of comfort and security she hadn’t known for days.<br>
The day-nurse too (she is a Territorial, not Red Cross) is most competent, and they are both so cheerful. They have all passed an examination for simple cooking, and can make the soups and jellies that an invalid wants.<br>
I wish we had such an organisation in our military hospitals; but those schools of trained nurses don’t exist in France. Of late years it has been rather the fashion for the femmes du monde to pass examinations for the Croix Rouge, and I believe there are some excellent nurses; but they are not numerous and all voluntary. The Frenchwoman ought to be a good nurse. She occupies herself so much with her household and her children, going into every detail.<br>
It was pouring the other day. I believe it always rains in these northern towns. The big place was like a lake. I tried in vain to get a pair of india-rubbers but couldn’t, and was very uncomfortable in my wet shoes.<br>
Sister S. R., the head of the British nurses, came to see us—wonderfully equipped. She had on a long black mackintosh (tarpaulin, like what the sailors wear), with big pockets and a hood, and high rubber boots. She left her mackintosh outside, and came in in her white clothes, looking as clean and dry as if it were a sunshiny June day. She told us she had done all the campaign of the Yser in a field-hospital, at the front, and that she never could have done it without the rubber coat and particularly the boots. The soft black mud was something awful; they really went in up to their knees. They lived in tents and had to go backward and forward to the hospital and the sanitary trains.<br>
She said she never could have imagined anything so awful as the wounded men who were brought in. Bundles of mud, their clothes stiff with blood and dirt of all descriptions. Those who had been only lying out one night in the battlefield, in good condition compared to those who had remained sometimes forty-eight hours.<br>
She was most interesting, and I couldn’t help thinking as she sat there on a bed, or a stool, in the dortoir, with her fine profile and “grand air,” that, after all, blood tells, and that the gently-born lady accommodates herself better than the ordinary woman to all the discomforts and dangers that a field-nurse is exposed to. Of course there must be the vocation, or else the strong faith that one’s life is not one’s own at such a time, but in God’s hands, to be sacrificed when the time comes.<br>
I am thinking of a nurse we were all so fond of, who left Paris to go and take charge of a hospital at Mosch, where shells were falling freely. She had a young religieuse with her who was nervous, frightened of the shells, couldn’t make up her mind to leave the shelter of the house and venture out into the open. Our good sister encouraged her, and one afternoon they left the house together. Our sister was struck instantly, killed at once by a passing shell. They gave her a soldier’s funeral, with the flag covering the coffin. Her memory lives in many hearts.