The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry was a female organisation formed in 1907. Its aim was not only to provide competent first aid on the battlefield put also to train its members to effectively operate and live independently and be able to transport the wounded to field hospitals. So F. A. N. Y nurses were skilled drivers or horsewomen and were often more than usually skilled in outdoor pursuits—such as camping—something that differentiated them from normal nursing staff. When the First World War began the organisation immediately volunteered itself for service on the continent, but was initially rebuffed by the British military establishment who, in the spirit of the times, believed a woman’s place was at home and not at war. However, the Belgian and French authorities welcomed them with enthusiasm and the F. A. N. Ys became essential to allied servicemen both as medical carers and as ambulance drivers. Before long the resourceful women of the organisation, as well as providing their first aid and ambulance services, were running hospitals, soup kitchens and canteens and couriering food and clothing to the front lines. By 1915 the British army command came to recognise the value of these indomitable woman and began to work more closely with the organisation and by 1916 F. A. N. Ys were working in the field as mechanics. Old prejudices had been broken down as a matter of necessity and there can be little doubt that the activities of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry—and similar women’s organisations—them did much to erode prejudices and contribute towards the cause of women’s suffrage. This special Leonaur edition, released to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, combines two remarkable books for reader interest and good value. Each contains a first hand account by a F. A. N. Y serving on the Western Front, and both illustrate not only the incredible work these women did under the most dangerous circumstances, but also provide testimony to the resolution and courage of those who would change the status of women in western society forever.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
That was a terrible night. For two and a half hours we worked carrying men downstairs—the top floor first, with its 69 beds to clear (for that night there were extra beds in the corridor), then the second floor, and lastly the fracture wards on the first floor, though to me that seemed a mistake. It was down slowly with a heavy stretcher, and up rapidly with an empty one. I made slings for myself with a bandage, but even then my wrists and legs ached after the first ten men.
One dresser I helped time after time—I think we two carried down 30 cases alone. Into one ward on the second floor I went to see if I could help, but found the London surgeon (who did all the worst operations there) with another doctor and two dressers in consultation over a very bad case. I turned to go out, when the great man saw me and called cheerily: “Ah here’s Miss So-and-so; now we’ll be all right!”
I swallowed a lump in my throat; at that time when I was alone a friendly greeting meant very much to me.
Down below, the scene was a terrible one. The kitchen was in the basement, also many offices (scullery, wash-place, passages), and these were now a mass of helpless men—some on mattresses, some on rugs—all exhausted with suffering and want of rest, racked by the pain of their wounds, but brave as the gods of old.
No murmurs, no complaints—although many a broken cry for water made one’s heart ache. One poor sailor lay on the landing of the staircase to the basement; he had had an eye shot out and was half delirious, and his cry for water was very pitiful. Another man, very badly wounded in the side, caught my eye: he was lying on the stone floor with no mattress; I got him some cushions. One man with broken legs yelled with pain as we lifted him on and off the stretcher. Some of the men tried to cheer the others up. Gradually the lights were lowered and the stretcher-bearer’s work finished, and I slipped upstairs and brought a mattress down for the man with the bad wound in the side.
Upstairs coffee and bread and treacle were going; and most comforting it was. Then the hospital showed a strange sight. Down in the entrance hall lay silent figures. On a bench behind the door sat a doctor and the sister-in-charge: the steps were crowded with doctors, dressers, and nurses, all huddled together, with a few patients in between. Outside there was a clear moon and pure air, and outside I went with my Burberry on, dragged a wooden bench to the middle of the courtyard, and lay down. Whizz-z-z . . . boom. At steady intervals came the shrapnel through the air, cutting the silence like a knife—once or twice coming so near I leapt up and ran to the wall, crouching down with bitten lips. Then back to the bench. Dr. Hoyle came out with blankets; but the horror of dirt was more to me than the cold of the night, bitter though it was, and, finding me set on this point, he kindly fetched newspapers and spread them over me. As he was talking the night sister joined us; she sent me out her own big coat to cover me. It was very good of her. Once she came out with a utensil in her hand, and called a greeting to me, when the whizz-z-z came between us, and she dropped her china and we met under the shadow of the wall, both breathing rather hard.
“Why don’t you come in?” she pleaded; “it’s awful being alone out here.”
But I shook my head obstinately. If I were to die, I would rather it were outside, with God’s moon to bear me company.
I closed my eyes resolutely and tried to sleep—tried, at least, to control myself and not run to cover. One shrapnel—two, three, eight, nine, ten. I began to feel proud of myself when eleven came; the loud hissing of it seemed to go through my brain. In wild, unreasoning terror I bolted to the wall and crouched there, holding my breath, praying madly; and the great boom was followed by an appalling crash—part of the house next door had gone. Several people came to look out—Dr. Hoyle to see if I was safe, Nurse Mitchell and Sir Bartle Frere to discuss the damage; and with the last two I went upstairs to the very top floor, and there, by climbing a long ladder, we could see out of a skylight, one at a time. It was a weird sight. Dawn was coming—very slowly—and here and there broken laps of flame told that some shells had found a mark. Housetops everywhere, and a few heaps of broken masonry (not many), and the great, quiet sky, and the whizz-z-z . . . boom as a shrapnel sped overhead on its deadly errand.
I was not sorry to climb down and return to my bench in the yard. About 4 I went in and lay on a sack of potatoes behind the front door,—the night sister’s coat over me, Dr. Hoyle, big and kind and protecting, sitting on the bench; but sleep was not for that day! Soon the sounds of hurrying footsteps drew us to the door. Men and women were passing carrying odd bits of furniture and little bags of clothing. Two men passed, carrying a little girl in a chair. Three women passed, sobbing, a bundle tied up in a tablecloth in their hands. The day was come—this strange day of terror!
Very early an Irishwoman attached to the hospital and a Miss —— prepared to go; they had motorcars. They offered to take two nurses; only one said she would go, and she was suffering from a long strain. They took two English officers who were wounded, and insisted on one of them leaving his revolver behind—the other had none—professing to be afraid the Germans would catch them and shoot them all if they had firearms on board!
I got an early message from the house next door to remove my sword; the people indeed offered to bury it in a rubbish heap with the Garde Civique uniform belonging to the son of the house! He was very much perturbed about his future. I urged him to enlist; I urged his duty to his country—vengeance on the Germans. His parents urged his duty to them (they had four sons) and would give none of them to fight for their country.
Events followed fast. Mrs. St. Clair Stobart and her secretary came down to ask for help in getting away: they had 40 patients in a convalescent home at the top of the boulevard. Lots of wounded came in—one man a horrid sight of burns and blood, his face practically gone! The man who brought him in said there were crowds of wounded and no one to bring them in. It was already long past the Place de Meir to the Belgian Red Cross headquarters. The streets were empty. Once I passed some weeping women beside their house, of which two storeys had fallen in, and I had to whistle to myself and hum snatches of a song as I walked to keep my courage up, and every shrapnel that whizzed over my head made me wonder if anyone would find me if I got knocked out then. It was a weird walk, and one I have no longing to repeat, although I wish sometimes I had been more observant of the damage wrought around.
At last I reached my goal, but found hardly a soul there—only an ambulancier I had already met, who wrung my hand, muttering “Bonne chance, mam’selle,” and dashed out. Nobody knew of the car, the owner or the chauffeur, and as the committee-room door was open and the president and two other members were there, I asked them. As I went out, with a message to take back to the hospital, the London surgeon and the hospital head walked in, and as I stopped to scribble a message on a sheet of paper, a terrific crash outside smashed all the windows. I hurried to look out; a shell had killed two people. At that instant the three members of the Belgian Red Cross walked out and vanished, and the two English doctors called to me to jump into their car to return.