The wartime adventures of two of the first Red Cross nurses
Emma Pearson was born in Norfolk in 1828 and was the daughter of a Royal Navy Captain. Her partner Louisa McLaughlin was born 1836, the daughter of a Shropshire clergyman. Louisa trained as a nurse with Sister Dora who assisted the poor industrial workers of the English Midlands. Both Louisa and Emma began working for the National Health Society when it was created in 1869, assisting the poor of London under the management of Elizabeth Blackwell, Europe's first modern female doctor. At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, both women went to France at the behest of the organisation which became known as the Red Cross. They arrived shortly after the Battle of Gravelotte and were soon caring for the wounded from the Battle of Sedan. The two women worked tirelessly in field hospitals earning the respect and admiration of both sides. In fact, both women were awarded medals by France and Prussia in recognition of their humanitarian services. This book was originally published in two volumes which have been united in this good value Leonaur edition.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
bad for you to see.’
We said, “Better face the worst at once,’ and he replied, ‘Yes, you are right; look out, and nothing you’ll ever see in hospital will alarm you afterwards.’
We did look out. Shall we ever forget the horror of that scene? A long street, every house burning, some smouldering, some blazing still; no human being there, but dreadful forms lying about the streets in attitudes of pain and agony, their clothes still smoking, with clenched hands and upturned faces, the blood issuing from their mouths, showing how fearful their deaths must have been. All were Germans, and there were deep gashes on the throats of some that told a tale of revenge, and possibly murder, that had been done by no soldier’s hand. The church and mairie were only wrecks. The mairie had been made into an ambulance, but the flames had caught it. There was no one to help or save, and the floors had crashed in with their helpless occupants. Not one single house was left. Death and destruction reigned there, and the smell of burnt flesh lingered for many a long day with us, turning us sick at everything that bore the slightest resemblance to it.
On every side of us the fire had extended up the main street, down the cross ones, smoke and flame, crashing ruins, and burning bodies. We feared the hay in our waggon would catch, and tried to cover it up with rugs and our waterproof sheet. Sick, and faint, and smothered, we longed to be out of that terrible place; but the horses winced perpetually. With the noble instinct of their natures, they would not trample on the dead, and we were obliged to go slowly.
It seemed hours before we reached the central Place, where there were ruin and death still around us; hours before we got out of that fearful town, and breathed a long, deep breath of pure air on the road beyond. But as we left the town one sad, touching thing we saw. A small cottage on the outskirts had escaped the flames, and there were wounded there, for a Red-Cross flag was hung out of its lattice window—only a coarse white handkerchief, the cross traced on it in blood. Over all hung a deep cloud of sulphurous smoke, that in mercy hid from the country round the awful fate of Bazeilles.
How it all came about will, perhaps, be never truly known. It was held by the Marine Infantry against the enemy, who, in this case, were aided by their own countrymen; for, mistaking their blue jackets and caps for Prussian uniforms, they were fired at by both sides, and lost as many by the balls of the French as they did by those of their foes. The village was twice taken and retaken by the Bavarians, and it is said that when the Germans were driven out the first time by the French the peasantry cut the throats of their wounded who had been left there, and that when it was retaken by the Germans they, in revenge, set fire to the town.
Certainly, it had been burned by hand. The houses stood separately, yet everyone was destroyed, even where it was impossible flames could catch from one to the other. Whether or not the popular tale is true no one will ever know. Others say a Bavarian trooper entered the place just after it was taken, asked an innkeeper for water for his horse, and was told in no courteous terms to fetch it himself. That he seized a burning brand from the hearth and set fire to the house, and the mania of destruction spread like wildfire.
Why the mairie should have been fired, with all the wounded in it, German as well as French, is a difficult question to solve. Military reports and popular rumours always differ, and both I believe to be equally worthy of credit. At least, we have found them so, and in this instance various accounts were given. There is some truth in all, but often mistakes; and certainly, both French and German telegrams and reports were singular flights of fancy. Everyone said the only reliable news came from England, and the newspaper correspondents we met deserve every credit for their endeavours to be exact. They all had their own predilections, French or German, but all honestly endeavoured to give the best account of passing events, and the slight colouring of personal feeling maybe easily forgiven.
We were too ill from the scene we had witnessed to care much about looking at the road we were travelling upon, and it was only when we came near a village, we were told was Balan that we could rouse from the half-sick stupor which oppressed us. Here we encountered a number of Bavarian troops. As we entered the place, we saw that we were indeed in the heart of the battlefield. Though the destruction had not been as complete, as at Bazeilles, yet many houses hard been demolished by shot and shell, and were only smoking ruins. Dead bodies lay about the street, and in one place were a carriage and pair of horses. A shell had struck them, and driver and horses lay dead; their blood splashed upon the wall, against which they had dashed in their last agony.