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Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front 1914-1915

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Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front 1914-1915
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Author(s): A Nursing Sister
Date Published: 2011/09
Page Count: 156
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-662-6
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-661-9

The first year of war on the Western Front

The quality of medical and nursing care available to British soldiers on campaign had improved immeasurably since the days of the Crimean War in the middle of the nineteenth century when Florence Nightingale and her nurses had cared for wounded men who could scarcely believe that her presence was not other worldly. By the time of the First World War the organisation of medical care had become a fixture of the military establishment, though, of course, this was to be a war like no other. The reader joins the author of this book in the first days of the conflict and through the pages of her diary we follow her experiences on the Western Front as she cared for the wounded from the actions on the Aisne through the First Battle of Ypres and to the fighting to the middle of 1915. This book was originally published anonymously during wartime, but today most sources attribute the diary to Kathleen Luard. Clearly she was a dedicated nurse and her writings take the reader to the heart of a war of mud and attrition, revealing the incredible work she and her colleagues undertook to care for their beloved ‘Tommies’—particularly on the ambulance trains which collected the wounded from the front line to transport them to base hospitals and close to the firing line in Field Ambulance stations where her accounts of the plight of the wounded makes poignant and touching reading. An essential source work of the Great war from the female perspective.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

7.30 p.m., Ypres.—Just arrived, all very bucked at being in Belgium. An armoured train, protective coloured all over in huge dabs of red, blue, yellow, and green against aeroplanes, is alongside of us in the station, manned by thirty men R.N.; three trucks are called Nelson, Jellicoe, and Drake, with guns. They look fine; the men say it is a great game. They are directed where to fire at German positions or batteries, and as soon as they answer, the train nips out of range. They were very jolly, and showed us their tame rabbit on active service. They have had no casualties so far. Our load hasn’t come in yet. We are two miles from our fighting line. No firing tonight to be heard—soon began, though.<br>
Sunday, October 25th.—Couldn’t write last night: the only thing was to try and forget it all. It has been an absolute hell of a journey—there is no other word for it. First, you must understand that this big battle from Ostend to Lille is perhaps the most desperate of all, though that is said of each in turn—Mons, the Aisne, and this; but the men and officers who have been through all say this is the worst. The Germans are desperate, and stick at nothing, and the Allies are the same; and in determination to drive them back, each man personally seems to be the same. Consequently the “carnage” is being appalling, and we have been practically in it, as far as horrors go. Guns were cracking and splitting all night, lighting up the sky in flashes, and fires were burning on both sides. The clearing hospital close by, which was receiving the wounded from the field and sending them on to us, was packed and overflowing with badly wounded, the M.O. on the station said.<br>
We had 368; a good 200 were dangerously and seriously wounded, perhaps more; and the sitting-up cases were bad enough. The compound-fractured femurs were put up with rifles and pick-handles for splints, padded with bits of kilts and straw; nearly all the men had more than one wound—some had ten; one man with a huge compound fracture above the elbow had tied on a bit of string with a bullet in it as a tourniquet above the wound himself. When I cut off his soaked three layers of sleeve there was no dressing on it at all.<br>
They were bleeding faster than we could cope with it; and the agony of getting them off the stretchers on to the top bunks is a thing to forget. We were full up by about 2 a.m., and then were delayed by a collision up the line, which was blocked by dead horses as a result. All night and without a break till we got back to Boulogne at 4 p.m. next day (yesterday) we grappled with them, and some were not dressed when we got into B——. The head cases were delirious, and trying to get out of the window, and we were giving strychnine and morphia all round. Two were put off dying at St Omer, but we kept the rest alive to Boulogne.<br>
The outstanding shining thing that hit you in the eye all through was the universal silent pluck of the men; they stuck it all without a whine or complaint or even a comment: it was, “Would you mind moving my leg when you get time,” and “Thank you very much,” or “That’s absolutely glorious,” as one boy said on having his bootlace cut, or “That’s grand,” when you struck a lucky position for a wound in the back. One badly smashed up said contentedly, “I was lucky—I was the only man left alive in our trench”; so was another in another trench; sixteen out of twenty-five of one company in a trench were on the train, all seriously wounded except one. One man with both legs smashed and other wounds was asked if it was all by one shell: “Oh yes; why, the man next me was blowed to bits.”<br>
The bleeding made them all frightfully thirsty (they had only been hit a few hours many of them), and luckily we had got in a good supply of boiled water beforehand on each carriage, so we had plenty when there was time to get it. In the middle of the worst of it in the night I became conscious of a Belgian boy scout of fourteen in the corridor, with a glass and a pail of drinking water; that boy worked for hours with his glass and pail on his own, or wherever you sent him. We took him back to Calais. He had come up into the firing line on his cycle fitted with a rifle, with tobacco for the troops, and lived with the British whom he loved, sharing their rations. He was a little brick; one of the civil surgeons got him taken back with us, where he wanted to go.<br>
There were twenty-five officers on the train. They said there were 11,000 Germans dead, and they were using the dead piled up instead of trenches.<br>
About 1 o’clock that night we heard a rifle shot: it was a German spy shooting at the sentry sailor on the armoured train alongside of us; they didn’t catch him.<br>
It took from 4 to 10 p.m. to unload our bad cases and get them into hospitals on motor ambulances: they lay in rows on their stretchers on the platform waiting their turn without a grumble.<br>
There have been so many hundreds brought down this week that they’ve had suddenly to clear four hotels for hospitals.<br>
We are now in the filthiest of sidings, and the smell of the burning of our heaps of filthy débris off the train is enough to make you sick. We all slept like logs last night, and could have gone on all day; but the train has to be cleaned down by the orderlies, and everything got ready for the next lot: they nearly moved us up again last night, but we shall go today.
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