Waiting for Orders
August 18, 1914, to September 14, 1914
"Troops to our England true Faring to Flanders, God be with all of you And your commanders."--G.W. BRODRIBB.
The voyage out--Havre--Leaving Havre--R.M.S.P. "Asturias"--St Nazaire--Orders at last.
S.S. CITY OF BENARES (Troopship).
Tuesday, 8 P.M., August 18th.--Orders just gone round that there are to be no lights after dark, so I am hasting to write this.
We had a great send-off in Sackville Street in our motor-bus, and went on board about 2 P.M. From then till 7 we watched the embarkation going on, on our own ship and another. We have a lot of R.E. and R.F.A. and A.S.C., and a great many horses and pontoons and ambulance waggons: the horses were very difficult to embark, poor dears. It was an exciting scene all the time. I don't remember anything quite so thrilling as our start off from Ireland. All the 600 khaki men on board, and every one on every other ship, and all the crowds on the quay, and in boats and on lighthouses, waved and yelled. Then we and the officers and the men, severally, had the King's proclamation read out to us about doing our duty for our country, and God blessing us, and how the King is following our every movement.
We are now going to snatch up a very scratch supper and turn in, only rugs and blankets.
Wednesday, August 19th.--We are having a lovely calm and sunny voyage--slowed down in the night for a fog. I had a berth by an open port-hole, and though rather cold with one blanket and a rug (dressing-gown in my trunk), enjoyed it very much--cold sea bath in the morning. We live on oatmeal biscuits and potted meat, with chocolate and tea and soup squares, some bread and butter sometimes, and cocoa at bed-time.
There is a routine by bugle-call on troopships, with a guard, police, and fatigues. The Tommies sleep on bales of forage in the after well-deck and all over the place. We have one end of the 1st class cabin forrard, and the officers have the 2nd class aft for sleeping and meals, but there is a sociable blend on deck all day. Two medical officers here were both in South Africa at No. 7 when I was (Captains in those days), and we have had great cracks on old times and all the people we knew. One is commanding a Field Ambulance and goes with the fighting line. There are 200 men for Field Ambulances on board. They don't carry Sisters, worse luck, only Padres.
We had an impromptu service on deck this afternoon; I played the hymns,--never been on a voyage yet without being let in for that. It was run by the three C. of E. Padres and the Wesleyan hand in hand: the latter has been in the Nile Expedition of '98 and all through South Africa. We had Mission Hymns roared by the Tommies, and then a C. of E. Padre gave a short address--quite good. The Wesleyan did an extempore prayer, rather well, and a very nice huge C. of E. man gave the Blessing. Now they are having a Tommies' concert--a talented boy at the piano.
At midday we passed a French cruiser, going the opposite way. They waved and yelled, and we waved and yelled. We are out of sight of English or French coast now. I believe we are to be in early to-morrow morning, and will have a long train journey probably, but nobody knows anything for certain except where we land--Havre.
It seems so long since we heard anything about the war, but it is only since yesterday morning. (The concert is rather distracting, and the wind is getting up--one of the Tommies has an angelic black puppy on his lap, with a red cross on its collar, and there is a black cat about.)
Thursday, August 20th, 5 P.M., Havre.--We got in about 9 o'clock this morning. Havre is a very picturesque town, with very high houses, and a great many docks and quays, and an enormous amount of shipping. The wharves were as usual lined with waving yelling crowds, and a great exchange of Vive l'Angleterre from them, and Vive la France from us went on, and a lusty roar of the Marseillaise from us. During the morning the horses and pontoons and waggons were disembarked, and the R.E. and Field Ambulances went off to enormous sheds on the wharf. We went off in a taxi in batches of five to the Convent de St Jeanne d'Arc, an enormous empty school, totally devoid of any furniture except crucifixes! Luckily the school washhouse has quite good basins and taps, and we are all camping out, three in a room, to sleep on the floor, as our camp kit isn't available. No one knows if we shall be here one night, or a week, or for ever! It is a glorious place, with huge high rooms, and huge open casements, and broad staircases and halls, windows looking over the town to the sea. We are high up on a hill. There's no food here, so we sit on the floor and make our own breakfast and tea, and go to a very swanky hotel for lunch and dinner. We are billeted here for quarters, and at the hotel for meals.
A room full of mattresses has just been discovered to our joy, and we have all hauled one up to our rooms, so we shall be in luxury.
Just got a French paper and seen the Pope is dead, and a very enthusiastic account of the British troops at Dunkerque, their marvellous organisation, their cheerfulness, and their behaviour.
Just seen on the Official War News placarded in the town that the Germans have crossed the Meuse between Liège and Namur, and the Belgians are retiring on to Antwerp. The Allies must buck up.
The whole town is flying flags since the troops began to come in; all the biggest shops
and buildings fly all four of the Allies.
Friday, August 21st.--Intercession Day at home. There is a beautiful chapel in the Convent.
There is almost as much censoring about the movement of the French troops in the French papers as there is about ours in the English, and not a great deal about the movements of the Germans.
There are 43 Sisters belonging to No.-- General Hospital on the floor below us camping out in the same way--86 altogether in the building, one wing of which is the Sick Officers' Hospital of No.-- G.H.
The No.-- people are moving up the line to-night. It will take a few days to get No.-- together, and then we shall move on at night. The Colonel knows where to, but he has not told Matron; she thinks it will be farther up than Amiens or Rheims, where two more have already gone, but it is all guess-work. I expect No.-- from C---- is in Belgium. (It was at Amiens and had to leave in a hurry.)
The whole system of Field Medical Service has altered since South Africa. The wounded are picked up on the field by the regimental stretcher-bearers, who are generally the band, trained in First Aid and Stretcher Drill. They take them to the Bearer Section of the Field Ambulance (which used to be called Field Hospital), who take them to the Tent Section of the same Field Ambulance, who have been getting the Dressing Station ready with sterilisers, &c., while the Bearer Section are fetching them from the regimental stretcher-bearers. They are all drilled to get this ready in twenty minutes in tents, but it takes longer in farmhouses. The Field Ambulance then takes them in ambulance waggons (with lying down and sitting accommodation) to the Clearing Hospital, with beds, and returns empty to the Dressing Station. From the Clearing Hospital they go on to the Stationary Hospital--200 beds--which is on a railway, and finally in hospital trains to the General Hospital, their last stopping-place before they get shipped off to Netley and all the English hospitals. The General Hospitals are the only ones at present to carry Sisters; 500 beds is the minimum, and they are capable of expanding indefinitely.
There is a large staff of harassed-looking landing officers here, with A.M.L.O. on a white armband for the medical people; a great many troopships are coming from Southampton; you hear them booing their signals in the harbour all night and day.
I've had my first letter from England, from a patient at ----. The Field Service post-card is quite good as a means of communication, but frightfully tantalising from our point of view.
We had a very good night on our mattresses, but it was rather cold towards morning with only one rug.
They have a Carter-Paterson motor-van for the Military mail-cart at the M.P.O., and two Tommies sit by a packing-case with a slit in the lid for the letter-box.
Saturday, August 22nd.--The worst has happened. No.-- is to stop at Havre; in camp three miles out. So No.-- and No.-- are both staying here.
Meanwhile to-day Nos.--, --, and -- have all arrived; 130 more Sisters besides the 86 already here are packed into this Convent, camping out in dining-halls and schoolrooms and passages. The big Chapel below and the wee Chapel on this floor seem to be the only unoccupied places now.
Havre is a big base for the France part of our Expeditionary Force. Troopships are arriving every day, and every fighting man is being hurried up to the Front, and they cannot block the lines and trains with all these big hospitals yet.
The news from the Front looks bad to-day--Namur under heavy fire, and the Germans pressing on Antwerp, and the French chased out of Lorraine.
Everybody is hoping it doesn't mean staying here permanently, but you never know your luck. It all depends what happens farther up, and of course one might have the luck to be added to a hospital farther up to fill up casualties among Sisters or if more were wanted.
The base hospitals, of course, are always filling up from up country with men who may be able to return to duty, and acute or hopeless cases who have to be got well enough for a hospital ship for home.
There is to be a Requiem Mass to-morrow at Notre Dame for those who have been killed in the war, and the whole nave and choir is reserved for officials and Red Cross people. It is a most beautiful church, now hung all over with the four flags of the Allies. An old woman in the church this morning asked us if we were going to the Blessés, and clasped our hands and blessed us and wept. She must have had some sons in the army.
We are simply longing to get to work, whether here or anywhere else; it is 100 per cent better in this interesting old town doing for ourselves in the Convent than waiting in the stuffy hotel at Dublin. There is any amount to see--miles of our Transport going through the town with burly old shaggy English farm-horses, taken straight from the harvest, pulling the carts; French Artillery Reservists being taught to work the guns; French soldiers passing through; and our R.E. Motor-cyclists scudding about. And one can practise talking, understanding, and reading French. It is surprising how few of the 216 Sisters here seem to know a word of French. I am looked upon as an expert, and you know what my French is like! A sick officer sitting out in the court below has got a small French boy by him who is teaching him French with a map, a 'Matin,' and a dictionary. A great deal of nodding and shaking of heads is going on.
Sunday, August 23rd.--The same dazzling blue sky, boiling sun, and sharp shadows that one seldom sees in England for long together; we've had it for days.
We've had yesterday's London papers to read to-day; they quote in a rather literal translation from their Paris Correspondent word for word what we read in the Paris papers yesterday. I wonder what the English hospital people in Brussels are doing in the German occupation,--pretty hard times for them, I expect. Two that I know are there doing civilian work, and Lord Rothschild has got a lot of English nurses there.
This morning I went to the great Requiem Mass at Notre Dame. It was packed to bursting with people standing, but we were immediately shown to good places. The Abbé preached a very fine war sermon, quite easy to understand. There was a great deal of weeping on all sides. When the service was finished the big organ suddenly struck up "God Save the King"; it gave one such a thrill. And then a long procession of officers filed out, our generals with three rows of ribbons leading, and the French following.
This is said to be our biggest base, and that we shall get some very good work. Of course, once we get the wounded in it doesn't make any difference where you are.
Monday, August 24th.--The news looks bad to-day; people say it is très sérieux, ce moment-ci; but there is a cheering article in Saturday's 'Times' about it all. The news is posted up at the Préfeture (dense crowd always) several times a day, and we get many editions of the papers as we go through the day.
Tuesday, August 25th.--We bide here. No.-- G.H., which is also here, has been chopped in half, and divided between us and No.-- General, the permanent Base Hospital already established here. So we shall be two base hospitals, each with 750 beds.
The place is full of rumours of all sorts of horrors,--that the Germans have landed in Scotland, that they are driving the Allies back on all sides, and that the casualties are in thousands. So far there are 200 sick, minor cases, at No.--, but no wounded except two Germans. We have no beds open yet; the hospital is still being got on with; our site is said to be on a swamp between a Remount Camp and a Veterinary Camp, so we shall do well in horse-flies.
It is a fortnight to-morrow since we mobilised, and we have had no work yet except our own fatigue duty in the Convent; it was our turn this morning, and I scrubbed the lavatories out with creosol.
I've had an interesting day to-day, motoring round with the C.O. of No.-- and the No.-- Matron. We visited each of their three palatial buildings in turn, huge wards of 60 beds each, in ball-rooms, and a central camp of 500 on a hill outside. They have their work cut out having it so divided up, but they are running it magnificently.
Wednesday, August 26th.--Very ominous leading articles in the French papers to-day bidding every one to remember that there is no need to give up hope of complete success in the end! There is a great deal about the French and English heavy losses, but where are the wounded being sent? It is absolutely maddening sitting here still with no work yet, when there must be so much to be done; but I suppose it will come to us in time, as it is easier to move the men to the hospitals than the hospitals to the men, or they wouldn't have put 1500 beds here.
The street children here have a charming way of running up to every strolling Tommy, Officer, or Sister, seizing their hand, and saying, "Goodnight," and saluting; one reached up to pat my shoulder.
No.-- G.H., which left here yesterday for Abbeville, between Rouen and the mouth of the Somme, came back again to-day. They were met by a telegram at Rouen at midnight, telling them to return to Havre, as it was not safe to go on. They are of course frightfully sick.
French wounded have been coming in all day. And we are not yet in camp. Our site is said to be a fearful swamp, so to-day, which has been soaking wet, will be a good test for it.
It is so wet to-night that we are going to have cocoa and bread-and-butter on the floor, instead of trailing down to the hotel for dinner. Miss ----, who is the third in our room, regales us with really thrilling stories of her adventures in S.A. She was mentioned in despatches, and reported dead.
Thursday, August 27th.--Bright sun to-day, so I hope the Army is drying itself. All sorts of rumours as usual--that our wounded are still on the field, being shot by the Germans, that 700 are coming to Havre to-day, that 700 have been taken in at Rouen, where we have three G.H.'s--that last is the truest story. We went this afternoon to see over the Hospital Ship here, waiting for wounded to take back to Netley. It is beautifully fitted, and even has hot-water bottles ready in the beds, but no wounded. It is much smaller than the H.S. Dunera I came home in from South Africa. Still no sign of No.-- being ready, which is not surprising, as the hay had to be cut and the place drained more or less. The French and English officers here all sit at different tables, and don't hobnob much. Six officers of the Royal Flying Corps are here, double-breasted tunics and two spread-eagle wings on left breast. Troops are still arriving at the docks, which are the biggest I have ever seen. The men on the trams give us back our sous, as we are "Militaires."
Friday, August 28th.--Hot and brilliant. Eleven fugitive Sisters of No.-- have come back to-day from Amiens, and the others are either hung up somewhere or on the way. The story is that Uhlans were arriving in the town, and that it wasn't safe for women; I don't know if the hospital were receiving wounded or not. Yes, they were. Another rumour to-day says that No.-- Field Ambulance has been wiped out by a bomb from an aeroplane. Another rumour says that one regiment has five men left, and another one man--but most of these stories turn out myths in time.
Wounded are being taken in at No.--, and are being shipped home from there the same day.
This morning Matron took two of us out to our Hospital camp, three miles along the Harfleur road. The tram threaded its way through thousands of our troops, who arrived this morning, and through a regiment of French Sappers. There were Seaforths (with khaki petticoats over the kilt), R. Irish Rifles, R.B. Gloucesters, Connaughts, and some D.G.'s and Lancers. They were all heavily loaded up with kit and rifles (sometimes a proud little French boy would carry these for them), marching well, but perspiring in rivers. It was a good sight, and the contrast between the khaki and the red trousers and caps and blue coats of the French was very striking. We went nearly to Harfleur (where Henry V. landed before Agincourt), and then walked back towards No.-- Camp, along a beautiful straight avenue with poplars meeting over the top. About 20 motors full of Belgian officers passed us.
The camp is getting on well. All the Hospital tents are pitched, and all the quarters except the Sisters and the big store
tents for the Administration block are ready. The operating theatre tent is to have a concrete floor and is not ready.
The ground is the worst part. It is a very boggy hay-field, and in wet weather like Wednesday and Tuesday they say it is a swamp. We are all to have our skirts and aprons very short and to be well provided with gum-boots. We shall be two in a bell-tent, or dozens in a big store
tent, uncertain yet which, and we are to have a bath tent. I am to be surgical.
While waiting for the tram on the way back, on a hot, white road, we made friends with a French soldier, who stopped a little motor-lorry, already crammed with men and some sort of casks, and made them take us on. I sat on the floor, with my feet on the step, and we whizzed back into Havre in great style. There is no speed limit, and it was a lovely joy-ride!
We are seeing the 'Times' a few days late and fairly regularly. Have not seen any list of the Charleroi casualties yet. It all seems to be coming much nearer now. The line is very much taken up with ammunition trains.
To show that there is a good deal going on, though we've as yet had no work, I'm only half through my 7d. book, and we left home a fortnight and two days ago. If you do have a chance to read anything but newspapers, you can't keep your mind on it.
We are getting quite used to a life shorn of most of its trappings, except for the two hotel meals a day.
My mattress, on the floor along the very low large window, with two rugs and cushions, and a holdall for a bolster, is as comfortable as any bed, and you don't miss sheets after a day or two. There is one bathroom for 120 or more people, but I get a cold bath every morning early. S---- gets our early morning tea, and M. sweeps our room, and I wash up and roll up the beds. We are still away from our boxes, and have a change of some clothes and not others. I have to wash my vest overnight when I want a clean one and put it on in the morning. We have slung a clothes-line across our room. The view is absolutely glorious.
Saturday, August 29th.--A grilling day. It is very difficult, this waiting. No.-- had 450 wounded in yesterday, and they were whisked off on the hospital ship in the evening. It doesn't look as if there would be anything for us to do for weeks.
Sunday, August 30th.--Orders to-day for the whole Base at Havre to pack itself up and embark at a moment's notice. So No.--, No.--, No.--, and No.-- G.H., who are all here, and a Royal Flying Corps unit, the Post Office, and the Staff, and every blessed British unit, are all packing up for dear life. We may be going home, and we may be going to Brittany, to Cherbourg, or to Brest, or to Berlin.
Monday, August 31st.--We all got up at 5.30 to be ready, but I daresay we shan't move to-day. Yesterday we had two starved, exhausted, fugitive (from Amiens) No.-- Sisters in to tea on our floor, and heard their stories. The last seventeen of them fled with the wounded. A train of cattle-trucks came in at Rouen with all the wounded as they were picked up without a spot of dressing on any of their wounds, which were septic and full of straw and dirt. The matron, M.O., and some of them got hold of some dressings and went round doing what they could in the time, and others fed them. Then the No.-- got their Amiens wounded into cattle-trucks on mattresses, with Convent pillows, and had a twenty hours' journey with them in frightful smells and dirt. Our visitor had five badly-wounded officers, one shot through the lungs and hip, and all full of bullets and spunk. They were magnificent, and asked riddles and whistled, and the men were the same. They'd been travelling already for two days. An orderly fell out of the train and was badly injured, and died next morning.
It is very interesting to read on Monday the 'Times' Military Correspondent's forecast of Friday. He seems to know so exactly the different lines of defence of the Allies, and exactly where the Germans will try and break through. But he has never found out that Havre has been a base for over a fortnight. He speaks of Havre or Cherbourg as a possible base to fall back upon, if fortified against long-distance artillery firing, which we are not. And now we are abandoning Havre!
Tuesday, September 1st.--No orders yet, so we are still waiting, packed up.
Went with one of the regulars to-day to see the big hospital ship Asturias with 3000 beds, and also to see Sister ---- at the No.-- Maritime Hospital. They've been very busy there dressing the wounded for the ship. Colonel ---- brought us back in his motor, and met the Consul-General on the way, who told us K. came through to-day off a cruiser, and was taken on to Paris in a motor. Smiles of relief from every one. One of the Sisters had heard from her mother in Scotland that she had five Russian officers billeted! They are said to be on their way through from Archangel.
Troopships full of French and English troops are leaving Havre every day, for Belgium.
Wouldn't you like to be under the table when K. and J. and F. are poring over their maps to-night?
Wednesday, September 2nd.--We are leaving to-morrow, on a hospital ship, possibly for Nantes K. has given orders for every one to be cleared out of Havre by to-morrow.
We found some men invalided from the Front lying outside the station last night waiting for an ambulance, mostly reservists called up; they'd had a hot time, but were full of grit.
The men from Mons told us "it wasn't fighting--it was murder." They said the burning hot sun was one of the worst parts. They said "the officers was grand"; many regiments seem to have hardly any officers left. They all say that the S.A. War was a picnic compared to this German artillery onslaught and their packed masses continually filling up.
There is a darling little chapel on this floor, beautifully kept, just as the nuns left it, where one can say one's prayers. And there is also a lovely church, where they have Mass at 8 every morning.
You can imagine how hard it has been to keep off grumbling at not getting any work all this time; it is one of the worst of fortunes of war. It seems as if most of the "dangerously" and many of the "seriously" wounded must have died pretty soon, or have not been picked up. The cases that do come down are most of them slight. Some of the worst must be in hospital at Rouen.
Friday, September 4th. R.M.S.P. Asturias, Havre.--At last we are uprooted from that convent up the hot hill and are on an enormous hospital ship, who in times of peace goes to New York and Brazil and the Argentine. There are 240 Sisters on her, one or two M.O.'s, and all the No.-- equipment. She is like a great white town; you can walk for miles on her decks; she is the biggest I have ever been on; we are in the cabins, and the wards and operating-theatres are all equipped for patients, but at the moment she is being used as a transport for us. We are supposed to be going to St Nazaire, the port for Nantes. They can't possibly be going to dump No.--, No.--, No.--, No.--, and No.-- all down at the new base, so I suppose one or two of the hospitals will be sent up the new lines of communication.
Poor Havre is very desolate. All the flags came down when the British left, and the people looked very sad. Paris refugees are crowding in, and sleeping on the floors of the hotels, and camping out in their motor cars, and many crossing to England. There is a Proclamation up all over the town telling the people to pull themselves together whatever happens, and to forget everything that is not La Patrie. Also another about the military necessity for the Government to leave Paris, and that they mustn't be afraid of anything that may happen, because we shall win in the end, &c., &c.
We don't start till to-morrow, I believe; meanwhile, cleanliness and privacy and sheets, and cool, quick meals and sea breeze, are cheering after the grime and the pigging and the squash and the awful heat of the last fortnight. I have picked up a bad cold from the foul dust-heaps and drainless condition of the smelly Havre streets, but it will soon disappear now.
I wish I could tell you the extraordinary beauty of yesterday evening from the ship. There was a flaming sunset below a pale-green sky, and then the thousand lights of the ships and the town came out reflected in the water, and then a brilliant moon. A big American cruiser was alongside of us.
We shall get no more letters till we land. I have a "State-room" all to myself on the top deck; the waiters and stewards are English, very polite to us, and the crew are mostly West African negroes, who talk good English. The ship is very becoming to the white, grey, and red of our uniforms, or else our uniforms are becoming to the ship, and her many decks; but why, oh why, are we not all in hospital somewhere?
Saturday, September 5th.--Had a perfect voyage--getting in to Nantes to-night--after that no one knows. Shouldn't be surprised if we are sent home.
LA BAULE, NEAR NANTES.
Monday, September 7th.--The latest wave of this erratic sea has tossed us up on to two little French seaside places north of St Nazaire, the port of Nantes. There are over 500 Sisters at the two places in hotels. No.-- and No.-- and part of -- are at La Baule in one enormous new hotel, which has been taken over for the French wounded on the bottom floor; the rest was empty till we came. We are in palatial rooms with balconies overlooking the sea, and have large bathrooms opening out of our rooms; it is rather like the Riffel in the middle of a forest of pines, and the sea immediately in front. The expense of it all must be colossal! Every one is too sick at the state of affairs to enjoy it at all; some bathe, and you can sit about in the pines or on the sands. We have had no letters since we left Havre last Thursday, and no news of the war. We took till Sunday morning to reach St Nazaire, and at midday were stuffed into a little dirty train for this place. I'm thankful we didn't have to get out at Pornichet, the station before this, where are Nos.--, --, --, --, and --.
The Sisters of No.-- who had to leave their hospital at ---- handed their sick officers and men over to the French hospital, much to their disgust. The officers especially have a horror of the elegant ways of the French nurses, who make one water do for washing them all round!
Tuesday, September 8th.--Orders came last night to each Matron to provide three or five Sisters who can talk French for duty up country with a Stationary Hospital, so M. and I are put down with two Regulars and another Reserve. It is probably too much luck and won't come off. The duties will be "very strenuous," both for night and day duty, and we are to carry very little kit. The wire may come at any time. So this morning M. and I and Miss J----, our Senior Regular, and very nice indeed, got into the train for St Nazaire to see about our baggage, and had an adventurous morning. The place was swarming with troops of all sorts. The 6th Division was being sent up to the Front to-day, and no medical units could get hold of any transport for storing all their thousands of tons of stuff. One of the minor errors has been sending the 600 Sisters out with 600 trunks, 600 holdalls, and 600 kit-bags!! The Sisters' baggage is a byword now, and we could have done with only one of the three things or 1-1/2. We have been out nearly a month now and have not been near our boxes; some other hospitals have lost all theirs, or had them smashed up. We at last traced our No.-- people and found them encamped on the wharf among the stuff, trying to get it stored with only one motor transport lent them by the Flying Corps. They were very nice to us, offered us lunch on packing-cases, and Major ---- cleaned my skirt with petrol for me!
[Footnote 1: Each hospital contains 78 tons of tents, furniture, stores, &c.]
They sorted out the five kit-bags and boxes for us from the rest, as we have to go in to-morrow and repack for duty,--only sleeping kit and uniform to be taken, and a change of underclothing. They said we'd have to make our own transport arrangements, as the 6th Division had taken up everything. So in the town we saw an empty dray outside a public-house, and after investigating inside two pubs we unearthed a fat man, who took us to a wine merchant's yard, and he produced a huge dray, which he handed over to us! We lent it to the Matron of No.--, and we have commandeered the brewer for No.--'s to-morrow. Then we met a large French motor ambulance without a French owner, with "Havre" on it, which we knew, and sent Miss ---- in it to the Asturias to try and collar it for us to-morrow. She did.
There were a lot of Cavalry already mounted just starting, and Welsh Fusiliers, and Argyll and Sutherlands, and swarms more. We had another invitation to a packing-case lunch from three other M.O.'s at another wharf, but couldn't stop.
We saw three German officers led through the crowd at the wharf. The French crowd booed and groaned and yelled "Les Assassins" at them. The Tommies were quite quiet. They looked white and bored. We also saw 86 men (German prisoners) in a shed on the wharf. Some one who'd been talking to the German officers told us they were quite cheerful and absolutely certain Germany is going to win!
Wednesday, September 9th.--It is a month to-day since I left home, and seems like six, and no work yet. Isn't it absolutely rotten? A big storm last night, and the Bay of Biscay tumbling about like fun to-day: bright and sunny again now. The French infants, boys and girls up to any age, are all dressed in navy knickers and jerseys and look so jolly. Matron has gone into St Nazaire to-day to get all the whole boiling of our baggage out here to repack. P'raps she'll bring some news or some letters, or, best of all, some orders.
This is a lovely spot. I'm writing on our balcony at the Riffelalp, above the tops of the pines, and straight over the sea. Three Padres are stranded at Pornichet--two were troopers in the S.A. War, and they do duty for us. The window of the glass lounge where we have services blew in with a crash this morning, right on the top of them, and it took some time to sort things out, but eventually they went on, in the middle of the sentence they stopped at.
A French rag this morning had some cheering telegrams about the Allies--that left, centre, and right were all more than holding their own, even if the enemy is rather near Paris. What about the Russians who came through England? We've heard of trains passing through Oxford with all the blinds down.
Thursday, September 10th.--Dazzling day. War news, "L'ennemie se replie devant l'armée anglaise," and that "Nos alliés anglais poursuivent leur offensive dans la direction de la Marne."--All good so far. No letters yet.
Friday, September 11th.--It is said to-day that No.-- is to open at Nantes immediately. That will mean, at the earliest, in a fortnight, possibly much longer. We five French speakers are again told to stand by for special orders, but I know it won't come off.
At early service yesterday among the Intercessions was one for patience in this time of trial waiting for our proper work. Never was there a more needful Intercession.
Some of us explored the salt-marshes behind this belt of pines yesterday, up to the farms and to a little old church on the other side; it was open, and had a little ship hanging over the chancel. The salt-marshes are intersected by sea walls--with sea pinks and sea lavender--that you walk along, and there are masses of blackberries round the farms.
There are rumours that all the hospitals will be getting to work soon, but I don't believe it. No.-- has lost all its tent-poles, and a lot of its equipment in the move from Havre. I believe the missing stuff is supposed to be on its way to Jersey in the Welshman with the German prisoners.
Saturday, September 12th.--Rien à dire. Tous les jours même chose--on attend des ordres, ce qui ne viennent jamais.
Sunday, September 13th.--The hospitals seem to be showing faint signs of moving. No.-- has gone to Versailles, and No.-- to Nantes. No.-- would have gone to Versailles if they hadn't had the bad luck to lose their tent-poles in the Welshman, and their pay-sheets and a few other important items.
Had to play the hymns at three services to-day without a hymn-book! Luckily I scratched up 370, 197, 193, 176, and 285, and God Save the King, out of my head, but "We are but little children weak" is the only other I can do, except "Peace, Perfect Peace"! A fine sermon by an exceptionally good Padre, mainly on Patience and Preparation!
Sunday Evening, September 13th, La Baule, Nantes.--Orders at last. M. and I, an Army Sister, and two Army Staff Nurses are to go to Le Mans; what for, remains to be seen; anyway, it will be work. It seems too good to be by any possibility true. We may be for Railway Station duty, feeding and dressings in trains or for a Stationary Hospital, or anything, or to join No. 5 General at Le Mans.
Monday, September 14th, Angers, 8 P.M.--in the train.--We five got into the train at La Baule with kit-bags and holdalls, with the farewells of Matron and our friends, at 9.30 this morning. We are still in the same train, and shall not reach Le Mans till 11 P.M. Then what? Perhaps Station Duty, perhaps Hospital. There is said to be any amount of work at Le Mans. We have an R.H.A. Battery on this train with guns, horses, five officers, and trucks full of shouting and yelling men all very fit, straight from home. One big officer said savagely, "The first man not carrying out orders will be sent down to the base," to one of his juniors, as the worst threat. The spirits of the men are irrepressible. The French people rush up wherever we stop (which is extremely often and long) and give them grapes and pears and cigarettes. We have had cider, coffee, fruit, chocolate, and biscuits-and-cheese at intervals. It is difficult to get anything, because no one, French or English, ever seems to know when the train is going on.
We have been reading in 'The Times' of September 3, 4, 5, and 7, all day, and re-reading last night's mail from home.
What a marvellous spirit has been growing in all ranks of the Army (and Navy) these last dozen years, to show as it is doing now. And the technical perfection of all one saw at the Military Tournament this year must have meant a good deal--for this War.
(We are still shunting madly in and out of Angers.)