Friday, August 10
2 p.m. A flying trip to Camiers in a downpour on Tuesday for supplies and information. Evidently the second battle scheduled for Wednesday was on a smaller scale or else was postponed. The communiqués have said little or nothing about it, though ground was recaptured at Westhoek and Glencorse Wood. It was not a large affair---a matter of 500 yards at some points.
11 p.m. My young friend the pilot, Turberville by name, just walked back with me from the aerodrome which lies the other side of Proven. He is scornful of searchlights, which are merely to encourage the populace. If a searchlight should catch you, which is most unlikely, when you are up at night, the thing to do is to fly down the beam and turn on your Vickers. This puts it out.
After nearly two weeks of either atrocious or unsettled weather, to-day has been perfect and it looks as though the bad spell might have passed---a favorable day for photography, and therefore ideal for the eyes of the army. After working all day on our statistics for the past few weeks I could not bear, after tea, to go back to the clerks' hut---the panorama of aerial activity was too alluring. So I hied me across lots---this in Flanders means jumping ditches and circumnavigating turnip fields and hop entanglements---to the aerodrome a mile away.
It was about half after six, and from their field one gets an unbroken view of the long line of observation balloons, and above and beyond them the sky full of planes and clusters of shrapnel bursts---black ones from the Archies of the enemy, white ones from our own. Turberville was in, having had his two flights earlier in the day. I must stay to dinner, and so to his tent while he shaves, and strops his razor on the palm of his hand, and talks. One begins to learn by banking to the left, and subsequently always finds that easier---viz., one climbs in a right-handed spiral, which would certainly have interested the first of their clan, Leonardo da Vinci. The infantry officer knows only his bit of trench; the flying men know the whole field of operation and what everyone is doing on both sides.
I dined with them, as I say---together with an officer of the Scots Guards. Fifty in the squadron, though only forty-seven to-night---one away and two killed yesterday in a collision in a cloud. Cheerful boys, yet they know full well the seriousness, responsibilities, and risks of their job. Extraordinary tales passed about---of the number of aircraft over this particular sector (one of them said he counted forty planes while he was over the line and got tired of it), of meeting high in the air Boche howitzer shells en route for some point in our rear; we occasionally hear them whistle over us toward Hazebrouck, which, I may add, has, been heavily shelled of late. But that one could see them pass by, head-on in the air! Well, I'm not doubting anything the Flying Corps tells me.
Saturday night, August 11th
1 a.m.---having just finished breakfast with the night shift. More rain all day---clear streaks alternating with downpours. Statistical study of our cases until tea time, when we began to "take in." The 2/ Scots Guards are out at rest billet and I had promised Ross to dine at 8 with the Transport mess. So began work in the late "Pip-Emma"(12) on what promised to be a simple case---"G.S.W's neck, eyebrow, and lip (serious)." There was a minute puncture wound in the right temporal region which had evidently escaped notice, and as is so often the case this proved the more serious wound---a penetrating fracture with torn meningeal and cerebral arteries, and a small foreign body showing by the X-ray on the opposite side of the head. It came out with the magnet---the nail at its full length---on the first trial; but even with Johnnie's help it was 8.30 before I had finished up with the whole affair.
Ross has the reputation of being the best quartermaster in the British Army, and his directions were precise; but it was dark, raining hard, the roads impossible. So it was 9 before I found "Privet Camp," in an old farmhouse on the Camp P3 road near the railway---and then only after having butted into the G.O.C.'s mess far out of my way.
There were only five, Ross himself---an old soldier with many years' service---two young aviators, Pilkington and Bowen, a Padre, and Haywood-Farmer---a polo player of international fame. The Scots Guards deserve a rest, having done well in their particular sector---we saw many of them wounded and gassed.: The Guards were on the left of the line adjoining the French; and they took their objective, the Steenbeek, and have since gone beyond, despite the mud.
All these things I have had no time to learn about; and being eager for information I pulled out my little map, at which they laugh and produce large-scale ones while I am being given my belated dinner---official maps---scale of 6 inches to the mile---which are subsequently presented to me, for, though much used during the past weeks, they are now obsolete, and the trenches so carefully recorded no longer exist.
In the midst of all this, sounds of a bagpipe came in out of the rain, and a person who stands six feet six appeared---a pipe major. He almost filled the little stone-floored room---his longest pipe a few inches from the beams of the ceiling---and what little of the room he left was more than filled with his music. They were all very silent---and at the end I was presented with a glass of whiskey---full of whiskey---which I had to give to Mr. Pipe Major---very seriously. I suppose it meant that the concert was given for me---and so I politely asked him for another and he blew up his bellows and gave what they said was a "Skye Boating Song"---very mournful, despite the whiskey.
A pouring rain outside, we six about a small table in an old Flemish farmhouse, this big kilted giant who, they say, is the World's Champion Piper---he must be---seriously squeezing his native airs out of a bag---a strange situation for me, even in this summer of strange situations.
Sunday, August 12
Very busy operating all day. Horrax and Forbes from our base appear in the afternoon, and Generals Skinner, Wallace, and Davidson here to tea. Extraordinary aerial activity. Four Boche planes over during the day, which was perfect for playing hide and seek in the white clouds. Archies going all the morning and afternoon. One Boche plane brought down by two opponents in sight of our camp. Zink has been out exploring and saw a Fritz make a direct hit on an observation balloon and the two observers come down safely in their parachutes.
Monday, August 13
Just two weeks ago to-night the final preparations for the third battle of Ypres were at their height, and the expectation in the minds of many was that the enemy would be blown out of his diggings from the sea to the Lys and driven back into open warfare. After a long spell of unusually fine weather the thirtieth was overcast and showery, and by noon of zero day---Tuesday, the thirty-first---Jupiter Pluvius had decided the matter by bogging the artillery and infantry and blinding the aeroplanes. Such papers as I have chanced to pick up make much of "substantially obtaining all the objectives laid down," but this, I am sure, is not the way people feel about it up here.
Tuesday, August 14, 7.00 p.m.
Orders to evacuate and a succession of "brass hats" and consulting surgeons indicate that events are impending. Rather discouraged, as we have been having a streak of bad luck---infections, and soon. Walked over to the Scots Guards camp to pay my party call. The Padre had just returned from "Pop" and had seen a Boche plane fall out of the clouds and attack a row of balloons. The observers tumbled out of them in their parachutes, and Fritz was in turn dropped on by three of ours and driven to earth. He adds that it is a favorite trick to try and machine-gun the officers in the air as they are descending. This is war, I presume, but it seems particularly unsportsmanlike.
Find on my return that No. 46 is "taking in," and we are preparing to do two cases regardless of dinner and a concert by the Coldstream Guards military band. This won't be much anyway, as it's raining hard again. I am driven to distraction by the local dilatoriness, the everlasting stopping for meals. Someone is eating all day long---orderlies, sisters, noncoms, officers. As a result there is only about an hour between any two meals---breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner, late supper---when the team as a whole can work together. In the other operating room they stop also for broth and biscuits at 11 a.m. As most of these men breakfast at nine, this means quite a gastronomic day, and many of them eat more meals than they operate on patients. I shall try to drive our American team into eight head cases a day or bust.
Wednesday, August 15
We nearly "busted" on six cases in the twenty-four hours since yesterday's note. We began at 8 p.m. on "L/Cpl. Wiseman 392332; 1/9 Londons S.W. Frac. Skull," which interpreted means that a lance corporal of the 9th Londons had a shell wound. It went through his helmet in the parietal region, with indriven fragments to the ventricle. These cases take a long time if done carefully enough to forestall infection, and it was eleven o'clock before we got to "Sgt. Chave, C.25912. M.G.C. 167-S.W. head and back-penet.," according to his field-ambulance card. This sergeant of the Machine Gunners had almost the whole of his right frontal lobe blown out, with a lodged piece of shell almost an inch square, and extensive radiating fractures, which meant taking off most of his frontal bone, including the frontal sinuses---an enormous operation done under local anæsthesia. We crawled home for some eggs in the mess and to bed at 2.30 a.m. ---six hours for these two cases.
This man "Chave"---queer name---when roused from his semi-consciousness made it known that he had some precious false teeth. They were removed, somewhat more easily than was his broken frontal bone. They must have been on his mind, for I remember when rongeuring out fragments of his skull he kept muttering that I was breaking his teeth. He was evidently familiar with this somewhat similar sound. Though he pulled out his Carrel-Dakin tubes, he seems to be all right to-day, and is wearing his teeth.
This morning a man named Ward, rifleman of the 10th Brigade, was ticketed for us in the Resuscitation Ward---hard to tell whether he or we were more unfit for the operation. We began at 9 a.m.---an hour earlier than we had ever succeeded in starting before, for there is always trouble in getting boiling water, owing to the scarcity of Primus stoves, so-called. A penetrating wound of the occiput, with complete central blindness, and lodgment of the missile in the right frontal lobe. Also with novocaine, lasting another three hours, with extraction of fragments driven into the ventricle. Then really a bad one---another rifleman, Saunders, with a mid-vertex wound, rigid extremities, unconscious, and two foreign bodies with many fragments of deeply embedded bone showing in the X-ray. This carried Morton and me up to 2.30---too late for lunch. I got what might be called a high tea, and Horrax, who had been recording cases and doing dressings, took Morton's place and we did two more penetrating cases, and then our more serious dressings, and managed to get to the mess for dinner nearly on time.
They shove the more serious cases on to us, which is what we want, but I'm beginning to be a little doubtful about eight a day if they are all of this magnitude.
This has been an ordinary slack time with a "take in" of only 200 cases in rotation with our neighbors Nos. 64 and 12. The rush has not yet come---another postponement; perhaps due to the heavy rains to-day.
Thursday, August 16 (really 2.15 a.m. on Friday)
They tell me that heavy firing, aeroplane raids, and some French naval guns to the north of us made much ado last nigh after three o'clock. I heard none of it. The zero hour, long deferred, came at 5 a.m. Walking wounded began to come in to Nos. 12 and 64 in a few hours, and to us at ten o'clock. We began operating at twelve noon and had done seven cases, one better than yesterday, by midnight. Have our system running, with lunch and tea in the operating room instead of coming way overt, here to the mess. Two cases always waiting, so that we can go from case to case without delay. We ought to manage eight to-:morrow---that is, to-day, which is Friday. Clear, cool, cloudless. No very startling news. Langemarck taken, possibly Poelcappelle, and the ridge beyond---the objective. The Boches are using an entirely new gas, which gives bad gastro-intestinal symptoms. They also are dotted about in concrete machine-gun emplacements and can enfilade the oncoming attack. Hence more bullet than shell wounds, it is said, are to be expected.
Friday, August 17
We beat our record to-day with eight cases---all serious ones.
A prompt start at 9 a.m. with two cases always in waiting---notes made, X-rays taken, and heads shaved. It's amusing to think that at home I used to regard a single major cranial operation as a day's work. These eight averaged two hours apiece---one or two very interesting ones. One in particular---a sergeant, unconscious, with a small wound of entrance in the vertex and a foreign body just beside the sella turcica. We have learned a new way of doing these things---viz. to encircle the penetrating wound in the skull, with Montenovesi forceps, and to take the fractured area with the . depressed bone fragments out in one piece---then to catheterize the tract and to wash it out with a Carrel syringe through the tube. In doing so the suction of the bulb is enough occasionally to bring out a small bone fragment clinging to the eye of the catheter. Indeed, one can usually detect fragments by the feel of the catheter; they are often driven in two or three inches.
In this particular man, however, after the tract was washed clear of blood and disorganized brain, the nail was inserted its full six inches and I tried twice unsuccessfully to draw out the fragment with the magnet. On the third attempt I found to my disgust that the current was switched off. There was nothing to do but make the best of it, and a small stomach tube was procured, cut off, boiled, inserted in the six-inch tract, suction put on, and a deformed shrapnel ball (not the expected piece of steel shell) was removed on the first trial---of course a non-magnetizable object.
To-night while operating on a Boche prisoner with a "G.S.W. head," about 11 p.m.---our seventh case-some Fritz planes came over on a bombing raid, as they do almost every night nowadays ---nowanights (which is it?) Of course all our lights were switched off, and we had to finish with candles. If we didn't do a very good job, it was Fritz's fault, not entirely ours.
The Boche prisoner, I may add, was a big fellow with a square head, badly punctured though it was. The case in waiting was a little eighteen-year-old Tommy from East London---scared, peaked, underfed, underdeveloped. He had been in training six months and was in the trenches for the first time during the present show---just ten minutes when he was hit.
Saturday, Aug. 18
8 a.m. A rumor that the C.C.S.'s at Dosinghem and Rémy Siding were bombed in the raid last night; that there were thirty casualties at No. 17, where Crile is, among them some Boche wounded. Hazebrouck has also been so thoroughly bombed and shelled that the New Zealand Stationary where I worked a month ago has closed up after heavy casualties. General Porter and his staff have had to move out, together with most of the civil population, who have closed all the shops.
Poor little Harris, an R.A.M.C. captain who was here when I first arrived, was switched over to No. 3 Australian at Brandhoek three days ago. Last night at 10 p.m. he was in the mess tent with another officer---the rest of them operating, fortunately. A bomb was dropped, killing him outright. He had gone, unhurt, through a winter in Ypres and then through the Somme in advanced posts. How he hated the whole business!
Midnight. The C.O. and I have just dined with General Blackader and his staff at the Divisional H.Q. in Proven where the 38th are in rest billets. They somehow seem to feel obligated to us at No. 46---we certainly had a lot of the Royal Welsh Fusileers during the 31st and early August days. One of the officers confided to me that the 20th Division had taken their place, meanwhile securing Langemarck; also that they were going in again to-morrow without reënforcements, though they had lost 120 officers and 3000 men.
The Welsh Fusileers enjoy the unique distinction of wearing "the flash," a knot of black ribbon sewn to the back of the collars of the officers' tunics, representing the patch of black leather which, before the abolition of pigtails a hundred years ago, served to protect the uniform from this ornament. They came home, I believe, after a long detail in Bermuda and found pigtails no longer the fashion, and, being the last to wear them, "the flash" represents this historical fact of some interest.
I consequently expected to find everyone wearing "a flash," but not at all. Indeed there was not a Welshman among them, perhaps twenty in all---and many kinds of regimental tunics were represented---the only uniformity being in the staff officers' refacings on the collars and red arm band. As is usual there were no introductions, and we dined simply in a small Nisson hut. I sat between General B. and the divisional A.D.M.S., who had recently been C.O. of a C.C.S., and talked a good deal about it, while my rather fatigued brain puzzled more over the question of buttons than what he was saying.
The Brigadier on General B.'s left had---in contrast to the highly polished buttons of the others---black ones, which, as I learn from Burton, our sluggish operating-room orderly---who, however, is full of army lore---are peculiar to the King's Royal Rifles. They were organized in America in 1755 and lost an entire battalion at Quebec, for which these black buttons with a stringed bugle on them are a sign of perpetual mourning. Opposite were buttons characteristic of the Guards. Some in twos, some in threes, and I believe they go up to fives---Grenadiers, Coldstreams, Scots, Irish, and Welsh.
My intelligence, then and now, is about on the plane of buttons. Though variously buttoned up, and though not Welsh, these officers nevertheless were the executives of the 38th, which, to the right of the Guards, went over Pilkem Ridge to their objective, the Steenbeek, on the morning of the 31st. This is all the more remarkable in view of General Gough's "Routine Orders" of Aug. 16th, which contains a "Summary of Statements of Sergeant Phillips (Royal Welsh Fusileers), Captured by the German 23rd Reserve Division on 27th July." Sergeant Phillips in fact gave the whole show away, after his capture, as was evidenced by a "German Intelligence Summary" which in turn was recovered on the 3lst.
I remember expressing some surprise at the dinner that the divisional officers of the R.W.F.'s were not wearing "the flash," and someone said that had all gone by, that the Guards are the only regiments which are still under their own officers; and there is something in their regulations to the effect that they must so be. One gossips and puts on a cheerful face at these regimental dinners the night before an attack---realizing all the time that many of his table companions at dawn will be leading his men behind a barrage into something than which the Inferno could be no worse. That is a subject of which we don't talk.
Sunday, August 19
Morning. My prize patient, Baker, with the shrapnel ball removed from near his sella, after doing well for three days suddenly shot up a temperature to 104 last night about midnight. I took him to the operating theatre, reopened the perfectly healed external wound, and found to my dismay a massive gas infection of the brain. I bribed two orderlies to stay up with him in the operating room, where he could have constant thorough irrigation over the brain and through the track of the missile. No light except candles was permitted last night. We fortunately are not taking in, and I was dressing him this morning---for he still lives---when someone leaning out of the window cried out: "There's a falling plane!"
Nose down, spinning, wings laid back, like a dead bird. He fell just beyond No. 64, and the familiar, irresistible impulse made everyone run toward the spot---I too as soon as I could leave. I got across the track, past the post-mortem tent, as far as the rapidly growing cemetery on the other side of No. 64. Here were about a hundred grinning Chinese coolies, in their blue tunics---though some were stripped to the waist---digging two fresh ditches, about six by twenty feet. The Far East digging in the upstart West with its boasted civilization! This held me up, and I refrained from crossing the road to see the mangled machine and the dead thing under it.
Afternoon. Welpley has had the grass cut on the tennis court and the lines freshly marked out. He has arranged, too, for a tournament---mixed doubles. We are to have tea served there. I am contributing a box of Page and Shaw's chocolates from the usual source of home comforts and delicacies.
Night, 11 p.m. A baby crying in the operating theatre with a badly wounded arm; its mother on the next table with several small wounds and badly shocked. An unusual sight for a C.C.S. There had been the usual raid---one comes every evening. It's about our turn, and not a light is permitted. Rumor has it that these are reprisals---that one of our big naval guns fired into Roulers and hit a German hospital. Consequently Rémy has had it, also Brandhoek, and yesterday Dosinghem, where there were many casualties, I believe---one of Brewer's American nurses was slightly wounded, and some M.O.'s also.
At ten or thereabouts he came---a clear, cloudless, dark night with no moon---just right for him. We could get some idea of where he was by the focusing of the searchlights and where the Archies were bursting as they tried to pick him up. Twenty or more shafts, and in addition the two huge beams---from naval searchlights in Dunkerque, 't is said---which simply poured shafts of light down in this direction. Once we saw him picked up with all the shafts for miles around focusing on him, but he dodged away. This was to the east of us, then Archies to the south in three places, so that possibly there was more than one raider; then after a time to the north, Bandagehem way, apparently, where he dropped eight bombs. The big French searchlights got at him and one heard machine-gun fire-perhaps from Fritz himself. Finally we could hear his engine as he passed over us, then two more explosions, and the searchlights began to blink off. He'd gone.
Then the baby and its mother, a poilu, and an excited Belgian, in the reception hut. Weird sight it was---candlelight, bearers and M.O.'s in their tin hats----a wounded woman and her baby---the fruit of the raid.
Monday, August 20: midnight
A busy day. Six only, but one of them required three major operations---two cranial penetrations, one in the temporal, another in the vertex, and a bad shoulder wound as well. So this should count for our eight. It was not our rotation, but Miller thought I had better take him on. All three were done under local anæsthesia, and during their course I learned from the man, whose name is Atkins, that he is a collier at home---a stretcherbearer here. He had gone out to get a wounded man they had seen lying out for six days in a bad spot. No one else would go and he finally volunteered, though the man didn't belong to his Division. That's all he remembers, though he was quite conscious to-night and can talk, for it's his right brain that's damaged. Hero? Not at all. It was only in the day's work, and probably no one will ever know or care. A simple coal miner. There are thousands of cases of this kind despite Ellen La Motte.
General Skinner came in while I was operating this afternoon and had much to say about the casualties at Dosinghem, Brandhoek and Rémy. He apologized for appearing in slacks---as though one could not wear what he wants up here. A bee had stung him! I asked if it was a battle casualty, and if it made a P.B. man of him. He didn't get it at all. Still, it was very feeble. I'm about done in and had to put off an unconscious "unknown"---a soldier with no identification tag hit by the raiders last night. .
Tuesday, the 21st
Rather a depressing time. Letters and packages from his home keep turning up for Capt. Harris, who was killed a day or two ago at Brandhoek. Our C.O. seems averse to taking any precautions---thinks it will frighten the sisters! I found at No. 64 that Wolstenholme's people were lowering the floors of their tents about a foot. He had even put a sandbag barricade about his own tent and had provided a dugout for the sisters. Last night they had taken refuge in the new ditches dug by the Chinese in the adjacent cemetery.
Dressings and operations all the morning, and finally an attempt to save the "unknown." A hopeless procedure, I fear. A late lunch about three, thanks largely to some potted chicken from home. The Coldstream Guards band came again to play and cheer us up. Very fine.
Being a Consulting Surgeon for the Canadians, Bruce, who is attached to No. 64, has a limousine at his disposal. In it he took me this afternoon to Dosinghem. They have really had a shocking time. At No. 61 five bombs had been dropped, four with so horizontal a spread--"daisy cutters"---that lying down did not suffice to escape fragments. The fifth, a torpedo, was a dud; it was dug up and exploded in a field to-day. There were three killed and twenty wounded, all among the personnel. George Brewer had gone down to the Base, taking the nurse wounded the other day.
When I got home at six I found the officers here all digging funk holes about two feet deep alongside of their tents, and most of them have prepared to sleep in them. Only a direct hit can catch them there. They were also, at last, digging a trench shelter for the sisters. Four new ones have been transferred here from Brandhoek. They've had a bad time, under cover for the last 48 hours with no sleep, and of course impossible to do any work. Bombed by night and then shelled by day. Several casualties, I believe, on the staff since poor Harris was killed.
It's ugly business. Evidently the Hun is laying for the 5th Army C.C.S.'s---Brandhoek, Rémy, Dosinghem---only Bandagehem and Mendinghem have escaped so far from actual losses. They were all much upset at Dosinghem because General Skinner had ordered an electric Red Cross to be shown at night---a good mark to shoot at.
Tuesday, the 21st
Shilton's brother here to-night, and showed me just where his Division, the 61st, the Oxford Bucks, is to go over to-morrow. He was up yesterday taping out the line in sight of the German trenches, behind which his men of the 184th Brigade are to get when the barrage starts at 5.45 a.m. The line runs from B of Border House about S.S.E. through Fortuin to the road by Capricorn Keep. The 48th are on their left, the 15th on their right, and they hope to take Pond Farm and a few other bad nests of concrete fortifications, and to get on a bit toward the German third line, which must still be intact.
One fifth of the Brigade remains behind as a nucleus for a new one in case the others are wiped out. Shilton is among them this time. He is both sorry and glad. No one likes to go over; no one likes to see his friends go over alone. The detail of the preparation is quite incredible. Every man carries three days' rations with him, and must live of course in the open in such a ditch as he can dig for himself, after moving up 30 yards behind his barrage.
Thursday, the 23rd
2.45 a.m. Yesterday morning just as we were getting to work, a Fritz came over flying very high. He was thoroughly Archied.. and we saw him brought down before he could get back ---a lucky shot. It's difficult to tell, however, who actually has the air supremacy.
Wounded began to arrive at noon and we managed to do seven cases between then and 1 a.m. when we switched off, having previously sent our two exhausted sisters to bed. Morton, Horrax, and I cleaned up the theatre ourselves and have just had a pair of eggs apiece and a pot of tea in the mess before turning in.
Evening. I have learned from a participant in the 14th Division that they were supposed to take Polygon Wood but made no gains, and there were severe counter-attacks. It appears that some troops advanced far enough along the Menin Road beyond "Clapham junction" to penetrate Herenthage Wood, which the troops have dubbed "Inverness Copse." The purpose of these desperate recent attacks has been to gain control of the southern end of the ridge. It would look as though the nibbling tactics of the 5th Army on a short front were impossible to carry out because of enfilading fire on the flanks.
The three C.C.S.'s at Brandhoek have finally been abandoned as untenable. A sergeant and a boy who were left to clean up the mess were both killed to-day. I wonder how long Dosinghem will stand it. No further word from them.
Sunday, Aug. 26th
Back in Mendinghem again after two days at the Base for supplies. Horrax has done well with our cases and they look better, possibly as I am fresher after two good nights' sleep. Many dressings this morning, and after lunch Bruce took me I first over to Rémy to see Crile, with whom a good talk. Says he doesn't know the day of the week or month and doesn't care: feels like a savage and is astonished to find he likes it. From there on to Mont des Cats, where a Colonel Slater is C.O. at the old monastery. Wonderful views of the country round about, with flashes of guns along the line to the north of Ypres. We took Colonel Blanchard, C.O. of No. 3 Canadian, back to his camp at Rémy and from there to a place I had always wished to see---one of the miniature maps laid out so the N.C.O.'s can familiarize themselves with the terrain before an attack. It was farther away than I thought, well to the S.E. of Poperinghe, somewhere on the Reninghelst-Dickebusch road, not far from la Clytte, which we visited in 1915.
The topographical ground map represented an area of some 2 1/2 miles square beyond the July 31st line of trenches held by the 2nd Army with Hooge, Sanctuary Wood, and the Ypres-Menin Road to the right; and to the left the Ypres-Roulers railroad as far as Zonnebeke. Zonnebeke and Gheluvelt, lying somewhat beyond the map, were represented merely by signboards with the towns painted on them. On a scale of 1/50 horizontal and 1/12 vertical all the trenches were laid out by colored strips, almost every cottage, the woods, the little elevations--all very familiar names---some, like Westhoek, now ours, some not yet ours. "Inverness Copse," the Polygone de Zonnebeke, "Clapham Junction" on the Menin Road, and so on.
The present line of our trenches was in blue, and it plainly showed how Glencorse Wood proved a snag that held up a division, while that on the left, having gone well forward, was obliged to fall back as their right wing was in the air. And what a three years of war this particular region has seen! Gheluvelt, now in German hands and so far away! Yet there at the most critical moment of the first battle of Ypres, FitzClarence had the presence of mind to send the 2/ Worcesters in to stop the gap which kept the Germans from Calais and the coast---that fateful afternoon of October 31, 1914, when French and Haig thought the jig was up.
Some of the officers and N.C.O.'s who were studying the place like enough will be trying for their objectives to-morrow on the actual terrain itself. How the children would delight in constructing such a map on the sands at Little Boar's Head! Here it is a war game for the Engineers, but they nevertheless must enjoy it.
To call things by improvised names is an essential part of the game and deceives your opponent---supposedly. You must always speak in terms of concealment. You don't call a spade a spade but "3946 Shovels G.S. earth." When, after mess, the C.O. walks off to his hut with the only copy of yesterday's Times, he pretends he hasn't got it behind his back, and calls your attention to the day's bulletin which he has put up on the door. The meaning of this document is so well concealed it's safe for us to read, but he prefers the Times. As it was my copy of the Times, for which in desperation I have subscribed, I think I am justified in walking off to my tent with his bulletin. Here it is:
Monday, the 27th August
An offensive was predicted for to-day. About midnight very heavy firing began, followed by the customary deluge after a week of good weather. The excessive bombardment all quieted down before daybreak. Apparently the attack is to be postponed, and our "take in" so far has been negligible . . . . Telfer tells me that from his platform between July 23rd and Aug. 23rd, 17,299 cases were evacuated from these three Mendinghem hospitals. There are twelve other C.C.S.'s in the 5th Army.
Tuesday the 28th
Atkins the stretcher-bearer was sent down to-day. He's a fine cheery fellow. After his last dressing this morning he gave me a bit of ribbon to remember him by. He won his Military Medal at the Somme and is to have another bar on it for this, I believe.
Wednesday, August 29th
Remarkable for the extraordinary storm of wind and rain, which blew down a lot of our tents and even took the roof from one of the cars of a waiting ambulance train. This lasted nearly twelve hours. We were busy on some desperate cases till 2.30 this [Thursday] morning, and though cold it was clear as a bell when I turned in. Now it is raining again. No wonder the British at another time swore horribly in Flanders.
Wilson's reply to the Pope's peace proposals "made in Germany" helps some.
Thursday, August the 30th
Last Sunday came a letter from Lady Osler telling me that Revere was somewhere near St. Julien and how dreadful it would be should he be brought in to me with a head wound, and yet how thankful they would be. I answered immediately, asking her to wire me the number of his unit so that I could try and locate him among the millions. Rather used up, I was preparing to turn in at 10 last night, when came this shocking message: "Sir Wm Osler's son seriously wounded at 47 C.C.S. Can Major Cushing come immediately?" The C.O. let me have an ambulance, and in a pouring rain we reached Dosinghem in about half an hour. It could not have been much worse, though there was a bare chance---one traversing through the upper abdomen, another penetrating the chest just above the heart, two others in the thigh, fortunately without a fracture.
The local C.O. would not let me cable, and I finally insisted on phoning G.H.Q.---got General Macpherson on the wire and persuaded him to send to Oxford via the London War Office: "Revere seriously wounded: not hopelessly: conscious: comfortable."
Crile came over from Rémy with Eisenbrey, and after a transfusion, Darrach, assisted by Brewer, opened the abdomen about midnight. There had been bleeding from two holes---in the upper colon and the mesenteric vessels. His condition remained unaltered, and about seven this morning the world lost this fine boy, as it does many others every day.
We saw him buried in the early morning. A soggy Flanders field beside a little oak grove to the rear of the Dosinghem group ---an overcast, windy, autumnal day---the long rows of simple wooden crosses---the new ditches half full of water being dug by Chinese coolies wearing tin helmets---the boy wrapped in an army blanket and covered by a weather-worn Union Jack, carried on their shoulders by four slipping stretcher-bearers. A strange scene---the great-great-grandson of Paul Revere under a British flag, and awaiting him a group of some six or eight American Army medical officers---saddened with the thoughts of his father. Happily it was fairly dry at this end of the trench, and some green branches were thrown in for him to lie on. The Padre recited the usual service---the bugler gave the "Last Post"---and we went about our duties. Plot 4, Row F.
Major Batchelor, the C.O. of A Battery, 59th Brigade, and seven men had been brought in at the same time, as I learned from the records. I saw and talked with several of them during the evening. They were just beyond Pilkem, between Langemarck and St. Julien, two to three hundred yards this side of Hindenburg Trench, and were preparing to move the four batteries up to-day. Major Batchelor, Revere, and eighteen men were bridging over a shell hole in preparation for the move of the guns in their battery. It was about 4.30 in the afternoon and there had been no shelling. They were so busy they did not even hear the first shell---a direct hit which wounded eight out of the twenty.
It was difficult to get back, but they finally were brought to the dressing station at Essex Farm on the canal---a 3000-yard carry, then a short distance on a narrow-gauge ammunition track---the advanced post of the 131st Field Ambulance in front of Canada Farm, then by ambulance to No. 47, which was "taking in"---a matter of four hours.
Sept. 2. Sunday evening
Marvel of marvels---a cloudless afternoon and evening, with full moon just appearing in the low east. This is fortunate, for we have been going through a most depressing time. Much discouragement in the air, fostered doubtless by the long period of wet and wind. These people are certainly "fed up," as they say, with the war. The great offensive has been a dismal failure, which we may justly attribute to the weather. In the words of the communiqué "our objectives were gained," but it's a good deal like the farmer who said his "crops were not half as good as he expected and he never thought they would be." We are glad to make much of the recent French success in pushing the line a little back from Verdun, and the unexpected Italian advance on the Bainsizza plateau, which must have given the Austrians a jolt after many months of standstill.
I have been cooped up of late---too much so---and walked over before dinner to see the Boche plane which came down near us, bag and baggage, the other night. He began about midnight by dropping bombs in Proven, flew directly over us, very low, and suddenly his engine stopped. By that time those of us who have no funk holes were lying on our faces in the wet grass---but nothing happened and we didn't hear him start his engine again. Preferring a bomb to pneumonia, I took to my cot. It turned out that because of motor trouble he was obliged to coast to a landing, a mile or two from here. Such a different-looking country between No. 46 and the aerodrome! I could hardly find my path of two weeks ago, the landscape had so changed. The hops ripening, and many of them down; the hay all in and built up in stacks; the days are shortening: autumn is here.
Gerard's disclosures in his Four Years in Germany and Wilson's reply to the Peace proposals of the Pope are as good as battles won. The pen is mightier than the sword, especially when it rains in Flanders. There is no blotting paper to dry up mud. There is little doing according to the "canned" communiqués of Sept. 18t and 2nd, yet we seem to have plenty of work.
Tuesday, September 4th
7.30 p.m. A still, clear evening after a full day's work, with little sleep last night, for we operated till 2 a.m. The airmen are coming home, ten, twenty, thirty of them. Somersaulting, side-slipping, volplaning, cavorting, pretending to be engaged. Some, mere specks, tumble out of the sky; others almost in reach just overhead. Perfect children. Turberville goes home to-morrow to instruct somewhere. I shall miss his frequent "cheerio."
To see Gen. Skinner last evening at the Château Lovie in regard to a temporary leave, which he is loath to grant---says we must apply in the usual form. In two weeks' time we must be back. There is to be another "push"---weather permitting. I stayed to dine at his mess with a group of junior officers. There was a good deal of gentle banter which seemed to amuse him. He looks old to me and shows the strain. People with responsibilities have aged fast, I judge, in the past three years. I urged him to set apart a forward hospital to be restricted so far as possible to wounds of the head. We could easily train the teams to man it at our base and instruct them in the rudiments of neurosurgery. Our single team during the past month has knocked the mortality figures for penetrating wounds from 56 per cent to nearly 25 per cent. He will look into it and talk to the D.G., but foresees difficulties---e.g., no rotation with adjacent hospitals and therefore continuous and killing work. Thirty thousand wounded for the 5th Army from July 31st to August 2nd, and three thousand recorded ´G.S.W. skull." Could any one hospital possibly cover it?
A lively night, the last, from Boche raiders---they seemed to be everywhere. Dunkerque severely bombed; also Boulogne, we hear. For the first time we saw our own planes up to meet them---carrying the lights to warn off our own Archies!! A good deal like looking for a burglar in the cellar with a lighted candle in your hand, and with the idea you 'd shoot first. Our flying men are a sort of day swallow; the enemy are more batlike and nocturnal.
Thursday, 6th Sept. En route Camiers
At about four this morning, this disconcerting message was put in my sleepy hand, and a match struck to read it by: "Hospital bombed last night. Fitzsimons and three men killed. Whidden, Smith, McGuire, wounded but in good shape. Since going on satisfactorily. (Signed) Patterson." Fitzsimons, Smith, and McGuire must be the new M.O.'s attached since my departure. So Base Hospital No. 5 has had its turn again---one of the first American units over---one of the first if not the first to suffer casualties. Almost too bad that newly attached men have had to take the full brunt of it rather than those of our own group.
I luckily got permission from the Army H.Q. to be away for a few days without the delay of a movement order through tortuous official channels; then to Dosinghem to see if the bribed corporal is properly caring for Revere's grave; then a hurriedly written report of our six weeks' experience for General Skinner to submit to the D.G.; then this rattly ambulance. An attempt to write is no joke---it will be better after St. Omer when we get off the pavés, but I shall then crawl inside and try to sleep.
The fields are much changed since my last trip. The hop pickers are at work; the last of the haystacks are being groomed, their headdress terminating in a wisp like that on the top of a mandarin's scalp; only the fields of mangoes are still green and untouched; some officers are exercising and jumping horses in the bare fields; more Tommies are playing football in others; and on the sides of the thatched or red-tiled cottages what looks like tobacco is hung up to dry. Beside the larger dome-shaped stacks are funny little spindly ones which my Tommy chauffeur says is a kind of French bean: "They calls 'em hurry-coverze." An anxious pig meets us head-on in the road wearing a triangular wooden collar on his neck; he thinks he's run against something and ludicrously tries to step over the crossbar, first one foot, then the other; we crowd him grunting into the ditch, where he's more at home. Arques, full of Australians; the cut-off south of St. Omer; rain.
Thursday evening. Camiers
It was worse than I had feared from the C.O.'s telegram. Five bombs of the daisy-cutting variety, about 10.30 Tuesday evening---direct hits in our camp, after two anticipatory ones beyond No. 18, and a torpedo dud in No. 4's compound. The first two hits were close together, just at the entrance of the hedge, behind which were the tents for the N.C.O.'s and for some of the overflow officers. McGuire, a Kansas City man recently attached to us, was in his cot and had a most providential escape, with his three or four wounds. His tent is riddled; a sergeant tells me he counted 400 holes and got tired; his tin bucket is full of horizontal perforations. Poor Fitzsimons was standing in the opening of his tent---or had been when last seen. The bomb must have dropped almost at his feet, and he fortunately could never have known what had happened. He was literally blown to pieces. Whidden was in the nearest tent on this side of the hedge and among other minor things has a penetrating chest wound.
The third bomb fell at the near end of C-V; the fourth directly through one of the marquees of the same ward, tearing things to pieces and killing Private Tugo, who was standing near Miss Parmelee, though more actual damage was done in C-VI, the adjacent ward. The last went through the reception tent, where Rubino, Woods the bugler, MacLeod, and English were on duty. The first two were killed, and MacLeod badly injured. Sergeant English heard the bomb's whistle and, warning the others, made a rush for the opening. Thanking English for his seat, Woods got up from a bench and plumped himself in the chair he had just vacated. Details will doubtless be given in an official report. There were many narrow escapes; many holes through tents all over the compound, even as far as the mess hut, which is peppered at about four feet height, just at our end of the table. Many amusing episodes also. Jim Stoddard, he of the life preserver, automatic pistol, and night watches of the Saxonia days, was working in his laboratory making media. The window and its sash were broken; there were several through-and-through holes in the corner of the room. Thinking a local munition dump had blown up, he never stopped work.
But all this is not my story. I only wish it were. It was a bad night, and everyone seems to have behaved admirably. There were of course a number of critical and urgent operations. MacLeod, the nice young chap who brought over our last reënforcements, lost both legs, and the next day had a double thigh amputation, high up, for fulminating gas-bacillus infection. To Cutler's great credit he promises to recover. There has been a curious amount of rapid and severe infection from several of these wounds, perhaps due to our badly infected old encampment. Twenty-two Tommy patients were rewounded.
Camiers. Saturday, Sept. 8th
7 p.m. My old tent is somewhat the worse for wear, having been used as a receptacle for bicycles---bicycles no longer of much use, for fragments of the bombs went through most of them. Graham's little fringe of garden is a sad spectacle from neglect. A few dwarf nasturtiums are still ablaze in the tangle, and the mignonette shows a bold rear guard, but the front line is "na poo." Some German five-pfennig bits were picked up at our camp the morning after the raid. Was this an act of insolence on the part of the Hun, or an accident?
G. Bastianelli in his Italian uniform has been about all day. He and Foster Kennedy lunched here, and afterwards we went down to No. 26 at Étaples. There I encountered Major Lindsay, formerly of No. 11, more Scotch than ever, and equally observant. Recalling that our naturalist expedition had never come off, he said he had a new discovery---fossilized echinoderms---the hills full of them---had never noticed them before. Then Captain Yellowlees, who is in charge of the mental cases, showed us some Roman coins (circa A.D. 400) and some pottery which had been dug up in the sand dunes. Fifteen centuries since some Roman legionnaire dropped or buried his pieces of money on this strip of coast, and how many more since Lindsay's fossils were living things and these hills were below water, I do not presume to guess. But these are merely the straws of history---a fossilized sea urchin, Roman coppers, and Boche nickels from the same chalk hills. Probably neolithic man had his camp here; we know that Cæsar did, and Napoleon, and now the British---not for the first time either.
Yellowlees proceeded to show us some crazy men who thought there were bombs under their beds, and I went off to find Morrison, Bashford, and Hartley, to get some dichloramine-T for use on my return to Mendinghem. Then to see Miss Parmelee, our nurse, who had the closest kind of call; rather used up to-day after her antitoxin, but she deserves a Military Cross or whatever women are given for presence of mind, neglect of self, and thought of others, in time of possible panic. She was standing at the entrance of C-V, not twenty-five feet from the third bomb. She's rather frail and it knocked her down, but she heard the cries and groans of the patients, got right to work, and stayed on duty all night. In the morning she turned up in the operating room, where had been a mêlée all night, to get Morton to take a tiny shell fragment out of her eyelid. Her sweater had six good-sized holes in it and her heavy outer coat about as many. Her watch was picked off by a piece of the shell, leaving only the strap, and it has not yet been found.
Sunday, Sept. 16th. Mendinghem again
Meeting called by General Skinner at 11 with the C.O.'s and Surgeon Specialists of these three C.C.S.'s to discuss the question of head cases---possibly the outcome of my report. I suggest having a weekly conference and we agree on Tuesday afternoons. Commission(14) to investigate the wastage of M.O.'s here for lunch while visiting Mendinghem. They arrived about ten minutes past one---were fed abundantly---left at ten minutes of two. I asked the C.O. whether anything was said on the subject of their quest. He replied that the only question put to him was whether the ambulance train standing on the track---it had been parted for them---was bringing patients or taking them away. Since these trains are only for evacuating patients, this was evidently something off the Commission's beat. I had a chance for a few words with Stiles and asked him what it all meant; he admitted that they could do nothing more than send in a whitewashing report---"eye wash," in short. I told him the work done here could be covered by just half the M.O.'s if they would use sisters or orderlies, as our team was doing, to give anæsthesia.
As a matter of fact it seems to me that there is an enormous wastage, and much injustice, largely due to the professional arrangement of zones (Front, L. of C., and Base), rather than radially from Front to Base for each army. As things stand, an M.O. gets attached to a field ambulance and may stick there for two years without ever being exchanged; may be in constant danger; though busy, may have no medical work whatever to do and so rust out completely. On the other hand, vigorous young men who ought to be with a regiment or an F.A. at the Front get easy jobs at the Base and remain there for an equally long time. For example, Hallowes and Kennedy, capable young chaps who, after a year, one at the 17th, the other at the 18th F.A. of the 6th Division, finally succeeded in getting out and were attached here for a couple of weeks---they have never seen service at the Base.
Ere long, word comes from headquarters to the C.O. that two M.O.'s are wanted for F.A. positions "forthwith." He naturally selects men he does not know very well and therefore those who have been here the shortest time. Hence the C.O.'s Territorial friends remain while Hallowes and Kennedy are returned to the line. This I drag out of them after the Commission departed. They naturally were itching to tell the Commission a few things. Another M.O. here from an ambulance train has had nothing whatever to do for six weeks. There are others who do nothing but ride on motor ambulances.
The regimental M.O.'s---one for each battalion---likewise have very little medical work to do, but there is no doubt from what Miller tells me that they are absolutely essential to the morale of the men. Having a doctor around when they go over the top is a source of comfort, even though the M.O. knows there is little he can do for them that an orderly cannot do. He is useful also in looking after the sanitation of their billets, and I presume a good M.O. of Miller's type is next in importance in many ways to the colonel. Incidentally Miller wears a D.S.O. ribbon for "going over" to get lying-out cases.
After a morning and afternoon spent in preparation, the first clinic with demonstration of cases was held in the old operating hut from four to five, General Skinner presiding. Many from Nos. 12 and 64 there. It was possibly too good; no one would speak: all glued to their seats until I moved an adjournment for tea. They then discussed for a time whether future meetings had better be at four or six owing to tea time. The D.M.S. was for having a secretary, at which I protested, urging that the sessions be kept informal.
Mr. Buttrick, G.E.B.,(15) told me Saturday when I saw him in Camiers of his encountering in Liverpool a former friend---a Canadian lumber merchant---who had drifted over with the first contingent and was now in British service. Mr. B. asked him what he was doing and he said he was a sort of magnified stevedore engaged in unloading lumber ships. He was given the job presumably because he owned lumber mills and therefore knew lumber when he saw it. Being given it, he got to work and found them unloading the heavy timber with an antiquated apparatus which necessitated placing a chain on each end of every beam, and which then deposited them in a huge pile on the dock. This pile subsequently had to be disentangled, like picking out jackstraws, and sorted into some six or eight sizes---a performance which took about ten days. He therefore installed an unloading device with a long swinging crane which could not only pick up a log in its middle, but deposit it on the dock in its appropriate pile according to size. It took about ten hours for the whole performance. "But," he added, "the curious thing is they dislike me for it."
Indeed the British---individuals of course excluded---look upon our restless activity as a failing, not as a virtue. It hurts their pride to read what Northcliffe has to say about the scale of preparations in the U.S.A. They say England can and will win the war alone on this Western Front, which is an admirable spirit---the trouble is they are not winning it and have no prospect of doing so. The interesting psychological part of all this is that the talk is all on one side; for surprisingly enough one meets little of the proverbial American boasting---over here at least.
After a period of good weather it is overcast and drizzling. We have rapidly followed No. 12 this evening in our rotation of 200 gassed cases. This sounds like the preliminaries of the offensive of July 3 1st.
Chapter Five, continued
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