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Information about Etretat and No. 1 General Hospital

Edie spent at least fifteen months in Etretat where No. 1 General Hospital  was located in various converted hotels and other buildings.  More information about WW1 hospitals in France and Flanders here.

She arrived in Etretat on 21 November 1915.  Both Volume 2.2 (21 November 1915 to 25 April 1916) and Volume 3 (8 May to 15 November 1916) of her diary were written there. Sadly, the next volume is missing but Edie’s service record (available here) indicates that she moved on to Abbeville in February 1917.

Before you embark on this page – a word of warning.  While it contains lots of images and much fascinating information, this page is long – very long.  To be honest it is really a combination of a personal indulgence on my part (we had such an interesting time in Etretat during our visit in March 2009) as well as a way of thanking Alain Millet for all the information and images he has so generously provided for us.

Dick Robinson

Update January 2020

Very sorry to hear, from his daughter Sandrine,  that Alain Millet died in December 2019. Alain was a wonderful support to me when I was exploring my great aunt Edie’s time in France in WW1 and it was such a pleasure to meet him and be shown all the places Edie would have worked in Etretat.  I can’t believe that was over 10 years ago now and I am so grateful that he took the trouble to travel over to the coast to meet me and my wife, Lisa.  See more about Alain below.

Update January 2016

It’s well over a year now since the BBC broadcast Simon Armitage’s beautiful programme The Great War – An Elegy, in which Edie featured.  I am still receiving regular enquiries about it and, if you missed it when it was transmitted in November 2014…never fear, it is still viewable on Vimeo here.

It was such a pleasure helping to make the film and a delight to work with the Director, Zoe Silver and her team: Nik Porter (camera) and Andy Boag (sound).


Update 6 December 2015

Chris Weekes, who has a holiday flat in Etretat, has been a great source of information about Etretat and his website has many fascinating photos (from 100 years ago and today) of the town. You can see this all on his website here. A great resource.  Thanks Chris.


Information about Etretat from Alain Millet

In January 2009 Alain Millet, who grew up in Etretat, contacted us with the message below and, subsequently, with a number of images which link to Edie’s dairy. In March 2009 we (Lisa and Dick Robinson) visited Etretat and spent a wonderful day with Alain exploring the town and some of the villages nearby as well as poring over a large number of images which Alain has collected over the years from old photographs and postcards.  I have now added many of those images here below as well as some photos taken during our visit which show how the town of Etretat looks now.

Our journey back home included an overnight stop at Eu and we made an all too brief visit to Le Tréport and the cliff top site of the Trianon hotel which became a hospital in 1914 and in which Edie worked from June to November 1918 (see Volume 4 of her diary).  More information on our visit to Le Tréport is available here.

Here’s what Alain told us when he first got in touch.  All the subsequent comments in blue text are his:

A very interesting diary. I lived in Etretat from 1949. For years, I worked as a hobby on Etretat History and I wrote a little (unpublished) book on “Etretat 1914 – 1918”. From 1960 I collected every information I could, from British veterans, from Cecil Smith who was the chief of the British “chaufferettes” who drove the ambulances, from two daughters who had been interpreters for the British (and American) hospitals in Etretat, from inhabitants. I tried to find where were all the British hospital services and annexes: messes, X-ray house, barracks. What I get connects with Miss Appleton’s diary and completes it. To visit the Normand country, she used a book whose title is “Etretat the hamlet of the setting sun” written by an American painter Henry Bacon. It has been published in London in 1895. You could get a copy of the English original at the British Library London. I translated this book into French with M. Philippe Vatinel. We published it in 1983.

Here are the images, each with a brief explanation. They are bunched together in five sections:

Black & white images all from Alain Millet; colour photographs taken by Dick and Lisa in March 2009.
Click on each image to enlarge it and for further information.

Section 1.  Etretat town locations.

Place de la Mairie,  the cliffs and the beach,  the cave le Trou à l’homme,
The washerwomen and the fishermen
La Residence,  Villa Odile,  Villa le Maupas,  the Lighthouse,  Château du Tilleul,  the Railway Station

First, some views around the town.

The washerwomen and the fishermen were subjects of interest for Edie.

The women of Etretat did their washing in the spring water which flowed across the beach and down into the sea; see Edie’s diary entries for 6 December 1915 in Volume 2, Part 2 and for 14/15 November 1916 in Volume 3.

As the daughter of a Trinity Pilot, Edie had a special interest in the sea and wrote, on many occasions, about the fishermen and their activities.

These three buildings still surviving would have been familiar to Edie.

Edie mentions the lighthouse during her walks on 3 January 1916 (see Volume 2.2) and on 26 October 1916 (see Volume 3). Here it is – as she would have seen it on the left and as it is today on the right.

This is le château de Tilleul; strange that Edie doesn’t mention this impressive building which is just outside Etretat on the D940. Shame about the lost spires!

Lastly in this section we visit the railway station. Here’s a comment from Alain Millet:

When a convoy arrived in Etretat Railway Station, the light wounded walked to the centre of Etretat. Busses drove those who couldn’t walk and the ambulances drove the heavy wounded. On the extreme left of the first photo below you can see Cecil Smith the chief of the “girl drivers”. I met him when I was young. He spoke very well French but in a strange manner. He had learned French through the lines of Victor Hugo and a French Bible.

Or is it totally defunct? Check this out: http://www.lafrancevuedurail.fr/ttepac/.  A bit of googling (“Etretat velorail”) will turn up plenty of other trips on the old track.   If you enjoyed that this might make you happy too: http://danetlemodelisme.free.fr/la_gare_d_etretat/index.html !

For some more fascinating WW1 photos in Etretat, have a look at this collection by Brian Dunlop of those taken by his great aunt. She was nursing in Etretat.

Section 2.  Hospitals, hotels, villas, ambulances.

L’Hôtel des Roches,  La Villa Orphée,  La Villa des Roses,  Hôtel Blanquet,  Villa des Fleurs,  The Casino,  Ambulances etc.

Several of those buildings are still existing would have been familiar to Edie. Others have long gone.

L’Hôtel des Roches was one of those converted to hospitals and for a time Edie’s ward was there.  La Villa Orphée was the home of the VADs but had a more celebrated occupant in the previous century; it was the summer home of the composer Jacques Offenbach who had it built in 1858. See section 5 below.

Edie had quite firm views on VADs, as did many other professional nurses working alongside these volunteers, and makes many mentions of them.  Have a look at her comments on 29 November 1915 and on 30 January 1916 in Volume 2.2 – a bit naughty! In fairness she spoke very highly those who earned her praise. There’s a page of all her comments on the VADs and you can see it here. If you want to know more about VADs, try here.

La Villa des Roses is intriguing because it was used to accommodate British medical officers during the period prior to the arrival of the Americans in June 1917. We think we have solved a riddle but check out the images below.

The two modern colour photos seem to be of the same building as the WW1 photo with the officers in it. You need to look closely at the brickwork to compare.  There’s a fuller page on this photo here which shows that several of those in it are mentioned by Edie in her diaries.

‘Detective’ Alain Millet has come up trumps with these two pictures above of the Hôtel Blanquet and its annexe. He comments:

The Hôtel Blanquet was the home of the Matron and many nurses. Edith Appleton lived in a bedroom on the second floor of this annexe. This room had a french window, a balcony and a direct view on the shore and the sea (see her entry for 15 February 1916).  Edith wrote much about the gales and the broken windows or curtains in her room.  It must be said that this annexe faced the hard dominant NW winds. When we compare a map of the shore in 1913, a sketch drawn by Miss Appleton (see sketch under entry for 27 May 1916) and various paintings by Claude Monet (‘Le départ des bateaux’ and ‘Bateaux sur le plage’) it seems that Monet occupied this room in 1883 and in November 1885.

See section 5 below for the evidence supporting this theory.

Did Edie ever know about the illustrious former occupant of her room? It wasn’t until we visited Etretat in March 2009 that I learned how Etretat had been a favourite haunt of many famous artists and writers: the Etretat Tourism website lists them all. But Edie never mentions them; she had other preoccupations one must assume.

Next, here are the Villa des Fleurs and the Casino.

Finally in this section several images of ambulances – all supplied by Alain Millet.

Section3.  Churches, cemetery, burials, processions, rituals.

Protestant,  Roman Catholic,  Presbyterian/YMCA/YWCA,  war memorial,  cemetery church,  graves,  Indian cremation on the beach,  Ascension Day Blessing of the Sea

There were a number of churches in Etretat, some newly established in other buildings when the town became a hospital base for British and other foreign nationals. It seems that some were heated while others were not and the former were no doubt more popular with wounded men. Edie makes frequent references to her church attendance, and often expresses her views about the quality of the clergy! On occasion she played the church organ; see her diary for 24 April in Volume 2.2  and 10 July 1916 in Volume 3.

The cemetery has, of course, changed greatly.

Section 4.  Edie records many walks and trips to local villages and towns.

Here is a small selection of the villages to which Edie walked: Bénouville,  Gonneville-la-Mallet,  St Jouin-Bruneval,  Fécamp

First to Bénouville – a favourite destination for Edie and her colleagues.

Gonneville-la-Mallet is home to the Hôtel des Plats and the Aubourg family. The black and white pictures below are roughly contemporaneous with Edie’s visit on 9 January 1916 (see Volume 2 Part 2).  Last time (2013) I checked, the building was up for sale and a campaign to preserve it was being mounted.  Have a look at this piece on YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jN7j8KdaJ4U.  If anyone has more recent news, do let me know via the Visitor’s Book.

St Jouin-Bruneval. On 15 July 1916 (see Volume 3) Edie records a trip to Le Havre. On the return trip she “came back along the Étretat Rd as far as the turning to St Jouin. Then we alighted & found our way to St Jouin – a charming little seaside place famous for its old Hostess – La Belle Ernestine – & the home she lives in, where one can get tea.”  Edie met La Belle who read some poems.

On our way home we passed through Fécamp and stopped briefly to look at the Palais Bénédictine. Edie visited it on 26 January 1916 (see Volume 2 Part 2) and wrote quite a detailed account of the whole process with a couple of small sketches. Lots more information on the official website here.

Section 5.  Painters, writers, composer etc associated with Etretat.

If you are still here this far down the page you’ve earned this description of late 19th Century Etretat; it all sounds so much better in French!

Après la guerre de 1870, Etretat est la station balnéaire en vogue. Le tout Paris artistique et littéraire s’y retrouve : ce sont les peintres amateurs de sites pittoresques ; Gustave Courbet, Claude Monet, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, des compositeurs comme Offenbach, des romanciers comme les Dumas père et fils et bien sûr, un habitué des lieux : Guy de Maupassant.

To view the works of internationally celebrated painters who spent time in Etretat just google “Name of painter + Etretat” (e.g. Eugène Isabey, Gustave Courbet, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Eugène Boudin, Matisse).

Claude Monet is of particular interest to us because he may have used the same room in Hôtel Blanquet as Edie – see section 2 above for Alain Millet’s argument. The evidence for this is how Edie’s sketch of 27 May 1916 is very like Monet’s paintings of 1883 or/and November 1885. Maybe she saw and copied them but I feel sure she would have mentioned this in her diaries if she had seen them.

A less well known painter who is, nevertheless, of great interest to us is the American, Henry Bacon. One his paintings is already illustrated in section 3 above: the Hindu cremation. See more information on him in the next section – on writers.

Several celebrated French writers lived in Etretat, notably Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) who spent most of his childhood in Etretat, at “Villa des Verguies”. In 1883 he built his own house in Étretat, “La Guillette”, in the mediterranean style in “Le Grand Val”, since renamed rue Guy-de-Maupassant.

Others included Alexandre Dumas (pere et fils), Victor Hugo, Samuel Beckett, André Gide.

Edie makes three mentions in 1916 (11 May, 3 June and 22 June) of Etretat – Hamlet of the Setting Sun but without mentioning specifically the book which was written by the American painter, Henry Bacon (see section 3 above), and was published in London in 1895.  In 1983 Alain Millet published a translation in French with a colleague, Philippe Vatinel.

Morris Werner, an American private who worked in Etretat hospitals between May 1917 and January 1919, wrote a book entitled Orderly! Alain Millet writes: “Mr Werner’s book added many little details to what I knew and wrote about the casino, the Hôtel des Roches Blanches, the Hôtel de la Plage…”       The book was published in 1930 by Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith and is described as “excellent details on work in a base hospital from an orderly’s point of view; gently ironic and anti-war.” Werner wrote fifteen other books, primarily biographies and historical works of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, published between 1923-39.

The composer Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880), whose works include the grand opera Tales of Hoffman, Orpheus in the Underworld, La Belle Helene, and La Vie Parisienne, built Villa Orphée in the town; see section 2 above.

Update 31 January 2012:

We recently heard from Bernard in Australia that he had visited Etretat last year and here’s a link to some photos he took while there: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thrutheselines/sets/72157628963057265/. Well worth looking at and do check out the links on that page about Sister Elsie Tranter of the Australian Army Nursing Service whose diaries became a book, In All Those Lines. Sue Light has a piece about the book here.

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