Introduction to the Diaries
Early in 2009 we found three letters from Edie which shed new light on her movements prior to those recorded in her diaries. In the first letter, we learn that on Friday 9 October 1914 Edie left Southampton and travelled, via Dungeness and Dover, arriving at Ostende at 3am on Sunday 10 October 1914. After a day or two in Ostende she sailed, she thought bound for Dover, but after anchoring off Dunkirk she arrived in Boulogne. By 9 December 1914 she was writing from No 10 Stationary Hospital which, records show (http://www.1914-1918.net/hospitals.htm), was at St Omer from October 1914. A third letter, dated 23 February 1915, is from No. 3 CCS (Casualty Clearing Station) which, according to recorded history, was at Hazebrouck at that time. No. 3 CCS was forced, by enemy action, to move to Poperinghe in April 1915 and then to Bailleul in May.
The diaries themselves are in 4 ‘volumes’. Volume one comprises 19 typed pages and the other three volumes are handwritten in three journals covering a total of over 400 pages. There are a number of delightful small sketches in volumes 2 to 4 as well as a few other items: press cuttings, three poems, a sheet of used blotting paper and some rough notes pages. Click here for photos of the diaries.
With short periods of leave back home, Edie was in France for the entire duration of the war but the first volume doesn’t start until April 1915 (see notes below) and the final volume ends part way through 27 December 1918 with the back of that volume clearly missing. If anyone reading this website knows the location of the missing volumes – perhaps in a second-hand bookshop or even in a museum collection – we would dearly love to hear from you; please get in touch via the Visitor’s Book.
We are greatly indebted to Sue Light whose website Scarletfinders we discovered in March 2008 and which contains a wealth of information about British Military Nurses including Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. Sue has passed on much vital information about Edie:
- She signed her initial contract with ‘His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for the War Department’ on 27 August 1914.
- She joined at Fort Pitt, Chatham on 16 September 1914.
- Service from 15 September 1914 to demobilisation on 22 December 1919.
- Her service record shows her at a whole list of Casualty Clearing Stations, Hospitals, an Ambulance train and then on 20th February 1919 to Nurses’ Hostel, Boulogne to join the staff of the Matron-in-Chief, Miss Maud McCarthy, who Edie mentions a number of times in her diaries.
- Awarded Royal Red Cross (First Class) in 1917.
- Awarded OBE 3rd June 1919.
In her blog, This Intrepid Band, Sue says of Edie’s diaries:
“It’s a wonderful account of life and work at casualty clearing stations, in hospital and on trains, alternating between outlining the horrors of her work and describing the pleasantries of her off-duty time. Edie has a dry sense of humour which must have helped her through some of the difficult times, both physical and emotional.”
Sue Light also has a most fascinating and detailed account, written by Maud McCarthy, of the work of the Casualty Clearing Stations on her Scarletfinders website: it’s here. Very well worth reading right through as it gives a clear and unadorned view of the official thinking behind the CCSs and they ways in which they evolved during the war. It is particularly worth reading Section 6 (6. ARRANGEMENTS IN CONNECTION WITH TEMPORARY CLOSING OF UNITS) of the account which deals, in part, with the evacuation in April 1915 of CCS No. 3 at Poperinghe. Then read Edie’s first hand account of being shelled: in Volume One – from 24 April onwards.
11 October 1914. The journey by ship from Dover via Ostende to Boulogne
9 December 1914. From No 10 Stationary Hospital at St Omer
23 February 1915. From No. 3 CCS (Casualty Clearing Station) at Hazebrouck
Volume 1 – 5 April 1915 to 29 May 1915
The opening volume of Edie’s diaries is written at No. 3 Casualty Clearing Station at Poperinghe. As a result of shelling the CCS was moved to Bailleul in May.
This volume comprises just 19 typed pages, starting at page 112 – part way through the entry for 5 April 1915 and ending with three lines of the entry for 9 April. The first 111 pages are missing and sadly we have no information about them. After two more missing pages (113 and 114), the diary starts with just one word from the entry for 13 April (page 115) and continues until page 132 which ends part way through 29 May 1915.
This is very tantalising and our hope is that the missing pages may have somehow found their way into a museum collection or be lurking on a back shelf in a second-hand bookseller. Watch this space!
These typed pages are held together in two heavy card binders tied together with ribbon through three punch holes. On the front cover the inscription reads: ‘WAR DIARY FOR 1914-15 E.E.A’ and inside the front cover is written ‘This Diary belongs to E.Appleton July 1915. Pinewood Cottage, Beech Hill, Headley, Hants.’ Clearly, Edie’s diaries began in 1914 and the only other clue as to precisely when she first went to France is an entry in Volume 4 for Sunday 8 December 1918 which begins: ‘This morning reminded me – of 1914 – the morning we arrived in Ostend.’ Presumably she meant it was an anniversary but this speculation.
Volume 2 – 25 July 1915 to 25 April 1916
This volume covers the period when Edie has returned from 10 days leave in late July 1915 until late April 1916. She is right behind the front lines at Casualty Clearing Station No. 3 near Ypres. In November 1915 she gets orders to move to General Hospital No. 1 at Étretat, between Le Havre and Fécamp. This hospital, established in December 1914, was one of several hospitals on the Normandy coast which were on the casualty evacuation chain. There are a number of mentions in Edie’s diary that she longs to be back near the Front. However, she remains there and is still there in Volume 3 in November 1916.
Click here to read full text of Volume Two – Part 1: 25 July to 20 November 1915
Edie is at Casualty Clearing Station No. 3 at Bailleul
Click here to read full text of Volume Two – Part 2: 21 November 1915 to 25 April 1916
Edie is at General Hospital No. 1 at Étretat
Volume 3 – 8 May 1916 to 15 November 1916
Edie is still stationed at General Hospital No. 1 at Étretat. This volume begins with a number of little sketches and is a sustained account of everyday life at one of those hospitals on the French coast. Periods of what Edie calls slackness, with time for beautiful walks in the countryside and the occasional trip out in some sort of vehicle, are mixed with days and weeks of relentless pressure as convoy after convoy unloads wounded soldiers (including Germans) for treatment. Many are too badly wounded to survive for long.
Volume 4 – 21 June 1918 to 27 December 1918
We have no diaries for the nineteen month period between 15 November 1916 and the beginning of this volume on 21 June 1918. If you have any idea where they might be please get in touch via the Visitor’s Book.
Returning from leave to Abbeville, Edie finds orders to proceed forthwith to No 3 General Hospital in Le Tréport. No 3 General Hospital had been established there in November 1914. The mixture is as before with frankly described horrors interspersed with delightful descriptions of days out, concerts etc.
Anticipation grows about the war ending and towards the end of this volume Edie spends several weeks in charge of a carriage on an Ambulance Train, trundling back and forth across northern France and into Belgium and Germany, to collect wounded soldiers and take them to the coast for treatment and/or repatriation.
There are many reflections from Edie about the progress of the war and a sustained period of anxiety about her youngest brother, “little Taff”, who is fighting with a New Zealand Division. The mood lightens after the Armistice and there is a wonderful account of Christmas festivities, including a concert, on the train. The final volume ends all of a sudden and it is clear that some back pages are missing.
Family memories have it that Edie stayed in France until well into 1919 and was responsible for repatriating Canadian nurses. However, thanks to Sue Light, we now have copies of Edie’s papers and official records and these show that she joined the staff of the redoubtable Dame Maud McCarthy in Boulogne in February 1919, remaining there until her demobilisation in December 1919. (More about Dame Maud here).
You can listen to some extracts from the diaries being read on Radio 4. Click here.