PLEASE NOTE: This page replaces the links to the four volumes of diaries – for the time being. Read on to learn why.
This is a very condensed version (around 7,000 words) of the original four volumes of diaries which run to a total of over 100,000 words. We did this – reluctantly – at the request of the publisher just before the book version was published in March 2012. Click here for information about the book. If you have come to this page looking for one of your ancestors you will not find below all the 200+ names mentioned in the index . Please don’t go away! We can still give you access to the whole text of the diaries so you can do a proper search but the publishers have requested that we get an undertaking from you first that you will respect the copyright of the book. Click here to gain access to the complete original text. We hope that what follows gives you a flavour of Edie’s diaries and we have included several of her sketches.
Click here to see photographs of all four volumes of the diaries.
Edie is at Royal Army Medical Corps Casualty Clearing Station 3 near Ypres.
April 18th. Our men made an attack last night, we heard the heavy firing (in fact it shook the houses) that covered their advance. In 3 minutes they had taken a trench and 13 prisoners 2 officers. The whole work of the night was a hill of importance blown up, arms and legs of men flung high and into our own trenches – 6 lines of trenches taken and 2,000 prisoners. The Germans made a counter attack, and killed and wounded nearly 1,000 of our men. We have had over 600 through our hospital to-day, badly wounded, and fearfully collapsed, some who have been out since Aug. say it is quite the worst time they have had. We went on duty at 5.30 a.m. and stayed on till 9 p.m. I missed tea and dinner, because we were too busy in the theatre, but I came straight to bed and am having dinner from the officers mess brought up to me, and enjoying it very much. It has been a sad day in the theatre and a terribly tiring one. Amputation of arms and legs, and insides cut and packed in. Am very tired.
April 19th. The same as yesterday, only more; we have had more patients two heavy train loads and have been receiving all the time. Ypres is too dangerous so we get them brought in only a few hours after they are wounded. Theatre has been going from 9 a.m. I don’t know how many cases.
April 22nd. Not such a busy day, but we hear there is bad news to-night. Our trenches are being shelled with poisoned bombs which is forcing us to retire, and if so, where will it stop! As No. 5 O. C. is in working order we have had a much lighter day, but we all feel very tired in mind as well as body.
April 28th. We were so much under fire on Sat, Sun and Mon that on Monday night we evacuated all but a few patients who were unfit to move and we (nurses) were ordered to clear out in half an hour, we were packed off at about 11.30 p.m. for St. Omer. Just as we were leaving the town, there were 2 more enormous explosions. We were not anxious to be sent away and told the authorities that we would rather stay, and since we had no choice, we could not help a feeling of gratitude, as we were whirled in a racing car out of the firing line. The first big shell fell quite close to our hospital, and the air was so thick with red dust, bits and smoke that we could not see out of our windows. We had operations on at the time and it was a little difficult for us all to go on as usual. After the first shock, we tried to become used to the 5 minutely explosions of a big shell close to us, but it was difficult and my knees did shake. We arrived at St. Omer at 2.0 a.m. a party of 20 refugees, were put up in a ward for the night, found stretchers and blankets all prepared for us. We did not sleep much, we were all too newly from it. Next morning we were returned to Hazebrouck, where we spent a muddly day, wondering what was going to happen next, and anxiously waiting for news of Poperinghe and our M.O. We hear to-day that the place is still being shelled, and that our unit No. 3 C.O. is being moved to Bailleul to-morrow where we are to join it. So to-day just for one day, after the fortnight of practically working night and day, we are having a rest, and at the time of writing we are in a beautiful wood just outside Hazebrouck, where we are going to have a picnic tea. It is very restful not to hear the roar of the guns so loud and near, but we know it is going on and our hearts are with the brave Tommies who are “sticking it” in the trenches.
May 7th. Quietish day, about 12 minor cases in the theatre, no big ones. Monsieur le Directeur has made us a great offer, we may use the lunatics’ bath room twice a week, for one hour, which means 4 of us bathing at one time; there are 4 baths in one room. I don’t fancy bathing in company, but as I have not sat in water deeper than 1 inch since last year the temptation to go is great. I think 4 of us will try it tomorrow and see what can be done in the way of screens.
May 8th. Hear the Lusitania has been torpedoed, with 1,500 people on hoard, wonder what America will say to that. 3 of us went to another part of the asylum this morning at 7, and had a BATH – deep! Up to our necks in water – glorious! The first time for months and months! A dear old nun came trotting in when I was in my bath, felt to see the water was right heat, thought the bath was too full and pulled the plug by a patent in the floor, I was sitting on the hole where the water runs away and was sucked hard into it! I think I hear a convoy arriving now.
May 29th. 1 a.m. I should just like to describe my surroundings. You know we are in the asylum, a huge building on the top of a high hill, overlooking pretty country. Well now, I have spent the last hour standing on a table in the bunk, looking at the night, the full moon is facing this way, slowly setting in a sky brilliant with stars and softened by a few light clouds. The land all looks black, hills and trees standing silhouetted clear against the sky, the horizon is alive, with the battle rockets are shooting up, guns firing, and the star lights that shew up where the trenches are, shoot up and float gracefully down. I can distinctly hear rifle fire too crackling in the distance. Inside the asylum I can hear the peaceful slumber of the officers orderly, there are only two sick officers and they are all right, so I shall not wake him up. Peace reigns.
July 31st. Had the 1/2 day off duty, having evacuated 2 of my 6 cases. I called for Miss Congleton and took tea on to Mt Noir. Sat in a lonely spot overlooking Ypres and had it. She got the R. R. C. for the Neuve Chappelle business and was telling me odd bits about it. The whole staff, Orderlies and all were worn out, the Mortuary Corporal included. One afternoon he came to Miss C. and asked her to help him “sort them out” and when she got there he threw off blanket after blanket from the poor dead things who had been brought down in such numbers that some tickets were off. He said “Did you ever see ‘im before and did you ever see ’im”? His one job was to sort out R.C.s and Church of England so that each Padre might bury his own. Then he found a fresh difficulty over one whom he thought was an Officer but had nothing to mark him. “And ‘ow am I to bury ‘im – as a’ Officer or man”? Sister said: “Surely they all get buried the same.” “No, they don’t,” said the bewildered Cpl. “Men is hammered – Officers is screwed.” Poor Sister who was worn out as well as every one else suddenly went hysterical and laughed and laughed and the more she told herself it was tragic – not funny – the funnier it all looked and the little white faced corporal with hair on end just gazed helplessly at her and everything. That is one of the truest pictures of over work and under sleep and perhaps it shocks you. But I have lived through much the same and it is dead true.
September 7th. I saw a gaudy and pathetic sight in the town: the funeral procession of a child. First walked the acolytes carrying a mace and incense, then a Priest, the 3 children with a huge cross – one carrying it and the other two one on each side holding ribbons that streamed from it. Behind that was the coffin borne on the shoulders of 4 little boys, still in socks and about 10 yrs old. The coffin was covered with a blue satin pall and on it stood 3 silver (or tin) crowns. After all these came a long line of women and children. No men perhaps they are all away at the war.
September 22nd. Everything is as usual and quiet still. The town is closed and hundreds and hundreds of troops are passing through on their way up – it is a sickening and heart rending sight! These long columns of fine healthy cheery men marching so gaily to the music of drum and fife bands and they must know as we do that a great many will not come back and a great many more spoilt – heads smashed – or short of a limb or something sad. I hear there is to be a bombardment at dawn today. I shall soon know as it is only 2 hours to dawn now. 4:30 a.m. Things are beginning to stir. Dawn is showing in the East and from that part of the horse shoe of guns that surround us boomings have begun and everything indoors that will rattle is rattling at each fresh boom. There is an engine panting in the aerodrome waiting to be off on some business at a moment’s notice I suppose. As dawn lights up more of the sky more guns will begin I suppose; at present their flash would give away their position too badly. I can hear rifle fire in the distance when I am at the window. I wonder where those poor creatures are – the hundreds of young ones unbaptised with fire who went up yesterday. Braveness and good luck to them now.
September 25th. Tonight has been quite a revelation of what war can be like. I think I have told you that we are in a horse shoe shape of guns all round us. Tonight all the guns round us have been going without ceasing. It has been a panorama of vivid flashes of light from the guns and the huge bursts of fire where shells are bursting and the rumble, thud, rumble, roar the whole night. I shall be surprised if we are not very busy after this.
1915 Late November
Edie moves away from the front line, where she has been since the start of the war, to General Hospital No. 1 at Etretat.
November 16th. Received orders to proceed on arrival of relief to Gen. Hosp No 1, Etretat.
November 29th. The V.A.D.s are a source of great interest to me – taking them as a bunch they are splendid. They may be roughly divided into 4 sorts: “Stalkers”, “Crawlers”, the irresponsible butterflyers and the sturdy pushers. At the moment I am thinking of a butterfly one who is on night duty in these wards and says with a light hearted laugh: “It’s rippin’ nursin’ the men, great fun, when I was in the Officers’ ward I did housework all the time, great fun – but there men are really ill – great fun.” When I show her how to do anything fresh, she twitches to get at it and says “oh do let me try, I’d love to do that, simply love to.” She is an aristocratic little person most dainty and well groomed and the thought of her doing scrubbing and dusting all day – makes me smile. The “Stalkers” are nice girls very lordly with high pitched cracky voices. They look rather alarmed at some of the jobs they have to do, but do them well and with good grace. By “Crawlers” I mean the little people with their hair done like this [see drawing and text below] at the back, who think they are unworthy to do anything at all – with an expression of “Stand on me if you like I should be pleased to be your door mat.” There is little to say about the sturdy pusher ones; they are not remarkable for anything, but are quite reliable, very strong, never forget and are always ready to do every bit of work.
January 3rd. I know it is unnecessarily conceited of me, but I do wonder if you saw your daughter’s name in Despatches and do hope you are pleased. I am if you are, otherwise I don’t care. Off this afternoon went for long walk alone until I met a little girl carrying a bundle of clothes. She was very small and 9 years old. I carried her bundle for a bit and enjoyed a chat with the creature, she was rather nice. I am hoping to have breakfast in bed and the day off tomorrow tho’ what to do with it is a quandary, but sufficient unto the day… and tomorrow we shall see.
January 14th. Being Night Super is not all honey when an Orderly gets drunk: “Send for the night Super”. Give your advice that as the ward is slack let him sleep it off and blow him up in the morning. Then the Ward Master comes along, finds him drunk and sleeping and wants to run him straight in to the guard room, but first comes to ask the “Night Super” about 3 different people have three different opinions (strong ones) as to what ought to be done, but all end up with ‘but of course you are night super you must decide.’ So you do and pretty quickly too being sick of them all.
January 30th. Hardly slept at all today. Nurses are the most inconsiderate wretches under the sun; they tramped about slammed doors and pulled plugs to distraction. Then the orphans were let loose to kick tins and play and the paper man blew his horn – toot tooting and yelling: “Petit Parisien”. Now at 1:30 a.m., I feel I shall bust if I don’t say what is truly unkind – that the V.A.D. who sits in this room will drive me to drink; she talks tracts, gives tracts and is bulging with saintly and innocent holiness – till I could shriek. I once met her equal at Cousin Walters, but thank Goodness, he went away by train. At 11 o’c. a Sick Officer lurched into the Plage and asked “Plege ca’n you te’ me where the shickossifers – hoshpital is?” There was nothing for it but to take my lord by the arm and gently lead him there along two streets and up a short hill. I did not carry my lord’s alight as I did not want anyone to see me arm in arm with the poor chap distinctly, the worse for wear. How he got out, I don’t know. 10 a.m. Poor little V.A.D. It was horrid of me to feel irritated at her – she is such a good conscientious little soul.
March 8th. My heart is very sore for one poor boy, or for his Mother. We have had him 10 days and he is no better and is in a state to die at any moment. I am writing to his Mother and telling her so. Se is evidently a refined old lady – writes back to say she is “so glad to hear Charlie is with us – the rest and good food will do him good”. Have my letters not reached her? Or won’t she understand that the boy is dying. I think he must have been gassed; he is purple and just like a gas patient.
March 13th. My poor little boy Kerr died yesterday, he had been in 15 days suffering from gas, pneumonia, bronchitis and has been extremely and dangerously ill all the time, but only the day before yesterday he realized that he was not going to get well. I am glad to say we never left him night or day and he was fond of us all. Yesterday was a difficult day to be “Sister”. He kept whispering all sorts of messages for home and his fiancée. Then he would call “Sister” and when I bent down to hear: “I do love you” “when I’m gone, will you kiss me?” and all the time heads would be popping in “Sister – 20 No – so and so – to – – – -.” “The S. Sgt wants to know if you can lend him a couple of men to…” This and that but, in spite of all, I did kiss the boy first for his Mother and then for myself – which pleased him. Then he whispered “but you still will when I’m gone.” The night before he asked me what dying would be like and said it seemed so unsatisfactory – he felt too young to die and not even wounded – only of bronchitis. Then another time he said, “They wouldn’t let me go sick every time they said it was rheumatism and would wear off and marching with full pack and dodging the shells was dreadful. Thank Goodness – what I told him dying would be like happened – exactly – a clear gift of Providence. I told him it would be that little by little his breathing would get easier and he would feel tired and like going to sleep and then he would just sleep and with no morphia – that is exactly what did happen without a struggle. He was quite conscious up to 20 minutes before he died. I just asked him now and then if he knew I was still with him. “Yes” and “you’re quite happy – aren’t you?” and he distinctly said “Yes, quite”. Then the last and very trying part for the Sister was to walk along to the other end of the village beside the poor dead thing to see him decently put in the mortuary.
March 30th. Quiet night so far – (4 a.m.). Letter from Hilda tonight telling me Basil Blogg has been killed. How terrible for poor Mrs. Blogg – let us hope the other two will keep safe. Went for lovely walk alone this morning – miles along the Canteen Rd. Beautiful hilly country both sides of me – some parts thickly wooded, some smothered in primroses and daffodils – The air was sweet with their scent – larks singing – the colouring of the whole sky and country wonderful. It would have been a perfect feast for an impressionist!
May 30th. One gruesome thing Sam Maddox told me was that when they were marching into Ypres they saw another Company of the Warwicks resting by the roadside, some sitting on the kerbstones some lying about. They took not the least notice of the passing officer – no salute – no nothing. Then the officer went up to them and touched one man’s cheek – white powder fell off and he was stone dead. They had all been killed by gas as they sat or lay. Maddox said it was a horrible sight, some of them were smiling and some looked as if they were asleep. Very peaceful day yesterday. Rules concerning bathing arrived yesterday. “No mixed bathing will be allowed. The nursing staff will bathe at a given place at the given time 2:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. when a boat will be in attendance. Bathing before breakfast will only be allowed, with a responsible Sister in charge.”
June 14th. Took the 1/2 day yesterday. Walked to Villainville with Maxey. It was a rather enjoyable grey day – windy going but, as happened to us once before, on the way back a terrific rain storm swept over us when we were still 5 miles from home. However we clung to our flowers and arrived after a time in an awful state of wetness. It was through my mack and all my clothes to my skin. Maxey was the same so we took an outfit of dry clothes to the baths, had good hot baths and felt like Saints in our dry things.
August 9th. I had a terrible fierce lecture from my M.O. last night, on not being married. He is a dear old thing and says he has found marriage – an undiluted success! So I told him, with the saddest look I could raise, that “my day was done” – it was too late!
September 11th. We had a convoy of 399 in yesterday, only 70 wounded. Far the most of the sick were suffering badly from shell shock. It is sad to see them, they dither like palsied old men, and talk all the time about their mates who were blown to bits, or their mates who were wounded and never brought in. The whole scene is burnt into their brains and they can’t get rid of the sight of it. One rumpled, raisin faced old fellow said his job was to take bombs up to the bombers, and sometimes going through the trenches, he had to push past men with their arms blown off or wounded anywhere and they would yell at him “Don’t touch me,” but he had to get past, because the fellows must have their bombs. Then he would stand on something wobbly and nearly fall down and see it was a dying or dead man – half covered in mud. Once he returned to find his own officer blown to bits, leg in one place, body in another.
September 17th. Had the day off yesterday. I think about half the Staff had – we have so very few patients in. Stayed in bed to breakfast, went for a walk with Wood and Marcey over the other cliffs. Lunched with Madam at 12: crab, roast mutton, grilled potatoes and salad, a delicious sort of cheese that is eaten with sugar, cider and coffee. At 1 o’c Matron, Ritchie T., Marcey and I started off for Caudbec en Caux – you have got some p.c.s of it. We broke down 5 minutes after we started and put back for a fresh car. The journey was a joy of beauty bathed in sunshine. The Seine was most picturesque, all the trees and hills along its banks just beginning to turn to autumn and there were some big steamers going to Rouen.
October 1st. We had a Convoy of 347 in yesterday. I only took 43 patients – German prisoners. They always fall to my share. 6 were slight cases, but the rest were shot to rags and putrid! Most of them are Prussian Infantry, some Württembergers some Saxons and some something else. One poor Saxon youngster got his wounds from his own bomb – he held it too long after the pin was out. As before when I had the Germans, the whole population of Étretat turned out to see them carried in – 37 were on stretchers – and made themselves such a nuisance, that I shut the ground floor shutters. The youth of Étretat have been parading in front of the house whistling and singing the Marseillaise, for the benefit of the Germans. Our own people are as bad. I find bunches of strange orderlies gazing at them, make myself thoroughly unpleasant and banish the lot. I’m not going to keep a peep show. If they want to see Germans, I tell them to join an Infantry Reg. and they will get what they want.
Edie is now at No 3 General Hospital at Le Tréport.
June 21st. I returned to Abbeville from leave June 15th and found orders awaiting me to proceed forthwith to No 3 Gen. Hosp. at Le Tréport.
July 14th. I had a strong feeling all along that I had been sent in disgrace from Abbeville – it was so sudden and unexpected. I heard on Friday that it was the Matron of the Home who had me ejected. She told Miss McCarthy that I influenced the Staff so that she could do nothing with them. The truth is that she tried to boss me and run the hospital when I was in charge. I would not have that and told her so. After all, when I am in charge it is quite sufficient for me to boss the staff. She hated me for not allowing her to and so got me thrown out! The dirty dog! Being in disgrace does not sit heavy on my chest.
July 27th. Weather still notable for devastating heavy showers of rain and hail. Yesterday a sister, McCorqudale, and I had half days, took our tea and went for a most glorious walk. To Eu by tram then straight out and up – up – up – all the way, first through cultivated land then woodland. When we had walked what seemed to us about 4 miles we came upon an old man tidying up a château garden. The Château, as most, was closed. We asked if we were nearly at “La Madeleine”, our destination. He laughed and said he hoped we were not in a hurry as we had “encore cinq kilometres”! More than three miles more! We had plenty of time, so didn’t mind a bit and went on still up hill for a little way then a gentle down through heather clad moorland and then La Madeleine! La Madeleine is a huge forest owned by the State, pines, larches, oaks, mountain ashes, birches – every sort of tree. The pines and larches keep very much to themselves. It was like walking on velvet going through them – the ground thick in last year’s needles and the scent was refreshing and good. The mountain ashes were just red and it was very pretty to look far into the depths of the forest. All the tree trunks were covered in brilliant green moss and the bright red berries of the mountain ashes peeped through and all the many tints of greens and browns and above violet blue sky and dead white clouds. There is only one house and that is a trim red brick one with lots of quaint old outhouses. The Forester lives there – the head forester I suppose – judging by a photograph on the wall. There are quite a lot of them: the wife and daughters have quite a good sized farm. We had tea there, (saying nothing about having had one at 4 o’c by the road side): fruit and cream rusks and butter and tea. They put a bowl quite full of cream on the table and are hurt if you don’t finish it – we did. The walk back was very beautiful, after the one little up hill it is a gentle slope down into Eu all the time. The view of the place was interesting, the church, the many fine old châteaux, round about the Château of Le Conte d’Eu, the rambling quaint old town and just now what looks like another town outside. Camps upon camps upon camps, all in huts, of Belgians and Americans – there is a war on. We might not have known it from the blessed peace and quiet of our half day beyond all signs of it. We meant to go, weather or no, and luckily it was kind – one tre-mendous shower while we were waiting for the Tréport tram to Eu and were in shelter and one on our way home – just where the Forest was very dense and it didn’t come near us. We got to Eu just as the tram was starting and with the rest of people anxious to ride to Tréport threw ourselves at the way in and were successfully packed in, on or off our feet by the crowd behind. I should think there were about twice too many on board. I was standing with the knees of a sitting Belgian shoving me into the middle of the car and the behind of a very fat Frenchman standing behind me – shoving me towards the Belgian. I was carrying a huge bunch of mountain ash etc. and had to plant both hands firmly on the wall over the Belgian’s head – to keep myself in any sort of shape at all. The berries hung just where they hit his nose every time the car rattled and he did look cross but as he might have at least offered me his seat I left things as they were. While we were waiting for our tram in Tréport, a lorry arrived from somewhere near Amiens bringing twenty officers down on a few hours leave. Just about there I was looking in a Café. Some tables were occupied by soldiers; at one were two girls, dressed and painted to a high degree, “playing cards” and laughing loudly. They did not seem much interested in their game but the lorry load of clean young officers seemed to need all their attention. There are hundreds of such in every big French town. I asked the lorry driver if Amiens has been much knocked about. He said, as I thought he would, not so much – only once the Cathedral has been hit. I marvelled at that then he told me that we had billeted German officers there! Oh, clever thought! I would pack it with them – it is such a beautiful cathedral.
August 10th. Many happy returns of the day to [brother] Fred. The times are stirring and of an exciting week. I think yesterday was top day. When I went on duty at 8, I was met by a patient half way and asked if I had heard the news. We had broken through at Albert and in front of Amiens and had advanced 9 miles. A little later my Yankee M.O. arrived, flushed and excited. Had I heard – we had taken prisoner two Divisional Generals, lots of big guns, 2 complete C.C.S. Our tanks had done wonders and we had taken lots of German tanks. The ward is full of men who had taken part in it. Some had got only as far as the German first line, some to the 2nd and some to the 3rd and they were perked up and longing for more to arrive to know – if the wood in front of [words crossed out] – behind – no – well anyway the German side of the 3rd line trench had been taken. Of course, we only had the slight cases down so early on; during this night more trains were to arrive and today more again and will probably bring the severely wounded. The spirit and cheer of the men is unbounded. You hear them talking about it as excitedly as if it were a game of football and once the tale is told they, many of them, go off into such a sleep, there seems no wakening them for anything. Just sometimes I wish I were up at a C.C.S. but I don’t think I really do. They say British – by that I mean all English speaking troops including Americans – have done it so far. The French are held in readiness, resting with their very best cavalry and when we are tired out the French are going to make a dash and carry on. That is the plan – let us only hope it will carry out all right. Also they say that our Casualties are light – one serious to 5 slight wounded, and not a heavy toll of killed. Thank God for that. Our tanks did good work, they went over 5 to a battalion and when they got to the German front line they turned and paraded up and down the line, firing all the time, which made a good protection for our Infantry. The weather was misty two days ago and our big bombing planes could not take part. Yesterday was clear and I expect they did.
August 16th. My ward is rather a sad place just now, so full of extremely badly wounded, plenty of gas gangrene, 2 fractured spines dying and a room which is very difficult to ventilate. One feels the horrible smell in one’s throat and nose all the time – poor old things! They are very good; one died yesterday, an Australian, his leg was very gangrenous and had to be taken off high up but it was too far gone. His one cry was to get up and go out, he was quite all right; then about 1/2 an hour before he died he settled down, said “I’m done – I’m dying fast “ and he was quite right. It is very sad for these Colonials with their people so far away but when he was off his head I think he thought I was his Mother from the way he hugged and kissed my hand. Well, so long as he does not get a great disappointment in a lucid interval I do not mind. The news is keeping very good – long may it last.
August 22nd. I heard a good argument from that other Sgt. I told you about who ran away from the Navy in favour of being 2 parts drunk when you “go over the bags.” He is a man who has done well and won medals. To begin with, if you’re wounded, you don’t bleed as much. 2nd, you are quite sensible enough to know what is expected of you and you do the job with a crest high spirit and daring, minus fear. He told me in one big attack at their first objective they found a dug out where four German officers were lunching: ham, bread, wine in plenty. They killed the four, had lunch themselves and had a good drink of rum, of which they found dozens of bottles in our English Bass bottles. First he and four other sergeants had it then an officer joined them then the Colonel and when they had finished they sent the men down. After that they took another 90 yards in a brilliant dash. I take a good deal of notice of what this Sgt says. He is a man of fine physique, goes in for long distance running, deep breathing and all sorts of things. When he is in the line he takes 2 meals a day and his rum issue but when they are back for a rest he eats 3 meals a day and drinks 3 pints of stout every night at the Estaminet before going to bed! My gassed men are terribly ill, every one of them the colour of a dirty penny, pulses rocky, throats raw, eyes streaming, lids swollen and off their heads at intervals. Weather, like living in a greenhouse. It is all right at night, because no one cares if you have nothing on, but the daytime! With correct uniform! I ask you!
October 11th. Sad – I have taken my beautiful winter coat to be made hideous and regulation. (Silly fools). I went for a walk along the sea front at Mers [Mers-les-Bains] yesterday. I thought the sea front quite a respectable place to walk alone in the evening, but evidently it is not. Every Frenchman who was by himself cooed me; at least I don’t know what you call it – a sort of “tweet tweet” noise, So there you are, I can’t walk alone at night now the clocks are put back. I suppose they thought I was on the lookout for a companion! Not much! They evidently don’t realize the bliss and joy of being quite alone when you live in a hum of many voices always.
October 18th. The C.C.S.s are playing a great game of leap-frog and just sometimes something stirs in my blood that I wish I were back at one, advancing every few weeks over the heads of all the others, then feeling annoyed when they get ahead again and then taking our turn to jump comes again. I love it all, except the shelling and bombing and that’s horrible. It must be very interesting just now as of course they are following up the Armies over the new battlefields and unsalvaged battlefields do tell such thrilling tales. Yes, on the whole I believe I should welcome orders to go up but it never pays in the Army to ask for anything at all.
November 12th. Peace! Thank God for that! It feels very queer too – kind as if your elastic had snapped. Matron and I took some sick Sisters to Abbeville yesterday leaving here at 4 a.m. and reaching the Ambulance Train at 6.30 a.m. The moment we stopped at the Siding we were pounced upon by the Ambulance drivers and told we were much behind the times for not knowing the news they had been told the night before. Evidently the folk everywhere had heard the news. French girls were embracing Tommies and French children blew kisses to us as we passed. French soldiers waved ecstatically and looked as if, for two pins or if we were not going so fast, they would climb aboard and kiss us. We came back to Tréport only a few minutes after the news reached it and in less than an hour the whole place had gone stark mad. Flags of all nations flying from everywhere, sirens blowing in long shrieks, short shrieks, jerks, every way. All the bands turned out and processed along the Camp with convalescent patients and oddments of French following. Ambulances (allowed to carry 8 sitting or 4 lying and 1 sitting, bedecked with flags and streamers and about 16 inside and as many as could manage to stay there on the roof, paraded solemnly round and round the roads, the men cheering and shouting and flag waving. In the afternoon I think many had drunk the good health of the occasion and the ‘Entente’ spirit was well to the fore – French soldiers and Tommies and French girls walking about in long lines locked in each others arms. Even the motor lorries went mad and bedecked themselves with flags. In the Music Room we bought 6 bottles of good port and when the lights were up we made the longest-in patient, a Sergeant of the Naval Div, make a little speech and they all drank – to Peace. Here endeth the fighting part of the War – GOD SAVE THE KING.
Edie has orders to join 42 Ambulance Train
December 6th. Boulogne – What a life! I was just starting dressings in the ward this morning when Matron came in and told me to go at once to 42 Ambulance Train for temporary duty so I had to take off my rubber gloves and fly to my room to pack up all my worldly belongings (that were not astray) and join this train taking with me hand luggage only. The longer one lives in this war, one learns to take less about. I brought no blankets and very few clothes with me, wrapped in a ground sheet, my hold all being anywhere in France. This is the top dog of Ambulance Trains – the very latest out from England. The Sister-in-Charge had a telegram from home and has gone on a fortnight’s leave and I feel like a fish out of water who doesn’t know his job but it is a fine train and of course it is A1, having a compartment quite to myself instead of half a beastly little hutch where you could hear every word spoken in the beastly little hutches both sides of you. So help me God – I am in charge. We were supposed to leave here at 2:30 p.m. but have not yet got our engine on. 6:30 p.m. I hear we are to go to Etaples to take a load to Calais.
December 7th. We got to Etaples at 11 last night and loaded at 3 this morning: 291 patients, chiefly stretchers, 90 repatriated prisoners of war. Mine is like a first class carriage one side and the other has a wardrobe and dressing table. Of course there is precious little room; you almost stand on your other foot when you walk but it is very comfortable. The French have been very busy all afternoon mending steam pipes etc – they say we are to go a long run to fetch P.O.W.s. At Calais this morning it was interesting to see the mixture of nations working: French, Belgian, German, Chinese, and at other parts British. It is quite funny to do nothing but listen to the engine whistles and the hooters of the men guarding the line. You could not stick a pin between the hoots and shrieks.
December 13th 3.30 a.m. I am taking the second half of the night this trip and we are nearing Calais which means we shall reach Boulogne somewhere about 7 a.m. I have just made my round of the train – quite a walk from one end to the other. There are 16 coaches in all of which 12 are wards, 36 beds in each, although we carry more than 432 patients. In wards where we keep the stretcher patients, we sometimes have all the beds full and a dozen stretchers on the floor and where the wards are used for “sitters” the beds are put back and they pack over 60 in a coach: 72, 80, any number. Tonight we have a light load – only a little over 300. I shouldn’t mind being on a train for a bit – I think.
Christmas Day 1918. A happy Christmas to all. 3.30 p.m. I am enjoying myself immensely in a comfortable chair in the kitchen. Windows wide open and glorious sunshine making even this wrecked desolate uninhabited area beautiful. We are creeping slowly over some of the most fought ground in France – that between Armentieres and Lille. Everywhere is trenches now kindly covered in soft green grass, dugouts, gun emplacements, barbed wire entanglements – all of Bosche construction. The poor trees are all standing split and dead and over towards the town is one sad chaos of bricks and mortar, walls, even skeletons of houses, but I don’t see a roof on a single one. Nobody lives here now and the ground will have to be cleared of all sorts of war hamper before it can be cultivated.
December 26th. Christmas was a great success with our men. They had a splendid dinner followed by a whist drive in the afternoon. In the evening they gave a concert to which we were all invited. Really it is wonderful what can be done in a train. All their festivities were held in “P” coach which is at other times a ward of 36 beds. Some of the beds had been unhinged and made into a long table down the centre. The other beds were folded up (like our table outside the drawing room at home in Deal, only up instead of down). For the concert a stage had been erected at one end of the coach and draw curtains borrowed from the ward where they are used to divide the half used for Officers from the other half used for other ranks. The rule of the concert was that every one had to do something. Some say well, some very badly, some did card tricks. The thing that to me was quite funniest was the Minstrel troop called “Cpl. Fox and his lunies”. They were dressed anyhow: pyjamas, cooks, white drills, anyhow, faces well blacked. One – our cook – played the big drum: a muffled coal hammer on a large round tea tray. Another the symbols had a couple of metal ash trays which he banged together. The small drum a 7 lb. biscuit tin and a couple of pieces of fire wood. Another beat a huge poker which was hung up with a small iron used for lifting the round off the stove. Another beat a gong and Cpl. Fox conducted. Behind the scenes the gramophone played some gooey piece and the band played to the tune of it. Cpl Fox was funny and the whole thing had every one weak with laughter. At the end some one seized a big bunch of paper roses on prickly stalks which we had made for their decoration and presented them to the conductor. Cpl Fox is really clever and later recited a poem made up by himself on “42 A.T.”. Hits at everyone: Q.M.S., all the N.C.Os and of course the officers and Sisters did not escape. Beer lemonade and sandwiches 1/2 inch thick were handed round but we had dined too recently and well to be able to join in. At the end we had a speech by the Chairman, Cpl. Hunt, one by the O.C. and finished up with “The Soldiers farewell”, 2 Christmas Carols, Auld Lang Syne (all holding hands – crossways) and God Save the King. As good luck would have it the train was still during the whole concert and only moved on at 11.45 just when we were singing God save the King.
We hope you enjoyed that brief 7,000 word extract from the original four volumes of diaries which run to over 100,000 words. If you now wish to access the whole of the original click here. The full version contains more than 200 names of people with whom Edie worked or for whom she cared. Maybe your ancestor is amongst them!