One of Edie’s most surprising stories features in her diary on 31 July 1915.
She’s just returned from ten days leave and is back at Casualty Clearing Station No. 3 near Ypres (at that time in Bailleul), not many miles from the front line. She and a nursing friend, Sister Jessie Congleton (more about her here), decide to take a picnic up onto Mont Noir.
Here’s the full diary entry:
July 31st 6.00 am
Rudely awakened by shots being fired at a Taube right over us, it is a loathsome way of being called – it feels as if the place is being shelled.
Had the 1/2 day off duty, having evacuated 2 of my 6 cases. I called for Miss Congleton & took tea on to Mt Noir. Sat in a lonely spot overlooking Ypres — & had it. She got the R. R. C. for the Neuve Chappelle business & was telling me odd bits about it.
The whole staff, Orderlies & all were worn out, the Mortuary Corporal included – one afternoon he came to Miss C. & asked her to help him “sort them out” & 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 — & did you ever see ’im”.
His one job was to sort out R.C.s — & 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 — & laughed & laughed — & the more she told herself it was tragic – not funny – the funnier it all looked — & the little white faced corporal with hair on end just gazed helplessly at her — & everything.
That is one of the truest pictures of over work & under sleep — & perhaps it shocks you – but I have lived through much the same — & it is dead true.
So, just what is this about? I guess the mortuary corporal was talking about coffins, but why the different treatment? The simple assumption might be that officers were deemed to deserve neater, or perhaps less noisy, treatment so the lids of their coffins were screwed down rather than hammered.
At one of our Edie talks someone suggested that the bodies of officers were sent home for burial near their homes and so needed to be easily removable from their temporary coffins while the men (many more of them died, of course) were buried near where they died in France. However, when I mentioned this to Max Arthur he was very clear that only a handful of the dead – officers and men – were repatriated for burial; not more than six or seven in total during the whole of WW1. Max’s view seems to be confirmed via a little light googling.
Anyone with more information on this topic – do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edie’s great nephew
The extract above is taken from Volume Two Part One which you can view in full here.
Click on the thumbnail below for a photo of the pages in Edie’s diary for 31 July 1915: