The relationship between professional nurses and VADs during World War One.
In her diaries Edie quite often expresses her views on the VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachment) who worked alongside her in Northern France in hospitals and served as ambulance drivers and cooks. It is widely accepted that there was often some tension between the professionally trained nurses, such as Edie, and the largely untrained VADs: usually middle- or upper-class, well-to-do young women. But Edie takes a generally good view of the VADs – with a few notable, and sometimes very amusing, exceptions.
I should explain that part of my motive for putting this page together is an attempt to provide a useful resource for those interested in the nurses/VADs relationship and in the hope that, for example, when they are depicted in TV and film dramas, their relationship will be more accurately shown. I was moved to do this by a heartfelt cry from Sue Light in her blog, This Intrepid Band – see http://greatwarnurses.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/parades-end.html. Of course, Edie doesn’t provide the full picture but her diaries are an honest and forthright contemporary account of how it was.
So, let Edie’s own words speak for themselves. Below are all the references to VADs from the four volumes of her diaries spanning the period 1915 to 1918. I have highlighted the sentences which refer specifically to VADs but I’ve also left in some of the surrounding text to provide context. At the head of each section I have shown the link to the full original text on Edie’s website.
A lot of the references are quite brief and trivial but, as a whole, I believe they show that Edie had a positive view of the VADs with whom she worked so closely in often very stressful situations. I hope this collection sheds some light on a working relationship which is often misunderstood or – worse – misrepresented. I have tidied up the text a bit (Edie loved using dashes) so it reads more fluently. Otherwise it is as she wrote it.
If you wish to quote any of the text you are welcome to do so but please:
- Acknowledge the source, and
- Let me know, via email@example.com, when you do.
Dick Robinson – Great nephew of Edie.
There are no clear references to VADs in Volume One of Edie’s Diaries.
If you want to check, it’s here.
Volume Two is in two parts.
Part One spans the period 25 July to 20 November 1915.
Edie is at Casualty Clearing Station No. 3 near Ypres.
The full original text of Part One can be seen here.
Part Two runs from 21 November 1915 to 25 April 1916.
Edie has been posted to General Hospital No. 1 at Étretat.
The text of Part Two is here.
November 20th 1915. In the train between Rouen and ?
I had a most amusing time at No. 8. Miss Clements the Matron came out with us (No 14) on board the “Palm Branch” which you know all about. I called on her in her office and had a little chat and she invited me to spend the night there instead of putting up at a Hotel. So after taking the others to town and fixing them up at the Hotel Dieppe and after doing a little necessary shopping and seeing the place, returned and was made welcome by Gascoigne – an old Bart’site whom before I only knew by name. We – Tully Coulter and Matthews – dined with Matron and later minus Matron. We had a tea party in Tully’s hut. At 10:30 I went to bed – Sick Sisters’ ward – and was much entertained and amused there. A V.A.D. took care of us – warmed my bed (first bed, after Abancourt, for over a year) not counting the mattress-less camp variety. At 6 a.m. she brought me tea and filled my bath – a proper big one. Sisters can be just as exacting fussy old patients as any one else – I find. Went to 7.30 breakfast then walked to town to gather the others.
November 29th 1915. 4 pts to CC 4 to England. Off for half day – could not do much as it was pouring with rain and I have no mack or umbrella. A torpedo destroyer and a submarine went past quite close in this afternoon, patrolling the coast.
8 p.m. and the only thing left to do is to go to bed. I wrote a French letter to my little French girl today – she is a smart child if she makes head or tail of it.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 9th 1916. 3 very charming V.A.D.s asked me for a little jaunt with them in what they call the “buss”. It really is quite a good “Ford” car. We went for a glorious 2 1/2 hours spin and went through pretty villages and country to Harfleur and saw the damage done by the explosion they had at the bomb factory on the 11th of last month. The church was a good deal broken and the windows of houses smashed. At some place dead in the country we passed a real old French chateau with a moat round it – quaint very old towers and lovely grounds belonging to it. We stopped just to gaze at it for a little while. We halted at a place called Gonville [Gonneville-la-Mallet] at the famous old inn with old French china on all the outside walls: plates, dishes, mugs, jugs, all stuck on with cement or mortar. The lunch is intensely interesting, too. Kitchen a wonderful array of highly polished brass and copper. Upstairs is quite a museum of curios of the war and some older. In the dining Hall are many panels beautifully painted by different artists who have spent holidays at the Inn. Everyone has been asked to paint a panel while he is there. They are loose panels, church door shape, dark work, some fastened to the wall, some just standing there. Well worth a visit.
January 17th 1916. Quiet night, the only excitement being a man in for quite a different thing suddenly found both legs paralyzed. The M.O. can’t understand it and thinks he may be hysterical. I don’t agree. Had a lovely day y’day. Skipped my walk and bath and all such wholesome things and went straight to bed and slept all day. It was glorious, only I wanted to go on sleeping when they called me. One poor little V.A.D. was pathetically sleepy and very funny. Her ideas of night duty when she is sleepy are worth hearing. She is a clever little wretch and has a sketch book in which she has caricatured V.A.D.s in all circumstances, the C.O. etc. Tonight is freezing cold, blue moonlight, very calm. The reflection of the moon in the sea was so beautiful. I made the Sisters come and look at it. The sight of the cliffs in the moonlight is past description. Now for my 3rd round.
January 27th 1916. Quiet night. I have sent the V.A.D. on duty in this building “La Plage” to bed for 5 hrs. She is new to night duty and has hardly slept all day. I have thoroughly enjoyed being alone and have seen all sorts of interesting people and things in the fire.
January 30th 1916. 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.
Went for a walk toute seule in a thick white, wet mist – at the top of the hills suddenly found myself in hot bright sunshine, birds singing, blue sky and below me nothing but fluffy whiteness, that I felt I could jump on to like a feather bed. After a time that cleared and the day was perfect. Sea dead calm, the fishing boats look so pretty, painted bright colours and with red sails, going out in a long line one behind the other making a vivid reflection in the sea; bunches of clean women standing about to see them off. Letter from Miss Congleton: she says the fire was awful – too awful to write about. No-one was hurt. They are nursing the Enterics in the “Compound” wooden huts. My V.A.D. has just threatened me with something aloud from the Church Times. I can’t stand it – I must make my round early. At 11 o’c. a Sick Officer lurched into the Plage and asked “Plege ca’nyou 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.
February 6th 1916. Quiet night – no excitement so far.
5:30 a.m. I don’t think I told you that two days ago we had a very sad death. A young lad 21 only who seemed not extremely bad was taken to the theatre for examination and died on the table. 5 pints of fluid found in his lungs.
P.S. I have put my exasperating little V.A.D. in a ward where there are two staff nurses. She is very happy there and I have an older and more woman of the world one in the Plage so that’s an improvement.
March 26th 1916. A day of quick change: handed over Casino 3 and 4 to Ritchie, took over D. Roche; 3 hours later was sent off to be ready for night duty. Thomas (T.F) had an operation suddenly and I am doing night duty. She is so far doing well and a good patient. She had a lb.2 cyst removed from her inside. Not off duty yesterday – none of the threatened sisters have come. There are two tiresome little V.A.D.s in the room next this coughing their heads off – I never did like coughs. I have filled them up with glycerine, lemon and given them hot milk but still they bark.
March 31st 1916. My 6th night 2/3s done – not much like active Service. My patient has slept all night and I have sat in a chair. I am looking after a sick V.A.D. too; have been to her room twice, both times the door has made a disastrous noise but she has not stirred.
April 2nd 1916. I am looking after a sick V.A.D. tonight, an elderly woman – the image of Hartigan – who has travelled and read and lived. I have just been chatting to her. She is from No. 10 Rouen and has been working in the German ward because she speaks German. One of the men told her that they were giving themselves up to the English in big numbers in some places but that the English wouldn’t take them, sent them back to their own lines where they would be shot for desertion. Another told her that before Christmas the Kaiser called up I forget how many men but was not able to get nearly the full number – thank Goodness – perhaps they are running short at last.
The next selection of extracts is taken from the Third Volume of the diaries.
Edie is still at Etretat.
The full original text is here.
May 10th 1916. Yesterday was ditto of the day before, except there were no operations owing to workmen in the theatre. Gave Cummings 1/2 day, hope she spent some of it in buying a new cape – she is not remarkable for tidiness, but works well. Little Johnstone, an excellent V.A.D. came to me in place of – let me think – who was the last – Ernest.
May 13th 1916. As usual. 5 operations, 2 cases to England. Miss Rentzsch joined the Asturias as Ass. Matron. Some of our Sisters went to Havre with her and saw Allen, Mason and Leedam. They appear to be in the lap of luxury: beautiful wards, a large and well furnished cabin each, plenty of Steward, stewardesses, and boys in brass buttons to wait on them. Plenty of orderlies, etc. They are all looking well and rested. There is a talk of them taking out of action Australians home! Lucky people – fancy going to Australia ! Very windy day. The little orphans love the wind, when they are walking out in a crocodile they throw up their caps and the wind blows them far and they have to chase them which annoys their keepers very much. I was noticing yesterday that she clouted them whether the cap was blown or thrown off so no doubt things will improve for her. I am meaning to get up for 6.30 service so must be quick. Went to watch tennis last night two motor V.A.D.s and 2 M.O.s played a good game. One of the V.A.D.s they say is almost in Wimbledon form. Must get up.
May 18th 1916. 5:30 a.m. Glorious morning tide far out. The brown rocks look well in the sunshine covered in patches with vivid green seaweed. Off duty yesterday evening. Called with Matron on the Chauffeur V.A.D.s. They have a glorious house and garden. Their unit consists of 17 persons. 14 Chauffeurs, a cook, housekeeper and housemaid. I was talking to the housemaid and admire her very much. Such a nice well educated girl. I think she sometimes wishes she were doing more than housework for the War but, I argued with her, that it was a necessary job and personally I rather admired the people who took the out of sight jobs or quietly carried on with necessary peacetime work and so I do. They have asked us to tea on Monday. After that I took Matron to the garden of the house where the Mother is English and we roamed all over the place, but found no one. Later Maxey and I went, found the gardener, and he gave us each a double arm full of flowers for the wards. I don’t expect Miss McC. and the D.G. will come before tomorrow, but still – it’s all right – I must get up early this morning as a convoy is coming.
May 19th 1916. Scott, Palmer and Sheard returned from leave last night. Maxey and 3 V.A.D.s – Sutherland, Craig, Williams went. They should have had a glorious crossing judging by the sea this morning. It was No. 1 train that brought our convoy. My old chum Paterson came up to see me. She is not looking at all well and dislikes train life. I always feel I should like it for a bit. Last night I helped Maxey to get off then after first supper went for a stroll in the gloaming with Miss Atkinson; poor thing she is being sent to England after having had an outbreak of nasty boils. She is terribly sorry to go. She is the N.Z. V.A.D. aged 56 I told you about.
May 20th 1916. Quiet and beautiful weather day yesterday. We were all on duty in the afternoon in accordance with Matron’s wishes that we should be at our posts if the great ones came to inspect. We sent the V.A.D.s off on conditions they kept their weather eyes lifting and came back at the first sign of Miss McC.
May 22nd 1916. Sunday yesterday went to early and evening services. Glorious day, we were duly inspected by Princess Victoria, Princess Christian’s daughter. I hope she is not a spy, having a brother with the Germans does put one off her a bit. She seemed to like everything. The V.A.D. Chauffeurs lined their convoy of cars up and stood by them in the square and were the first visited. P.V. shook hands with them all and they made their curtsies to her.Lady Guernsey and two other ladies were with her. Poor little L. Guernsey is a charming young thing. She lost her husband at the beginning of the War and has been running a French hospital at Fécamp ever since. After the inspection they all came to tea with us. Princess V. and the 3 ladies with her, Miss McCarthy, Col. Jenkins – a Staff Officer, the A.D.M.S., our C.O., and about 6 M.O.s. The V.A.D. drivers and a bunch of us.
May 26th 1916. The convoy came in at 5:30 a.m. y’day and we were all called for first breakfast. About 300 chiefly medical cases came. Mine were – many of them – poor old worn out things who had been out all through the war and were going home for a rest. In one room I had a Q.M.S. aged 59, a C.Q.M.S. and a S. M. and another old thing all about the same age. Going round last night Major Martyn said, he thought the best thing to order for them was a stiff brandy and soda each and a good sleep. So they had the first and I hope by now have had the other. McFarland, V.A.D. left for some other hospital yesterday. They keep nibbling at our staff, but are not so good at replenishing it!
May 27th 1916. Very busy day yesterday. I had to send one of my V.A.D.s to help in Casino 5, which I did gladly as it was to enable them to give “Barber” the Appendix man from us, a nurse to himself. He is doing badly – may even be dead now. The English patients did not go so with one thing and another the day was quite full. Off in afternoon, picked marguerites along the Havre Rd fields to do the churches with today. Three new V.A.D.s arrived fromEngland. They look terribly young and untrained – we should be grateful for a few trained people. I have felt uncommonly in sympathy, with an old brown spaniel here who hobbles about on three legs and looks miserable! The cold gave me rheumatism but today looks beautifully sunny and warm and the sea is as calm as a millpond.
May 31st 1916. A convoy of about 300 arrived yesterday which filled us right up and overfilled the hospital. Some will be going on to England by the next boat. Off for 1st supper instead of second – otherwise not off duty, lists, lists, lists, besides the treatment, kept me busy. The V.A.D., had one the afternoon and one the evening and worked like blacks when they were on. Good little creatures.
The glorious 1st of JUNE 1916. Lovely morning. Ascension day. I have called some of the others to get up for Early Service, but am not going myself. I never did go to the Early Service at home, on Ascension Day. Yesterday was a blessedly peaceful day. No one had a half day. The orderlies odded round and looked up equipment for the monthly inspection and my two V.A.D.s and I had ample time to enjoy and perhaps spoil the patients. It must be a ghastly thing to be buried alive. One of my men was. He knew his company was shorthand and the chances were he would never be found as only part of one hand was showing. His head was doubled over on to his chest and there was only ventilation enough for him to take short slow breaths. There was a tremendous weight on his shoulders sandbags and earth. He spent the time wishing he had been killed outright by a shell instead of being buried in a mine. When at last they got him out he fainted and knew no more until he was in hospital. He is a quaint dreary creature – says he will never be the same again. Had another of the Chauffeuses in for treatment yesterday. She had crushed her hand in trying to take her tyre off. Quite a nice youngster. It seemed to open her eyes to be in a Sisters Bunk for a bit. When I had cleaned her hand up I left it to soak in lotion, while I did the diets and saw about various things. The orderlies came up and I did each one’s diets with him, then the V.A.D.s came to know what to do – of the treatment and a thousand odd things, then I finished the sore hand and sent her off. She came in the evening again to have it looked at and said: “I had no idea you had to do such a lot of things – you seem to have to see about everything.” I told her that was the Sisters job. I think she had an idea that the Chauffeuses were the people who counted and we amused the patients, meanwhile.
June 2nd 1916. Ascension Day Festivities were held in perfect weather and the place swarmed with happy trippers of all classes. They started pouring into the town at an early hour on bicycles and walking pushing perambulators full of babies and food for the day. Later on the carriage folk rolled up in dog carts, landaus and motor cars. It was just like a Regatta day at home. All the flags were flying and people dressed in their Sunday best. The event of the day was the Annual service to ask a blessing on the sea for the use of “the fishermen – and all save our enemies.” The first part of the service was held in the church. Then they came down to the sea a long procession of first the newly confirmed children in their robes and ties carrying banners, then the very young orphans, beautifully dressed, the girls in white with white wreathes, instead of hats and the boys in smart little suits of all sorts from Lord Fauntleroys to sailors. After them the choirmen, black cassocks, lacey surplices, acolytes in scarlet and lace and the Priests magnificently robed in handsome lace and yellow silk etc. Our R. C. Padre took the leading part and wore most wonderful robes; there was something that looked like Brussels lace almost trailing the ground. When they got to the shore the Priest (our R. C.) and his acolytes and the man bearing the crucifix were pushed out to sea in a little boat and the blessing was asked from there. After that they processed back and the rest of the day was en fête. In the afternoon our Scottish Canadian band from Havre played in front of the Casino. The bagpipe turns caused great excitement. It was not by any means all unselfishness that made me send both V.A.D.s off – and the Orderlies turn about for the afternoon and quietly kept house and patients myself. I loathe a crowd and I saw a good deal from the windows – all the latest Paris fashions for instance.
June 15th 1916. Extract from last night’s Orders “all clocks will be …… so that 11 p.m. will become 12 midnight..” and so it did. At least some of us put our watches on at bedtime from 8:30 to 9:30 and this morning I woke at 6 instead of 5:30 so the jerk was not so sudden. It must have given them great joy on night duty to move the clock on. Yesterday from 6 p.m. we were officially recognized as a 950 instead of 750 bedded hospital. Our share in the annexes amounted to putting 60 mattresses down with blankets which gave us a good deal of furniture moving to do.
In the evening I went for a walk with Matron along the Havre Rd. to a little old village called ?. We looked over the church and decided it was very old. V.A.D. Turner left for good. She had an auction sale the night before and made nearly 50 francs. She sold a variety of things from shampoo powders and a dressing gown to the mat on the floor, which belonged to the Hotel, and a candlestick she did not own. She was a nice girl but too young for this work.
June 28th 1916. The sea is calm so perhaps some of us will venture for a bathe in an hour’s time. Went for a walk with Miss English – driver V.A.D. a nice girl. A youth in the ward has his 21st birthday yesterday – some gave him a party. It was a great success. There were 13 of them but 2 had to feed early as they were leaving so only 11 sat down together. They had a real gorge of strawberries and cream and cakes and were very happy. The dear old vet. said never had he seen such a tea, he only wished he could have had a photo of the table! They are such dear grateful creatures. I heard on good authority that in future V.A.D.s are to be paid £20 a year only. No allowances and their camp kit to be handed in when they leave. And a good thing too, I always have felt very strongly on the subject: we trained people hardly smelt money for our three first years and worked much harder. These people have had money simply pushed at them with the result that absolutely unsuitable ones have joined for the sake of the money. Perhaps now each one will do what she is best at. Yes.
July 6th 1916. I give up description. It beats me. In ordinary times we get a telegram from Abbeville saying a train with so many on board has left coming to us. Then they stopped giving numbers, just said “full train” Now not even a telegram comes, but the full trains do. Yesterday in addition to our 1300 beds we took the lounge of a large Restaurant, the Orderlies barracks the Ambulance garage and the Casino front and part of the Officers Mess and used all except the Garage which is ready for today. We were not able to send any on as the boats were full. So if full trains continue to pour in today we shall have to start on private people’s houses. I have 41 German prisoners amongst my lot. How many English I don’t know. I hadn’t time to make lists they just sent in as many as they liked – it is just a case of all houses over full. The Restaurant lounge and Officers mess belong to me too. Some of the men are terribly wounded – 8 have died and more will. One thing to be grateful for – very few officers came down with the last lot. It is wonderful how sufficient work makes one not mind certain things . Unpleasant insect companions are the terror of my life. Many came down with the Tommies and some have transferred their affections to us and we hadn’t a quarter of a second to hunt them so just forgot all about them until bed time which came late. It is a mercy to have had dry weather for the men we have out in the open. My Germans see very little of me or of my V.A.D.s. Some must do without a woman’s care and be left chiefly to Orderlies so with pleasure they may. Some of them are Prussians and very bitter, so they can just get on with their bitterness. Yesterday I had to close the shutters of their room – the French people were treating us like a peep show. Now I must get up. What is before us today; I only think for the moment and dress and go to breakfast which is not difficult or unpleasant.
July 8th 1916. It is to be hoped our attacking is doing useful work for the War – we are paying a tall price! Every day now we have trainfuls down, the place is thick and threefold with them. The Surgeons are amputating limbs and boring through skulls at the rate of 30 a day and not a day passes without Death taking his toll. My German prisoners have gone to England and yesterday one came, is in the attic with 3 Englishmen. One thing we all get up early and work late and feel a bit “done” sometimes which gives us the satisfaction of feeling that now at least we are giving our full strength to the War. What the weather has been like and other odd bits of news I can’t tell you because all I know for certain is that it was pouring when I came along to Qrs. yesterday.
This is the sort of last straw! Yesterday afternoon we were doing dressings etc. as fast as we could – In came Major Martyn and said: “If you can find 12 stretcher cases who could sit as far as Havre, get them quick and I can put them on full cars going now. I then had to rush like a lunatic through all the houses to find 12 (and only did 8) who could sit for 1 1/2 hrs. Rig them up in any clothes and get them carried to the Ambulances as they passed. The Batman has just rung the call bell and has not thumped on the door and said “Convoy Sister please”. I am so thankful. Must get up for first breakfast all the same. They took one of my Orderlies yesterday for up the line, leaving me I V.A.D. (a good one) and 3 Orderlies for ? patients. One house has 100 in, the other 3 not so many but more stretcher cases. However we can only do our best; now ooo-aah – the day must begin.
July 14th 1916. Calm day. My two ill boys are still one very ill, D.I. the other a little better. If only I knew the creature had no bits of shrapnel in his lungs I should be much happier, but am terribly afraid he has.
One motor V.A.D. told me things last night that if all true are horrible. She said sometimes on the way to Havre the men on stretchers cried out, with pain caused by the jolting. One man told her that he would rather stay in France for 20 years than do that journey again. Another started bleeding badly from the jolts – what is to be done. Our poor M.O.s – on the one side have a man ? fit to travel and on the other, if he is going to die get him home to see his people – and the D.M.S. and A.D.M.S. coming and sending to say: “Clear all beds you anyhow can.” One thing: the driver V.A.D.s are very young and probably can’t help thinking a mole hill a mountain.
July 15th 1916. Had a glorious 1/2 day yesterday. Sister Nicholas looked after my ill boy for me. Matron and I went to Havre by the C.C. car. She had to see the P.M. I watched patients loaded on to the Asturias, meanwhile, and spoke to some of the Sisters whom I knew on her. The V.A.D. who drove us was a nice woman poor dear – she has lost both brothers in this War. The Elder was a barrister, doing well in China. He died at No 2. C.C.S. at Bailleul 3 months after he joined the Army. The younger was in the Navy and lost his life in that great battle that our muddle headed papers at first gave out as a defeat. Silly fools. He was on board one of the three plucky little cruisers who rushed like 3 terriers into a pack of mad bulls. An officer told Miss Douglas all about it afterwards. It was a splendid act of the utmost bravery. These three cruisers went full speed all guns blazing away right in amongst the German fleet and drew all fire on to themselves, for the sake of our Battle Squadron coming up behind and they expected and knew they must all die in the doing of it. Miss Douglas’ father, retired Admiral, and was given a beautiful all silk Admiral’s flag at the time. She had been longing for a Naval Victory – for an occasion to hoist the flag. When the news of this battle came she thought “It is not a victory” but she heard the truth later and hoisted it on the day of her brother’s memorial service. It had only been used once and that was to cover her Father’s coffin. She was very sad about her elder brother’s death, because he did not belong to the Army and was her advisor and about all she had. The younger one she said had been in the Service since his school days1918. and they always knew he might have to give his life.
July 31st 1916. Miss Blakely and 5 or 6 V.A.D.s came to tea here from Havre yesterday – they like this place. I don’t so much on Sundays. It is crowded with smart cars and ultra smart people from Paris and thereabout. It is amusing to look at their clothes, they are really quaint in their extremeness, but they made the place so noisy for my poor ill boy.
August 6th 1916. I’m too headachy and bored to write my diary.
The Sports were a great success and all went off well and the Ordinance Band was a great treat to us all. Both my V.A.D.s went in for the table decoration; one got 1st Prize and the other 2nd so that was not so bad for the old Annexe.
August 9th 1916. It is getting uncommonly parky in the early morning; of course we must not forget that 5.30 is really 4.30 so it would be cold. Quietish day yesterday. Sent patients to England. Off in afternoon, took tea with old Atky (V.A.D.) to the small woods off Havre Rd – very delightful.
August 19th 1916. I see by yesterdays Casualty lists that 4 nurses have been wounded. I knew one of them – Miss Tunley was Matron at No. 10 Stationary when I was. Funnily enough she was told by a fortune teller there, that she would be sent up the line and would be wounded! That was nearly 2 years ago and she has been to Egypt, Nice and all over the place in between. A convoy is expected today. 8 V.A.D.s were to have had long days but convoy will put the lid on it! One thing it is rough and raining, so they need not grieve quite so much.
October 2nd 1916. Rampant day yesterday I sent 16 of the least bad Germans to the Canadian Hos. at Havre. They did look quaint! dressed in funny old brown civilian caps! and tweed caps – they really looked like robbers and yet some poor cringing creatures amongst them. They were not pleased to go. Those remaining are stinking with gangrene and ought all to be operated on but they must wait until our own Tommies have had their turn in the theatre andeven now there are quite 30 urgent English cases still not done and the theatre people are working night and day as it is. I gave each V.A.D. 1 hour off duty and the orderlies a short spell I can’t get off as I have no one to leave in charge. Must get up now for early breakfast.
October 10th 1916. I sent 3 of my Bosches to England yesterday and have about 160 empty beds ready for the next convoy. Went to Havre yesterday to get the pay – 12064 or 120064 francs I forget which – a big lot because the V.A.D.s are being paid up all their Field allowance since June when it was stopped.
The final selection of extracts is taken from Volume 4 of Edie’s diaries which covers the period
21 June 1918 to 27 December 1918. Edie is at No. 3 General Hospital at Le Tréport.
Towards the end of 1918 Edie is in charge of a carriage on Ambulance Train 42.
The complete text can be seen here.
June 25th 1918. I awoke this morning to find the weather had changed from very rough high wind and sea to a gentle breeze and sea dead calm. If I were an artist I would show you what I can see from my window. The cliff edge, with many crows very busy along it, and beyond a big, wide stretch of calm grey blue sea, one little steamer and about a dozen fishing smacks getting on with their daily work.
Shrieks! are coming from the plot of grass just below – some V.A.D.s are out early, practising cricket for the match tomorrow.
June 28th 1918. A sad tragedy happened at 5 yesterday morning. A mental patient, a lady driver, managed to dodge her special attendant and flung herself over the cliff. Her body was soon picked up quite smashed in every part. She evidently meant to do it as she had left letters for people telling them so. It is said she had a similar attack a few years ago and her father insisted on her coming out to France to work – he thought the complete change and occupation would cure her. I think myself, if he knew her tendency, it was wrong at any time to allow her to be in charge of helpless men.
June 30th 1918. The poor suicide girl was buried yesterday. To my way of thinking far too much of a pageant was made of it. There was a long procession headed by the C. Camp band. The ambulance with the coffin smothered in flowers first then all the Drivers – about 40 – then the girls own car also full of most lovely flowers, then big contingents of M.O.s, Sisters from 47. G.H. our own hospital, the Can[adian] and American hospitals, men from the C. Camp. then the [D.D.M. crossed through. Ed] our own Col. and the Surgeon General, then the 3 commandants of the Drivers. Must have been about 300 people. The French photographers were all over the place taking photos for post cards! If I were her people I should be heartily disgusted at the whole thing. A quiet funeral would surely have been more comely.
The whole thing reminded me of when the bomb victims were buried at Abbeville. I was on my way to the Station with some patients, and all round the Cathedral was so absolutely blocked by debris of fallen houses, about 20 hearses gaudily trapped with the bodies of the dead and a crowd of 100s and 100s of civilians seething round. Our M.P.s were keeping order and sending all traffic another way.
July 6th 1918. Had a delightful day off yesterday. Breakfast 8.45 a.m. brought by my kind ward V.A.D.s. Sewed and enjoyed myself until 10 o’c, then dressed and prepared lunch for two of us – Hansard the other – and at 11.30 we started for a long walk to the Woods of Eu.
September 4th 1918. The Battle proceeds all along the line and in Russia. One feels breathless and nervous of shouting too soon but up to yesterday the Allies were sweeping forward, All hospitals are kept at top speed, receiving and passing on wounded, all those not likely to be fit to fight in 10 days – Blighty. Others C.C. Even so they say thanks to aeroplanes and tanks, our casualties are light for the Victories won.
The Germans got news that we were bringing out a new tank so our people wrote many accounts of the “whippet” a small new one in use, to throw dust in their eyes, of the real new ones that we are now using. They are big enough to carry 15 Infantry men as well as their own crew and are so big that up to the present they have not come to the trench too big for them to cross.
We are absolutely flooded out with Germans, and I imagine hundreds are being killed. A Canadian I had in yesterday was surprised when I told him how many we had. He said they had orders to kill as many as they could and said they killed them just as fast as they could. God help us.
I went crabbing last night with a V.A.D. It is great fun – you scramble about over rocks and poke them out with a stick; we brought about 9 home of an edible size. Besides it is very beautiful there in the evening with the Sunset making pretty pictures and so far away from everybody.
They are still nibbling at our Staff, I suppose to lend help to the C.C.Ss. – quite right although we are so busy we don’t know which way to turn.
October 11th 1918. We had an unusually busy day. I have only one staff nurse and two V.A.D.s at present. On that day my staff nurse and one V.A.D. went sick and two blue boys [Patients who were well enough to be up and dressed were given blue suits to wear] whom we have taught to help us with the dressings had to be kept in bed – high temperatures and sore throats, but the 2 G.S. girls, which were all I had of them, turned up trumps and we got through all right by the end of the day.
[Note from Sue Light: These were General Service VADs. They were a different breed to the nursing VADs, and more akin to the women’s army. They first went out to France in 1917 to take over jobs in hospitals normally done by men – stores, basic orderly work, officers’ servants (i.e. nursing sisters’ servants) – that sort of thing. They were definitely considered a social step down from the nursing VADs, although that wasn’t always the case, but they did no nursing. So that entry shows that in a time of staff shortage, the GS girls chipped in and helped with the nursing – they were probably employed cooking or helping in the kitchen, although might have been clerks or even dispensers.]
Our whole hospital is very understaffed – only 20 trained people for about 2,000 beds is not enough. Thank Goodness my V.A.D.s are good in fact splendid.
October 15th 1918. The Peace talk seemed all fizzled out yesterday and now the popular opinion is 2 years more! It is no good going by papers or popular opinion – we must just wait and see.
Rogers – that man from Sandwich – who has been D.I. for such a very long time and still is has taken a most funny turn and makes the men roar with laughter. He mimics my voice to a T. It quite made me jump when he began it, because I recognized myself quite well. He calls the V.A.D. “nurse” – but lately it has been “Miss Welford! I want you.” I suppose it is that he is only partly sensible and doesn’t really know.
November 19th 1918. What a difference! I have only 40 beds in my ward now instead of 60 and the work is decreasing in heaviness. Of course we have and shall have for some time heavy surgical cases in but it is a very different matter nursing them, when they are well established: no shock to contend with and no convoys in khaki all smothered in mud and blood straight through from the fight. They all come down nicely washed and in pyjamas now. They don’t mind half as much being marked “Base” or “C.C.” (con. camp). No, things are quite altered. Instead of bustling off a large number to England every day and getting all our beds filled up straightaway we are keeping them. Have not sent any to England for four days now.
We are starting days off. My last V.A.D. has hers tomorrow and then if all be well I shall take the next day. Think of it! A whole day.