from 'the War Illustrated' 27th April, 1918
New Observations of an Orderly
by Ward Muir

Visiting-Day at a War Hospital

from a British magazine : 'the War Budget'


Some Varied Memories of Contrasting Callers

THE big barrell gates which shut off the war hospital's grounds from the main road have a severe, air. And perhaps the khaki-clad sentry who stands on guard at those gates sometimes has a severe air too. For there is no denying it — his business is to keep out a considerable proportion of people who are rather annoyed at being kept out.

Curious how many otherwise sane citizens and citizenesses are inflamed with a morbid desire to poke their noses into any and every war hospital at any and every hour of the day : Curious how indignant they are if the sentry politely asks for their credentials ! Have they a pass ? No ? Then what is the name of the patient whom they wish to interview ? Whereupon it turns out that the would-be visitor merely yearns, without rhyme or reason, to "look round."

Now, there are very excellent considerations why it is not permissible for inquisitive strangers to "look round" a war hospital. A war hospital and its denizens arc not a spectacle to gape at and gush over. There are recognised visiting hours. It is easy for any person who has a friend or relative in the hospital to obtain a pass and enter during those visiting hours. Otherwise, "Narpoo !" which is purely the same thing as saying that a hospital for wounded soldiers in war time is no more a public place of entertainment than is a civilian hospital in peace time.

The Mother from Afar

But when the passer-by, observing that severely-barred gate, and perhaps noticing the sentry in the act of declining to give ear to the fussy importunities of some antique spinster who is convinced that she should be allowed to "cheer up the dear Tommies' concludes that an iron militarism is rampant, let him approach nearer and peruse the regulations. He will be undeceived. No red tape entangles those rules. They are framed with the most well-intentioned common-sense. At certain hours visitors may enter, provided that they really have someone to visit. At other hours they may not enter, unless — and here is that touch of tenderness and humanity which gives us the hospital's true tone — unless the visitors have come from a distance.

On a large board, nailed to the gate, you will behold, in full, clear lettering, this announcement: "Visitors from a distance are admitted at any hour." And this is signed by the officer in command.

It seems barely credible — .especially in the light of the brazen blusterings of the people who try to push past when they have no legitimate excuse whatever — but more than once a tired and sad-faced mother, who had received news that her son lay wounded within, has travelled from Scotland or Ireland, and, arriving at our gate in the early morning, has settled down there to wait till the afternoon because she knew that the visiting hours only began at 2 p.m. Racked with anxiety and fatigue, she has, nevertheless, not dared to speak to the sentry.

The meek and lowly of the earth are in awe .of sentries. Humbly the mother, who has journeyed all night, prepares to stop, without shifting, and with nowhere to sit down, opposite that gate for long and weary hours. You would think that at least she might go away, to a tea-shop or some such resting-place, and return later. No. These simple souls are timid of London. Having achieved the miracle of finding this suburb and the hospital, they dare not quit it, lest they lose themselves in the metropolitan maze.


from a British magazine : 'the War Budget'


Guidance in a Labyrinth

This kind of thing happened at first — even now it happens occasionally — until one day the commanding officer, approaching in his car, caught sight of one of these tragic, timid figures, stopped, and inquired into her story. Thereafter that notice promptly appeared on the gate. Not that it expresses a rule improvised upon the spur of the moment. The rule has always been in force. And it typifies the spirit of this — and, I should think, of every — military hospital. No one who has a right to enter will ever experience the slightest difficulty in entering.

The Inquiry Bureau, staffed by V.A.D. lady clerks, who preside over a card index containing the names and regiments of every officer, N.C.O., and man in the wards, is situated at the hospital's front door. If you are not already armed with a pass (posted to you beforehand by the patient whom you have come to call upon), the Inquiry Bureau will give you one and direct you to your patient's ward.

As there arc sixty wards in the hospital, and the latter's geography is intricate, you will need this helpful direction on your first arrival. A ward in C Corridor is a good five minutes' walk from the front door, and is round many turnings. And the route to C Corridor is by no means the route to D Corridor. Hasty folk who ignore the services of the Inquiry Bureau are apt to lose their way in the labyrinth of corrugated-iron hut wards and passages of a 2000-bed war hospital.

Friends for the Friendless

Those passages arc always thronged on visiting afternoons, and every class of the community is represented in the gathering. Papa, mamma, and baby have come to pay homage to the big brother hero who, poor lad, has left a leg in France ; papa is pushing the wheeled chair in which the convalescent youngster sits with baby perched on his remaining knee ; mother walks beside him — her eyes shining, not with sorrow for the cripple, but with gladness that he has been spared to return to her.

Then there are the girls ("some birds"), who have come to see their "young men" — or, in more modern parlance, their "boys."

The "bird" whose "boy" is not only a soldier, but a wounded soldier, is proud indeed. And he — if we may judge by his expression — is often proud, too. In the wards the bed patients arc always curious as to each other's "birds" ; and the. man to whose side there arrives on these occasions a "pretty piece of skirt" — and one not above indulging- in some banter with the occupants of the neighbouring beds — is soon a favourite with his fellows.

Some of the wounded, whose homes are remote, have no friends or relatives to visit them. They are not unprovided for. County associations look after the county men, Australian associations look after Australians, and so on. Although casual visitors are barred, we welcome accredited visitors who enjoy, in practice, a roving commission ; they have proved their worth in this delicate task of making friends with the friendless, and they are given the freedom of every soldiers' ward.

Quiet, humorous, tactful mortals are these ladies (most of the "roving commission" visitors are of the gentler sex), seldom definable as "some birds" — but, queerly, a bigger success with many a shyly honest soldier than are those same "birds."

I will confess that it has sometimes puzzled me to account for the extraordinary popularity among the wounded of certain of our regular visitors. There was one elderly woman — she is dead now, and hundreds of. soldiers long vanished from our midst would mourn if they knew — a "plain body," whom I often observed at her self-appointed work, for she particularly patronised the ward in which I was an orderly. How she cast her spell over the men I have no notion.


from a British magazine : 'the War Budget'


An Enviable Gift

She was not pretty or clever. The little gifts of home-baked buns which she brought were scarcely remarkable enough to warrant her success being ascribed to their influence. And she was apt to accompany them with a tract — which is not, most emphatically not, the way to touch the soldier's heart. I never saw her tracts being read. Yet, though other tract distributors were fled from or dumbly endured, this woman was greeted wherever she went with smiles of joy.

When they left the hospital men would put themselves to considerable trouble to go and call on her. Some stayed with her in her house. Hundreds kept up a laborious correspondence with her. I merely record the fact. I can offer no key to it. I can only say that this woman possessed within herself a strange and enviable gift which gave her for upwards of a year the unquestioned entree to our hospital ; and I doubt whether once, in alluding to her ministrations, it occurred to her to use the hackneyed, futile, Society-lady and piffling "busy war-worker" phrase about "cheering the dear Tommies." For she did not talk about it — she did it.

Taking her as an ideal type of visitor, I may put on record the observation that, though she could not be cured of the persistent and wholly inefficacious habit of distributing tracts, she never made what I regard as an equivalent mistake — the offering of flowers. Not one soldier in a hundred-wants flowers ; and, apparently, not one woman visitor in a hundred fails to bring flowers. Secondly, she did not address wounded men with that horridly false heartiness which many visitors affect. (There is no reason why we should speak to a wounded man as though he were a huge joke, or desperately in need of having huge jokes fired at him.)

Thirdly, she did not assume, with some soi-disant experts, that the soldier does not want to talk about the war, or that he wants to talk about nothing else.


from 'the War Illustrated' 4th May, 1918

Handy Men of the War Hospital

from a British magazine : 'the War Budget'


At 6 a.m. the orderlies of the war hospital begin their day's doings. They disperse from the parade in various directions, for some are employed 'in clerical departments, some in the stores, some are on the sanitary squad, and some are detailed to "fatigues." But a considerable proportion of them are engaged in ward work. These are the "nursing orderlies," now more commonly known as "ward orderlies."

Truth to tell, the "nursing orderly" seldom had much nursing to do. He was always, even under the earlier regime, a handy man rather than a nurse. Now, when girl orderlies have been introduced into the wards, the mere male is still more recognisedly a hewer of wood and a drawer of water than he was. (I write of an English, not an overseas hospital.) Although selected from the lowest medical category — fit men are not taken for these units of the K.A.M.C. — he is understood to justify his existence by tackling the heavy work, the work unsuited to the weaker sex — a presumption not without its ironies, inasmuch as the orderly may be a flail wisp of a creature, and the probationers muscular lasses capable of telling him at a touch.

The Doing of "Chores"

Not .that there is literally any great amount of heavy work. From time to time the orderly may be called upon to lift a patient, move a bed, or carry somewhat ponderous bales ; and in winter he must furnish the stoves' supply of coal and coke. The metal receptacle in which meals are brought hot from the main kitchen is also no light weight. In general, however, the orderly's tasks are describable less as heavy than as tiring.

I acted as a -ward orderly for some months, both in officers' wards and men's wards. The latter were preferable, partly because a more free-and-easy atmosphere prevails, and partly because that excellent comrade, Thomas Atkins, when convalescent, is not above lending a hand in dish drying, floor polishing, window cleaning, and the like. This it would be improper for officer patients to do, even if they were so disposed. housemaidly "chores," such as those mentioned, at all events, occupy the bulk of the ward orderly's programme. He seems to be incessantly preparing and clearing away meals, eternally tidying the ward, or performing occult rites with the paraphernalia in that particular shrine of his, the sink-room. Frequently it is his duty to escort a patient to the bath-house, and there bathe him ; for some of the cases, though sufficiently recovered to have got beyond the blanket-bath stage, are so maimed as to be unable to do their own soaping and sponging. During these bath-house interludes the orderly — who, as I found, is often far too busy, when in the wards, really to make his patients' acquaintance — has many an intimate and pleasant chat with the companion who is wallowing luxuriously in the warm water.

Although the orderly, of course, does a good deal of waiting on the bed-patients, and also stands-by (rather like a conjurer's humble assistant) while the Sister is dressing wounds, the major portion of his time is occupied in the simple — but, after a few hours, exhausting — service of running errands. From dawn to dusk he appears to be for ever scurrying up and down the corridors on these missions, either on the patients' behalf or for Sister. No sooner has he arrived at the ward than he must depart again to fetch the breakfast viands. The allowance of bread, jam, tea, and so on, is measured forth to him by the despots of the steward's store, which is as neatly stocked, and run on as strictly business lines/as the most modern grocer's.

Some Odd Jobs

Returning, the orderly gets ready the breakfast, puts out the patients' bed-tables, and, in the role of waiter, serves the. meal. When it is finished he washes the dishes.

Thereafter he carries sheets, towels, etc. to the dirty-linen store, and obtains a corresponding number from the clean-linen store. This transaction must be watched vigilantly ; he is responsible for any errors which may occur, and Sister is likely to be wrath if she receives back a sheet or a towel fewer than she sent away.

The next journey is to the dispensary to lay in supplies of lint, peroxide of hydrogen, methylated spirit, or what not, or — alas ! — to exchange that familiar object in hospital life, a broken thermometer. Then perhaps the orderly is sent to the post-office to get English money for a newly arrived patient's French notes ; or to the pack store ; or to the dental department with a chit for a man whose teeth need attention, or whose jaw, having been broken by a bullet, will require one of those beautiful splints that save and readjust so many smashed faces nowadays.

Another patient may have to be accompanied to the X-ray expert's lair, where a mysteriously fizzing and flickering apparatus locates deeply-buried fragments of shrapnel or shows the fracture in a bone. Again, on certain specified mornings of the week, patients from his ward must lie taken by the orderly to the operating theatre.


from a British magazine : 'the War Budget'


"Orderly! Orderly!"

The Sister always goes too; but the orderly is required, not only to put the patient on the stretcher and wheel him theatre-wards, but also to be present at the anesthetizing and afterwards during the operation. When the patient is in process of losing consciousness, he may be inclined to struggle involuntarily, and the orderly has to exert all the strength at his command to hold down the obstreperous one, and prevent him from injuring either the anesthetist or himself.

Operating-theatre scenes are supposed to be gruesome ; and, indeed, on occasions I have here witnessed spectacles grim enough in their way ; but, to be candid, these excursions were more commonly interesting than horrible, and perhaps, now and then, even humorous, owing to the singular remarks blurted out in his dreams by the drugged victim who held the stage's centre.

After the operation the patient has to be reinstalled in his bed as quickly as possible. Sickness is apt to supervened; and in a ward where several patients have been under the surgeon's knife in one forenoon, the orderly, Sister and nurses are kept on the alert ministering to the dazed individuals who are regaining their senses after what is, at best, a highly abnormal experience.

Meanwhile, the regular routine goes on uninterruptedly ; dinners have to be served, dishes cleansed, messages of all sorts delivered. The orderly never sits down for one minute while on duty. Patients calll him at every moment of the day. The probationer demands his help in the kitchen or the scullery. The nurse calls to him to lend a hand with a splint. Sister despatches him with clothing or bedding to the fumigator. There is the bucket o[ used bandages to be carried to the incinerator.

And the door-handles need brightening. The brasswork of the taps is dull. The stove has gone out and must be rekindled. The patients' bagatelle-board cue requires a new tip. The gramophone has come to grief, and its works must lie poked into. A new electric lamp is wanted in the linen cupboard. Shelves have to be nailed up, or some piece of furniture mended. And now it is tea-time and the trays have to be laid. "Orderly ! Orderly !"

Handy Man of the Hospital

Yes, he is that well-known figure, the handy man — a bit of everything at different hours of the day, but mostly a general servant, a chambermaid-cum-butler-cum-messenger-boy. His is not a heroic avocation. In theory a woman orderly ,should take a man orderly's place. In practice she has. in fact, done so — except that — — Well, she can do this job, or that job, as efficiently as he (no one denies that she may do some of them better than he) ; but can she, single-handed, tackle all the jobs which he tackles ?

There are certain obvious ones which she cannot. liven apart from these, and quite disregarding the question of physical strength, how rarely do we meet the complete "handy man" mentality in the feminine temperament ! The fellow who can manage a trifle of carpentry or plumbing, attend to a broken electric bell or some simple mechanism, wash dishes, black boots, serve repasts, manipulate the telephone, carry heavy objects, fill in forms correctly, make good toast, .sharpen knives, mow the lawn, shave patients for operations — and perform all these feats without becoming confused amongst them — is tolerably common ; he is the average domesticated citizen of the non-nervy and non-intellectual breed. How many girls happen to have cultivated the same range of accomplishments ? Very few. In their own lines they are unrivalled. But I question whether we shall at all frequently come across the young woman who is the born hospital orderly, and this though — thank heaven ! — we meet at every turn that gentle goddess who is the born hospital nurse.


from 'the War Illustrated' 18th May, 1918

at Work in a War Hospital

from a British magazine : 'the War Budget'


Sentimental magazine stories of the wounded represent, as a rule, only one background to hospital life. The drama — which concerns itself, according to recipe, with that rare occurrence, a love-match between a patient (hero) and a nurse (heroine) — is staged in a ward.

Hospitals altogether consist of wards — this is the idee fixe of the lay public, and even of the majority of those who have actually penetrated into the interiors of hospitals. Ward life, at all events, occupies the forefront of the picture, with, perhaps, a vague middle-distance of operating-theatre, recreation-room, cook-house, and dispensary.

The visitor, it is true, passes many closed portals in his long walk down the corridors to the bedside of the friend whom he has come to cheer. He catches sight of officials who would seem to have no direct connection with the arts of healing. But what goes on behind those portals, and how the officials are engaged, he seldom inquires.

Yet to the extensive male and female staff of a military hospital there is much more to think of than the wards and the getting well of those wards' inmates. A man may enlist as an R.A.M.C. orderly and be exceedingly busy, yet never once bandage a wound or even. witness the flow of blood. A girl may volunteer as a V.A.D. and never do any nursing.

Behind the Scenes

A big war hospital is a complex machine, and needs for its smooth running a host of behind-the- scenes activities. Your friend whose arm is full of pieces of shrapnel, or who has had his leg amputated, is being served not only by skilled physicians and kindly Sisters, but also by clerks and registrars, accountants and card-index damsels, steward's-store men and sanitary squad, and electricians and bacteriologists ; from the commanding officer and the matron down to the grimy individual who stokes the furnaces, or the Abigail in the pantry of the nurses' mess, there are troops of folk whose ministrations appear rarely to be appreciated ; but each of whom, in some remote and roundabout way, is reacting upon the restoration to health of that stricken soldier in the ward.

That soldier, even though he be laid low, is still a member of the Army ; his existence is still the concern of the State ; the War Office must keep track of him, as long as he is in the land of the living ; his regimental depot has to hear about him, either now or when he emerges from hospital.

Every .move he makes involves the filling-in of documents. Before he reached the hospital his name and his particulars had been noted, in France, on the steamer, and in the ambulance trains ; each separate step that he took, from battlefield to "Blighty," can, if necessary, be traced.

The moment he alighted at the hospital a clerical V.A.D. obtained from him his name, number, rank, age, length of service, religion, and a dozen other intimate details, and he was hardly bestowed in bed before another clerical V.A.D. was entering these in " Field Service Army Book" while yet a third clerical V.A.D., in charge of a filing system, was tackling on his behalf, "Army Form W3243" which is a printed card to fit a drawer in the admission and discharge index ; meanwhile, a fourth clerical V.A.D. is writing less elaborate memoranda upon a smaller card, which will be dropped, into its niche in the archives of the Inquiry Bureau.

An Army in Miniature

All this is obvious enough when you come to think of it. A hospital with a fluctuating population which, at its fullest, rises to 2,000, and with a salaried staff a mounting to several hundreds, would fall into chaotic confusion were it not run systematically. It is itself an army in miniature. Its lines of communication must be maintained ; the stream of its supplies, whether of equipment or of food or of money, must How, day after day and month after month, with absolute evenness.

Behind those shut portals, which the visitor passes so negligently, there is a never-ceasing clatter of typewriters and the whir of telephone bells ; a glimpse within shows khaki-clad men who, though they have red crosses on their arms, are seated at desks much in the manner of city quill-drivers ; or maybe women wearing the uniform of the V.A.D. attending to parcels letters, stamps, and telegrams in the hospital's own private post-office. Here, again, is the telephone- room ; it has the switchboard familiar in all large establishments — rows of little signal-holes and flexible snakes of connecting wires.

The hospital is not only linked with the outer world by half a dozen lines, but also owns an intricate internal system of telephones — wards and offices and departments, and operating- theatres, and M.O.'s huts and sergeants' mess and kitchens and stores, and board-room and dental-room, - and pathological laboratory and sentry-box, and paymaster and fire brigade, they can all speak to each other in an instant; and all are thus dependent on the V.A.D. who by day, or the orderly who by night, presides at this central switchboard. And here and there, in the corridors of the hospital, you will remark an ordinary public telephone call-box ; this is for the use of inmates, whether staff or patients, who wish to converse with their friends on matters unconcerned with hospital business. For the hospital's own lines must not be used for private affairs.

Task of the Pay Office

It may be that, in .your journey to the ward, you pass a door outside which is a queue of convalescents in blue uniforms. They are waiting to receive their pay. For the soldier who is in hospital has not, for that reason, ceased to be supported by the efforts of the tax-collector.

During his sojourn in the hospital the soldier is allowed to draw, for pocket-money, a small advance from the pay which accumulates for him elsewhere. I wonder how many civilians envisage the complications of the Army book-keeping which this system causes ? Every regimental paymaster must be advised of each of the doles of a few shillings that concerns him. And the note which is handed to the soldier, with his railway warrant, when he leaves us — this, too, must be notified and duly deducted.

Our Pay Office staff pilots a department whose accountancy demands expert knowledge ; it is a bank in miniature, handling some thousands of pounds weekly — for it not only advances these odd sums to patients, but distributes the salaries of the Sisters and the nurses, the probationers, the clerical V.A.D.'s, the masseuses, the scrubwomen, and the unit of the R.A.M.C.

When it is realised that these disbursements vary, in all sorts of manners, owing to differences of lengths of service and gradations of rank (e.g., a 1st Class orderly gets more than a "2nd Class orderly, to mention only one example out of a score), and that if a man is absent on duty for twenty-four hours he receives a cash allowance for his food accordingly, and that there are allowances (or deductions) for upkeep of clothes, for washing, and heaven knows what other technical minutiae — all calculated in pence per diem — it will be seen that the Pay Office of the hospital is by no means a place., of repose for the slacker.

The Night Staff

The Pay Office employs some women clerks, but its main pillars arc men. Like all the other male employees of the hospital, these men are "unfits" in the lowest medical category. Even were they not, it would be easy to justify their retention here ; for, as has been said, they are experts in a routine which, if muddled, would mean an appalling waste of the country's money as well as of labour. But I touch upon the fact of their "unfitness" because I have heard some nonsense talked (generally by comfortable civilians, too !) about this and similar berths being safe and easy sinecures for youngsters who should be in the trenches. Sate, admittedly; but easy — no. The. .work is a never-ending. grind.

If the visitor, instead of quitting the hospital building, were to linger till ten or eleven, or even twelve at night, and peep into the Pay Office — or, for that matter, the staff clerks', or admission and discharge, or registrar's offices — he would generally find the electric lamps still blazing and some of the khaki-wearers, white-faced and worn, still toiling at their Army forms and ledgers.

At night no hospital ever pauses. In each ward there is a wakeful Sister or curse. There are night-duty orderlies and night-duty doctors ; also a specialist surgeon ready to be called at a minute's notice. There is a night dispenser, a night ward-master, a night convoy squad, a night sentry at the gate, a night operator on the telephone, a night Sister, a night corporal.

The hospital, qua hospital, never sleeps. But it should be noted that some of its retinue, awake at uncanny hours, are doing without their sleep not because the time-table so ordains, but because they are conscientious slaves of allegiance to a "cushy job" more cruel in its tyranny than the on- looking critic conceives.


from 'the War Illustrated' 1st June, 1918

When the Wounded Arrive

from a British magazine : 'the War Illustrated''


THERE is a steep thoroughfare — once of dubious reputation — which descends past the Adelphi to the Embankment and which is known to fame for various peculiar reasons : amongst others, the fact that it boasts the largest billiard-saloon in London, if not in the world. Villiers Street, since the war began, has acquired a new importance. It will be remembered by thousands as the rallying-point where, day after day and night after night, the motor-ambulances lined up to await the arrival of the wounded.

Entering Charing Cross Station from Villiers Street, the ambulances are loaded with the maimed human wreckage of the battlefield, and then emerge, through a press of reverent spectators, into the Strand. As each ambulance slowly glides forth — they are driven at as gentle a pace as possible — the onlookers obtain a glimpse (if the back curtains. are unclosed) of four pairs of bootsoles, or of bandaged feet. Two stretchers, one above the other, are arranged along each wall of the ambulance. At the end of the alleyway, between them sits a woman attendant.

Ambulance after ambulance rolls, smoothly and silently, from the station yard, each with its quartet of Britons broken in the war. And the crowd, having watched the ambulances disperse in various directions, disperses likewise — it may be with heavy hearts, or it may be carelessly forgetful. Let us, instead, follow some of those ambulances to one of their destinations, and see the wounded arrive at the journey's finish.


from a British magazine : 'the War Budget'


The "Convoy Squad"

We, at the hospital, have received a telephonic warning, an hour or more beforehand, of the convoy's advent. (These batches of wounded are called "convoys.") Accordingly, preparations have been made. These preparations are automatic — a routine which has been gone through hundreds of times, and the details of which need no rehearsal. The operator of the hospital's internal telephone exchange passes a formal notification to the departments concerned — the registrar, the steward, the sergeant-major, the cookhouse, the pack store, etc., so that their various delegates shall be on the spot when wanted. And in the orderlies' camp the convoy corporal receives orders to muster his squad and hold them in readiness.

Should the convoy of wounded be an exceptionally large one, all the orderlies must come and help to "take in." Even those orderlies who are going out on pass are stopped by the guard at the exit and sent sadly back to this duty. But as a rule the reception of the wounded can be tackled adequately by twenty or thirty men, called the convoy squad, who are detailed daily for this purpose and whose names are chosen from the roll in rotation. This squad, in the charge of a corporal, assembles at the front door of the hospital a few minutes before the great gates at the foot of the driveway clang open to admit the first of the ambulances.

Owing to Channel-crossing exigencies the convoys generally reach us now in the evening or at night. The scene at the hospital's door, as a result of this, takes place in a setting which is sombrely dramatic and impressive. Each great ambulance, with its twin staring lamps, swims up the blackness of the drive, and then becomes manifest as a ghostlike silhouette, finally materialising in the pool of yellow illumination which pours downwards from an overhead light above our entrance steps. This light reveals the huge Red Cross symbol painted on the car's side — reveals, also, the khaki-clad orderlies who suddenly issue from the darkness-enshrouded wings, as it were, of this grim stage and, clustering round the back of the vehicle, prepare to disembark its helpless passengers.


from a British magazine : 'the War Illustrated''


In the Receiving-Hall

There is nothing particularly difficult in the removal of a stretcher from an ambulance ; but it is a job which can be done well and can be done ill. It can be done over-"smartly," so that the wounded man is jerked and slung like a bale of goods. It can be done slackly, so that, when the stretcher is being hauled forth it is allowed to sag, and its back handles jar against the shelf. Correctly done, the stretcher comes out rapidly and easily, without fuss or fumbling ; strong, steady arms lower it in perfect unison, tilting neither to one side nor the other ; whereupon two orderlies, each gripping a pair of handles, march off with it up the steps, through the front door, across a few yards of vestibule, and into our receiving-hall.

The receiving-hall of the war hospital is one of its most important apartments. It is a dormitory of large dimensions, containing fifty or sixty beds, and afternoon visitors peeping into it sometimes take it for an ordinary ward, and wonder why the beds are unoccupied. Its function is not that of the ordinary wards — it is only a clearing-house for the patients en route for those wards. Here the N.C.O.'s and men (not the officers) are sorted out, according to the nature of their injuries or ailments, and allotted to certain sections of the hospital — "medicals" to one group of wards, "eye wounds" to another, "jaws" to another, and so on ; the patients are localised thus in order to facilitate their subsequent treatment, and to save the specialist, who comes to examine them, from having to go from one ward to another to find his special cases.

In the Hospitable Hospital

When the convoy arrives,, the lights in the receiving-hall are turned up, showing the ranks of empty beds, each with its pillows and unwrinkled brown blankets. To this scene enters the wounded man on his stretcher, carried by the brace of orderlies. They march down the aisle to the end bed and, coming to its side, lower the stretcher till it is at the bed's level, where they maintain it motionlessly. The wounded man then heaves himself off the stretcher on to the bed ; or, if he is unable to move, is lifted by other orderlies under the direction of a Sister, who has meanwhile appeared to supervise the procedure. The moment the patient is safely on the bed the orderlies who have carried him. march off again with the empty stretcher and put it back into the ambulance. The ambulance cannot go away without its complement of empty stretchers; hence there must be no delay in filling the receiving-hall beds and thus freeing the stretchers for the return — inasmuch as the ambulances may be urgently required, at Charing Cross or elsewhere, to meet another train.

The rows of beds in the receiving-hall are therefore soon supplied with occupants, each of whom, if equal to it, is sipping a cup of cocoa and smoking a cigarette — this partly as a token of the pleasant hospitality which the hospital desires to offer him, and partly to while away the few minutes which must elapse prior to the moment when, the ambulances having been got rid of, he can be attended to by the staff.

Mysteriously the receiving-hall has become populous with busy officials — the superintending Sister ; the probationer looking after the tureen of cocoa and the packets of cigarettes ; the V.A.D. lady clerks going from bed to bed jotting down the " particulars " (name, regiment, number, and so forth) of the new-comers ; the pack store corporal and his assistant checking those items of the patients' impedimenta which he bestows with them (their department resembles the cloak-room of a railway terminus) ; the "bath-house wallah" who convenes the walking cases for their ablutions ; and lastly the "M.O." (doctor) who examines each of the patients and pronounces as to where he shall be sent.

Each patient bears, a label with the nature of his disease or wound written on it. These labels the M.O. glances at ; but the patient is also interrogated ; the label, however, is, alas ! of only too obvious use when the patient (as sometimes occurs in facial wounds) cannot speak.

a Chain of Helpfulness

The convoy squad orderlies, having seen the last of the ambulances, now reappear, armed with the hospital's own stretchers, each stretcher being mounted on a rubber-tyred trolly. One by one the wounded on the beds are transferred to these stretchers and wheeled down the corridors to their wards. Every patient has been given a metal ticket, which assigns him to a certain ward and to a certain bed in that ward. He can be wheeled straight to his bedside, and having reached-it, he has at last attained the haven of the long, painful — yet perhaps on the whole happy — voyage which began when, far away in France, he was jolted off, an unconscious and bleeding burden, on the shoulders of the bearers in the trenches.

R.A.M.C. men succoured him then ; he has been piloted from hand to hand down a chain of R.A.M.C. representatives ever since ; that great organisation has ministered to him unfailingly, with a machine's precision yet with humane tenderness ; and now, even here in this corridor of a suburban hospital, the orderlies who push his trolly are still members of that same all-pervading corps — the R.A.M.C. ; in jest christened "Rather A Mixed Crowd," but a crowd for whose existence multitudes of soldiers have reason to be thankful.


from 'the War Illustrated' 15th June, 1918

the R.A.M.C. Man as Courier

from a British magazine : 'the War Illustrated''


In these days of overcrowded railway trains it is seldom that one sees the once familiar reserved label upon a compartment's window. Nevertheless, a rare specimen of that label still sometimes blossoms forth. His Majesty the King, as represented by one of his servitors at an unseen 'desk in the War Office, has demanded that adequate space shall be kept for a distinguished traveller. Generals, admirals, and multi-millionaires may perspiringly sit five-a-side or stand in the corridor; but the distinguished traveller is, by virtue of his honourable plight, given precedence over all. He is a wounded man.

It frequently happens that a man who has lost a limb, or who has been blinded, requires to travel a long distance to his home, and he is sent, with an orderly, by one of the regular expresses. Should he be sufficiently recovered to bear the tedium of sitting up it is not necessary to give him a reserved compartment, but should he be a lying-down case he gets one as a matter of course.

It may be that on the departure platform you have witnessed the sad little drama of a poor fellow, sightless, in civilian clothes, piloted along by a khaki-clad attendant with the Geneva crosses on his arms. Pitying glances follow the pair into the train. Yet theirs is often a jovial journey.

I have half a dozen times taken blinded men home thus, and 'truth compels .me to acknowledge that they were the reverse of disconsolate

Happiness of the Wounded

I have guided a blind man to his young wife in a Yorkshire town, and seen her gaze at him, wordless, pallid, and dry-eyed ; and (again in Yorkshire) I have seen a wife burst into tears when she beheld her husband grope his way, on my arm, from the train. But in neither instance was it the stricken husband himself who — at least as far as one could judge — was deeply moved ; and during the journey which preceded this encounter my sightless companion, on both occasions, was gay and garrulous.

The job of going as orderly to a distance with a patient fell to my lot perhaps eighteen or twenty times in three years. I went with wounded, sick, or blinded men to the North of England, to Scotland, to Wales, and to Ireland ; and I made many other short trips, comparatively locally, with squads of patients being transferred to convalescent homes or camps. Again and again I accompanied parties for afternoon outings by motor-bus into the country, and to theatre matinees or teas. And I noticed then what I noticed within the confines of the hospital itself — that the sick man is a deal more despondent than the wounded man.

Having made this observation, I hasten to add that nothing will ever induce me to minimise the hideous agonies which those blinded and maimed men have suffered. The mere circumstance that, when we watch these pathetic heroes in England, they are manifestly happy, gives us a hint 'of what they have come through abroad — if this deplorable condition seems to them, by contrast, a welcome recovery and relief. It must be confessed that more than one discharged man with whom I travelled to his home was joyously glad that his soldiering days lay safely behind him.

"Pleased to get into civvies again ? Not 'arf ! " the fortunate mortal who has for ever doffed khaki exclaims. And, indeed, he has earned the right to that attitude : his empty sleeve, his patent Roehampton leg, or his unseeing eyes witness that he has given much for his country and may rejoice at regaining, even at such a price, the freedom he deserves.

Travelling Companions

To Wales I took, for sanatorium treatment, a soldier who had contracted consumption, and he was a more subdued travelling companion. We made friends in the long-run, but at first our conversational progress was slow, and to my attempts at chatting he returned such ,vague monosyllabic answers that I began to think he was feeble-witted. The explanation dawned on me at last. English was to him a difficult tongue. He was Welsh, and when I spoke rapidly he could not follow me; also he had to be given a pause to frame his replies. On the other hand, with an Irish patient, whom I convoyed to Drogheda, there was barely a moment's cessation in the flood of loquacity.

It seemed to me that he talked from the moment we left Euston until, with a whoop, he greeted the cronies who had assembled to meet him at our goal. He certainly talked all night on the steamer. And when I left him I made for Dublin, and an hotel bed, there to sleep off the exhaustion which overcame me ; by that time I needed a supporting orderly a deal more than my patient had ever needed me.

The orderly, when despatched on such an expedition as this, is presumed to return the minute after he has got rid of his charge. He receives no hotel bill allowances enabling him to remain over-night. Should he have to wait till next morning for a train back he must find what shelter he can, either at the station or a Y.M.C.A. hut, or he may spend his private money, if he chooses, on lodgings. Personally I have often roosted in a Y.M.C.A. bunk, and would ask for nothing better.

A Kindly Practice

Likewise I have been extravagant and stayed at hotels — luxuries appreciated, be it said, after a spell of camp fare. But at our hospital a kindly practice prevailed of picking, whenever practicable, an orderly, for a travelling job, who lived at or near the town of destination.

A Scottish orderly would be sent when a patient was going to Scotland, and would be granted a twelve or twenty-four hours' permit to tarry and visit his native place before reappearing; a Lancashire orderly would be sent with a Lancashire patient, and so on, an arrangement the result of which was that scarcely an orderly in the unit failed to see his own hearthside at least once a year — over and above his normally allotted seven days' leave,

On one occasion our sergeant-major, who was a bit of a wag, put up a notice to the effect that an orderly was wanted to take a tuberculous officer patient to Switzerland. Any man who knew French, or had relatives whom he wished to visit in Switzerland, was to write his name on the paper below. A number of innocents at once- complied — and each was promptly asked whether his department at the hospital was so slack that he could be released for a whole week; if he felt that this was so, more work would be found for him.

There existed, miserable dictu, no patient .destined for the Alps. He was a myth ; and the wretches who had signed the paper found themselves in a quandary, for they were thereafter unable to urge the "I can't be spared" plea, which is a favourite when an un-congenial fatigue is suddenly sprung upon us.

Travelling with an officer invalid the orderly has, as a rule, a pleasant time. The compartment is not only reserved, but is first class; and the officer who buys a luncheon-basket for himself generally stands his satellite one, too. I remember having a festive trip with a major who — in spite of the fact that he was in considerable pain — told humorous stories and cracked jokes incessantly.

Brotherhood of the Rod

I had, of course, at the outset adopted the conventional demeanour of the silent, respectful, and attentive courier, but I smuggled surreptitiously into the luggage-rack a most " unorderliesque" object in a canvas sheath, which caught the major's glance and. caused him to ask its meaning.

It was a fishing-rod, the explanation of its presence being that I purposed to steal a few hours' trouting in Westmorland after I had bidden my patient farewell. The major was tickled. He was himself an ardent angler, and from this moment onward elected to .treat me as a fellow- sportsman rather than a body-servant.

Passers-by, peeping into our compartment, may have been surprised to discover a major and a private not merely travelling together — the reason, alas! was obvious enough, from the major's bandages and my K.A.M.C. badge — but laughing and talking and lunching as though there were no such thing as disparities of grade.

Indeed our officers, at any rate the elderly ones, seem seldom to be such martinets as the outsider is led to suppose. The pros and cons of military discipline it is not within my province to argue; I can only asseverate that, as an orderly in hospital, I have never once been reminded by one of my superiors of the extreme humbleness of my status ; and when it comes to the social intercourse of travel on a long journey, and other soldiers are in the nature of things not present, these differences of rank, in the most felicitous fashion, are minimised or made to vanish altogether.


from 'the War Illustrated' 22nd June, 1918

Humours from a War Hospital

from a British magazine : 'the War Budget'


TWO hundred and four men comprised the unit at the war hospital when I enlisted there as an orderly. (The number has since then been reduced, owing to the introduction, in some departments, of women substitutes.) We were " rather a mixed crowd," as the R.A.M.C. initials are supposed to indicate. I compiled, for a paragraph in our magazine, a list of the avocations from which my comrades had been drawn. The result was curious. Khaki is, in the popular phrase, a perfect camouflage. Until you interrogated him, you seldom knew what any given khaki-wearer had been in civilian life.

It turned out that, amongst our ranks, we had several schoolmasters, two actors, a lexicographer — he had been employed on the learned staff of a great dictionary, and I confess made me for the first time realise that "lexicography" is actually a profession — a cinema pianist, a piano tuner, a fireman, two boxing trainers, a racehorse stableman, a barrister, a mining engineer, a member of the Stock Exchange, a character vocalist, a stage carpenter, a Tube liftman, and a printer — but a "printer," so he said, "of menus on Atlantic liners." Our unit, in short, was a miniature replica of that splendid melange, the New British Army. Throughout the hospital's wards the same queer, and altogether pleasant and wholesome medley was, and is, observable. True, the aitchless is — well, commoner in the men's wards than in the officers'. But authentic aitchlessness is less common universally than facetious litterateurs would have the world believe.

"Independent Means"

I think that if one wanted to .draw the typical British soldier of to-day — though the desire to define the typical is perhaps rather absurd — one would look for a lower middle-class man of the kind which Pett Ridge has immortalised. That subtle artist should, by the way, have something to tell us about the matter, for he is now labouring as honorary librarian, in the very hospital of which I write.

This question of the soldier's origin interested me. I remember my inward chuckle when I learned that one of our favourite patients had been — and hoped to be again — a lavatory attendant ; and I frequently questioned the convalescents who helped me in my dish-washing and linen sorting.

One, I recollect, gave . a blase toss of the head, and informed me that he had "independent means." Pursuing my investigations, I found that he was a publican, and owned his pub. He was exceedingly proud of the fact, and "independent means" in his case — as in others of a higher status — did not spell idleness. I gathered that he worked hard to maintain and improve his property, and in peace time was seldom absent from behind his bar. "It's a small house to look at," he said ; " but we pull more beer than any other in Blanktown."

I believe he was regarded with deference by his fellow-patients, the "independent means" claim being tacitly admitted and endorsed. Whereas a greengrocer, who was also his own master, and might therefore have been supposed to enjoy the same financially aristocratic position, received no such esteem ; he was merely looked askance at because he smoked Egyptians, instead of being content with the usual cheap Virginian cigarette. "Swank," was the verdict ; and someone put the story about that the greengrocer's shop was in reality his wife's.

The Australians were less classifiable by English standards ; even those who came from cities seemed rather open-air men than clerks or shopkeepers. And most could be summed up in this fragment of ward dialogue :

"What was Dan before the war ?"

"Oh, he was a married couple On a sheep station."

from "Tourists" to "Hard Thinkers"

To which, for the benefit of psychologists and future historians, I must take leave to add, as not without significance, the list of nicknames bestowed on the various contingents of Australian troops that, one by one, followed each other overseas to help the Homeland. It appears that in Australia this series of forces which, as the months and years dragged on, were raised and then shipped westward, were called : 1 The Tourists ("the six-bob-a-day tourists") ; 2. The Dinkums (dinkum, a common Antipodean word for "good") ; 3. The Super-Dinkums). The War Babies; and 5. The Hard Thinkers.

I think it will be admitted that " The Hard Thinkers " is shrewd.

Our hospital, ever since the Gallipoli period, has always housed hosts of Australian patients. Once, in my ward, two of these fine fellows, in adjacent beds, were recovering from the operating-table experience, and, still, under the influence of the anesthetic, were maundering in the manner typical of that state. The first of them kept groaning, "I want to go home ! I want to go home !" And at last the second — equally unconscious, but with an odd effect of sudden, clear- headed exasperation — exclaimed, "Then you'd better learn swimming !"

Homesick though he often excusably is, the "Ozzi " — this is our amicable nom de guerre for the Australian — is, as a rule, a superb specimen of mankind, and, despite the many jokes about his somewhat casual interpretation of the word Discipline, makes a fierce and fearless fighter.

Cockney Irrepressibles

What, however, has surprised all the military experts is the soldierly courage also exhibited on every field by that comparatively frail and weedy soul the Cockney. This once-scorned genus, in all its grades from costermonger to humble clerk, has won golden opinions from those in command. And if the Cockney is game in battle, we at the hospital can testify that he is an ideal patient when wounded.

The Colonials are cheery giants in the wards, but the little Cockney has an irreverent and irrepressible mischievousness peculiarly his own. One rascal, I remember, when we were visited by an august .personage, was asked what was his trade, and answered unabashed, "A Viennese bandsman, sir." The statement, if audacious, was valid. He had played in one of those orchestras which. before the war, were constrained to call themselves "Herr 'So-and-So's White Viennese Band," to please the snobbish people who hired them for evening receptions, although, under their uniforms, the musicians were true-blue Britons.

They were mainly Yorkshiremen, in point of fact; but this particular player was Bermondsey born and bred. The same man, after his discharge from hospital, laconically conveyed to us the news that he had been ordered back to the front by sending a postcard with this grim, yet engaging, inscription : "Reserve Bed 5 'for me, please, Sister."

And I think Sister treasures that message, both as a testimonial and a memento, to our comrade who penned it will return no more, either to enliven his ward or to make melody behind the palms of West End drawing-rooms.

The visits of august personages are apt to cause unforeseen contretemps. On one occasion an orderly of the hospital was bitten on the cheek by a gnat, said gnat having evidently banqueted beforehand on unsavoury meats, for the orderly's blood became poisoned, his face swelled to an alarming size, and he had to be put to bed in a ward alongside the pukka wounded.

To the Victor — Teeth

As ill-fortune would have it, the august personage halted opposite this bed, and surveying the bulbous and bandaged countenance upon the pillow, inquired compassionately, "Were you hit by a bullet or shrapnel ?"

The victim mumbled, "A gnat !"

But the timid answer escaped the ears of the august personage, who observed, "I trust it did not knock any of your teeth out," and passed on, followed by the retinue of grave red-tabs and brass hats, with a fringe of anxious hospital officials, each afraid of catching the other's eye.

The mistake was, to be sure, a not unaccountable one, for the hospital has contained countless cases of injuries to the jaw.

Our dental department is kept busy devising ingenious jaw splints, and thereby saving many a sufferer who, under similar circumstances a few years ago, would have been condemned to life- long subsistence on liquid foods, if, indeed, he had survived at all.

Our chief dental surgeon was waited on the other day by a soldier who produced a “set of fancy teeth," as he called them, said they were fitting badly, and asked to have them adjusted. "But this isn't your own plate," exclaimed the surgeon when he had examined it.

Sir Atkins admitted that. It was, he confessed, a German plate. The Boche, in a struggle, had knocked out and broken Mr. Atkins' false teeth ; so Mr. Atkins, observing that his foe was similarly supplied, helped himself to Fritz's. " They've never somehow seemed quite right, though, sir," he remarked, more in sorrow than in anger ; "and I begin to think I might have been kinder to take that chap prisoner instead of killing him !"


from a British magazine : 'the War Budget'


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