LIFE IN AN OFFICERS' HOSPITAL
Eva Cicely Fox was
born in Aldershot in 1877, the daughter of a Colonel in the Army Pay
Department. She trained as a nurse at
Poplar Hospital for Accidents between 1901 and 1904 before joining Queen
Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service in November 1904. She retired
from the Service in September 1928.
This account relates to the officers’ section of No.14 General Hospital at Wimereux, situated in the Hotel Splendid, seen on the left of the image below.
AN OFFICERS’ HOSPITAL IN FRANCE DURING THE WAR
An account by E. C. FOX
Before the war closed round the hospital and the village in which it was situated, the hotel (now the hospital) being right on the sea and next door to the Casino, was very popular. I believe it is closed for repairs but will soon be again open for visitors. Very few among the many who worked there during the war would, I think, choose to return to that hotel to spend their summer holidays. To go back to the hotel would revive too vivid memories of the suffering and tragedy in which the place was so often steeped during the war; sleep might easily be troubled with dreams of ambulances rolling slowly but steadily all through the night to the hospital, each disgorging its load of wounded men; men who were once smart, well-turned-out, British officers, but who now to all outward appearance, were absolute ruffians, plastered with mud, their coats in rags, and often wearing scrubby beards.
The hospital was generally full of a constantly changing population, the maximum number of officers admitted in one night and when an attack was on, being about eighty. By the next night half of that number would be on their way to England and another convoy of wounded would have filled the beds which they vacated. As the war dragged on, officers and men often yearned for a Blighty wound, one just bad enough to get them sent to England. Occasionally you felt rather disappointed when an officer commenced the first of many questions with “Matron, can you tell me when the boat is going?” Generally they added, “This seems a topping place, but you know how one longs to be on the other side.” Much time and money had been spent on making the hospital comfortable, pretty, and as un-institutional-looking as possible; we, I suppose, rather cherished the idea that no one could possibly wish to get away from such a hospital.
When I first went to the hospital, the Army authorities had asked the Red Cross Society to help refurnish the hospital; they sent an expert on art and furniture to carry this out. Imagine my surprise, when, some time afterward I was addressed as Gillows, and then heard that the furniture expert and I were generally known as Waring and Gillows, on account of our strenuous efforts in moving and arranging furniture in each of the corridors, and each of the hundred rooms; in choosing curtains, bedspreads and cushions of colours and patterns of which we approved. With the help of the Red Cross Society – who on all occasions were invaluable – of the Royal Engineers who were induced to do a great deal of painting; and of the Ordnance; I think the hospital, when finished, did justify all the nice things said about it by the many patients and visitors. Perhaps the Ordnance may have spent more money than they intended, but their tastes and ours on such vital questions as table-cloths, table-napkins and towels did not always coincide. After some discussion I was allowed to accompany their Purchasing Officer on several shopping expeditions. The Matron-in-Chief had armed me with long lists of improvements which she considered necessary, also articles that should be obtained. I did not, however, quite realize how much she had gone into detail, and how little necessary it was for me to supplement her lists, until several months afterwards.
The hotel adapted itself very well to the needs of an officers’ hospital; the entrance hall and corridors were large and airy, with very good oak tables (part of the hotel furniture) and screens. Large palms, plants and flowers adorned the tables. The patients, when they arrived, were not overwhelmed with the usual hospital atmosphere. The Red Cross sent regularly every month money for flowers, and we used to bring a fresh supply of flowers from the village several times during the week. The lounge, with all the latest papers and comfortable armchairs; and the dining room, in which forty officers could sit down to meals at one time; both led on to a covered-in balcony which overlooked the sea, and from which on clear days, the cliffs of Dover could be seen. This balcony was perhaps the most attractive part of the hospital, it was cheerful and gay with flowering plants and shrubs, wicker tables, and long cane chairs on which to rest. The lounge possessed a pianola which gave great joy to the young officers, but very little to the Commanding Officer whose office was rather too near and who perhaps not unnaturally became occasionally somewhat restive; as for instance when the strains of the ever-popular “End of a Perfect Day” did not blend successfully with a severe Strafe which he was administering to a patient who had ignored the little green book of Rules which was carefully placed in each room; or who had shown sublime indifference to the hours laid down for meals or for coming in at night. This same Commanding Officer now sits in high authority at the War Office, his office is firmly wedged into the very heart of that awe-inspiring building and I feel sure that nothing half so frivolous as the sounds of a pianola would be allowed to disturb his thoughts.
The many visitors who came out from England at different times and visited the hospital – foremost among whom were the King and Queen, and the Duke of Connaught – generally saw it during the more peaceful weeks. For this we were glad; we liked visitors to see the hospital at its best when the sun shone and the sea sparkled; when the windows could be flung wide open to let in the sun and air; when the few badly wounded officers still remaining from the last push were feeling in their most optimistic mood; when the sisters were looking fit and cheery, and the V.A.D.’s almost as they appear in the fashionable papers, as though work was very far from their thoughts! The other and more strenuous times would have made quite easy subjects for a Futurist, so little imagination would have been needed to produce pictures of pandemonium perfectly unintelligible and thoroughly futuristic.
To the uninitiated the place could hardly fail to have appeared, during these pushes, a regular maze of wounded men, stretchers and kits; through which medical officers, sisters, V.A.D.’s, and orderlies seemed by some unfailing instinct to be able to find their way. I say to the uninitiated this would have been the impression which they might easily have received; as a matter of fact everything was thoroughly organized and well thought out, from the time when the energetic serjeant at the front door superintended the transport of the wounded officers on stretchers from the ambulance to the trestles standing ready to receive them in the hall, to the time later on when the same wounded officers, now labelled with all their particulars, were waiting in the hall once more to be transferred to a hospital ship for home. Of course unpremeditated things did happen sometimes – I do not think that a wedding in the hospital had entered even the Commanding Officer’s active brain. In this instance the bridegroom, who was rather ill, was married from his bed. Captain Towse, V.C., the hero of the Gordon Highlanders, who lost his sight during the South African campaign, was one of six people who were present.