WOMEN'S IMPERIAL SERVICE HOSPITAL
at Antwerp and Chateau Tourlaville, Autumn 1914
Two accounts of the work of the Women's Imperial Service Hospital Unit, first in Antwerp, and following their evacuation from Belgium, the return to France and re-formation of the unit at Chateau Tourlaville (Tourbeville), just outside Cherbourg.
WOMEN’S IMPERIAL SERVICE HOSPITAL AT ANTWERP
Notes and diary of events from 16 September to 14 October 1914, Dr. Mabel L. Ramsay, M.D., Ch.B.Edin., D.P.H. Cantab., Honorary Surgeon.
The first hospital unit entirely officered by medical women departed for Paris on September 16th 1914, the Chief Medical Officers being Dr. Louisa Garrett Anderson and Dr. Flora Murray, who afterwards from May 1915 to 1919 worked in the Endell St. Hospital for Wounded.
The second hospital unit officered by medical women departed for Antwerp, Belgium, September 20th 1914, from Tilbury Docks, and after the Retreat from Antwerp were at Chateau Tourlaville, France.
The third hospital unit officered by medical women went to France under Dr. Francis Ivens and they worked at Royaumont, Seine et Oise to January 1st 1919. This unit and others that followed them organised by the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, have had their work chronicled elsewhere.
DEPARTURE. I was invited to join the unit on Thursday September 18th and I made arrangements for a locum to carry on my practice in my absence. I left Plymouth on Sunday morning September 20th and at Fenchurch Street Station, in the evening, met some members of the unit being seen off by Lady Muir Mackenzie, who did so much whilst the unit was at work to raise the necessary funds to maintain the Hospital Unit at the Front. The Advance Guard had gone to Tilbury with Mrs. Sinclair Stobart. Having had our passports examined we embarked at 8.30 p.m. on the tender for the ship ‘Dresden’ which was to take us to Antwerp. We went under the auspices of the St. John’s Ambulance Association and we were viséd by the Red Cross Society at Devonshire House.
We worked whilst in Antwerp under the Belgian Red Cross Society. We slept the night in mid-stream, and our departure timed for 4 a.m. did not take place until 7 a.m. owing to the fouling of our anchor. We had a fair crossing and most of the unit were ill. We had arrived at the Scheldt at 10 p.m. but again had to lie in mid-stream because all traffic must arrive and depart in daylight.
Tuesday September 22nd, 1914
We reached Antwerp at 8 a.m. and we were received by a Representative of the Consul (Sir Cecil Hertzlit) and the Belgian Red Cross Society. We were soon disembarked. All the unit save Miss Benjamen (Transport Officer) were put into carriages and we drove to the site of our proposed hospital, i.e. L’Harmonie, Local D’Ete, Chaussée de Malines, Anvers. Miss Benjamen remained behind with some willing Belgian Red Cross workers to bring up the £1,000 worth of hospital stores we had with us, which also included 150 beds and bedding, and X-ray apparatus, drugs, dressings and clothing, etc. The L’Harmonie was a large concert hall capable of holding 150 patients. Nearby, placed at our disposal for the housing of the unit was a convent, staffed by German Catholic Sisters. All the unit took their meals there, but about six of us i.e. two doctors (including myself), two nurses, and two cooks slept at the hospital; the rest of the unit slept at the convent.
Within two hours we had all set to work and cleaned up the hospital and the beds we had brought were set up and we were ready to receive patients. The operating theatre ready and two days later the X-ray room in working order. After being inspected by Sir Cecil Hertzlit and the Chief of the Belgian Croix Rouge, and the Chief doctor of the Belgian Army, the hospital was passed and accepted as an Auxiliary Red Cross Hospital under the Belgian Red Cross. All the members of the unit were duly inoculated against typhoid within 24 hours of arrival. There were many alterations required to make this concert hall suitable, i.e. basins, baths, proper lavatory accommodation, stoves for warming etc. All was expediously put in, almost as quickly as the rubbing of Aladdin’s lamp.
On September 24th we received fifty patients and thereafter we were rapidly filled up so that we never had a vacant bed and on the night of the bombardment we had 135 cases, some lying on the floor on mattresses. On September 27th we sent back our electrician Mr. English, as he had finished installing the X-ray apparatus for Dr. Stoney.
We had patients of all degrees i.e. ‘privates’ and also about twelve officers, one of them was a doctor who was under my particular care. The daily programme was to get up at 6.30 a.m. Breakfast 7.30 a.m. At 8.10 a.m. some energetic members did drill in the garden of the convent, but his lapsed after the 1st week and we were too hard at work all day. At 8.30 work began in the hospital and continued more or less all day and night, as very soon wounded came in only during the night, after the battles of the day. Many had been 24 hours without receiving first aid. All work at night could only be done by means of candles or shaded ___ lights, as the whole of Antwerp was shrouded in darkness and once or twice we had telephone messages from the forts that even this meagre light was too much. This meant, of course, that no serious operation could be done at night, other than dressings, so that operations were deferred unless extremely urgent until daylight.
On September 26th bombs were dropped by German aeroplanes on the city, and we watched them flying high above us. Shooting was attempted but all fell short. This was our first experience of enemy aeroplanes.
In gratitude for our work Mrs. Stobart was presented with two gilt medals of the King and Queen of the Belgians, and we had a pretty ceremony at which the Marseillaise was sung and God Save the King played on a tooth comb by a Belgian soldier. Nearby us was the British Field Hospital (180 beds) in the Rue Napoleon, officered by two men and three women doctors, i.e. Dr. Laura Foster, Dr. Benham and Dr. Moberley. They were established in a school a week or so before we came. They were equipped with motor cars, our one deficiency, and had permission to go to the Front to pick up wounded. They had an advanced dressing station at Malines, and they did splendid work.
I visited one Belgian Hospital in the Rue Doulary and there found a hospital of 300 beds and only two English trained nurses. These nurses were reserved to attend operations, and the dressings were done by Belgian ladies who had little experience in nursing. They were taught by these two nurses to do dressings, but they would not attend operations or do any night work. Hence these two English nurses were left at the hospital to carry on the work at night, alone and unaided.
The following are abstracts from letters received by my mother Mrs. A. C. Ramsay:
September 28th. Malines was again bombarded by the Germans and many refugees have streamed into Antwerp. An attempt was made to effect a junction between English and Belgians and if this had been successful, the Germans would have been driven back. Antwerp may suffer from bombardment; Germans are anything from 10 to 20 miles away. The Belgians say Antwerp is impregnable from her fortifications, but we English knowing of Liege and Namur do not share this confidence. We were told that to take Antwerp anything from 200,000 to 1,000,000 lives would have to be sacrificed. This we knew later on was not so! On the other hand, the Germans have an army which requires food and it is stated that Antwerp has food enough to withstand a siege for two years. The General is preparing beds for 10,000 wounded.
September 30th, 1914. The water supply failed owing to the pump of the waterworks having been shelled by the Germans. We depend on the well supply, the water of which is very brackish, and it has the effect on me even when used to make tea of making me violently sick. Cannon are heard nearer every day. We were visited by the American Consul, Mr. German.
October 14th. The town of Antwerp received a preliminary bombardment through the outer forts, the furthest off is 15 to 20 miles. Town full of rumours but no definite news except that it is borne in on us that the Belgians are being beaten back. More and more wounded come in each day. The first case of typhoid seen among the Belgian soldiers today. These uncared for cases later on made a serious outbreak of typhoid at Calais where the Belgian Army retreated. Many of these cases were treated skilfully by Dr. Alice Hutchinson of the Scottish Women’s Hospital. Of course, the reason for this outbreak among the Belgians being so serious, was because no preventative inoculations were possible during the chaos that followed the Retreat from Antwerp.
We were visited today by the British Minister Sir Francis Villiers. An aeroplane dropped a bomb near the hospital and a back fire from a shrapnel case fell through our roof, but no one was hurt; a soldier and a nurse were scared when it dropped between them. The Red Cross Flag is no protection! The water supply is still deficient and many of us are sick after drinking anything made with well water. I have taken to beer!
October 2nd, 1914. 7 a.m. orders received to evacuate the hospital. Germans are expected in Antwerp. All patients got ready to go to Ostend.
1 p.m. Evacuation orders cancelled. Sir Cecil Hertzlit brought news that Antwerp is to be defended. The boat left for England at 4 p.m. carrying Dr. Rose Turner, a nurse and our cook Mrs. Godfrey who felt obliged to leave us. Also we ordered George Mallett, mechanic, to go back, because he was of military age. Situation here is uncertain. We hear reinforcements are to arrive. British reinforcements are coming.
October 5th, 1914. Dr. E. Morris left us tonight. Dr. Shaw whom we now learnt was her husband had come to fetch her out of Antwerp. He and Dr. Munro had come for her from Ghent, where they had an ambulance station. We learnt that on the morning the unit left London (September 20th), Dr. E. Morris and Dr. Shaw had got married. She parted from him and came with us. He followed three days later with Dr. Munro. We were sorry to lose our colleague, but a husband naturally has a right to take his wife out of danger!!
October 5th, 1914. Yesterday the British Marines of the Naval Brigade arrived. They marched past our doors and we gave them a great welcome. “British Nurses” they yelled.
Fierce fighting is going on and more and more wounded come in. Winston Churchill is here bucking us up, and it is hoped to hold Antwerp. Lights are out earlier and earlier as the bomb habit is developing. Nursing and operating done under great difficulties. We took in two English Marines who were wounded today. The position of Antwerp is very serious. Town is full of rumours but no official news. Many forts have fallen.
October 7th, 1914. Bombardment expected hourly. Hospital is full and everyone working at top speed. Surgery is done under awful conditions. No water save well supply.
We were visited by Dr. Finch and Dr. Anderson of the Royal Marine Light Infantry, as we have a dozen wounded British Marines. The Belgian Government has gone to Ostend and so has Vice-Consul Sir Cecil Hertzlit in the last boat to England. We remain with our patients. Aeroplanes have dropped messages that bombardment will begin at midnight.
October 8th – The bombardment of Antwerp.
No wounded were received tonight and at 11 p.m. those who could, retired to rest. I went to bed the first time for the last fortnight. At 12 midnight, October 7th, the bombardment began and one of the first shells to fall was in the Berchem district where our hospital is situated in the Chassée de Malines. I heard the awful sound of a singing and whistling sound and then a boom. I hurriedly jumped out of bed and began to dress. Went and called the others to come down as quickly as possible. I reached the hospital and helped to assist our patients to the cellars which had been carefully prepared and stocked with dressings etc., and some food under Miss McNaughton’s directions. She had been at Ladysmith and knew something of what bombardment meant. In less than 35 minutes every patient was in the cellars. Help was forthcoming from the convent to stretcher down some 35 cases, the rest were helped or walked down themselves.
My own instinct at first was to rush ahead of all the patients, and get first into the cellars, but I conquered this feeling, and the necessary directions, and then remembered that all the gas must be turned off out of the building lest a shell came and burst the mains and we had a serious fire. This I did. By this time, those sleeping in the convent came over and gave us more help. We made the patients as comfortable as possible and as the air was getting fetid (we knew there were one or two wounded Belgians likely to die, one poor lad had his leg amputated that day for gangrene, and another was vomiting his life out with ruptured intestines), we withdrew half the helpers and went across to the cellars of the convent, and there spent a restless weary four hours.
At 6 a.m. we had some sort of meal and then went across to the hospital. All patients were dressed by Dr. Stoney and myself. During the next six hours we received orders that all who could walk were to make for a certain place outside Antwerp. I must say that very soon after the bombardment began, in our hospital were 135 patients and these were reduced to 67 as about 58 went out of the hospital and we knew them no more, including some British wounded. One Britisher died that night. He and another Belgian soldier were laid side by side and buried in the garden of L’Harmonie.
About 9 a.m. a shell fell just in front of the hospital close to the cellars, but no one was hurt. A tea-cloth lying on the ground to dry disappeared and was seen no more. Mrs. Stobart went out to ascertain the situation and on her return, we found a general order for evacuation of the town had been given. We were unaware of this up to 12 noon. During the day we were gradually able to convey to safer hospitals 44 wounded soldiers leaving us in the cellars with 23.
About 1 o’clock I decided to go out and see what further means could be taken to get the wounded in a safer place. 7 or 8 houses were burning around us and no one left to put out the fires. The house across the street had the whole front part blown out. Our position was dangerous. All male help had left us save Mr. Greenhalgh (Mrs. Stobart’s husband). The last Belgian Red Cross helper had gone to the Dutch frontier and finally Mr. German, Vice American Consul, with his son, were seen, bag in hand going for the Dutch frontier. We had had an interview with him early in the morning and we understood he was going to remain to protect British interests. Alas! the bombardment was more than he could stand. E. A. G. Powell’s book on ‘Fighting in Flanders’ gives some idea of his opinion of Mr. German’s behaviour, for Mr. A. G. Powell took charge of the American Consulate during the period when the Germans entered Antwerp.
I went to the British Field Hospital in Rue Napoleon, making slow and painful progress through the streets, with the shelling going on all the time. I, however, was glad to be out in the air as the cellars suffocated me. There I saw that this hospital was being evacuated and found they had secured some British omnibuses into which the wounded were being rapidly placed. I asked where they had been obtained, and finally a British Sailor told me where they were to be found at the bridge near British Headquarters. With some difficulty I persuaded a lady who owned her own car, a voluntary worker with this hospital – I forget her name, and glad to do so – to take me to the bridge to endeavour to get some conveyances for our wounded and the unit. She grudgingly promised to drive me there but refused to bring me back. This I accepted, glad to have some opportunity of obtaining some help for wounded and the unit. Arrived at the bridge (the place from where the Bridge of Boats stretched to the other side of the Scheldt). I was put down and the lady and car left me. There I found a British officer who advised me to speak low as we were surrounded with German spies, to whom I told our position. He turned round and said “there is a lorry; take that and do what you can with it, and if another vehicle comes in shortly, it shall come to your help.” Thanking him, with a sense of relief, I clambered up beside the driver, Barker, and his companion who stood beside on the step with a loaded gun. If you refer to Miss McNaughton’s book ‘An Englishwoman’s Diary of the War,’ you will see that she says that Miss Benjamin secured the lorry, but the above is how it was secured. Miss Benjamin was the first to greet me on my return. We quickly loaded on the lorry 17 wounded Belgians, three nurses (Sister Bailey, Nurses Willis and Thompson), a voluntary worker who acted as interpreter (Miss Randle) and a Belgian woman who had been with her wounded husband at the hospital for the past ten days (she came from Charleroi).
I was placed in charge of the party. Seeing that some must remain behind, the other soldier with the gun decided to remain with the unit, some 21 persons in all. I hoped to go back to the bridge and get the second vehicle to send back for them, but this was not to be. Driver Barker lost his way and we did not reach the bridge, but landed at the G. Headquarters on the quay-side. There we were detained for 10-15 minutes and finally the General gave us orders that we were to make for Ghent or Bruges. Some officers kindly gave us several tins of sardines upon which we fed at Ostend. Then I realised that I could not get back to the unit and that I must now get the wounded under my care into safety first.
My feelings were horrible during that night as I had a feeling of desertion and also one of fear lest any of the British women should fall into the hands of the Germans. A fate to be greatly feared! We had heard enough to be satisfied that British women would not be well treated. Slowly we made our way to the Bridge of Boats; all the people of Antwerp were flocking out and the whole quayside was a dense mass of people streaming across the bridge or crowding into steamers and boats. The screech of the shells going on all the time. We finally got across the Scheldt and reached the other side about 5.30 p.m. as twilight was commencing. Whilst crossing the river I noticed three great columns of smoke going up in the sky and afterwards learnt they were petroleum tanks fired by the Belgians. Later on in the night when some twenty miles from Antwerp I saw the glow of fire and so tremendous was the glow that I thought the Germans had succeeded in setting fire to all Antwerp.
Driver Barker had to drive slowly for the sad procession of people fleeing from bombardment made progress slow and difficult. Here a hand-cart with bedding and old people on top and babies lying asleep; there another group, fathers, mothers and children all carrying bundles. Then a file of Belgian soldiers going into the trenches to take up their last positions before the Germans entered Antwerp. Just as I got across the Bridge of Boats I met Dr. Finch of the Royal Marine Light Infantry, and told him should he see the rest of the unit, to tell I had got away with the wounded and had been unable to reach them again. We reached St. Nicholas just as the sun was setting and there we stopped to inquire our way. A Belgian doctor came forward and told us that the Germans had reached Lukeren and our way to Ghent was barred. He offered, if he might stand on our lorry’s step, to show us the way to the Belgian Headquarters for the night. This offer we gladly accepted and all night long he cried ‘tout droit’ and thus secured us early passage on the road for the wounded. When about three or four miles from St. Nicholas we came to the last of the retreating Belgian Army. A sad sight to see! We once got stuck in the sand, but with the willing help of the soldiers, we got out again. During the night we passed a greater portion of the Army and in answer to the Belgian doctor’s appeal we got the road. Once we stopped and got some milk for the men.
We arrived at about 1.30 at a place called Mirbecke and there the Belgian doctor made arrangements for us to unload the wounded men for a brief space. One soldier was obviously dying. I attended to him as well as could be. We gave food, of which we had some, to the wounded. Nurse watched beside the dying soldier. He died an hour after being laid in the hall which we were given. The Mayor kindly gave the interpreter and me a bed to rest upon, and he entertained us by giving us wine to drink and bread and cheese to eat. We rested for an hour and a half and then work came that we must hurry for the Germans were only five kilometres away.
Quickly we loaded the wounded on the lorry and once more started on our journey. During the early morning we passed more of the Belgian Army, the Cavalry, the Artillery, all with their field guns either shot away or so small that one realised how futile would be their resistance against the 17mm of the Germans which were besieging Antwerp. The extent of an army in retreat can be realised when it is noted that the last of the army began some five miles beyond St. Nicholas and we never ceased passing the Belgian Army until we were about five miles from Bruges. We took some fifteen hours in a lorry moving at about 12-15 miles per hour. We were only once held up for about an hour when the huge horse drawn wagons caused a blockage on the road. We had to be very grateful to that Belgian doctor who wished to be an eye specialist, and whose name I do not know. It was his energy and care that brought us through so quickly. I wonder what has happened to him in this Great War! We left him at Mirbecke.
Dawn was just breaking as we left Mirbecke and the Belgian soldiers, with their arms stacked in the road, were lying for an hour or so of sleep, in the road, or if lucky, in some shed provided by the villagers. Shaking themselves, they were making ready to march. We stopped at about 7.30 at Eccloo and found that no food could be bought as that part of the Belgian Army in front of us had eaten everything. Luckily some kind shop-keepers came out and asked us to have breakfast. They fed the wounded and gave us a very welcome meal with some hot coffee and also an opportunity to have a wash. In an hour we were on the road once more.
On the way we had a talk with a British officer (Captain Marshall) who had been fighting with the Belgians and had undergone much. A Belgian priest was with him and they rod together in a horse ambulance. We had a chat and he cheered us on the way. About 11.15 a.m. we entered Bruges and as our motor lorry required some slight repairs we waited an hour for them to be done. They were done by some soldiers belonging to the Armoured Cars under Captain Sampson (I think). We had a cheery talk with them and I took many names and promised to write to their relatives when I reached England telling them they were safe. This I did and had many grateful answers.
While at Bruges I heard a British officer was wounded and had no-one to look after him. He was lying at a hotel. I went there to proffer my medical aid, but found he had been moved that morning. Once more we started, and when going through the Square, we saw the 7th Division (Cavalry) entering. It was a glad and sad sight, for we knew heavy fighting would soon be before them. They all looked so spick and span, leading their horses. My own cousin passed me on the road that morning. Thence from Bruges to Ostend we passed more of the 7th Division, some resting in the heat of the day, some marching onward to Bruges. Finally we entered Ostend at about 2 p.m. and once more in the Square I spoke to a Belgian officer who answered me in English. He took us under his care and finally landed us at the Croix Rouge. We left our men in the yard of the Kursaal under a nurse’s care, which was a Voluntary Hospital under a Miss Tanker (American I think). They were unable to take in the men as they were going to be commandeered by the British for a hospital, if Ostend were to be held. The Belgian officer, who was a Canadian, introduced us to the Canadian Frontiersmen who were very kind and helpful. They secured a good hot meal for us at a little restaurant where there was a waiter called ‘John.’ Then we went to the Croix Rouge and they allocated us a house at 91 Rue Royale, and we quickly installed our eighteen men. We had eighteen because we had taken up two other wounded Belgian soldiers, who had been wounded near Mirbecke, in place of the one who died.
The Belgian woman was most helpful and she cooked for us all, and mothered the men. The three nurses (Bailey, Willis and Thomspon) quickly arranged beds. I went to the Croix Rouge to secure dressings and had a woeful time; drugs and dressings were nearly all gone and there was no chloroform available. I succeeded in getting a few bandages, some perchloride of mercury and two ounces of Tinct. Iodine. All I could do was to use very little antiseptics and clean boiled water. Ten of the men were very ill indeed. Two days later I got those into the Kursaal Hospital, but in an hour ten more wounded men came into the house and we did what we could. Luckily the Croix Rouge provided us with food and we had sufficient with the sardines given us at Antwerp.
We remained at Ostend until Tuesday October 13th, when having arranged for the care of the wounded I left Ostend for England, for I could do no more, having no clothes but what I stood in, and I was worn out. Two nurses (Willis and Clifton) went to England on October 10th. They were worn out. Sister Bailey and Miss Randle thought to transfer themselves to another unit, but next day, October 14th, came over with the wounded, as Ostend was evacuated and the Germans entered the town. As I left Ostend, bombs were being dropped on the boats from German aeroplanes, luckily none hit the boats, and no damage was done, save to the sand dunes. Miss Donisthorpe, who came down with the Naval Brigade, sought us out and found us on Sunday October 10th, and she and I came over from Ostend to Folkestone together.
The scene at Ostend was much the same as at Antwerp, crowding and scrambling mass of people getting on to the boats, and bombs dropping at intervals from German aeroplanes.
HOW THE REST OF THE UNIT LEFT ANTWERP
When I left with the lorry there remained six very seriously wounded Belgians. These were carefully stretchered from the cellars of the hospital into the cellars of the convent, and the German nuns undertook to look after them and to make the necessary arrangements to get them into a hospital when the bombardment ceased. They were given food and money.
The unit were left by me at about 3.30 p.m. They waited for the vehicle I was unable to send. Finally Sister Finch suggested they should go to the front gate of L’Harmonie in case the seekers for them could not find the way in. About 5.30 p.m. they saw the last two motor omnibuses which were filled with ammunition, coming back from the trenches. The drivers in charge agreed to drive the 21 members out of Antwerp, but they could not take the wounded soldiers. As the wounded were provided for, the unit were packed into the omnibuses, taking the risk of all being blown up if a shell caught them. However this accident did not occur. The town was nearly deserted when they reached the Bridge of Boats, and when they had reached the other side, they and their belongings were deposited. Very shortly after they crossed, the Bridge of Boats was blown up by the retreating British.
The unit was then picked up by a French ambulance and taken to St. Nicholas. The French doctor in charge was very kind to them and found them sleeping accommodation in a convent. They slept that night on the floor. Early next morning, they and their belongings came down in the train which brought the retreating Naval Brigade. They arrived in the evening of October 8th (Friday) at Ostend. Some accommodation was secured for them at a hotel, and on Saturday October 9th, the whole unit, save Miss Donisthorpe and Miss Sally McNaughton, left for England. Miss Donisthorpe, as I said before, came and joined us at 91 Rue Royale, and she crossed to Folkestone with me when we found we could do no more. Miss Sally McNaughton remained in Ostend and she joined Dr. Munro’s unit and retreated with the Belgian Army to Furnes, where she wore herself out, and finally returned to England and died after a brief illness in 1916.
AN ACCOUNT OF THE WORK DONE BY WOMEN DOCTORS AT THE ANGLO-FRENCH HOSPITAL No.2, CHATEAU TOURBEVILLE, CHERBOURG
(A Unit of Women’s Imperial Service Hospital)
November 6th 1914 to March 24th 1915
Mabel Ramsay, 25 February 1920
Although ‘Tourbeville’ is used throughout, elsewhere this chateau is usually named as ‘Chateau Tourlaville’ and several references can be found on the internet using this alternative spelling.
Miss Florence Storrey, M.D., B.S.(Lond.) Medecin-en-Chef and Radiographer
Miss Mabel L. Ramsay, M.D., Ch.B.(Edin.), D.P.H. Cantab., Medicin-en-Chef after 15/2/15
Miss Joan Watts, M.B., B.S.(Lond.), Surgeon
Miss Mildred Slatey, M.B., B.S.(Lond.), Surgeon
Miss Kathleen Gibson, M.B., B.B.A.O.R.U., Surgeon
Miss Ina Clarke, F.R.C.S.I., (after 1 January 1915)
Mrs. Sinclair Stobart Greenhalgh, Administrator.
Sister Bailey (in charge), Sister Finch (in charge), Nurse Clifton, Nurse Cole, Nurse Kennedy, Nurse Jones, Nurse Bright-Robinson, Nurse McClaverty, Nurse Thompson, Nurse Trestrail, Nurse Tully, Nurse Wilson
Miss Ingleby, Miss Mabel Smith
Masseuse – Miss Cowles
Sanitary Inspector – Miss Mary Davies
Cooks – Miss Monica Stanley, Miss Plaistow, Miss Bramley Moore, Miss Panley, Miss Nicholls
Electrician – Mr Mallett
Secretaries – Miss McGlade, Miss Stear, Mrs. Williams (after 1 February 1920)
Chauffeuses – Miss Crossfield, Miss Fanny Warren, O.J. Bland, Esq., R. Black, Esq.
Orderlies – Miss Donnisthorpe, Miss Eva McLaren, Miss Mary McLaren, Miss McNeild, Miss Scott Russell, Miss E. Gladstone, Miss Benjamen
Within three weeks of the return of the Hospital Unit from Antwerp, the Unit was gathered together and through Lady Guernsey an invitation was received from the French Red Cross to go to Cherbourg as large numbers of French wounded were being landed there from Calais at the rate of over one thousand a day. Hospitals were crammed and help was urgently needed. The Joint Committee of the Red Cross Society and St. John’s Ambulance Association had just been formed. The Hospital Unit had gathered together £1,000 and had everything fully equipped and were able to maintain themselves for at least six months, therefore the departure of the Unit for France was officially sanctioned by Joint Committee. The Unit was passed as fit for service in France and passports etc. issued to members of the Unit. On November 2nd Dr. Mabel L. Ramsay accompanied by Miss Monica Stanley, Lady Guernsey and Lady Rodney crossed from Southampton to Cherbourg.
Lady Guernsey had already secured a ‘locale’ for the proposed at Chateau Tourbeville, 3 miles from Cherbourg. An inspection was necessary as to whether the building could be utilised. Water supply, sanitation, lighting etc. The first thing to be done on arrival at Cherbourg was to interview the Chief Medical Officer Dr. Couteaud at l’Hopital Maritime and the Commander-in-Chief. These officers were very courteous and welcomed gladly the offer of help. Dr. Couteaud scrutinised carefully the medical personnel and each person’s degrees and qualifications had to be explained to him. The French Authorities were a little taken aback at ‘women surgeons,’ but finally were satisfied that they could work. Having consented to accept the Hospital Unit as an Auxiliary French Hospital, they did all they could to help us. After the interview, Lady Guernsey and Dr. Ramsay proceeded to inspect the Chateau Tourbeville.
The Chateau, a 16th century chateau was beautifully situated but was not ideal as a hospital, but Dr. Ramsay saw that with the wonderful zeal and help of the Unit which had done so well at Antwerp, the impossible could be achieved, so she telegraphed to London ‘Sanitation imperfect: Help urgent: Wanted Primus and oil stoves: Electricity: No gas: Nothing prepared: Croix Rouge poor: Come as soon as possible: Difficulties surmountable.’ A visit to the quays to see the arrival of the wounded confirmed the opinion that help was urgently needed. The difficulties to be faced were: 1. Only one tap of water in the kitchen to supply 150 people. 2. All drinking water had to be fetched by hand. 3. Sanitation very primitive and earth closets had to be built. 4. The Turbine Engine for electric lighting was out of order and had to be made to work.
On November 6th the Unit arrived and set to work with such a goodwill that on November 8th we announced to Dr. Couteaud that we were ready to receive wounded soldiers. He was immensely impressed and that very day we received 25 cases of the ‘gravement cases’ i.e. cases too ill to travel further and all suffering from fractured limbs and wounds of every description.
Dr. Couteaud inspected the Hospital so rapidly arranged, and expressed himself immensely pleased and satisfied with the arrangements and grateful to Les Dames Anglais for their help. By Christmas our full complement of beds, i.e. 80, were full and we had our hands fully occupied fighting sepsis. For nearly every case had received only one dressing after having first been wounded and hence their wounds were horribly septic. Many had been wounded 7 or 8 days. We added to our efficiency by having a tent put up in front of the Chateau in which convalescents were given their meals. A piano was secured and many concerts given to the wounded men and their friends and the staff also when patients were in bed and were able to amuse themselves. Also we fixed up a six-bedded open air treatment hut and about 20 cases were treated there in continuous open air ‘such as Les Anglais like,’ but which the French regarded as somewhat a cruel innovation, until they saw the results. Latterly, several phthisical cases were treated. In all 206 patients were treated at the hospital and as all required 3-4 months treatment we could not take in many new cases after the hospital beds were once full.
By the middle of February the work was getting lighter and we began to have some empty beds. Fewer wounded were arriving in Cherbourg and finally at the beginning of March it became clear that the French would not send more wounded from Calais because of the submarine menace, which had begun to be serious. Mrs Stobart, at the beginning of February, wished to go to Serbia, and the cry for help had reached England, and she felt she could be of greater use there than in France where the pressure of work was slackening as the French organisation began to improve. So it was arranged that half the Unit who wished to volunteer for Serbia should be allowed to go. In the middle of February half the Unit went back to England to prepare to go to Serbia.
Dr Ramsay in charge, assisted by Dr Clarke, carried on the hospital work for the next five weeks. Mrs. McLaren became administrator and Mrs. Williams, secretary. By the middle of March only 30 patients were left in the hospital, and as no information could be obtained as to whether further help was needed, the hospital finally closed on March 24th. It was felt that now Cherbourg had many empty beds and there would be fewer wounded arriving by sea, and that to maintain a hospital at a cost of over £120 per week was not wise as money would be needed elsewhere. So after supplying the local French Red X with many dressings, the balance of the equipment was sent to Royaumont to the Scottish Women’s Hospitals who were, at this time, raising their number of beds from 200 to 400. They were neat the Front and could utilise all we were able to send them. Dr. Ramsay visited Royaumont at the end of March 1915 and saw what was wanted, so with Dr. Ross she returned to Cherbourg, gathered the whole equipment, put it in three trucks, and in spite of French protests she (Dr. Ross) travelled with the trucks all the way to Royaumont, so that none of the equipment was lost, and it was delivered to Royaumont three days from the time it was loaded on to the trucks, a wonderful achievement in those days of railway blockage and it showed Dr. Ross’s ability to ride through all French red tape.
This account of our work would not be complete without reference to Dr. Chareot, son of the famous late Dr. Chareot, Specialist in Nervous Diseases. He was of immense help to the Unit with suggestions, and also acted as interpreter between the members of the Hospital staff whose knowledge of French was very limited. Dr. Chareot had given up the practice of medicine before the war and had only a year previous to the outbreak of war returned from an expedition of exploration to the Antarctic. Dr. Chareot writes as follows of the Hospital:
April 2, 1915 Service de Sante, Cherbourg
Being frequently desired by the Director on Service de Sante of Cherbourg to inspect the different sanitary formations belonging to Cherbourg, I had often the pleasure of visiting the Anglo-French Hospital No.2 under the very able medical management of Dr. Florence Storrey. I can certify and do it with great pleasure that everything went off extremely well in that Hospital; the patients were attended to with the greatest care, operated on in the most able way and many lives were saved. The Sanitary formation shall be deeply regretted by everybody in Cherbourg. The X-Ray work was particularly good. Sincere compliments must be given to Dr. Florence Storrey and the Staff who worked under her very able management.
(Signed) Dr. R. Chareot, Medicin de Marine, Service de Sante, Cherbourg
The work of surgeons was carefully inspected and we were visited by many French doctors to watch us operate and to examine how we treated the cases. Each and all were satisfied and we never received one single complaint that all was not properly done. The ‘bon couleur’ of the men also impressed them, because in French hospitals the men were very pale, due to a confinement in hot and badly ventilated wards. Our wards were well ventilated, in spite of the men’s protests. Mention must also be made of Madame Bonnfoy, the President in Cherbourg of ‘Les Dames de France’ (Croix Rouge). She was a great help. She was the means of obtaining many accessories for the hospital which were so needful in making a large establishment run smoothly. She was full of lamentations when we decided the hospital must close. The members of the Unit received many kindnesses from the people in residence near Cherbourg and several visits were paid to neighbouring chateaux.
Towards the end of our stay when there was a dearth of doctors, the villagers used to send messages for help in various cases of sickness and accidents, and help was willingly given. They showed their appreciation for the services rendered by bringing presents to the wounded.
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