This is a very condensed version (around 7,000 words) of the original four volumes of diaries which run to a total of over 100,000 words. We have done this – reluctantly - at the request of the publisher and in anticipation of the book being published in March 2012. Click here for information about the book.
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We hope that what follows gives you a flavour of Edie’s diaries and we have included several of her sketches.
Edie is at Royal Army Medical Corps Casualty Clearing Station 3 near Ypres.
April 18th. Our men made an attack last night, we heard the heavy firing (in fact it shook the houses) that covered their advance. In 3 minutes they had taken a trench and 13 prisoners 2 officers. The whole work of the night was a hill of importance blown up, arms and legs of men flung high and into our own trenches - 6 lines of trenches taken and 2,000 prisoners. The Germans made a counter attack, and killed and wounded nearly 1,000 of our men. We have had over 600 through our hospital to-day, badly wounded, and fearfully collapsed, some who have been out since Aug. say it is quite the worst time they have had. We went on duty at 5.30 a.m. and stayed on till 9 p.m. I missed tea and dinner, because we were too busy in the theatre, but I came straight to bed and am having dinner from the officers mess brought up to me, and enjoying it very much. It has been a sad day in the theatre and a terribly tiring one. Amputation of arms and legs, and insides cut and packed in. Am very tired.
April 19th The same as yesterday, only more; we have had more patients two heavy train loads and have been receiving all the time. Ypres is too dangerous so we get them brought in only a few hours after they are wounded. Theatre has been going from 9 a.m. I don’t know how many cases.
April 22nd Not such a busy day, but we hear there is bad news to-night. Our trenches are being shelled with poisoned bombs which is forcing us to retire, and if so, where will it stop! As No. 5 O. C. is in working order we have had a much lighter day, but we all feel very tired in mind as well as body.
April 28th We were so much under fire on Sat, Sun and Mon that on Monday night we evacuated all but a few patients who were unfit to move and we (nurses) were ordered to clear out in half an hour, we were packed off at about 11.30 p.m. for St. Omer. Just as we were leaving the town, there were 2 more enormous explosions. We were not anxious to be sent away and told the authorities that we would rather stay, and since we had no choice, we could not help a feeling of gratitude, as we were whirled in a racing car out of the firing line. The first big shell fell quite close to our hospital, and the air was so thick with red dust, bits and smoke that we could not see out of our windows. We had operations on at the time and it was a little difficult for us all to go on as usual. After the first shock, we tried to become used to the 5 minutely explosions of a big shell close to us, but it was difficult and my knees did shake. We arrived at St. Omer at 2.0 a.m. a party of 20 refugees, were put up in a ward for the night, found stretchers and blankets all prepared for us. We did not sleep much, we were all too newly from it. Next morning we were returned to Hazebrouck, where we spent a muddly day, wondering what was going to happen next, and anxiously waiting for news of Poperinghe and our M.O. We hear to-day that the place is still being shelled, and that our unit No. 3 C.O. is being moved to Bailleul to-morrow where we are to join it.
So to-day just for one day, after the fortnight of practically working night and day, we are having a rest, and at the time of writing we are in a beautiful wood just outside Hazebrouck, where we are going to have a picnic tea. It is very restful not to hear the roar of the guns so loud and near, but we know it is going on and our hearts are with the brave Tommies who are “sticking it” in the trenches.
May 7th Quietish day, about 12 minor cases in the theatre, no big ones. Monsieur le Directeur has made us a great offer, we may use the lunatics’ bath room twice a week, for one hour, which means 4 of us bathing at one time; there are 4 baths in one room. I don’t fancy bathing in company, but as I have not sat in water deeper than 1 inch since last year the temptation to go is great. I think 4 of us will try it tomorrow and see what can be done in the way of screens.
3 of us went to another part of the asylum this morning at 7, and had a BATH - deep! Up to our necks in water - glorious! The first time for months and months! A dear old nun came trotting in when I was in my bath, felt to see the water was right heat, thought the bath was too full and pulled the plug by a patent in the floor, I was sitting on the hole where the water runs away and was sucked hard into it! I think I hear a convoy arriving now.
May 29th 1 a.m. I should just like to describe my surroundings. You know we are in the asylum, a huge building on the top of a high hill, overlooking pretty country. Well now, I have spent the last hour standing on a table in the bunk, looking at the night, the full moon is facing this way, slowly setting in a sky brilliant with stars and softened by a few light clouds. The land all looks black, hills and trees standing silhouetted clear against the sky, the horizon is alive, with the battle rockets are shooting up, guns firing, and the star lights that shew up where the trenches are, shoot up and float gracefully down. I can distinctly hear rifle fire too crackling in the distance. Inside the asylum I can hear the peaceful slumber of the officers orderly, there are only two sick officers and they are all right, so I shall not wake him up. Peace reigns.
July 31st Had the 1/2 day off duty, having evacuated 2 of my 6 cases. I called for Miss Congleton and took tea on to Mt Noir. Sat in a lonely spot overlooking Ypres and had it. She got the R. R. C. for the Neuve Chappelle business and was telling me odd bits about it. The whole staff, Orderlies and all were worn out, the Mortuary Corporal included. One afternoon he came to Miss C. and asked her to help him “sort them out” and when she got there he threw off blanket after blanket from the poor dead things who had been brought down in such numbers that some tickets were off. He said “Did you ever see ‘im before and did you ever see ’im”? His one job was to sort out R.C.s and Church of England so that each Padre might bury his own. Then he found a fresh difficulty over one whom he thought was an Officer but had nothing to mark him. “And ‘ow am I to bury ‘im – as a’ Officer or man”? Sister said: “Surely they all get buried the same.” “No, they don’t,” said the bewildered Cpl. “Men is hammered – Officers is screwed.” Poor Sister who was worn out as well as every one else suddenly went hysterical and laughed and laughed and the more she told herself it was tragic – not funny – the funnier it all looked and the little white faced corporal with hair on end just gazed helplessly at her and everything. That is one of the truest pictures of over work and under sleep and perhaps it shocks you. But I have lived through much the same and it is dead true.
September 7th. I saw a gaudy and pathetic sight in the town: the funeral procession of a child. First walked the acolytes carrying a mace and incense, then a Priest, the 3 children with a huge cross - one carrying it and the other two one on each side holding ribbons that streamed from it. Behind that was the coffin borne on the shoulders of 4 little boys, still in socks and about 10 yrs old. The coffin was covered with a blue satin pall and on it stood 3 silver (or tin) crowns. After all these came a long line of women and children. No men perhaps they are all away at the war.
Everything is as usual and quiet still. The town is closed and hundreds
and hundreds of troops are passing through on their way up – it is a
sickening and heart rending sight! These long columns of fine healthy
cheery men marching so gaily to the music of drum and fife bands and
they must know as we do that a great many will not come back and a great
many more spoilt – heads smashed – or short of a limb or something
sad. I hear there is to be a bombardment at dawn today. I shall soon
know as it is only 2 hours to dawn now.
September 25th. Tonight has been quite a revelation of what war can be like. I think I have told you that we are in a horse shoe shape of guns all round us. Tonight all the guns round us have been going without ceasing. It has been a panorama of vivid flashes of light from the guns and the huge bursts of fire where shells are bursting and the rumble, thud, rumble, roar the whole night. I shall be surprised if we are not very busy after this.
1915 Late November.
Edie moves away from the front line, where she has been since the start of the war, to General Hospital No. 1 at Etretat
November 16th. Received orders to proceed on arrival of relief to Gen. Hosp No 1, Etretat.
The V.A.D.s are a source of great interest to me – taking them as a
bunch they are splendid. They may be roughly divided into 4 sorts:
“Stalkers”, “Crawlers”, the irresponsible butterflyers and the sturdy
There is little to say about the sturdy pusher ones; they are not remarkable for anything, but are quite reliable, very strong, never forget and are always ready to do every bit of work.
January 3rd I know it is unnecessarily conceited of me, but I do wonder if you saw your daughter’s name in Despatches and do hope you are pleased. I am if you are, otherwise I don’t care. Off this afternoon went for long walk alone until I met a little girl carrying a bundle of clothes. She was very small and 9 years old. I carried her bundle for a bit and enjoyed a chat with the creature, she was rather nice. I am hoping to have breakfast in bed and the day off tomorrow tho’ what to do with it is a quandary, but sufficient unto the day… and tomorrow we shall see.
January 14th Being Night Super is not all honey when an Orderly gets drunk: “Send for the night Super”. Give your advice that as the ward is slack let him sleep it off and blow him up in the morning. Then the Ward Master comes along, finds him drunk and sleeping and wants to run him straight in to the guard room, but first comes to ask the “Night Super” about 3 different people have three different opinions (strong ones) as to what ought to be done, but all end up with ‘but of course you are night super you must decide.’ So you do and pretty quickly too being sick of them all.
Hardly slept at all today. Nurses are the most inconsiderate wretches
under the sun; they tramped about slammed doors and pulled plugs to
distraction. Then the orphans were let loose to kick tins and play and
the paper man blew his horn – toot tooting and yelling: “Petit Parisien”.
Now at 1:30 a.m., I feel I shall bust if I don’t say what is truly
unkind – that the V.A.D. who sits in this room will drive me to drink;
she talks tracts, gives tracts and is bulging with saintly and innocent
holiness – till I could shriek. I once met her equal at Cousin Walters,
but thank Goodness, he went away by train.
March 8th My heart is very sore for one poor boy, or for his Mother. We have had him 10 days and he is no better and is in a state to die at any moment. I am writing to his Mother and telling her so. Se is evidently a refined old lady – writes back to say she is “so glad to hear Charlie is with us – the rest and good food will do him good”. Have my letters not reached her? Or won’t she understand that the boy is dying. I think he must have been gassed; he is purple and just like a gas patient.
March 13th My poor little boy Kerr died yesterday, he had been in 15 days suffering from gas, pneumonia, bronchitis and has been extremely and dangerously ill all the time, but only the day before yesterday he realized that he was not going to get well. I am glad to say we never left him night or day and he was fond of us all. Yesterday was a difficult day to be “Sister”. He kept whispering all sorts of messages for home and his fiancée. Then he would call “Sister” and when I bent down to hear: “I do love you” “when I’m gone, will you kiss me?” and all the time heads would be popping in “Sister - 20 No – so and so – to - - - -.” “The S. Sgt wants to know if you can lend him a couple of men to…” This and that but, in spite of all, I did kiss the boy first for his Mother and then for myself - which pleased him. Then he whispered “but you still will when I’m gone.” The night before he asked me what dying would be like and said it seemed so unsatisfactory - he felt too young to die and not even wounded - only of bronchitis. Then another time he said, “They wouldn’t let me go sick every time they said it was rheumatism and would wear off and marching with full pack and dodging the shells was dreadful. Thank Goodness - what I told him dying would be like happened - exactly - a clear gift of Providence. I told him it would be that little by little his breathing would get easier and he would feel tired and like going to sleep and then he would just sleep and with no morphia - that is exactly what did happen without a struggle. He was quite conscious up to 20 minutes before he died. I just asked him now and then if he knew I was still with him. “Yes” and “you’re quite happy - aren’t you?” and he distinctly said “Yes, quite”. Then the last and very trying part for the Sister was to walk along to the other end of the village beside the poor dead thing to see him decently put in the mortuary.
March 30th Quiet night so far - (4 a.m.). Letter from Hilda tonight telling me Basil Blogg has been killed. How terrible for poor Mrs. Blogg - let us hope the other two will keep safe. Went for lovely walk alone this morning - miles along the Canteen Rd. Beautiful hilly country both sides of me - some parts thickly wooded, some smothered in primroses and daffodils - The air was sweet with their scent - larks singing - the colouring of the whole sky and country wonderful. It would have been a perfect feast for an impressionist!
Etretat. These two sketches were on loose pieces of paper.
May 30th. One gruesome thing Sam Maddox told me was that when they were marching into Ypres they saw another Company of the Warwicks resting by the roadside, some sitting on the kerbstones some lying about. They took not the least notice of the passing officer - no salute - no nothing. Then the officer went up to them and touched one man’s cheek - white powder fell off and he was stone dead. They had all been killed by gas as they sat or lay. Maddox said it was a horrible sight, some of them were smiling and some looked as if they were asleep.
Very peaceful day yesterday. Rules concerning bathing arrived yesterday.
June 14th. Took the 1/2 day yesterday. Walked to Villainville with Maxey. It was a rather enjoyable grey day – windy going but, as happened to us once before, on the way back a terrific rain storm swept over us when we were still 5 miles from home. However we clung to our flowers and arrived after a time in an awful state of wetness. It was through my mack and all my clothes to my skin. Maxey was the same so we took an outfit of dry clothes to the baths, had good hot baths and felt like Saints in our dry things.
August 9th I had a terrible fierce lecture from my M.O. last night, on not being married. He is a dear old thing and says he has found marriage - an undiluted success! So I told him, with the saddest look I could raise, that “my day was done” - it was too late!
September 11th We had a convoy of 399 in yesterday, only 70 wounded. Far the most of the sick were suffering badly from shell shock. It is sad to see them, they dither like palsied old men, and talk all the time about their mates who were blown to bits, or their mates who were wounded and never brought in. The whole scene is burnt into their brains and they can’t get rid of the sight of it. One rumpled, raisin faced old fellow said his job was to take bombs up to the bombers, and sometimes going through the trenches, he had to push past men with their arms blown off or wounded anywhere and they would yell at him “Don’t touch me,” but he had to get past, because the fellows must have their bombs. Then he would stand on something wobbly and nearly fall down and see it was a dying or dead man - half covered in mud. Once he returned to find his own officer blown to bits, leg in one place, body in another.
September 17th Had the day off yesterday. I think about half the Staff had - we have so very few patients in. Stayed in bed to breakfast, went for a walk with Wood and Marcey over the other cliffs. Lunched with Madam at 12: crab, roast mutton, grilled potatoes and salad, a delicious sort of cheese that is eaten with sugar, cider and coffee. At 1 o’c Matron, Ritchie T., Marcey and I started off for Caudbec en Caux - you have got some p.c.s of it. We broke down 5 minutes after we started and put back for a fresh car. The journey was a joy of beauty bathed in sunshine. The Seine was most picturesque, all the trees and hills along its banks just beginning to turn to autumn and there were some big steamers going to Rouen.
Edie is now at No 3 General Hospital at Le Tréport.
June 21st. I returned to Abbeville from leave June 15th and found orders awaiting me to proceed forthwith to No 3 Gen. Hosp. at Le Tréport.
July 14th I had a strong feeling all along that I had been sent in disgrace from Abbeville - it was so sudden and unexpected. I heard on Friday that it was the Matron of the Home who had me ejected. She told Miss McCarthy that I influenced the Staff so that she could do nothing with them. The truth is that she tried to boss me and run the hospital when I was in charge. I would not have that and told her so. After all, when I am in charge it is quite sufficient for me to boss the staff. She hated me for not allowing her to and so got me thrown out! The dirty dog! Being in disgrace does not sit heavy on my chest.
Weather still notable for devastating heavy showers of rain and hail.
Yesterday a sister, McCorqudale, and I had half days, took our tea and
went for a most glorious walk. To Eu by tram then straight out and up -
up - up - all the way, first through cultivated land then woodland. When
we had walked what seemed to us about 4 miles we came upon an old man
tidying up a château garden. The Château, as most, was closed. We asked
if we were nearly at “La Madeleine”, our destination. He laughed and
said he hoped we were not in a hurry as we had “encore cinq kilometres”!
More than three miles more! We had plenty of time, so didn’t mind a bit
and went on still up hill for a little way then a gentle down through
heather clad moorland and then La Madeleine!
Many happy returns of the day to [brother] Fred.
August 16th. My ward is rather a sad place just now, so full of extremely badly wounded, plenty of gas gangrene, 2 fractured spines dying and a room which is very difficult to ventilate. One feels the horrible smell in one’s throat and nose all the time – poor old things! They are very good; one died yesterday, an Australian, his leg was very gangrenous and had to be taken off high up but it was too far gone. His one cry was to get up and go out, he was quite all right; then about 1/2 an hour before he died he settled down, said “I’m done – I’m dying fast “ and he was quite right. It is very sad for these Colonials with their people so far away but when he was off his head I think he thought I was his Mother from the way he hugged and kissed my hand. Well, so long as he does not get a great disappointment in a lucid interval I do not mind. The news is keeping very good – long may it last.
I heard a good argument from that other Sgt. I told you about who ran
away from the Navy in favour of being 2 parts drunk when you “go over
the bags.” He is a man who has done well and won medals. To begin with,
if you’re wounded, you don’t bleed as much. 2nd, you are
quite sensible enough to know what is expected of you and you do the job
with a crest high spirit and daring, minus fear.
Sad - I have taken my beautiful winter coat to be made hideous and
regulation. (Silly fools).
The C.C.S.s are playing a great game of leap-frog and just sometimes
something stirs in my blood that I wish I were back at one, advancing
every few weeks over the heads of all the others, then feeling annoyed
when they get ahead again and then taking our turn to jump comes again.
I love it all, except the shelling and bombing and that’s horrible.
Thank God for that! It feels very queer too - kind as if your elastic
Edie has orders to join 42 Ambulance Train
Boulogne – What a life! I was just starting dressings in the ward
this morning when Matron came in and told me to go at once to 42
Ambulance Train for temporary duty so I had to take off my rubber gloves
and fly to my room to pack up all my worldly belongings (that were not
astray) and join this train taking with me hand luggage only. The
longer one lives in this war, one learns to take less about. I brought
no blankets and very few clothes with me, wrapped in a ground sheet, my
hold all being anywhere in France.
We got to Etaples at 11 last night and loaded at 3 this morning: 291
patients, chiefly stretchers, 90 repatriated prisoners of war.
December 13th 3.30 a.m.
I am taking the second half of the night this trip and we are nearing
Calais which means we shall reach Boulogne somewhere about 7 a.m.
Christmas Day 1918.
A happy Christmas to all.
Christmas was a great success with our men. They had a splendid dinner
followed by a whist drive in the afternoon.
This is Edie with her brother Sydney in about 1920 near Deal in Kent.
you enjoyed that brief 7,000 word extract from the original
full version contains more than 200 names of people