30th August 1917 - Back to England

At 1am I was awakened by the light of the hurricane lamp and the sister whispering in my ear that I was being transferred to England.  As the two bearers adjusted the blankets on the stretcher I hurriedly appropriated the Field Medical Card which hung at the head of the bed and popped it inside my little red bag of personal belongings.  The quest for souvenirs was still strong.  On that night I alone made my final goodbye to K Ward No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, leaving behind in that grim marquee many desperately ill men, most of whom I feared would remain in France forever.

On the 19th April 1918 the newspapers reported as follows.  “Two squadrons of Gothas attacked British hospitals at Etaples causing over 300 casualties.”  Among the published list of Canadian nursing service killed in the bombing I was shocked and saddened to read of the names of those two nursing sisters from whom I had received so much kindness and attention in K Ward.

For some reason which I could never understand the only article of uniform and other clothing which the RAMC considered should remain in my possession was that terrible pair of boots, size 8 and size 9 respectively.  To my disgust they were placed on the stretcher close to my feet.  The night was dark and the arc lamps strung high above the compound gave only a glimmer of light.  The distance to the Red Cross train was considerable and the RAMC men congratulated each other on the fact that the burden was lightweight.  Determined those boots should never reach England I took advantage of the good humour of my bearers and gently edged number one boot off the stretcher.  It fell with a plop on the concrete.  “Did you drop something chum?”  I answered in the negative.  Acting on the assumption that the greater the distance between the two boots the less likely my bearers would be inclined to make the journey back to recover number one, I waited until we were nearer our destination to dispose of number two in the same way.  It hit the ground with a crash but my bearers made no comment.

Once again I was in the top berth of a French Ambulance train but I remember nothing of the journey to Calais harbour.

It was now broad daylight and the scene was one of immense activity of German prisoners, with their soft round hats and large coloured patches on the back of their jackets, who were stretcher bearing from the train to a magnificent white steam yacht moored at the quayside.  From the top deck of the Belgian Royal Yacht “Stad Antwerp” a very wide staircase extended down to the bowels of the ship.  The stairs were completely boarded over and the stretchers released by one orderly to career speedily down the slope to be caught by two seamen at the foot.  Across a large landing and again to career down a second wide chute, then I was comfortably placed on one of the benches which lined the side of the ship.  The time was 3pm and we were quickly away.  Through a convenient porthole the water rushed past almost at eye level.  Positioned as we were in the bowels of that beautiful ship my normal aptitude for seasickness was non-existent.

HS Stad Antwerpen

Crossing the Channel in broad daylight was a hazardous undertaking for British ships and through my porthole I was comforted by the sight of a destroyer which overtook and passed us with cheeky abandon.  A second followed and a third and by the time the fifth destroyer disappeared from view I realised my stupidity.  What I supposed was a complete flotilla escort was in fact no more than one or two or at most three ships of the Dover patrol literally making rings around us.

In forty minutes we were in Dover harbour and comfortably ensconced in a Red Cross train bearing the old familiar chocolate and cream colours of the London and North Western Railway.  After a hot bowl of soup, a blessed sleep – until awakened by the jolting and jarring of the wheels slowly negotiating the points of what must have been a junction.  It was not pitch dark and as we slowly passed through a blacked out station I could just discern the nameplate “South Kensington” picked out in dim blue lights.  I speculated as to which London hospital would have the pleasure of my company and happily resumed my slumbers.

I woke suddenly to the sound of a raucous voice shouting “Lichfield”.  Lichfield it was and miles from London to which I belonged.

Etaples to Calais and Blighty.
"Stad Antwerp".
Lichfield Military Hospital.

Original diary entry
Original journal notes

Google Maps entry for Calais Harbour here
Google Maps entry for Dover Harbour here
Google Maps entry for Lichfield here