17th to 21st August 1917

For the next fourteen days I lost my identity.  In due course I was able to turn my head and take stock of my surroundings.  The man on my left was in a very bad way.  His right arm had been blown off at the shoulder and for most of the time he was delirious.  On my right was a little artillery man whose chest was no more than one pulpy mass of raw flesh caused by the searing liquid from a gas shell that has burst at his feet.  He was a cheerful soul although his agony must have been acute.  The only other patient within my view was a very young Canadian in the bed opposite who continually groaned and called loudly for the sister.  Experience had taught us that dangerously wounded men lay quiet and still and by the same token the noisy ones are, to say the least, not on the danger list.  It is pertinent to note that in K Ward with perhaps forty to fifty occupied beds almost complete silence reigned throughout the day and night except for occasional outbursts from the young Canadian.

Although I had to remain flat on my back I was reasonably comfortable, but the hours passed slowly and I had all the time in the world in which to review the happenings of the last few months.  I recalled particularly that sun-drenched Sunday evening on the road to Ivergny when much to Bradley’s disgust I had opted for a blighty.  The gods had been good to me – they had met me halfway with a gentle reminder by way of the solar plexus that it was not for mere mortals to strike a bargain.  I remembered the impetigo that on the 16th August practically covered the whole of my face despite the efforts of the Regimental MO.  My fingers explored the affected parts and I was surprised to find the skin completely free from those nauseating scabs.   Clearly the art of blood letting as practised in the 18th century still had something to commend it!

Remembering Bradley, Forster, Willis, Killick (who loved to talk of his wife and two small girls) and a host of others I had left behind and wondering if I should ever see them again I felt helpless and alone.

Dressings began at a fantastically early hour and my purgatory usually lasted for about three-quarters of an hour.  The hole in the stomach was cleaned and after much probing with tweezers the sister proceeded to stuff it with masses of cottonwool, plugging into all corners with a gold probe.  Next came the placing of four rubber “Canoll tubes” over the wound and these were tightly secured with many layers of rat-tailed bandage.  The other end of the tubes broadened out into little funnels which were attached at the neck by adhesive tape.  The next operation, repeated every few hours, was less painful but incommoding.  One half pint of warm Lysol was poured into each funnel, reached its allotted target and overflowed in all directions.  Occasionally the sister, a hefty Scottish Canadian woman, would change the bed by lifting me bodily with one arm, whipping out the sodden sheets and replacing them with dry ones – only to return shortly afterwards to pour in two more pints of Lysol.

For those who were fit to take everything on the menu the food was superb.  Breakfast usually consisted of boiled eggs which often had pencilled on them get well messages with names and addresses of kind old ladies back in England.  For elevenses one glass of Guinness together with jelly and blancmange.  A second glass of Guinness preceded a chicken lunch.  Most of the men were hand fed by the one ward sister who attended to all the dressings and it was not until evening that her duties were finished.  Tremendous effort by a wonderful person.  Occasionally an RAMC orderly would assist in the more menial tasks but his appearances on the ward were rare.

As darkness fell the night sister took over.  Lights were extinguished except for two low powered bulbs at either end of the marquee.  With a hurricane lamp more appropriate to the days of Florence Nightingale the sister walked down the quiet ward and briefly inspected each patient who should by then have been asleep.  On the third night she stopped at my bed, held up the lamp and said “Why aren’t you asleep number 27?”  I could think of no reason and she promised to find something to send me off.  She returned with a large glass of rich ruby port, a most efficacious draught!  The next night and the following night number 27 was again wide awake.  The same question and the same comforting glass of port ensued.  After several nights of this the sister wearied of making a special journey back to the dispensary and during the rest of my stay in K Ward she came on duty with the hurricane lamp in one hand and a glass of port in the other.  I was invariably awake.  We both understood the situation perfectly.  There was no need for conversation.