31st August 1917 - Letter and postcard home

Letter home to Mum and Dad

Postcard home to Ernie's sister Daisy
Ernie's sister - Daisy Acton

31st August 1917

2am in the morning and in spite of the lateness of the hour a sizeable crowd of onlookers stood silently, peering closely as every stretcher was carried to the string of waiting ambulances.  No doubt they were hoping with mixed feelings to recognise some face dear to their hearts.

At the army hospital inside the confines of Whittington Barracks the members of Queen Alexandra’s Nursing Service forgot for one brief moment the dignity of their commissioned rank and each one dashed from bed to bed, as did the civilians at the station, searching for a familiar face.  It so happened that out of the large intake on that night I was the only Londoner and it was apparent that the majority of the nursing staff were Londoners.  All I wanted to do was sleep but that was denied me until I had replied to all their questions which covered the whole field of the London Territorial Battalions which comprised the 56th and 47th Divisions and the individual members thereof from Colonels to humble privates.  I could not help and as they drifted away I had my face washed and “London” went to sleep.  My status had improved; I was no longer ‘number 27’, a mere cipher.

When morning came the nursing sisters at Whittington had regained the dignity of their calling and patients had to conform to strict discipline even though they were bedridden.  After all it was a pukka military hospital.  The weeks at Whittington were grim.  I missed the wonderful food of “No 1 Canadian” but that was understandable.  The unearthly silence of the ward was almost unendurable.  We had no visitors except two ancient crones who appeared each Sunday morning and presented every patient with one small, wrinkled apple and a religious tract.  Even the Sergeants’ voices and the rattle of arms on the barrack square would have been a source of perverse enjoyment but no sound penetrated the ancient walls of the hospital.  We had one moment of light relief each morning when the baker’s cart drew up outside the main door and not even matron could still the hearty cheers with which his arrival was greeted.

The elderly matron, a kindly soul no doubt, visited each patient every day with a few words yet oddly enough she was disliked by every man for a particular reason.  During her daily round she would plonk down on the patient’s bed her revolting pet, a snuffling, beady-eyed King Charles spaniel.  This seemed extraordinary behaviour for the matron of a large hospital but we endured and suffered in silence until she departed from the ward.  On one occasion only did I see the matron show her claws and I was the cause of her displeasure.  I was still a ‘bedcase’ and she plumped her wretched animal on the counterpane saying “Good morning London, still in bed?”.  She passed on to the next patient.  Sensitive to any suggestion that I might be “swinging the lead”, which I am sure was not implied, I was up and standing by my bed rather improperly dressed when she arrived the following morning.  She dealt with me thoroughly.  Her verbal onslaught was superb.  No sergeant major could have improved on her masterly performance.

Google Maps entry for Whittington Barracks here