I have been decorated to-day by the Queen of the Belgians …


14th May 1918

My dearest Mother

What you have so long wished for has come to pass: I have been decorated to-day by the Queen of the Belgians with her own medal, the order of Elisabeth. She came on an unofficial visit to the hospital to-day and at the conclusion of her visit she decorated Matron, Sister and myself, four of the senior VADs, and four of the Swedish gymnasts. It was ripping having it from her own hands. She is such a darling little thing I absolutely fell in love with her on the spot. She looked so sweet trotting round and talking to all the men and taking snapshots of them. I shall have to be photographed in my medal and send you one. I have already been snapshotted several times.

We are going to have a bust in the mess tonight and crack a bottle of champagne over the event. It is an awfully pretty ribbon kind of a dull grey blue moire ribbon with cerise edges.

I shall be quite the nut now!

Of course I am fearfully excited. She shook hands with me, as I did my best curtsey, and asked how long I’d been here and if I was English, and then as she pinned the medal on my breast, thanked me and said I was “tres devouee”.

I am quite giddy with replying to “felicitations”. I believe we get signed photos of her too but I’m not sure of that. The Inspecteur, Chief of the Belgian Army Medical Service was there too and was awfully agreeable.

I must dry up now

Best love to you all

Your loving and thrilled daughter, Dorothy.

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Old Captain Beatty was talking through his hat about X-ray dangers …


1918 Xray equipment                   ( here being used for a dog) :    Collection: OHA 80: Reeve Photograph Collection National Museum of Health and Medicine, Otis Historical Archives 

10th May 1918    HMB

My dearest Mother

I’m glad to hear that you’ve got back safely and hope your teeth are all right now. I hope Mr Colyer didn’t give you a rotten time.

It was awfully thrilling about the gold coins found at “the Elms” I chuckle to think how the Youngs would curse!!

I don’t know if I told you that Colonel Grant-Thorold came up to call on me Tuesday afternoon last week: I was very busy and could only see him for a few minutes and he asked me to go down to dinner with him at the Hotel de la Poste the next day, Wednesday. I went down and had a pleasant time: he was most interesting to talk to and we had an excellent dinner and Pol Roger (champagne) and then we sat and had coffee and liquers in the lounge and he walked down with me to the train and saw me in. He was waiting for a new job at Rouen – not a job AT Rouen necessarily – he me be here yet for all I know. I enjoyed his conversation but it was most difficult to hear what he said as he talks very softly.

Is little Mrs Baron staying long at Merton Lodge or is it a flying visit? Tim isn’t coming back here at all which is beastly. Her brother isn’t any better and she feels he leans on her so tremendously and anyway she is very busy trying to get him out, and can desert him. I think she is right though it is rotten for her, and for me, and she is a great loss to the hospital.

Would you please send me a p.o. for £1 as there is a topping little sketch in oils of the river with Bonsecours in the distance which I’m going to buy off Miss Hunter. I had dinner with her on Wednesday night. She is probably going home very soon.

My dear, old Captain Beatty was talking through his hat about X-ray dangers: it is quite unkown to have eye-trouble. Nearly all our X-ray work is done in the day-light. We only do screen work twice a week for an hour and then I’m well protected behind a thick lead glass screen.

What luck your having had a raidlet: they always leave me in peace and I have no sport.

Please tell M that No.3, that she asked for, is here so I’m afraid I can’t lend it to her. Has my bike’s guts turned up yet? I hope so. If it didn’t come in time to send to Lieutenant Vanderwegen keep it till I can send you another address. Will you look out my most respectable panama hat, with a black velvet ribbon on,  and roll it up and send it off to me please.

We have been awfully busy lately: we had two convoys in last week: I asked to be allowed to receive one of them and was called at 3:30am and had a hectic four hours receiving stretcher cases, putting them to bed, and redoing dressings that had slipped and so forth. I enjoyed it mightily quand meme.

We had a troupe of Belgian players about 10 days ago: they were quite good: they were the same people who played in London at the Criterion Theatre: Libeau is the chief. They played “Le Marriage de Mlle Beulemans”  that classic of Belgian life so piquant to any who know the Belgians well, and “Ce Bon M Zoeterbeck” also very amusing but whose wit is less fine and subtle than the other piece. It was a great treat and we enjoyed them immensely. I had a go of flu last week quite mild: thank goodness it is all right now. Everyone is having it Doctors, nurses and patients alike. But now my hay fever is starting.

I am very busy in the garden: the Darwin tulips are out and look lovely, under planted with forget me not and with a border of double white arabis. The garden is full of yellow and red wallflowers and the pansies are lovely, aubretia, honesty and doronicums make the place quite gay, and my little sweet peas are flourishing.

I must dry up now and go to bed.

Best love to you all

Your loving Dorothy


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Just a few lines to tell you that I am going out to dinner tonight …

D Higgins 1915 IWM1st May 1918


My dearest Father

Just a few lines to tell you that I am going out to dinner tonight with Colonel Richard Grant-Thorold. He came up yesterday afternoon and as I was busy I couldn’t talk to him for long but he asked me to go down and dine with him at the Poste tonight which will be quite jolly.

I got an acknowledgement of your money from the bank, thanks awfully for it. I expect Mother has returned by now. Will you ask her to send my BSA (bit of my bike) to the following address:

Lt Vanderwegen, Farm Cottage, …. Surrey. He will be there till May 11th.

I expect Badley will have got it back by the time this reaches you.

No more now it is duty time and post time too.

Best love to you all

Your loving Dorothy.

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Here I am safe and sound back at the old hospital…


HMB     25th April 1918

My dearest Mother

Here I am safe and sound back at the old hospital.

We had an awfully smooth crossing and shared a cabin together. The boat wasn’t very full. It was very hot though and I couldn’t sleep very much. We planted two yew trees as I told you. It was very necessary.

We spent a quiet morning at the BRCS hostel at Havre and came on by the mid-day train. It is an old bus and takes hours, but it’s more comfortable than arriving by the crowded express at 7. There is little or no news: they are pretty busy as they have had two biggish convoys in since I left and are expecting others.

The garden looks top-hole: I’m awfully pleased with it.

I must dry up now and go to bed.

Best love to you all


Your loving Dorothy.

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The small pox epidemic is not severe I think, we are again allowed to go to Rouen.


Rouen Tramway 1916                 J. Demarest (Collection personnelle)

2nd April 1918                HMB

My Dearest Mother

It is extremely doubtful I shall be with you at the beginning of next week. There is some irregularity in transport between this side of the water and yours and there are other potent reasons to wit probable heavy convoys upon us. We have been evacuating the hospital as hard as we can go and have turned out a tremendous lot of our patients as we are expecting, have been warned to expect, a lot of men in. They may be Belgians and they may be French or English: of course we long for the latter. If we become busy in the course of the week I can’t leave of course: it would be a low-down dirty trick if I did. I’ll wire you as soon as I know, I must stop talking about our doings or this letter will never pass the censor, if it ever sees one.

The small pox epidemic is not severe I think. We are again allowed to go to Rouen. My vaccination has taken decidedly and the glands in my leg were quite swollen, but it is going off now.

Isabel and I are very busy gardening and planting seeds. Did you ever get the photos of her and me? You never said.

Did I tell you about the terrific hockey match a fortnight ago? VADs and WAACs. The XIs were supposed to be the pick of the VADs and the pick of the WAACs, I was invited to play for the former. We played on a Sunday: a ripping ground. The WAACs were a very hot lot: they play a great deal and had an old international for centre and had never been beaten. We had a splendid game and beat them 9-5 though the score at half-time was 2-2 and they established a lead soon after. I played left half and, except for getting awfully blown, didn’t make too much of an ass of myself.It was a glorious victory, and I was much congratulated by the captain a girl (aged!) from No2 who is jolly good. Her name is Etta Booker but she is known throughout Rouen as “Ate a banana” (spell it how you like!) We were to have had a return but now our minds and times are full of other things.

Sunday we went out on our bikes and picked primroses, we took tea with us, and lazed in the forest. We had a send off party for Loveday and presented her with a clock some of the “old guard” among the doctors came too and gave their present. She has gone to a Belgian Military hospital at Petit Fort Philippe, close to Gravelines which is a kind of annexe to La Panne. She can only just have got through Amiens, if she did, for we have no news of her yet. She is to be married in London very soon.

Best love to you all, your loving Dorothy

P.S. Please keep my allowance for me till I come. I had a letter from Father dated 24th from Peterborough but nothing from you since the 19th.

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…He’d been pianist to Clement’s Pierrots at Skegness

Pierrots 1905 -1909HMB                   25/3/1918

My dearest Mother

Many happy returns of the day and let’s hope that next year I may spend it with you in peace. I feel so ashamed that I haven’t remembered to write a birthday letter in time: please forgive me. I have got a present of sorts for you: I hope you will like it. I shall bring it with me. I’m afraid I’m bound to come on the 6th or 7th April: I must take my turn anyway I daren’t leave my two new inexperienced colleagues to wrestle with the end of month and the beginning of the next together, as they would make a horrid mess of it. Also I have got the chance of coming home with Isabel which is so much better than travelling alone. I shan’t make much difference in the house and will be very useful as an under nursemaid and housemaid.

There is small-pox in Rouen and we are all being vaccinated to-morrow which is a horrible strafe. However it is all in the days work. We are more or less gated: that is we may go out but are on parole not to go down to Rouen or ride in trams or such-like. I hope no one gets it here. We had an awfully good concert on Saturday: a party of people from Havre came, 3 soldiers, one civilian and a woman. They were a pianist, violinist and ellist, a bass and a mezzo. They were much above the average and played old and new classical music. They played some nice old Italian stuff, Scarlatti and such like old blokes. The woman sang charmingly and the bass had a fine voice but one was of the most hideous men I have ever seen.

Did I tell you that we had a troupe of Aussies up from the bakeries the other day: they sang to the men and were quite good, but all in English of course, occasional French remarks were dropped by one of the comics but it was of the na poo variety!

They came to supper with us afterwards and then sang some more to us. They enjoyed themselves hugely I think, one of them- the pianist accompanist-, who was quite good, saw my uniform badges and asked if I really came from Lincolnshire. I said yes and asked him if he knew it. Oh yes he’d been pianist to Clement’s Pierrots at Skegness !

20/3/1918 I Couldn’t get this finished last night: it got late and I was very cold and sleepy.

I have been vaccinated today: three places on my thigh. I don’t have a fearful amount of running about to do in the electricity and would rather have my arms free. Isabel has been done in the arm so she will have to run errands for me if I have a “bad leg” and I shall be able to dress her if she has a bad arm. The hospital is being vaccinated by degrees: the poor doctors have to work like niggers and they’ve all been done themselves, and some of them are feeling a bit chippy already, although it doesn’t generally take under about 5 days.

On Suday Isabel and I went off on our bikes to the Foret Verte to pick daffodils. It was about 14 miles away I suppose. The wild daffodils were a sight, masses and masses of them. We took our tea and enjoyed ourselves immensely. We brought piles back in buckets hung around us and they are awfully bright in the wards.

I can’t think why you’ve had so few letters from me lately: I’ve been writing rather frequently as a matter of fact. Did Father get a letter acknowledging funds and have you had a letter from me since the one I wrote to M ? I expect she has the undies by now: please thank her immensely for the designs which are top-hole. Of course as sson as I wrote saying the newspapers weren’t coming they proceeded to pour in so that’s all right.

I had a letter from Tim, she hopes to come back in May, if all goes well so that will be “a bit of good”. How awfully good of Charlie to stand treat to you again, he is getting a nut these days isn’t he.

What a pity I can’t bring you home a soldier as Batman, the Flemings are awfully good clean steady workers:I’m sure that we shall have to get Flemish girls as servants after the war: English ones seem so hopeless. It makes me tickle to hear about the cook!!

I must dry up and go to bed.

I’m bringing some Maggi soup squares: I have got peas and peas and bacon: can you remember any other kinds that were good? I get a sugar card on landing so the last girl who went on leave told me but she got her meat card locally: a special kind of mixed affair for meat and margarine issued to people on leave. Do ask Joe Bickerton again if he cant supply that. I hope you’ve applied for my leave papers.

Best love to you all your loving D

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You will have to get a regular “pack of cards” before I can eat anything at home.

WW1 Ration books

Collection WW1 Ration Books: BBC.co.uk

HMB 16/3/1918

My dearest Mother

I am hoping to come on leave at the end of the first week or beginning of the second week in April, heavenly thought! So please write at once to Lieutenant A Van Horde, Bureau des conges Militaires Belges. Aldwych WC and ask for a conge form like you had before and fill it up at once and send it back and ask them to send it off at once. I am so excited at the thought of coming. I hope Fuller hasn’t pruned the rose trees yet. I am longing to have a go at them. I am so sorry to hear that the servants are so troublesome. However I can be quite useful when I come or will try anyway. Is there anything in the way of grub you would like me to bring over?

I suppose . Our grub here is still quite decent so I shan’t mind taking in a few holes in my belt when I come home.

The Greyhound has not descended upon me yet, thank God! Fortunately her hospital is a very long way out so she could only come up on a half day or something like that. I have still got a quite elegantly slim figure, for me and I really must have some of my clothes altered! They hang around me.

I am glad John is dealing out Belteshazzar to tiresome natives: it is a good thing it has saved him from that old fool Archie’s machinations.

Please thank Father for the £10 which has arrived safely: I think I have already acknowledged the Red Cross grant for which also many thanks.

I hope M has got the undies by now and that you will be so kind as to send me a list of my pictures again as I have absolutely lost the one you sent me before.

I am enclosing you a pleasant snap-shot of myself taken by Isabel. She and I are going to travel home together DV and WP. Mr Todd is a devil: I can get no catalogues for him and I have had no papers since Feb 23rd. Is it the posts I wonder.

I must dry up now

Best love to you all

Your loving Dorothy.

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We have a hockey match here next Sunday …

Hockey museum 14th April 15 031

WW1 Hockey in Camp : Hockey Museum

HMB                                               27/2/1918

My dearest Father

Thank you most awfully for the very welcome gift of £10 which arrived safely. Do you wish to have an official letter of thanks to show your committee or will this do? We are most awfully delighted with the grant which will be most tremendously useful.

I hope you are flourishing all of you. It is beastly wet here just now which is a bore. I spend all my spare time gardening or playing hockey, that is if the weather will let me. We have got a hockey match here next Sunday, or rather up at the camps; our X1 against a scratch pack of VADs. I hope we shall lick them but we are pretty rotten.

I have got a cold but only a small one which doesn’t bother me at all.

My boss was away for two days last week so I was left in charge of the show which made me quite busy. Our sick orderly has recovered and returned to his duties so I have a little less on my shoulders now.

I could do with a little money but not more than £10. I’m afraid you’ll say the last lot went quickly but I had to pay the washerwoman and have had several things to subscribe to lately including a wedding present for Miss Loveday so it hasn’t been entirely “blued”!

We had an awfully good show here last night: a troupe of Belgians came over, all opera singers, musicians, actors and actresses and two comics and gave a ripping concert and play. We enjoyed it immensely!

Fancy poor old George Allott being dead. How we shall miss him at Tothill in the future.

What a rotten photo that was of Nancy Swan in the Sketch: it might have been anybody. When is she to be married?

Do ask Mother or Molly to make enquiries with Dorothy Mass about the Staniland girl.

We had the base commandant up to tea last week: he is a pleasant bird! He knows Lady Swettenham.

Do look up in Kelly and see who Lord Ellenborough is and if it mentions a daughter of his called Kitty.

Sister has just come back from sick leave at home and says we may consider ourselves lucky to get so much grub here, but she lives in a residential part of Hampshire so they may be worse off than you.

I must stop now.   Best love to you all, your loving D.

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We are much less short of food in France than in England …

A diagram of rationed food during World War One

In 1918 the Government finally introduced rationing (2lb of meat, ½ lb sugar and ½ lb total fats each a week)    BBC

Hospital Militaire Bonsecours


My dearest Mother

Thank you so much for your ripping long letter. I am sorry you have had such a rotten time victualling just now: anyway I suppose you have a better time than the people in the big towns.

It is very simple for us as the wretched quartermaster lieutenant has to worry it all out: but we are much less short of food in France than in England I think: things are obtainable here, at a price of course. Bread and sugar are short the French eat a tremendous lot of bread and feel the privation.

We have less butter than we are used to and only two lumps of sugar a day. Of course if we have a pudding that wants sugar they give us a ration for that.

I will write to John and Elsie and thank them for their kind present. Isabel Beatty and I went to Paris for Sunday last week; I spent some of Father’s Christmas present on that. We went on Saturday night by the express and spent the night at a ripping little hotel the Prince de Galles close to the Gare st Lazare and the next day we went out to Versailles and spent the day rooting about there. We got back to Paris in the afternoon and did a little shopping and came back here by the evening express.

We have been playing hockey this week on the gymnastic ground which is cinders and much too small, but it is great sport. I am horribly stiff at present. The sweater arrived quite safely may thanks. Are there any more Christian hockey sticks at home: if there are I must get someone to bring them out as we are a bit short of weapons.

I have had quite an orgy of ops lately: I went to see an appendix hiked out and two nerve ops during the last ten days. I have quite got over my theatre sickness now and can stand and watch quite comfortably and it is more trying to loaf about and watch than to help.

I have been awfully busy this week the orderly who arranges the doctors daily visit is ill in bed and I have had to make the lists of patients to be called for the doctor’s morning visit (all men in treatment have to be re-examined every three weeks and all new patients when they come) and when they come they have to be arranged and their diagnosis found in the case books and then I have to stand by the doctor and take off dressings and put them on again, hand him things, find his places in the books, switch the current off and on and a hundred and one little jobs. It is some game I can tell you: and my own work to do into the bargain. However I am in rude health and full of beans.

Don’t let Fuller touch any of the rose trees: I am nearly certain to get leave in April.

Best love to you all

your loving Dorothy

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Thanks to reduced weight I made a passable figure as a Tommy …


IWM Q108171

Members of the VAD providing Christmas entertainment for the patients in a hospital on the Western Front, 1917                                       IWM Q10871

31/12/17 & 2/1/18   HMB

My dearest Mother

Thanks awfully for putting money in the War Lottery for me: I gather that we haven’t had any luck as a family but never mind, it’s a bit more to help with the war.

As to “Mme de Marneffe” continuing her work here I think that is highly probable: but it depends on developments.

The Sutton film is here and I will make some prints of it as soon as we have any water to develop or rather fix the prints. We are in the grip of frost and snow with an icy biting wind: it thaws occasionally and promptly re-freezes and all the roads are like glass.

I am very glad to hear that Vear is better: I expect he will get quite all right in time.

Poor old W Brown. I can hear him now saying “ Was you ‘urt miss!”

Poor Mrs Sandall: I do hope Irene got through her op successfully and is going on well. I had a letter from her today. I had a letter from Colonel Sandall some time ago. He seems to like his new job very much.

I got the Caldecote Magazine and Calendar a few days ago: it is jolly to have news of all ones contemporaries. Several of my friends have got married and many of the married ones have increased the population like patriotic Englishwomen.

I will send you a photo of myself in a kilt presently. Thanks to reduced weight I made a passable figure as a Tommy and in fact broke several hearts pro term. We had a fancy dress party and dance in the mess on Thursday night and went in our kilts: it was tremendous fun.

The doctors came in to dinner with us on Christmas day and we had a great feast with much drink! We had a good turkey but I longed to be with you and see Father laying about him with a carving knife on the corpse of a noble bird!!

What has happened to my watch: I would never have sent it to old Leonard Hall if I’d known what an age he was going to keep it. Do ring him up and strafe him : I do want it so badly. I got the one from the stores nearly a month ago.

I went to midnight mass here on Christmas eve: got home about 1:15 did up some parcels and tumbled off to sleep about 1:45 and was routed out of bed by the night nurse at 5:45 and went to 6:45 early service at the Garrison Church. Then after breakfast I assisted Matron and worked till dinner time (12) In the afternoon the ward nurses had entertainments in their wards and teas and we others got ready for the evening and rehearsed the reels feverishly with a piper!

We had always done them with violin and piano before and it is streets more difficult with the pipes as the cadence is so much less marked. However the dance went off extremely well and was a howling success as were also the Swedes dances (folk dances in National costume) which were awfully fascinating .

The next day we did our dance again in the fracture ward where there were patients in extensions who couldn’t come to see the show on Christmas night and I sang to them.

On Thursday night the Swedes organised a subscription party in the mess: we all gave small sum and they did the catering. We have had several such parties this Winter and they are great fun. We all went in fancy dress and I wore my kilt again and we danced and played games and had a high old time.

Friday night I had an invitation to a Swedish Christmas party at their house in the village. Several of us went down and we had a very merry evening. I have got a new pal, not to takes Tim’s place of course, but it is jolly not to be so lonely. Her name is Isabel Beatty, and her father is a retired Naval man (Captain Michael Beatty RN) is he in Kelly? and a kind if relation to Sir David. They are Ulster Irish folk. Her Mother died about 2 years ago. She is a little older than I am but not in her ways and is a pretty dark girl with good colouring and shorter and slimmer than I. She is sharing my room with me now as there are some new people coming shortly. Unfortunately she has to go home at the end of her six months as she has one sister and they take it in turns to stay at home with their father who is old and not very strong.

We went to Manon on Sunday, not very well sung but the music is charming and the orchestra played it well.

Would you look out those coloured engravings of the Western Front which I brought home and send me the titles as there are some more I am having presented to me, but I don’t want to get the same ones twice. Also would you pack up my white sweater ready to send to any address I may send you later, and get me a new navy blue fleecy muffler as we went out in the ambulance the other day to fetch in a man from a place about 20 kilometres away who’d torn his hand in a circular saw and he had no sling s I made him one out of my scarf and somehow I didn’t fancy it again afterwards so I gave it to him for keeps.

I must dry up now.

Best Love to you all and a Happy New Year

your loving D


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