Fancy George Sergeant escaping: good for him!

Group of escaped POWs, January 1918  © IWM (HU 91339)

28th June 1918

My dearest Mother

I’m sorry you haven’t had a letter since the one with the snaps for I certainly sent one. Did you not get one acknowledging the 3 speed gear and so forth.

Stephenson, the girl from Cumberland who is my right hand in the Electro knows the woman by repute, who has married Tom Holden. It is probably a case of “not man lost or woman thrown away”.

General Leman is the hero of Liege: he was wounded there in one of the forts and was a prisoner in Germany for over 3 years and was very recently repatriated after a stay in Switzerland.

I hope that M and family are well and comfortably settled in that they are not being tried by the vagaries of Sutton weather. Of course she can do just what she likes with my old bike.

A propos of bikes would you please go to Badleys and get a foot of valve tubing (the little rubber tubing to mend valves with) if he has got as much, as it is for several of us. It doesn’t matter if it is in several pieces.

I am delighted to hear that you have been driving yourself: it is really splendid. I knew where M’s house was we drove past it going to “Sandy’s” last time I was on leave.

Fancy George Sergeant escaping: good for him!

[On Saturday 15th June 1918 the Boston Guardian reported that Private George Sergeant had recently arrived in London having escaped from a German Prisoner of War camp.  George Sergeant, son of JH Sergeant, had been held for nearly two years having been captured during the opening stages of the Somme: 1st July 1916. He had enlisted during the early days of the War. ]

I got your letter of the 23rd last night, jolly good going. I don’t even know the last Howard. I know the fat one and the hockey one and know of the other’s existence, but I don’t remember having seen her. There is indeed hope for all. It is very  tiresome that you cannot get a housemaid and it would be a terrible tragedy if Elizabeth migrated. How trying to have such a terrible gale. We want rain too but we are not so desperately parched as all that.

The photo taken in the Swede’s garden was after I had slept out in their garden with them one Saturday night in the hot spell. We had brekker in the garden and then snapshotted ourselves. We were some of us dressed and some camouflaged and some frankly undressed I among the number! It is warm now but not tropical heat as it was then.

Please tell Father that I am more or less on the rocks, and will he send my allowance to the C.L as usual please.

We had an alarm last night but no raid. I am very busy with work just now and the hay-fever is still going strong, but it doesn’t worry me too much luckily.

There is a great epidemic of influenza (rather of the Spanish Variety) blowing about but I am free so far.

I must dry up now: I have absolutely no news.

Best love to you all

Ever your loving Dorothy.

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We had a very lively time last week: 4 raids in 7 days …



Hun Plane Caught in Searchlights  …       David M Carlile

7th June 1918 HMB

My dearest Mother

I missed the post with my letters and the photos so I have kept it back another 24 hours and am writing you a second letter. I had a letter from Tim two days ago: her brother has been invalided out so her mind is more at rest. He is staying with her at friends down at Kingfield and having treatment.

By the by will you have my bikes guts despatched by registered post or something safer and more expeditious than ordinary parcel post.

I was thrilled to the marrow to hear of the Rennells move, why did they do it and when: do write more on this subject: I had no idea of it.

My hay-fever is awful just now: however I don’t let it bother me too much.

I can’t talk about the hospitals being bombed: it makes me choke with rage. We have got 3 or 4 Boche prisoners: accident cases up from a labour camp near here and we have to have them here. I have nothing to do with them thank heaven, but I believe they are most respectful and very well behaved. Is “Nellie Washbourn still swinging the lead” perhaps the raid will shake some patriotism into her.

I’m jolly glad Mrs Baron has got a medal, I must write and congratulate her. She wrote me a very nice letter about mine. I am glad to hear Ford has got home safely. We had a very lively time last week: 4 raids in 7 days (2 were very small ones) We all scuttle out and patrol the wards at least there are always 4 or 5 of us have to. I do from choice as I like to see what is going on. Some of the men are terrible scared poor devils especially those who have been wounded by aeroplane bomb or bombed at Calais in hospital, as many of them are, and it seems to cheer them up when we come round: they are awfully funny and always ask if we are frightened! It is ripping to go down to the ridge at the end of the hospital and see the searchlights and the flashes of the guns and hear the shrapnel bursting.

The aeroplanes came very close over the hospital one night when they were going away and several times we have heard their engines. However we’ve been quite slack this week only one visit at the beginning of the week.

My anchusas are a sight: absolutely huge. The pink and scarlet sweet Williams are coming out too and the garden really looks quite gay but there is such a lot of watering to do.

I had dinner or supper rather at no.6 Vet hospital about 3 weeks ago on a Sunday night at the officers’ mess. They picked me up tramping home and there was an awfully jolly girl chauffeur and they asked us in to supper. The C.O. was a Captain Greg (Grieg?) who is a Board of Agriculture man for East Anglia (for animals) an awfully nice chap. There was also a Captain Haig or Haigh who knew Mr Carnley, Jack Fox, Major Allott and his son, the Marsdens and all our local celebrities. He had stayed in our neighbourhood and hunted.

I must dry up now

Your loving Dorothy.

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The weather is lovely but we want rain terribly badly: the country is simply parched for want of it.

D Higgins 1915 IWM7th June 1918 HMB

My dearest Father

I’m afraid I’ve been most remiss about writing but I’ve been gardening early and late these days. I went down into the town one day last week to see Miss Hunter and met Miss Broadwood, Harry G-T’s sister in law. She is going home I’m sorry to say as she is a very nice person. She asked most tenderly after you.

Miss Hunter is going home this week: I bought two ripping little oil paintings from her collection, both with Bonsecours in them. Miss Broadwood told me that Dick had gone up the lines somewhere again.

We have not been so fearfully busy this week: no more convoys in just at present. The weather is lovely but we want rain terribly badly: the country is simply parched for want of it.

It is rotten luck on the Thorndike girl losing her husband so soon – we have never had any other patients than Belgians and we are absolutely full up with them. I quite agree with you that Hedley Le Bas wants shooting at sight and so does Pemberton–Billing, I should have thought that Justice Darling would have kept him in better order.

I have been most tremendously busy myself as far as work goes: we have tken so many X-ray photographs that we have run out of plates!!

I hear from Aunt Jenny that poor Bessy has mumps: it is indeed trying at her age and I expect she feels pretty rotten.

I cant answer your question re memento just yet as I haven’t been able to think what I want, but it shall receive my best attention.

I didn’t quite understand about Canon B and the curate: who is B.G.L who might slate the latter?

I had a very nice letter from Mrs Baron congratulating me in the name of the detachment on the honour I had won for them as well as myself.

I am sorry to hear about Nellie Marshall and hope she’ll go on alright.

I expect “he” is glad the birding season is on that he may supplement his scanty rations. We continue to live very well here.

Best love to you all .

From your loving D

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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:

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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