Dorothy’s War – Life in Rouen

L’Hopital Roi Albert I, Rue St Lo, Rouen.
L’Hopital Roi Albert I, Rue St Lo, Rouen.

The letters that follow over the next four years are separately addressed to her mother and father, offering different aspects of her life abroad, according to their own interests, and letters received. She wrote by flashlight, as all lights had to be extinguished by 9.30pm. In her Father’s first letter Dorothy explains that her letters will be censored by the English military censor. She continues to elaborate that she is therefore unable to share much of the exciting news that now comes her way or her letters will bear the stamp of the censor “how swanky”. After a short bout of illness, caused by her inoculations, Dorothy returns to form writing long letters home. However her enthusiastic tales of destroyers at work immediately fall foul of the censor’s stamp rendering many lines of her next letter illegible. Her feelings on hearing the news of 7th May 1915 remained very clear

Wasn’t the Lusitania devilish and diabolical, I hope bluffing , boasting America who has been up to now all swank, or talk and no deeds, will really wake up now. 

Miss Higgins’ work began at the Anglo-Belgian hospital, King Albert I, founded by Miss Dormer Maunder. The building was previously a school for boys. The French authorities had made the site available to the Belgians, funding was by private subscription. Due to a shortage of accommodation Miss Higgins and eight other nurses stayed at the Hotel Normandie, paying 40 francs per month for their accommodation. The British army offices were housed in the Bishop’s palace in Rouen and Sunday services took place in a small chapel of the palace, behind Rouen Cathedral. At her first service Dorothy notes that there are only 18 women present among the congregation which numbered well over 100 officers and Tommies.

Away from the front line and receiving men who have already healed from their initial wounds Dorothy appears to have been shielded from the horrors of war during her early days in France. She describes how the nurses stroll around the town in the afternoons, wearing Red Roses in honour of St George on April 23rd. They take tea at Potins “the swank café” and “a topping place, never have I had such chocolate or such éclairs”, English papers are available and Rouen is declared to be “a ripping place”.

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Mrs T

Beyond the day job, and the garden, I love to delve into local and family history. While pursuing one project other snippets frequently distract me, resulting in the eclectic mix of tales from the past found here.

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