On the 11th of this month her Gracious Majesty Queen Mary visited us…

Queen Mary of Teck arriving at Belgian Hospital Rouen
THE OFFICIAL VISITS TO THE WESTERN FRONT, 1914-1918 (Q 2562) Arrival of Queen Mary of Teck at a Belgian hospital at Rouen, 11th July 1917. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205078963

July 1917 HMB

My Dearest Mother

I don’t know what has been happening to my last letter to you for you evidently haven’t got it. It certainly hasn’t gone astray for the reasons you thought for I never said a word.

I may tell you now that on the 11th of this month her Gracious Majesty Queen Mary visited us. We knew towards the end of June that she was coming: imagine my disgust at not being able to tell you !!

Sir Arthur Sloggett and the base Commandant came here beforehand to make arrangements and so forth. Tim and I worked like slaves early and late to get the garden just so, in case she went round that way, though we knew it was just to be a very short visit and entirely to see the atelier and the treatment (physiotherapy) as it is something like her own hospital at Rosehampton.

Whent the day came we spent a hectic morning getting everything in the Electric Room into order for 11 O’Clock, we assembled a clean decently dressed and interesting set of patients. Then having put them all ready we scuttled across and assembled with the others outside the big gymnasium where there was a class of amputees who were to display their prowess. The Queen went to see the atelier first and then came straight to the gymnasium where we were drawn up as a guard of honour and Tim was to present a bouquet as she is the senior VAD (she and I are joint seniors as we came together but they chose her as she is the elder much to my relief, besides she has been presented and knows the pattern) Presently the sound of cars approaching thrilled us to the marrow-bones and we all stood at the stiffest of attentions…

A magnificent dark green Rolls Royce Landaulette open with the crown on the front and flying a white flag drew up and out stepped the Queen and to our surprise and delight the Prince of Wales as well. The Queen had some more people (Belgians) presented to her as she got up and then she walked towards the gym between our serried ranks, we curtseying as she passed and she smiling and bowing to us.

Then Tim stepped forward and presented her bouquet: she did it splendidly with an air befitting a descendant of ancient Welsh kings. The Queen accepted it most gratefully and spoke a few words to Tim and then Miss Loveday was presented and the Queen went into the Gym and we fled to our places we three back to the Electro as fast as we could to prepare for her visit there. All the men were in their places and we had about 35 patients for electricity and about the same number for radiant light and hot air treatments, the room looked pretty interesting. It was not a fake at all as we are as full as that at certain times in the day. We put the current on and then stood against the wall. I forgot to say that there were swarms of red hats and a lady in waiting.

We put on the current to all our patients so that her majesty would really see everything and a pair of our most interesting stereoscopic radiograph plates on the lantern. The Queen came all round the room and was very interested in the movements obtained by rhythmic interrupted current and smiled and nodded to us as she passed. The Prince, whose coming especially delighted Tim of course, asked questions of several of the men and seemed to find our department most entertaining. Then came a surprise. General Deltenre, our medical principal, beckoned to me as he passed me just behind the Queen and whispered “ Je vais vous presenter a la porte”, so Matron told me to scuttle on and I scuttled.

On the threshold of my workshop I,Dorothy Higgins, a humble VAD was presented to her Majesty as the senior nurse of the hospital. I was very nervous as you may guess, but made a respectable curtsy ( so Matron told me afterwards) and shook hands with the Queen. She asked me how long I had been here, and then said how beautifully fitted up our Electric Department was and then was whisked off by Sir Arthur Sloggett as they were late. I was thrilled to the marrow I can tell you.

Royalist to the core as we have always been you can have no idea how much more inspiring  and glorious it is to see one’s Queen when one is exiled in some other rotten place not one’s own land. I felt I should like to tell her how splendid and all that it was to see our own Queen and have the honour of her visit. I hope she read what was going on inside me because of course I only gave polite and subdued replies to her remarks, and if I had given tongue I should certainly have been in the Daily Mail like little Percy the munition girl’s child or something of the sort !! Which would have disgraced the family dreadfully !!! A half holiday was given in honour of her visit but I had to spend an hour of it helping the doctor (Stouffs) to give a treatment of radiotherapy to a poor old Frenchwoman who has cancer very badly…It was rather an ordeal as she was very bad poor old thing …it was a pretty hot afternoon so you can guess I was nearly asphyxiated by the time I had finished two irradiations done her dressing again and packed her off. She was so terrified at first poor old bird although we assured her that she would feel nothing (it is just the electric action of the rays of course) that she prayed fervently and incessantly for the first five minutes.

Next day Sister, Tim and I went biking to see a famous Norman Abbey Church about 12km from Rouen. It was close to the chateau which had been lent for Queen Mary and we saw her again in her car whizzing along and we cheered like village folk.

The Belgians were astonished and impressed at our personal loyalty. They said they’d always heard that the English were very loyal but they didn’t know we were so strong. One doctor who tried to assure me that the King drank was awfully astounded when I told him that for two pins I’d knock him down and pull his nose. He could hardly believe at first that I was furiously angry and said rather plaintively “Well I‘ve always been told to be careful what I say to the English about their Royalties, now I know” I told him it was damned bad form and that I should never think of going up to a Belgian and saying that the late King Leopold was a lousy immoral old dog, although I had been led to believe that his private life was somewhat irregular. He said he shouldn’t have been offended if I had and so I told him that he ought to be whereupon he begged my pardon for treading on my national corns and it shouldn’t occur again.

I wish you could let me see those two accounts in the D.T. I would take great care of them and return them as soon as done with. Also could you keep and look out to see if there were any accounts in any of the female weekly papers “Lady’s Pie”, Lady’s Field”  etc. as her primary object in coming to France was to see what the women of England were doing there as war work. I am fearfully busy just now, we have had a tremendous clear out of the hospital and lots of new men coming in.

Could you send me my grubby old blue drill skirt with kind of trouser pockets in it: I want it for gardening as it will wash so easily.

Best love to you both

Your loving Dorothy

No I don’t want any money thank you.

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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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