I wish I’d been home for the pheasant shooting …

Dick Whittington
http://collections.vam.ac.uk

06/01/1919                                                           HMB

My Dearest Mother

I should have written before but I have had a ganglion removed from my wrist last Thursday and the stitches were only taken out this morning. I had a day off yesterday and went down to stay at our new VAD club with another girl from here who knows the Forrests. She is quite a nice kid recently arrived, her name is Elliot-Birks: her people live in Yorkshire somewhere. We had dinner in the town and then went to the cinema (forbidden by regulations but done by everyone) I had brekker in bed and then strolled around the town, had lunch and then Fraser came down ( she only had half a day) we went to another movie show, had tea at the club and then home. The films of the French Army cinema service are most thrilling but I should love to see the surrender of the Hun fleet and our own army of occupation.

08/01/1919 This has just not got finished somehow, Monday night Fraser and I went to the annual pantomime at no1 BMTW. It was Dick Whittingdon and simply top hole. The cat was a professional who happens to be in the RASC –  MT , the girls parts were played by the WAACS. It was simply wonderful quite as good as any provincial professional panto. We enjoyed ourselves immensely then came home part way in a 3 ton lorry with mobs of tommies, and walked the rest of the way home.

Last night we had a fancy dress party and invited some of the doctors, I went as Omar Khayyam, Fraser went with another girl as golliwogs with stockinette masks. It was a howling success, the costumes were all home productions, some of them simply splendid. We had a giddy evening and enjoyed ourselves no end. That makes two nights that I’ve gone to bed about 1 & got up in time for 7am brekker so I am a bit sleepy. Weren’t the election results ripping. We have been throwing our hats in the air, Archie’s majority was a huge triumph, fancy Lincoln City returning a Unionist!!

The man who outed old Asquith is Fraser’s cousin, so she is tremendously bucked. I’m returning Mr Leisching’s letter to Father: I wish I’d been home for the pheasant shooting, however I shall make up for lost time next season. I think I wrote and thanked you for sugar, stockings and socks which were splendid.

I must dry up now.

Best love to you all

Your loving Dorothy.

I think there is a chance of our disbanding in April or May…

25th December 1918      HMB

My dearest Mother

Thank you very much for your Christmas letter and also for both your gifts.

I hear that some more of our letters have gone astray so you may not have had the hasty scrawl I sent you for Christmas. I hope you got the parcel though as I sent it to England by hand. The basket was for you of course. It is rather a pretty one I thought and made by a wounded French solider. The breeks are for M: I fear it is a dull present but hope she may like it. The terrine was a little armistice extravagance, very little. I hope it was good.

The other little things for nurse, Mrs CHH, Lib and Nanny, I knew you would distribute for me.

I have been quite busy to-day. I got up at 5:45 and went down to Early service at 6:45 in the garrison church. Then I came back and breakfasted and then spent the morning doing ADC to Matron distributing presents to the patients and orderlies. At 9 o’clock went and sang two choruses in the hospital capel at Mass. We have been rehearsing them for our entertainment to-night but the Aumonier (chaplain) wanted to have them at the mass as well. We are going to sing them tonight.

They are two choruses from a Christmas oratorio by Saint-Saens. The first is “Quare fremuerunt gentes” or our old friend “ Why do the heathen so furiously rage together“ etc: it certainly is a very good description when we all get going!

Some of the wards are most beautifully decorated: the men spent days of patient toil on them. At mid0day we had a huge Christmas dinner and then I and two others were fetched by ambulance and went off to play in a mixed hockey match at one of the camps. It was a thundering good game: we lost but only 3-1: our forwards couldn’t shoot straight! Too much Christmas fare perhaps!! Then we had tea in the officers mess and were driven back again. I have been fearfully busy lately especially with my best nurse on leave. We have simply heaps of patients now that the wounds are healing up.

Isabel Beatty sailed last Friday for India: rather rotten having to go so near Christmas.

Your account of the election thrilled me to the marrow bones: how I hated missing it, the first one I have ever missed since my cradle. I was surprised to hear of Father voting twice: I thought plural voting had been abolished: I’m awfully glad it hasn’t. Fraser writes to tell me that she has received your parcels for me. Your Christmas letter came very quickly: I got it on the 23rd. We don’t yet know when we shall leave here: probably end of Feb: or beginning of March.

The Colonel has asked for us to go to Brussels with the hospital and stay a short while to see them installed, so I think there is a chance of our disbanding in April or May.

I am fearfully keen to go up to Belgium: it will be such a unique and thrilling experience.

I think you worked simply splendidly for the election: for a person of your age it was simply marvellous.

I must dry up now: I’m going to write to M.

Best love to you all

Your loving Dorothy.

*******

5th December 1918                            HMB 
My dearest Father

Thank you very much for the money which arrived safely. We are busy with preparations for Christmas and shall be fearfully busy soon. As for coming home, I don’t know when that will be as, from all accounts, Belgium is far from being habitable at present and the hospital is supposed to be going to Brussels as soon as possible and the Medecin Principal  has invited me to accompany it which I should like to do, just to see the move safely accomplished and get the service running smoothly, and someone securely installed as my successor before I leave. Si I don’t expect to be home before April or May, but these are after all mere surmises and conjectures: things may turn out quite differently. Will you please ask mother to send my sugar to Miss Higgins c/o Miss Fraser, 14 Lansdowne Crescent, Cheltenham and put to await arrival on the parcel. Fraser is going on leave in a few days and will bring it back with her.

My fountain pen is empty so I must perforce use pencil.

Dr Stouffs has been away for 10 days on leave to Belgium to see his mother who is ill: there was a doctor nominally in charge of the shop but he only came in for about 20 minutes each morning and even then I had to examine the patients with him as he didn’t know how to test the nerves and muscles by electricity, so it was rather a heavy responsibility for me and I was jolly glad to see the Dr back. The journey is awful he says: it took him 33 hours to get from Brussels to Ghent in the train a distance of 100 kilometres only only!! Food in Brussels is scarce and very dear but in the country it is better.

We are becoming very full up in the electricity as the wounds heal and the men are able to come for treatment and they are sending batches of convalescent men down from other hospitals for electricity, X ray, etc.

I hope Archie will get in all right, it will be a damned shame if he doesn’t. Has M had any news of Robin? I do so wonder if she made and despatched that cake for me: if she did I fear it has been pinched, if she hasn’t get her to send it to the same address as the sugar.

Must stop now

Best love to you all

Your loving D

I have again been hob nobbing with Royalty

Princess Mary inspecting Red Cross nurses and VADs at Le Treport, 26 November 1918       © IWM (Q 9711)

23rd November 1918 HMB

My dearest Mother

You will be amused to hear that I have again been hob nobbing with Royalty. You have I expect seen in the paper that HRH Princess Mary is making a tour in France to see the work of the VADs especially and other women’s work too. She came to us yesterday afternoon and saw round the hospital. We received her at the gate at 3 and then she went to our Mess and was presented with a bouquet and we meanwhile fled back to our huts and in our electricity arranged the afternoon patients and had just got them fixed up when she came in. I was presented to her in the X ray room and she asked if I’d been there a long time and if we’d been very busy and so forth. Then we went to see some of the wards, then we were photographed with her on the veranda outside the theatre. Then some of us were invited to come down to our new club ( which has only been open about a week ) to have tea there as she was to be present.

We tore into our outdoor uniforms and were so quick that we were given a lift down by the base commandant in his car. He is an awfully decent sort, Brigadier General Phillips is his name. We went such a pace that, although we started nearly five minutes after her car, we were drawn up at the club door just behind her car just before she had got out! Her car was driven by a girl VAD driver and another on the box. She is accompanied by Lady Ampthill in her tour and of course by Principal Commandant Crowdy and, for this area, by area Commandant Campion. We all had tea at the club in the same room and she had tea at a little table with about six or seven VADs and ate a hearty tea and was very merry and chatted a lot.

Then all the people who hadn’t been presented to her went up and made their bob. Then she went away and we cheered her lustily. No more news now

Best love

Your loving Dorothy

Did M make and send me the cake? It has never arrived.

Sister is in England on sick leave that left me in command of the nursing staff…

Four medical staff, caped and gowned in white, preparing a patient in the operating theatre at Wimereux. © IWM (Q 8008)

Nov. 1918 Envelope addressed to Fred Higgins (Dorothy’s father) …. First page of letter missing ….

…. She is a terrible person, and we are praying for her six months to be up that she may go. The photo is a very flattering one and makes her look younger by a good deal than she is.

She is nevertheless very handsome and of a commanding presence, 5ft 10” and broad to match. But she is very dirty and has the manners of a cook. O could never describe her to you on paper!

Last Wednesday I had a great adventure. It was a half-holiday and I had been off all the afternoon, I went on duty at 6, in the chief surgical ward. It was quite slack as to work and I was trotting along famously when in plunged the medicin de garde with a man on a stretcher from the town who had a strangulated hernia. He was in terrible pain and would probably have to be operated on at once. I was told to put him to bed and give him a hypodermic of morphine, which I did, but they wouldn’t let me prepare him for the op. Then the house-surgeon came along and examined him wanted the op as soon as possible. Would I go and see if the two nurses (the Belgians are in the theatre) of the salle d’operations were in, if not would I ask Matron to designate someone to come. Well I flew over and the two theatre nurses were out and Matron had gone out in the village and wouldn’t be back for half an hour! Well as Sister is in England on sick leave that left me in command of the nursing staff as senior pro!! So I collected someone to do my work in the ward and with the aid of the house surgeon who came to choose his instruments, and being a decent old bird made himself very useful, as well as a theatre orderly we got things ready and then Matron and one of the theatre nurses cropped up. Matron shaved the bloke and then they operated at once. They were just able to save the intestine: another hour or so and they would have had to cut a piece out and stitch up the ends, and that’s a devils game. We didn’t get him settled down and cleared up in the theatre till nearly ten and so the operator, the anaesthetist, the theatre nurse and I had a belated supper with drinks in the doctor’s mess. It was quite an adventure for me!!

Before I forget SM means Service Militaire, one can also put CM (correspondence militaire) of FM (franchise militaire) The letters are rarely if ever censored as they are stamped with the hospital cachet and are supposed to be alright. I always feel however that it makes it necessary to be all the more careful although I often long to tell you things.

I went to see Mr Trower’s nephew and wrote to him that same night and had a very nice letter from uncle C. I saw a Staniland girl who is VAD at No2, not to speak to though. She is one of the Spilsby ones ( Charles daughter?) Dorothy Mass would know which. They live somewhere out East Kirkby way I think. There are two sisters and a boy or two: I always used to see them at the Spilsby Tournament. There is one plain girl with a very sallow complexion. He name might be Violet but I’m not sure. Isabel came off night duty on Saturday and we went to Caudebec together for Sunday. It was a heavenly day and everything was looking lovely. Yesterday was raw and cold again and to-day is very wet, but we have had some glorious weather.

Do ask M if she has a moment to design me a pattern with bandage roses for a chemise top as the nuns would do it awfully nicely for me if I had a good design. They should have trails of leaves too.

I have no more news

Best love to you all

Your loving Dorothy

Isn’t it absolutely ripping, the news I mean

Crowd awaiting news of signing of the Armistice in Paris, 11 November 1918. © IWM (Q 69705)

18th November 1918      HMB

My dearest Mother

Isn’t it absolutely ripping, the news I mean. I have been meaning to write for days but I’ve been jolly busy. I was able to get off yesterday and have a game of hockey which I enjoyed immensely. It was a scratch XI against the ambulance drivers (Red Cross Girls) and they beat us 4:3. It was quite a thrilling game. On Armistice night nine of us went down into the town and had dinner and saw the singing cheering crowds of Tommies and other nationalities of soldiers ragging and waving flags.

Friday was the King’s birthday and so there was a solemn Te Deum at the cathedral, military and civil representatives of various nations attended in full war paint. The cardinal archbishop preached a short sermon and it was all very impressive. I had a very nice letter of congratulations from Mollie B today.

It is bitterly cold here now: freezing hard. We have heaps of new VADs now and some of them are rather jolly. I am sending you home a copy of each of my photos and hope you will like them. I think they are quite decent and most people here like them very much.

If you want some could you order? I would like two sent to John and Elsie. Please tell Father that I am more or less on the rocks.

I went to see a leg amputated today. It was rather interesting, but somewhat messy.

Re memento: I think it would really be best if I chose it myself perhaps.

We have got a lot of Hun prisoners in with Grippe: two of them have died already. It is a terrible thing this, in the way it carries people off in a moment.

I’m sorry to hear about poor old Mrs Warren: one will miss her cheery old mahogany face.

I must dry up now

Best love to you all

Your loving D

As to the memento …

Directorate of Forestry. Prisoners of the 50th POW Company working at a saw mill. Haute Foret d’Eu, 25 January 1918.  © IWM (Q 10226)

6th November 1918          HMB

My dearest Father

Thank you very much for all your letters: it has done nothing but pour without ceasing for two nights and two days so life is rather trying, pattering about in the mud between the huts.

We have several injured Boche prisoners from the forestry prisoners camp near here and I have had to x-ray two lately, as they had damaged bones of their hands in the circular saw. I hate the sight of the swine, but anyway they are at their last gasp now.

Thank God we can make them pay and pay heavily for their misdeeds of the last four years. I hope they will get NO mercy. Austria is well squashed but I’m sorry it means another damned republic and Germany too I suppose.

As to the memento I should like a nice brooch: not pearls or turquoises, but anything else. Perhaps a few diamonds on it to go with my earrings and pendant but not expensive.

I must dry up now

Best love to you all

Your loving Dorothy

God help any constituency that is fool enough to elect a woman as their member. Women in authority are autocratic tyrants !

1 Lady Astor's election campaign 1919.jpg
Lady Astor campaigning for election.

28th October 1918 HMB

My dearest Mother

A lovely long letter from you yesterday, dated the 20th and another today, dated the 23rd. We are still frantically busy: a new convoy comes in about twice a week which keeps things up to fever pitch. Don’t worry about the x-ray work: I am always tucked away behind a protective screen so there is no danger what so ever.

Deutschland uber alles” is sung to that beastly Austrian National Anthem tune. There’s no hurry about the other stockings: I’m quite well off so far. The interesting enclosure was a betise of mine. You said “ another little bit of interest” referring no doubt to the small sum of post office interest on War loan, I mis-read it and thought it was some racy scrap of scandal or newspaper cutting !!

I realised afterwards that I had not understood your meaning !!

I am very sorry to hear about Billy Humphrey’s: it is rotten luck for such a lad, but he is probably safe which is deja quelquechose in these days.

No 20 is at Carmiers, between Etaples and Boulogne but nearer the former.

Granny’s Mary is bad luck too: she looked so extraordinarily well when we saw her. I remember the Barlow boy: a very shy gawky youth he used to be. It is wonderful how soon they learn to write with their left arm.

I’m glad to hear such splendid accounts of Jack: he is having a pretty busy time I expect. I’m sorry to hear that Bunny is naughty again and tries her mother so much, but I am still surprised that M doesn’t manage to get “up-sides” of her.

I am glad to hear about Arthur Green, I wondered what had happened to him. Tell Mrs C H H  to tell him that it is never called Albert ! Hospital now; always Anglo-Belge or Militaire Belge. He could have tea with me at the club if I can get off. It is dreadfully painful having a limb amputated: all the nerves seem to jump and dance. & one feels one’s toes or fingers hurting months after they are gone !

I didn’t know young Moohman had had shellshock: rather tragic for such a hefty young fellow! Has anyone heard of Tommy Roberts and if he is still queer and paralysed ? The species of sugar doesn’t matter a bit: the chief thing is to have it. Two lbs will be ample. I’ll let you know how to get it to me: I may have a trustworthy patient coming on leave soon, but I am not sure.

I expect I can get the bigger dividend cashed at Cox’s and the little one at the A P.O. & I shall get the certificates with them which will save trouble.

Well I suppose the world is so upside down and after war life is going to be such an utter change from pre-war life, that women MPs are only a drop in the deluge of alterations which are to come, but God help any constituency that is fool enough to elect a woman as their member. Women in authority are autocratic tyrants !

I had a most thrilling box from Isabel last night containing a flat platinum safety pin with my initials on it: a pair of gold and mother of pearl sleeve links with naval emblems in their middles, a gold Red Cross brooch: two silk hankies and several tiny things. She says it is arrears of what she would have liked to give me when she was poor and couldn’t. I am quite overwhelmed!! Ann has left and gone back to her.

We are still living a hectic existence: we have got some extra staff but not enough, and more are coming, these things all take time. If the heads of the Belgian medical service had warned us that they intended to turn us into a surgical base hospital, we could have made arrangements but we had no warning whatsoever. The poor chap I told you about with the thoracic wound went West about 5 days ago: his other lung go infected. It was almost more merciful so, as he would have been such a ghastly wreck had he survived.

We had a jubilant letter from one of my late assistant orderlies who has rejoined his regiment: they are just outside Ghent. He is tired but full of beans morally.

I am very fit in spite of my labours. Tell father that I will write to hime in a few days. The photos haven’t come yet.

No more now: I am going to sleep the sleep of the just!!

Best love to you all

Your loving Dorothy.

The war news is most thrilling from day to day …

Belgian and British troops and their transport in the ruins of Pervyse, 18 October 1918. Note two observation balloons in the air.    © IWM (Q 11393)

13th October 1918  HMB

My dearest Father

Life becomes more hectic every minute, we are inundated with “grand Hesses”  heavy cases from the front. Some of them have only been wounded a few days and are tired and dirty beyond description. And the wounds! I have never seen such things before. The x-ray work is terrific: I am constantly at it, localising foreign bodies, bullets, shell splinters etc. This morning we polished off twenty people in the x-ray room in 1½ hours !! We have got some more nurses in but we get more convoys in. The treatments have dwindled tremendously of course because we’ve had to evacuate most of our convalescent patients. It is a pity in a way that our equipment should be wasted, and we are awfully ill equipped to deal with such a huge influx of heavy cases, but we are doing our best.

There isn’t a day for the last 10 days that I haven’t done 10 hours a day & sometimes more. The Swedes have all turned into nurses too and are working like bricks. I have never been so busy in my life.

The war news is most thrilling from day to day: oh lord I do hope the Hun is going to be bled dry as far as money and resources go. I curse to think that we shall not have the chance of devastating the “Fatherland” not as they have done it, for that would be to lower ourselves to their level, but I should like the shock of battle to lay waste the fertile lands in the valley of the Rhine.

Poor Belgians: they have paid very heavily. They couldn’t get their artillery up quickly enough because of the bad ground, and they were fearfully knocked about.

A very nice Colonel I know had both his sons killed, one in fair fight, the other shot by a German officer prisoner at the head of a batch of captured Huns being marched off to the cages! Needless to say that particular batch did not reach the cages after this damnable act of Hun swinishness and treachery!!

This is intended to be a birthday letter. Many congratulations on your 74th birthday. Your next one will see a different picture I think. I longed to be with you at Claythorpe. I’m glad you had a good day – I’m very relieved to hear that Robin is safe.

I will write again in a day or two if I can, I am so sleepy when I come off. Your lighter is being made.

Best love to you all

Your loving Dorothy.

Please thank Mother for clips: stockings: flask & chatty letter. The interesting enclosure was missing !!

We have got two wards full of Spanish flu (pneumonic variety) as well.

I wish we could make the swine understand that for every town they burn and destroy one of theirs shall suffer the same fate.

Ruined town of Bailleul, 2 September 1918. Photograph taken from the top of the Belfry.  © IWM (Q 78703)

3rd October 1918              HMB

My dearest Father

This will only be a short letter as we are most awfully busy: the Belgian push has brought us in heaps of new wounded, they were wounded on the 28th and came here on the 2nd so we are awfully busy. I was only off for a short time yesterday and today as I have been helping in the wards when my own work was done, & my own job has been jolly heavy lately.

I am very fit and full of beans which is a good thing. Isn’t the war going splendidly. I wish we could make the swine understand that for every town they burn and destroy one of theirs shall suffer the same fate. It is the only way to stop their awful work of destruction.

The petites Belges are awfully bucked with themselves as indeed they have every reason to be. Tell Mother that the French call it Arra(s) and the Belgians pronounce the S but as it is a French town, the former is the more correct.

I was awfully sorry not to be able to say goodbye to you properly. Also I meant to ask you about the memento: however it must wait till I come home again.

Best love to you all

Your loving Dorothy

… there has just come in a heavy convoy and we are up to our eyes in work

British prisoners bringing in their wounded to a German advanced dressing station, September 1918.        © IWM (Q 88111)

25th September 1918     HMB

My dearest Mother

Here I am again, safe & sound, at the hospital.

It is just as well I came back when I did for there has just come in a heavy convoy and we are up to our eyes in work with three nurses sick & off duty.

I am busy x-raying people with really new wounds. The doctor is in great form but very busy as Col. W Affeleart has gone to another hospital for a few weeks to help re-arrange something, as they are doubling the hospitals at the front.

I hope you got my cable from Havre all right. I don’t think there were any yews: we only plant them if convenient or if there are some going begging.

I must dry up now and go on duty: I hear we are to have another convoy of some hundreds (the last was 250) at the end of the week. You may guess what that means.

Best love to you all

Your loving D