Lilian Robinson's Diary: September 1914 (Part 1)

September 1st - 6th, 1914 (No. 2 General Hospital)

Diary Entries

September 1st: Holbech & I went to Mme Dennis house & had a hot bath this mng. It was the best thing we’ve had since we put foot on French soil! I positively wallowed in the water, & it was with the greatest sorrow I got out. The plage is almost deserted now, hardly a bathing tent to be seen, & just a few children playing about. Miss Richards has just been & told us 4 more spies (G) caught at Sanvic today. Sent Julia a p.c. today. Received one fr. Van. The No 8 people who are with us are not to go out today, as it looks as if their departure might be any minute. We saw a war-cruiser come into harbour this mng. One notices how much work the dogs do here. Nearly every small hand-cart has one harnessed underneath helping to pull it along. Received 3rd paper fr. home. D.Mir. The orderlies spend their time nailing up the stores again wh. we had re-opened for the last 50 we expected. I spent all the evng tabulating the list of wounded for Mr Somerville that were admitted on Thurs.

September 2nd: 7th letter fr. home this mng. Went up to the camp & got some money for some of the others fr. Miss Richards. The pay office has left & she says it may be months before we get any pay. Luckily I have still plenty? in hand. I took a snap of the camp. The American Fleet arrived this afternoon to escort their people home. The port fired them a salute. This evng 18 of the Australian Voluntary hosp. ladies arrived here. They are sleeping with us here & messing out. Their uniform is the nearest possible approach to ours but bonnets different, grey full veils. They say war news is better today. No further German advance. We hear also that a Russian force has landed at Leith to cross quicker over to Ostend. Sent a p.c. to Cole & home. We hear we are to take 3 days’ rations with us when we go.

September 3rd: Here I am on board the Asturia1 (Royal Mail steam packet). It’s No 2 hospital ship. It’s just heaven after the way we have been living. The ambulance came for us at the Casino just as we were going to get what we call lunch. We seized our belongings & were rattled down here. 7 more of No 2 Gen. are here & we hear to be about 200 or more sisters in all. This is a beautiful boat. Holbech & I are sharing a cabin. Just to see a snowy white bunk again! Well, it’s worth roughing things to appreciate the ordinary comforts of life wh. we take for granted. We had a hurried wash & then all went to have lunch. I hardly knew how to eat like a civilised being after the way we’ve been pigging it. Most delicious food, just like 1st class passenger boat. I am writing this now lazily stretched in a deck chair. Moored opposite us is the France, the biggest Fr. passenger boat they have, the one that beat the record of the Lusitania. It’s a 4 funnel. I wish I cd take a snap of it, but we are too near for me to get it all on my lens. The wards here are beautiful, an operating theatre & all complete. Just seen Victoria, a big boat, go off crowded with troops. I took a snap of it. The American warship left about 10pm crowded with Americans. It’s taking them all to Eng. We gave them a rousing cheer, & they gave us back as good. The No 1 hosp. ship St David is alongside of us. Seen Dickinson on it. We had a chat, or rather we had to scream the conversation, as we cdn’t get v. near. We had a ripping 7 course dinner. After a newspaper (& a daily one at that) for a tablecloth, a tin mug & plate, it’s an indescribable joy to be eating off china, having clean linen etc. again. We steamed up about 9pm to the Gare Maritime to take off the others, but for some reason or other, tho’ sitting waiting on their quay, they did not come on board until 11.30. I waited up on deck until 18.15 to see Davis, but it was getting so chilly I turned in then. Had a lovely hot bath before going to bed.

September 4th: I learnt a lot of nautical information yesterday fr. the diff. officers I chatted with. I understand the time by “bells”, also the stripes of rank of the officers of the Merchant Service. I did not sleep v. well, woke about 5pm. We had left our bunk door open for more air (we have an electric fan with fog!) & about 5 I opened my eyes & saw a man just outside swabbing the floor (deck I ought to call it). I had 1 sheet over me, so I didn’t worry, & he certainly wasn’t at all upset! I got up about 6.15, & went on deck, so gloriously fresh, & got an appetite for b’fast. Had a delicious one at 8pam. I arranged with our waiter to keep same table for my little coterie, it’s much nicer. I can’t think why the others don’t do the same. I foresee I shall eat too much here! We expect to sail midday today. Just read the mng’s Marconigram2. Germans only 40 miles fr. Paris. Eng. have captured 10 of their guns. Capital is moved fr. Paris to Bordeaux. Wrote 5th letter home.

September 5th: Alfred’s b’day. Many happy returns of the day to him. 9am. I’m writing tucked up most cosily in rugs on a deck chair, on the boat deck. We shall be soon getting into the Bay of Biscay. I hope it will be kind to us! I haven’t felt the slightest inclination for “mal de mer” so far. This is a v. steady boat, but a good deal of vibration fr. the engines. I stayed on deck last night till 11pm enjoying the moonlight on the sea. It was hazy & the sea a bit fresh last nigh. When I woke this mng 6.30, I saw we were in pretty dense fog & the ship going almost dead slow. I got up on deck about 7.20. The Capt. must have been on bridge all night I think, he looks awfully tired this mng. The one thing they hate at sea is fog. 9.50am. Fog is lifting, only hazy now, we’ve got up speed. Yesterday the chief Marconi operator took me over the wireless department. It was so interesting. They can read & take messages for 300 miles on this boat. He tried to let me listen to a wireless, but unfortunately there was none going for me to pick up. They take 6 hrs on & 6 off. (Just seen a porpoise in the water.) I do long for a letter fr. home. I expect they will be very delayed getting to us now, until the new base is established. We are apparently going to St Nazaire (at mouth of Loire) fr. what an officer told me yesterday, & he said 300 sisters were there already. We are supposed to get there about 5pm today. I can see land on our left & what looks like a lighthouse. We have just left the Channel Islands on our left. 11.30. Just had boat drill. I go to lifeboat I2 in event of accidents. This afternoon 2 of the officers took me & Flower all over the inside of the boat. The engines are enormous. It’s many men’s work to go round & oil them every ½ hr. We saw the watertight doors, refrigerating machinery, stokers at work, dynamos, steerage, kitchens, bakery (its splendid bread & rolls) in fact the whole of the inside; the floors & rails all so sticky & slippery. They gave waste wadding down there to rub our hands clean as we went along. We took a pilot aboard at bells 1 o/c, & reached St Nazaire at 11pm. They signalled for another pilot, but afterwards we dropped anchor just outside harbour for the night as it was low tide. I stayed on deck until 11.30. It was such a glorious star & moonlight night. Colonel Holt came up & we had a nice chat. He told me we had just passed a Fr. warship with all lights out.

September 6th: Awoke to find we had gone into harbour early this mng. I did not get up till 7.15am. It looks (St Nazaire) such a quaint town fr. this end, little tumbledown houses. I hear we have miles further to go up. We had lunch on board again, & proceeded a little further up the river-way. The bridges don’t lift up in ½ as in Eng. but slide back into the street on grooves. We came off Asturia at 1.15pm & laden heavily with our bags & holdalls staggered to the station, wh. was not far away. Train did not go till 2.5. At least we sat in it fr. then! We heard then we were going (this was about 200 of us) to Pournechet. After being shunted backwards & forwards for about six times up & down about 300 yds of the track our train eventually left at 3.30, with all of us dog-tired fr. the heat, shunting, & carrying luggage. When we got to P. the British Chaplain came & told us hosp. 1 & 2 were to go on to “La Baule” as not room for all at P. We arrived at “La B.” about 4.15 o’c. Left bags etc. to come up & all walked to the “Hotel Royal” where the 100 of us were to put up. It’s a palatial hotel, looking onto sea, & standing in midst of pines. This place seems to be a fashionable Fr. watering place, most lovely, & all at hotel most comfie. I & Lyons have a nice double room looking onto the sea. Tea awfully dear here, 1 fr. 50. We all dined at 6pm, then took walk along plage & turned in about 9.30. Part of the hotel is being used as a hosp. for wounded Fr. officers. We saw most fashionable ladies in high heeled white shoes & stocks, tending their sick.

Notes

  1. HMMS Asturias was completed in 1908, Her maiden voyage was London to Brisbane, but afterwards she ran Southampton to La Plata. In 1914 she became a hospital ship. She was torpedoed on Mach 20th, 1917 in the English Channel, 35 dead. She ran ashore off Bolt Head and was abandoned as a total loss. She was salvaged, towed to Plymouth and used as a munitions hulk. In 1922 she was rebuilt as a cruise liner, renamed Arcadian and was in service until 1930.
  2. Marconigram: A message sent via radio. From Marconi +‎ gram, from the name of Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937).

The Casino Lechin, one of six sections of No. 2 General Hospital at Le Havre. Image: Imperial War Museum Q 10561

Nurses in the Diary

Information from the Army Lists 1914 & 1917, and The National Archives WO 399

  • Holbech - Miss Gertrude HOLBECH (Staff Nurse QAIMNSR)
  • Miss Richards - Miss Gertrude Mary RICHARDS RRC (Matron QAIMNS)
  • Dickinson - not identified yet
  • Davis - Miss Mary Ellen DAVIS (Staff Nurse QAIMNS)
  • Flower - Miss Kathleen FLOWER (Staff Nurse QAIMNSR)