LOW, Harriet Isabella

Bibliography

Harriet Isabella Low was born in Blairgowrie, Perthshire on April 3rd 19061,2. She trained at Ruchill Hospital in Glasgow, sitting her final examinations in 19343. She joined the Territorial Army Nursing Service as a Staff Nurse before the outbreak of WW2. She was commissioned as a Sister on May 30th 19414.

Nursing Service in WW2

Harriet Isabella Low
Harriet Isabella Low

Harriet gave an interview in 1989 where she recorded some of her memories5:

Through the blood and thunder of the Normandy landings, nursing officer Harriet Fisher, in boots, leggings and helmet fought to save the lives of countless wounded men.

At 83, she now lives a quieter, but active life in Canterbury, where she has been for 43 years, working as a district nurse and midwife, and supporting many voluntary organisations.

Harriet was called up for action in September, 1939, at home in Scotland, where she was a member of the Dundee Territorial Army.

In the following months, she was installed on a huge floating hospital, which was to voyage through treacherous waters to visit war zones all over the world.

The three ships sailed first to India, then to Africa, and were constantly in danger of attack.

Despite the danger, Harriet has happy memories of that time. On board ship was a young soldier just back from Singapore, called Bill Fisher, who she was to marry a few years later.

“Anything could have happened to us – ships were being torpedoed all the time, but we didn’t have time to think of the dangers. I was very happy,” said Harriet.

After a stop in India, they set up a hospital in Cairo and nursed convoys of soldiers who had been fighting in the desert.

Although she saw some horrific injuries, Harriet remembers the characters she met and the jokes she shared with the soldiers.

“When they saw me coming up the ward, they used to say to each other, ‘Lie down Jock, the battleaxe is coming!’ and as they got better, they used to help me do the tea in the mornings.”

In 1944, with invasion preparations intensifying in Britain, Harriett was anxious to get on the front line. “We didn’t want to miss that.”

She remembers landing on the Normandy beaches and all the excitement and noise, but, armed with her nurses’ instruments in dangerous territory, her first thought was to help the wounded.

A casualty clearing station was set up in nearby Bayeux, and injured soldiers flooded in.

“I will never forget the bombing while we were there. At night, I used to lie on my tummy and watch the gunfire lighting up the sky,” she recalls.

She has been awarded several medals for bravery. The sense of discipline she learned on the front lines and her staunch love of the nursing profession have stayed with her.

After her marriage to Bill Fisher, the soldier she met at sea, she came to Canterbury and worked as a district nurse and midwife. She is now the vice president of the East Kent Normandy Veterans and is always busily engaged in voluntary work.”

There are some slight inaccuracies in this report. Harriet did not receive medals for bravery, but was ‘Mentioned in Dispatches’ twice for her service in North West Europe and the Normandy landings6,7.

Harriett also gave talks on her experiences in the Second World War and her family have some of her notes made for these. What follows is the first 12 pages from her notebook8:

I was called up in September 1939 & mobilised at Cruden Bay Hotel, Aberdeenshire, a beautiful golf course in a lovely setting. I left Aberdeen by train for Liverpool, on 22nd July, 1940. We then left Liverpool on the Aquitania on the 24th July 1940. Also with us was the Mauritania. We were escorted by two cruisers & three destroyers. We picked up the Queen Mary on the North West coast of Ireland. Altogether we were three large General Hospitals – the 15th (Scottish) General Hospital, the 23rd (Scottish) Peebles General Hospital, and the 19th General Hospital (Ormskirk).

It was a lovely morning when we set sail for an ‘unknown destination’. On the way out we danced, played deck quoits, chess, bridge, whist drives, had concerts & parties. The cabins were wonderful, 1st class & in ours there were three beds, WC & a bathroom (three nursing sisters). We had a wonderful shop where one could buy sweets, cigarettes, cosmetics etc. & there was also a hairdressers salon & we had our special stewards who did us well.

The Dining Saloon was exquisite, small tables which we had to keep too, all the way across, dressing for dinner etc. according to the climate. Meals were served at regular hours & the same stewards at every meal & they really were exceptionally nice. We went to church every Sunday a.m. having three padres, Church of Scotland, Church of England & Roman Catholic. We also had evening services, comunity singing & communion. Of course, in the evening on the ship, we had complete blackout, and one of the stewards, his duty was to go around all of the cabins, shut up all the windows & port holes & then they were opened again in the morning, same procedure. All the doors leading to, & out on to the deck, were covered inside by large black heavy curtains, as blackout was absolutely necessary & we were always having lectures to this effect, even the cigarettes were not allowed by anyone on the deck after blackout time. Two or three times every day we had boat drill, all at our special boat stations.

We danced nearly every night & as we were an all Scottish unit we danced every Scotch dance possible, Eightsome Reels, Quadrilles, Two-steps, Strip the Willow, Brown’s Reel, Waltzes, Flowers of Edinburgh, Dashing White Sergeant, The Gay Gordons, Highland Scottish etc. & even crossing the equator we danced Eightsome Reels with all the usual formalities. We used to get up every a.m. very early & walk around the deck six r seven times before breakfast. The meals were really wonderful, & of course, there were many fish courses & the bar as usual. Several of the Sisters were very sick for a few days, but it never affected me one bit.

We even played tug-of-war, Sisters & officers, & mixed teams etc. There was every possible regiment Royal Engineers, Royal Artillery, Tank Corps, Guardsman, Pay Corps, RAF, RASC, RAOC, RAMC, Hussars, Military Police, SIB & Intelligence etc.

The 1st port of call was Freetown on the East coast of Africa, a very nasty climate indeed, a highly malaria area. We stayed here only one night, but never were allowed ashore. We sailed from Freetown to Cape Town, as the ships being too big, we went on to the Naval art of Simonstown. We anchored & were taken ashore in small boats, having to climb down the rope ladders, which was really great fun. We stayed here for six nights, being allowed ashore every day. We had a wonderful reception & a really lovely time. One feature was the ‘darkies’ who used to jump in & out of th water from their little punts to find the English money we threw in from deck of our ship. We visited all the places of interest possible, at our disposal, the Table Mountain, hospitals etc. & enjoyed trips all  around.

We sailed from Simonstown to Columbo, the capital of Ceylon. We stayed here for 4 days & from there transhipped, sailing to Bombay on a ship called the Talamba, an Indian boat, having curry & rice nearly every day & served by the Indians. We went ashore at Bombay, where we stayed for 6 days in the Empress Hotel, & I was lucky a nurse friend of mine awaited us & took us to visit her hospital. We did all the sight seeing possible, visiting places of interest & had trips all around on the rickshaws pulled by the natives, also visiting a Regular Army hospital. Our troops were stationed at the stadium, where they had a well-earned rest & further training. When we left Bombay there were 13 ships in our convoy, when we sailed on to the Suez Canal through the Red Sea, & the heat was absolutely terrific.

We eventually arrived in the city of Cairo where we started up the 15th (Scottish) General Hospital. It was a beautiful hospital belonging to the Egyptians, situated across the road from the banks of the Nile. The Sisters’ Mess being 3 magnificent houseboats on the Nile, & living accommodation too, Anglo-American houseboats. Each Sister had a single cabin with all conveniences, on one side, the Nile & on the other side the tram cars & traffic etc., & our hospital just across the road. We had a super dining room downstairs, sitting room & lounge upstairs. The waiters were all Sudanese & spoke English very little. They used to dress up elaborately for serving of meals. The food was really wonderful, & we had fresh fruit served every day such as:- bananas, figs, dates, grapes, mangoes. oranges, water melon, sugar melon, & many more foreign fruits. Every cabin had a bell, & if you wished tea in your cabin you ordered it, & the boy brought it to you, beautifully served. We could also have visitors to tea on the top lounge, small tables, & overlooking the Nile on one side, & the busy traffic on the other. We had two small boats, attached to our houseboats, for taking us across the river to the ‘Geizero Sporting Club’, which all Sisters could join if they wished to, payment of course. I used to play squash quite a lot, tennis, & riding, swimming etc. The swimming pool was excellent, & you could have tea by the side of he pool.

We used to visit the pyramids, & have our fortunes told in the sand. The best time of course to visit the pyramids was at twelve o’clock at night, when the moon was shining on them. The camels used to pass our hospital during the night, & all you could hear was the tinkle of the little bell around their necks, & see all the shadows. During my stay in Cairo I was a member of ‘The Services Choral Society’, which gave a performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah; in Cairo Cathedral, which was broadcast home. I was also a member of the Church of Scotland choir in the Scottish Church in Cairo. After the church service we used to help all of the soldiers possible & provide teas free. They also used to run dances for the troops. I also had the pleasure of speaking to my parents over the radio, to my home in Blairgowrie, Perthshire, & to my husband’s mother in Canterbury, & this was a very thrilling experience indeed. I stayed with my hospital for 2 1/2 years, where we worked exceedingly hard indeed, with all the heavy casualties from the western desert, nursing our wonderful & unforgettable 8th Army, having the pleasure of Lord Montgomery, & General Wingate, who used to pay a visit to the troops, the Duke of Gloucester, who paid us an official visit, & Sir Arthur Tedder.

I used to take parties of our patients who had been very badly wounded, to Cairo, by taxi & give them tea, ice cream  & cakes. These were patients who had been badly disabled, perhaps one leg, no hands, shrapnel wounds, face disfigurements etc. I did this on my day off, or on my half day. I booked the same place overtime, which was the TOC-H, and where we received VIP treatment. It was run by a Scottish Matron, and she certainly looked very well after us. It was very private, & if the lads could not feed themselves it was my pleasure to do it, rather than to have the Egyptians watching us, as there was nothing they ever missed.

During my start in Cairo I had a vacation to ‘The Holy Land’, visiting Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Gethsemane, Balbex, & the Wailing Wall, & right up through Syria to Allepo, up to the borders …

References

  1. National Records of Scotland, Statutory Registers: Births, 335/29 Harriet Isabella Low
  2. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007
  3. Royal College of Nursing, Edinburgh: Scotland, Nursing Applications, 1921-1945
  4. Supplement to the London Gazette February 6th 1941, page 607
  5. Canterbury Adscene, Friday 1st September 1989 “Echoes of War – Part Two”
  6. Supplement to the London Gazette May 10th 1945, page 2468
  7. Supplement to the London Gazette November 8th 1945, page 5455
  8. Notebook of Harriet Isabella Fisher (née Low)

Helen Octavia Driver’s Diary: August 1914

Monday 3rd: volunteered for foreign service at War Office.

Saturday 8th: I joined the Q.A.I.M.N.S.R. & was called up for active service at once with instructions to collect a Camping Kit & Uniform within the next seven days, for which I was allowed £23 by the War Office, and to present myself with my baggage at Charing X Hotel at 6 p.m. on Sunday the 16th.

Sunday 16th: My colleagues & I arrived at Charing X Hotel where we were interviewed by the Matron of the No. 8 General Hospital, Expeditionary Forces, to which division we found that we had become attached. We were told that we were being billeted at the Hotel Victoria, Northumberland Ave. to await further orders & that we were allowed 13/- per day for mess & we were to report ourselves 4 hrly to Miss Lang the Sister in Charge.

Monday 17th: We report ourselves at stated hours but glean no news.

Tuesday 18th: Still nothing doing.

Wednesday 19th: A slight rise in temperature in the Camp owing to the fact that we may go tomorrow & rumour says that our destination may be the Continent. Told to get knapsacks in which to carry two days provisions.

Thursday 20th: 12 o/c noon sent to Charing X Hotel for provisions – each has the care of a package of stores en route – my lot proved to be 4 pkts of table jelly.  7 p.m. all collect on Charing X Station with baggage (43 nurses in all, 13 regular and 30 civil reserve). 7.15 GWatkins, Easby, & I have our last dinner together in Charing X Restaurant – Chicken & Tongue & Salad, Claret cup.8 p.m. Entrain for Woolwich & on arrival are taken by motor busses to the Arsenal. Here we found light refreshments awaiting us in Mess Room. The 44 of us all slept in one large ward & it was a funny sight indeed. Lights had just been put out when word was sent in that unless we each wanted to carry our own holdalls  we must put them outside the ward then. So we all jumped out of bed with one accord & a great chattering & commotion of packing & running down the ward with our holdalls [?]. Then once more to bed as we were to be called at 2.30 a.m. for breakfast at 3 a.m.  Silence reigned but nobody slept as the turning over & over of one’s neighbours proved – probably the beds were none too soft or comfortable for each had only one sheet & the pillow was as hard as Mother Earth in the heat of Summer – or was it the excitement? Anyway, sure it was we were wide awake when the Night Sister switched on the light & shouted 2.30.

Friday 21st: 3 a.m. Breakfast & then after waiting about for 3/4 of an hour we went by special car to Dockyard station where a special train was waiting. In we got & again waited until at last the Army Medical Corps of the No. 8 General Hospital joined us & at 5 a.m. Finally left Woolwich. 9.40 Arrived at Southampton and embarked on “City of Edinburgh” with 900 troops, horses etc. 1.30 Sailed, cheered by the inhabitants of surrounding vessels. Saw a waterplane fly above us just as we started. 2 p.m. Hear that we are making for Havre but know nothing further – sealed orders. 4.30 Tea. Served by Lascars.5 p.m. GWatkins, Adam & I who are sharing a cabin decide to get to bed as we hear we are to breakfast at 4 a.m. Glad to say I’m in the top berth, near the port hole. 8 p.m. Sister looks in to say breakfast will not be until 7 a.m. All three wide awake so borrow Easby’s spirit lamp & make bovril which we have with biscuits. We are sailing under muffled lights.1 o/c Midnight, awaken to find we have come to a stand still in mid-ocean. Peeping through porthole we find that search lights are playing all around.

Saturday 22nd: 8 a.m. Still standing still – no land in sight anywhere – Man O’War to right of us. Just had breakfast – a very good one too – porridge, fried sole, Onions & Steak, Tomatoe, Omelette, Toast, Rolls, marmalade, Honey, Coffee or tea. 8.20 a.m. Sand sighted – Hooray! We seem to have been at sea weeks instead of hours.8.30 Just entering harbour – a sight not to be missed. From nearly every house overlooking the wharf are people waving anything from a handkerchief to a sheet & shouting a welcome. Our Tommies replied with one accord, & such a mighty “No!” to the query of are we downhearted from the Frenchmen. Our men’s singing lustily of “Tipperary” as we pull into the inner harbour is great. On getting in we find the “Gloucester Castle” just crammed with Tommies also, and this ship by the way, we left behind us in Southampton. We have just heard that 20 of No. 8 Gen. Hosp. is reported lost – what a lie! Here we are just longing to steam ahead & wondering why we’ve been held up so long. The streets to be seen from harbour are a glorious sight – one mass of flags.10.30 Disembarking of troops & horses.11.35 The “Turcoman” loaded troops – highlanders – [?]. Other troop ships in harbour also – “Norseman“, “Cawdor Castle“.12.30 Lunch – Soup, Cottage Pie, Veal, Curry, Salad, Pudding, Coffe, Apples. Matron has just arrived to say that we are to be billeted at Joan of Arc School & has taken four nurses with her, the rest are to await the return of the Taxi. Just down below is an amusing scene – which were I an artist I would like to put on canvas under the title “Tommy’s first French lesson” – the R.H.A men who have just disembarked are waiting under the sheds with their horses. The men look tired out & are lying about on the floor in all positions for the most part sleeping. Two little French boys come along & a Tommy whips a little “Parlez-vous Francais” book from his pocket & begins questioning the boys through this medium. They soon collect quite a crowd of Tommies all eager to pick up what French they can & the boys seat themselves on the floor & give them their first lesson.3.45 At last leave dock & taxi to Jeanne d’Arc L’ecole which is some two miles distant. The Ecole d’la Jeanne d’Arc is evidently a Convent which has ben turned into a hospital for British Officers & pat of it is given over as sleeping room for nurses. What a sight to be sure! There are trunks to the right of us, trunks to the left of us, trunks everywhere in fact, on the terrace & it is with difficulty we manage to gain admittance to the building at all. Two hundred nurses are sleeping in this place. At last we gain the floor to which our 20 of the No. 8 Gen Hosp. are allocated & find that all of us are to sleep in a room which in the ordinary course of events would accommodate 2 persons. Already about 16 beds have been put up & they are so close together that we decide that it is impossible & encamp in the corridors. What a business it is putting up the beds to be sure. How we laugh. Easels prove good wardrobes & when they are crowded the rest of our clothing gets hung up on the floor. At last the beds are up and we decide to get some tea. So Easby & Simmons go off & purchase food, whilst Gwatkins, Adam & I go in search of an ironmonger or locksmith as the padlocks on our kit bags have been broken en route & we wish to replace them. At last after a lot of haggling re price the locks are purchased. Adam who is a pretty good French linguist acts as interpreter & we trust to her honesty over the money question. Back to the school again to our picnic tea & plenty of merriment there is over it too. 7.10 p.m. We go to the Hotel Moderne in the Ave. Strasbourg for dinner, where the various hospitals & officers are being messed. Get lost coming back & have to ask the way of two Frenchmen. 9.30 p.m. To bed – Washing accommodation is very funny & it is marvellous what ingenuity one displays in getting a bath in private in a roomful of people – it can be done, but it takes a Sister in the Service to do it.

Sunday 23rd: Just a week since we started to get here. My first night on a campbed was not bad, although I had sundry struggles to keep myself in my rugs & off the cold surface of the bed. 8 o/c We refuse to get up, but “arise” as Adam puts it. Have breakfast in picnic fashion but we all agree the game is not worth the candle & in future will walk down to the Hotel for coffee & rolls. 10 a.m. Report ourselves at the Hotel Centrale, when Miss Suart gives us each two post-cards. We are allowed two a week but must put on no address or they will be destroyed. 12 o/c Lunch at the Hotel Moderne – we tram home. The heat is fearful. All turn in for an afternoon nap. Awakened at 1/4 to 3 to find that the beds of No. 6 Hosp. have disappeared & the owners are busy packing their stuff for a move. Gwatkin & I prepare to improve our present quarters & carry our beds around to the further end of corridor which No. 6 has just vacated. On our way down to dinner a young French girl stops us & presses chocolate upon us & is most disappointed because one or two of our party passes without taking any. The French kiddies proudly call out “Goodnight” to us at all hours of the day. After dinner we five “Tommies” walk down to beach from where we get a glorious view of the Cape Le Havre. On the way a regiment of Eng. Horse Artillery with field equipment pass & French girls run by their side with jugs & give them drinks & fill their water bottles. 9.30 Upon returning to Jeanne d’Arc School we find a large empty room overlooking the sea which has been vacated upon the departure of No. 6. This we commandeer & once more pitch our camps – this for the 3rd time od asking – “All things come to him who waits” – & we feel that we have at last “struck oil” for after the close quarters of the corridor this is indeed a palatial dwelling & altho’ tired as dogs we merrily collect our kit & erect our easels, which are answering the purpose of wardrobes, & then to our well earned rest.

Monday 24th: After breakfast we went shopping & had such sport with “Le Miltaire Anglaise” who also were shopping. – their difficulty in making the assistant understand that they wanted “serviettes” & “hand towels” was most amusing. Fortunately Adam the interpreter of our party was able to help them out. GWatkins, Simmons & I bought materials for bathing suits as we were under the impression we should be in Le Havre at least 2 weeks. We also decided to do some laundry so went into a shop to get some soap wondering what we should do to make the shopkeeper understand what we wanted. We had scarcely entered when a spontaneous exclamation of “There’s Sunlight!” from the trio made us all laugh so much to the wonder of the proprietor – we had all caught sight of packets of “Sunlight Savons” on the top shelf. Came home & had a nap & then tea with the idea of washing the clothes afterwards. In middle of tea however Sister-in-Charge came to say that we were moving tomorrow therefore great excitement ensued & the clothes were forgotten in wondering where our next camp might be pitched. We all decide to wash our hair at night. In the middle of hair washing lights are put out  we have to finish in the dark with nothing but pithy expressions to enlighten the task.

Tuesday 25th: 12 noon. Everything packed up when order comes that we are not to move until further notice as our hospital equipment has been commandeered to enlarge the hospitals Nos. 1 & 2 as they are overcrowded with wounded, therefore No. 8 Gen Hosp. is non-existent & we nonentities. We are all very sick about it, wonder what will become of us, and speak as strongly as we feel of “the service” – a unanimous agreement that we dislike counter orders, & a bursting forth of the familiar song “We’re here because we’re here, because etc. by Gwatkins. We feel very sad as we watch Nos. 9 & 10 depart. After tea Adam, Easy & I go down Le Rue de Paris & shop & then on to the dock. Try to get an English paper but in vain, so get “Le Havre” but glean no news of the English troops. After dinner we come straight home & once more unpack & put up our beds – life in “the service” seems a matter of packing and unpacking.

Wednesday 26th: A terribly wet day which is enough to damp the best of spirits. We shop all the morning & upon returning and that the baggage of No. 10 has returned & the Sisters also. An orderly tells us that they have had an awful time – forty of them were packed on a cattle truck & they had to stay for twelve hours with only biscuits & bully beef to eat. They had had no sleep for forty hours. Upon hearing this we felt glad that our counter order had come before we had actually started. No. 10 had got to Rouen stayed there half and hour & then pushed off again not knowing where they were bound for until they found themselves landed in Le Havre once more.3 p.m. Rumour says that 13 sisters of No. 8 are to go tonight to the hospital down town – The Yacht Club-. We hear that the Germans are the cause of No. 10’s return being too near to allow the hospital to get to its destination. As we were going to Hotel Moderne for dinner tonight there was a huge crowd of cheering people outside 7 we found the cause of all this noise was the arrival of a Belgian General & other officers. The excitement was intense & some of the French women even kissed the Belgians. During dinner we are surprised by the appearance of Colonel Nash & our spirits once more rise – Perhaps after all we shall remain intact. What news we wonder? Matron looks pleased anyway. After dinner she tells us she wants to see us tomorrow at 10 a.m. to arrange for drafting us on.

Thursday 27th: Adam & I did the ironing – we got absolutely soaked through going down to meals the rain fairly pelted down & the streets were like rivers.

Friday 28th: Made our bathing suits in the morning & went bathing in afternoon. Eleven refugee Sisters come in from Amiens where they have been nursing.

Saturday 29th: Went bathing in the afternoon. After dinner find that Matron & Miss Long have taken eleven of the Sisters and have left us & that we are to become attached to No. 1. We all feel very much hurt that Matron should have gone without a word.

Sunday 30th: Awakened at 4.45 a.m. by the arrival of the next of the Sisters flying from Amiens. We go down to make them tea. They tell us sad tales of woe of refugees coming into the town & say they herd the sound of guns very plainly. At 7 a.m. we set off for a walk, fall in with two Tommies who tell us of a British Naval victory & also the reason of the apparent in allowing the Germans to take all before them. There had also ben a military victory 200 English keeping 200000 Germans in hand. This is the first real news we’ve had. 10 a.m. We report ourselves to Miss Hodgson our new Matron & then go to the English Church. At lunch we hear that No. 8 is to be reunited & that we are not to leave our rooms until further orders. In the afternoon 12 “Tommy” nurses met over tea & the amount of gossip & talk of “things & bits” that went on was indeed very funny. Easy snapshotted the party. Upon coming out from dinner we see some poor refugees who had come into the town from Cambria – Poor old things they had no hats on their heads & just all they out cherished of this world’s goods tied up in a bundle. It was pitiful to see them & we collected amongst ourselves & gave them some coins. On reaching the School we find ourselves in state of excitement. The PO headquarters have packed up and gone. No. 10’s baggage is being taken away by the orderlies but they have no idea where they are going beyond the dock. The Sisters of No. 10 expect to get marching orders at any moment, the poor things have nowhere to lie down for the night & Adam finds one lying on two hard boxes with nothing to cover her, so takes Easby’s big coat for her. We are told to be ready to go at 10 minutes notice & that the town is to be fortified & that all the General Hospitals are to leave the town within 24 hours. 10 p.m. We all turn in but do not feel inclined to sleep as we may be called up at any moment. We are indeed roughing it, Sisters sleeping on the flora & outside the building – some with not even a rug to cover them.

Monday 31st: Unable to leave the School as we were awaiting orders, I altered my “party frocks”. Afternoon we went & looked over a French School which had been turned into a Military Hospital – this was a most interesting visit. A sister took us over most of the wards which were small classrooms transformed & held from 9 to 10 beds. The patients of various nationalities – French, Negro, Arabian & Algerian – all looked very happy & well cared for & very proudly showed us bullets which had been removed from various parts of their bodies. They were busy eating their evening meal of bread & meat when we went in & most of them had fruit on their lockers & some were smoking. We took them some cigarettes with which they seemed very pleased. The Sister who showed us round was in charge of 59 its & had the help of two orderlies. The nurses wore military caps with a Red + in the front. We were very interested in the sterilising room & theatre. The head surgeon was busily arranging fruit & flowers for the patients but very graciously showed me around. The tins used for sterilising dressings are smaller than those used in England & are bound with different coloured strapping to indicate what kind of dressing is in the box. The instrument cupboard looked very similar to ours. The theatre was small but scrupulously clean & the surgeon said he averaged 4 to 5 ops daily, but only operated in the morning. There were between 3 to 4 hundred pats in the hospital. Gwatkins and I took one or two snaps of different wards. On our way to the hospital we fell in with two French regiments who were marching down the Rue Maillison with all their kit on their backs. An order was suddenly given causing the men to halt & left turn, & we found ourselves entrapped much to the amusement of soldiers and Sisters. There was an outburst of merriment from all & a gangway was made though which we passed to the saluting apologies of the Officer and men.One officer greatly admired or uniforms & remarked “Nice dresses” in English, much to our amusement. GWatkins took a snap of them.

Helen Octavia Driver’s WW1 Diary

Helen Octavia Driver was a Civilian Hospital Reserve nurse, who joined the Army from St Thomas’ Hospital, London on the 8th August 1914. She embarked for France 3 days later!

She served in France until she became ill with Influenza in the winter of 1916. After she recovered at home in England, she resigned from her contract and left the service. During her time in France she kept a journal, which has remained with her family now based in the USA.