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1Top Note: I shan’t inflict a letter of this length on you every mail. There isn’t time for one thing & there is always more to say the first time.
It was addressed to T | F | Home | A-T
We arrived here at 3 p.m. today, after 15 hours in the train from Durban. We were all sorted out there: 9 went to Hospital ships in the harbour, 2 to Pine Town, 5 to Maritzburg, 3 to Mooi River, 2 to Newcastle3, 8 to here. S. Jayne4 & I volunteered for Estcourt5 by some happy inspiration, & the Superintendent tells us, this hospital is supposed to be following Buller6, & we are sure to be moved bodily further North before long. We have all Buller’s wounded in the last 2 fights here now. The rest are enteric & dysentery. 3 weeks ago they were most fearfully overworked here: all the 1000 beds full, & no sister had even 1/2 hour off all day except for meals. Now they are getting much lighter, & she is sending them off duty for 1 or 2 days in turn. Two went up to Ladysmith & Colenso today.
We shall soon! The camp is on the upper veldt, very open & airy, with a gorgeous view of hills & distant mountains over rolling brown veldt. There is hardly a level bit anywhere & yet it is high and open & you can see a long way. At sunset & sunrise the Kopjies & mts take on the most splendid reds & purples. There are a few trees & houses & a few shops in the straggly little town, but we are right in the open, the other side of the line – where W.S. Ch’s historic adventures7 with the armoured train took place, a little further on. It is awfully wild & bare: the khaki grass stubble grows erratically about, with a yard of khaki hard dry earth between each blade. It is the dry fine season now: hot in the day but awfully cold at night.
We have a tent each, & a big main tent. It is a very exciting experience living under canvas to the female mind, just like Percy S8 or Neville9. There is a sort of horse blanket on the floor: a nice spring camp bed with apparently a straw pillow & 3 more blankets: a camp chair, & a packing case for a wash stand with a tin jug & basin on it. My box makes a good seat with a rug on it: & the good old brown Birch chair makes another, with the drawing room cushion!
I couldn’t sleep last night in the train. S. Jayne did, but we are both dog tired & awfully cold, so it is time to turn in & get warm. There is a most glorious moon tonight & every night. Goodnight. I wish you were here, you would enjoy this game. We are going on duty tomorrow.
Sunday 8.7.00. The place swarms with Zulus & Kaffirs. Some of them were putting up our tents when we arrived yesterday with Sister Williams10 (Supt) from the station – (she met us) – they stiffened themselves & gabbled some Zulu. “All right”, said Sister. “He says you are great”, she told us. She is exceptionally nice & with grey hair & beautiful brown eyes. She has been in Egypt & India & has decorations like my old matron at King’s.
I was marched off after breakfast today to the medical lines, to work with Sister Harding11 – one of the regulars: not a bad old thing: She has 8 marquees with about 50 beds altogether: enteric & a few dysentery. We were pretty busy all the morning as the orderlies want so much looking after: they are a very scratch lot & perfect boys most of them: all the 1st class orderlies are up at the front. They are very willing, & say “Very good Sister” to whatever you tell them. About 1/2 the cases are acute. Several very bad & some with bad bedsores from lying in the veldt further up: some are convalescent or nearly so. There was a Church parade this morning for the convalescents.
Sister Jayne was told off to the officers tents, sick and wounded. She has got one with 10 bullet holes. I am off this afternoon till 5: it is too hot & stuffy to stay in your tents, so you take your chair outside, in about a yard of shade from it. The sun is scorchingly hot though it is winter: most of the sisters wear beige squash felt hats as if you were in Switzerland & after dark they put on big loose khaki overcoats like the officers to keep out the cold. I’m going to have one tomorrow. Sister gets them for us.
I don’t know much about tommy when he’s well: but he is charming when he’s sick or convalescent. They talk to each other the whole time about the war & Ladysmith. They got awfully excited when they found I only left England a month ago & asked eagerly how England was looking now. With the first week of time in the garden fresh in my mind I told them what it was like. “Sister says England’s grand” they called out to the more sick & young ones who hadn’t spoken. They asked for books & seized on ‘the Dead Man’s Rock’ which was the only one I could find, like vultures. Enteric keep you going as hard as you can all day with spongings & dressings, temperatures and medicines etc. so that you are comfortably tired by 8 p.m. Tomorrow I shall have 8 tents to myself which is rather alarming: but they are better orderlies: & a good yardmaster & a very nice Dr Wilkinson who puts you up to things & helps you out. It is not quite so cold tonight but I shall turn in now. Goodnight. I suppose Birch is fermenting over the coming wedding: what day is it? Are you all having new frocks?
10.07.00 I have had different lines every day so far, taking day for Sisters who have days off. Today & tomorrow I have got 96 beds, but some are empty & nearly all are convalescent so there is not much to do: one boy is very bad, an orderly. About 50 orderlies have been down with enteric. My M.O. gave me most solemn and earnest warning last night about precautions & avoiding risks. He is a Med. Officer for Health at home & is keener than most on the point. They are all civilians here except for the PMO & 2 others – all in khaki of course. The whole management of the hospital is RAMC, but each surgeon can manage his own tents in his own way, which is far more elaborate, thorough and less rough than the RAMC.
A charming boy with a gentleman’s voice and Romany face came to have his medicine with the others this morning. He belongs to Thorneycroft’s12. The M.O. also pointed him out to me afterwards when we were going round. They had a Charterhouse master here in some volunteer corps. I’ve come across several Tommies of the 1st Rifle Brigade who knew Neville. They say he got dysentery at Elandslaagte & has gone home. I wonder if Percy S. has gone home.
There are all sorts of rumours about the camp that we are soon going up to Modderspruit, or perhaps Johannesburg or Pretoria. But they may send us the sick from the other side when railway communication is established between this & Bloemfontein. Another rumour is that Buller has gone to Pretoria to talk to Lord Roberts13 about finishing off the war quickly & then going off bodily to China. It has also been said that No. 7 will be sent to China. I hope we are.
This is a very popular station. It is healthy & there is plenty of riding, hockey & cricket, & sometimes concerts or a dance. Ladysmith is in a hole & still reeking with enteric. These tents in the medical lines reek with it if you like. It is a good thing there is so much sun for disinfection, though of course it makes it hotter. When it gets dark after 6 you stumble about with a shaky old lantern, & it is awfully difficult to do anything: you are most busy in the evening too, when all the temperatures go up. There is a splendid moon for going about between the lines, which is a blessing.
You can see the tops of the Drakensburgs far away in the west. They look awfully fine at sunset. Sister Jayne & I were hauled up to be introduced to the PMO yesterday, Colonel somebody14: rather fierce but very kind & amiable to us. He asked what experience we’d had & warned us about looking sharp after the orderlies. The patients wait on each other splendidly, & they fly to carry out your slightest wish, or often forestall it. Some of them who were wounded before they got enteric have been through an awful time. One of them was awfully equivocal at getting hit just before getting into Ladysmith. “Another two mile, Sister, & I’d a got another bar to my medal.” He’s longing to get back to the R.B. at the front.
Sister Jayne’s chief occupation is keeping up the spirits of the officers. “You might talk to me. I feel so lonely!” is their usual cry. They told her the first day she was “a jolly good sort” – it is just what she is. I go over to her tent when everyone has turned in, in my dressing gown & my big mackintosh ulster, (which keeps you warmer than anything) every night, & we smoke a sociable & soothing cigarette. It is a very sound thing to do, when you’ve been working all day in these fever tents. I’ve been hearing thrilling stories tonight about Colenso from my old ward-master who was there. I’ve not struck any Spion Kop people yet but there are sure to be a lot here.
The food (this is especially for Hugh’s15 benefit!) is of a distinctly fierce order. You are lucky if you can get your teeth half way through the meat every other day: it is like wire ropes. The bread, huge thick slices, might have been cut before Ladysmith was relieved. The puddings are unintelligible masses of something rather horrid; the potatoes would be harmless enough if there were more of them. Lockhart could give points to the tea & coffee, but the tinned jam & marmalade are all right, & the butter is good as well. This air makes you awfully hungry so we peg away at the bread & butter & call it by the names of all the good things we had on the Carisbrook16. We don’t have drinking water in our tents & it isn’t to be got after dinner. I was reduced to licking the glycerine pot late last night to prevent myself drinking out of the water jug which isn’t safe. But Maria17 a homely body (english) that Sister Williams (Supt) took out with her, & who looks after us a little, says I can take a glass from dinner every night. We have tin plates & things & an old lantern for a light, & 2 coolies under Maria to wait. We make our own beds etc. A tin bath appeared in my tent today, a most joyful sight.
The M.O.s often & the convalescent wounded officers occasionally, come to tea with us. A Sister went off riding in a khaki habit, with one today. Sister Williams hunts at home & is very keen in the Sisters having a good time if they can. Someone stops a goods train about 4 a.m. for you if you want to do Ladysmith etc. & you go in the guard’s van for nothing in uniform. Only no-one ever wears a bonnet thank goodness. The great thing is to go & pick up bits of shell, or take snapshots at Spion Kop, Pieters Hill, Caesar’s Camp or Wagon Hill or Colenso & look at the trenches.
People are expecting a big fight at Standerton today. We have had a lot of convalescents sent to us today from Modderspruit Hospital, which is being moved further North. Do you know we are drawing pay at the rate of £180 a year up here! For a month of 30 days we get
|Field allowance at 3/- a day||£4- 10|
|Colonial allowance at 3/- a day||£4- 10|
|Servants allowance at 1/6 a day||£2- 5|
|Washing allowance 3/6 a week||14|
|Pay £40 a year||£3- 6 -8|
|£15- 5 -8 x12||£183- 8 -0|
You don’t get field allowance unless you are under canvas.
We are rationed by Govt for everything except vegetables, milk & butter so mess expenses including servants (2 coolies & a cook) don’t come to more than 30/- a month each (as we are a mess of 28). That brings it down to £160 odd, except for washing which costs us about 2/3 of what they allow. Travelling allowance is also quite extra, so we are not by any means ruined.
13.7.00. Great excitement yesterday – 3 English letters all dated June 15. One from P. one from N & one from home (F.M. R & D)18. Very many thanks. You were having awfully hot weather – so are we: it is scorching in the middle of the day & trying to the eyes & complexion: but we had a sharp frost last night & the water is awful to wash in & you can’t clean. Tell Mother it doesn’t matter a bit about the ink, you can get it here. Rosie’s pen is invaluable.
Love to all K.E.L