Comfort in the Words of a Doughboy - WWI, 1918, France

I hope you will excuse me for bringing up the subject of World War One so often. I can't help it. You see my head and often my heart is in France some part of every day. With the internet there is no limit to the world of information, the pictures, the history and access to personal stories. I am grateful for every bit of it - although there are times when it is overwhelming. Yesterday I was fishing for more pictures and I had a good catch.

When you look closely at this picture where the nurse is working on a single patient who is surrounded by many, many more waiting to be taken care of. Is that a corp-man standing by with surgical scissors in his hand and extra bandage or a fellow doughboy who's stepped in to help. The nurse is wearing rubber gloves and using a larger instrument. She is clearly confident and in charge of the procedure. The rubber gloves and surgical gown she has on say they hope they have a sterile field as they open or re-bandage his wound. Everyone appears calm and confident even while treating this wounded man on a stretcher on a crowded piece of ground. I imagine she is practiced and perhaps even numb to the situation.

From the Red Cross Nursing History Website

Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD was one of the US university hospitals asked to organize a medical unit for France.Their staff included 64 nurses, all graduates from the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing.

These Hopkins nurses are the women I have researched to create my new story Ready to Serve.

All the reports and stories
of nurses on duty at the Base Hospitals in France are similar in that the work was hard and required homeric endurance, the living conditions were bare and difficult, and the weather was harsh.

One wonders if the nurses had any idea how difficult it would be for them before they volunteered to go.

I doubt it - but I don't think they would have changed their minds. From everything I have read all the nurses who went to France were determined, skilled, compassionate women who wanted to help the wounded.

After the Armistice Bessie Baker, Chief Nurse of the Hopkins Unit, wrote in her report to the Red Cross:

While we sat swathed in blankets around those miserable little French stoves and breathed upon our numbed fingers and waited for the monotonous hours off duty to drag by, we nurses tried to puzzle out the meaning of war, of those sick boys on the wards, or our own ridiculous plight.

We could not get very far with most of our discussions, but there was real comfort to us at least, in one of the doughboys words:
        " the last thing I knew, I was out and over the top. ... I opened my eyes and there above me was a nurse    with a Red Cross on her cap. I just turned over and went to sleep, because I knew then that everything would be all right." 

1 comment:

Granny Sue said...

It is hard to imagine how terrible and difficult it must have been. I too try to puzzle out the meaning of war and cannot understand it. So meaningless and pointless.

My friend, writer Jerri Bell, is writing a book about WWI nurses. You should friend her on Facebook. She's an interesting person, works with the Veterans Writing Project, I believe.