Life had been forever altered by just two brief decisive moments in her recent history. The first was signing her name on the service identification certificate, which indicated she was now an officer in the Army Corps of Nursing. The second was when her boots touched down on the soil of France.
She glanced ruefully at those same slimy brown boots, and the 6-inch trim of mud and blood edging her grey-colored woolen skirt.
“Wouldn’t they be surprised to see me now, those esteemed judges in Taunton,” Amy Hollindale chuckled a little to herself. Two years running she’d received “The Best Dressed Woman in Taunton” award. “Now that’s something to be proud of,” she thought sarcastically.
Incessant rain had turned the walk from the temporary tentage to the sprawling grey stone-fronted chateau a slogging journey through slippery mud, the consistency of the gruel which she had carefully spooned into a patient’s unrecognizable mouth earlier this morning. Sometimes she longed for the crisp, nearly immaculate white uniform of her nursing school days. How they had detested the fastidious washing and starching ritual at Boston General Hospital!
“What I wouldn’t give for a good soak in some soap lye, at this very moment, oh, and some lavender water to rinse it all.”
The smells, the stains, the sights would never be completely washed.
Trying to look like a nurse was a challenge in these dismal woolen clothes and boots that smelled of damp mold, old blood, and layers of sweat. They often kept their heavy Army issue coats on, even though it hampered movement, but it was so cold these mornings she sometimes had to break the ice in the washbowl. The stoves in the ward tents were kept stocked, but the flimsy canvas walls could hardly keep the damp chill out. Fortunately, they had a laundry room, but there had been no time to change her uniform in the past 16 hours. She had removed what had at one time been her white apron earlier in the day, after one poor soldier had vomited rusty colored fluid all over the front of her. It could be dealt with later. With the last two days of constant rumbling at the Front, and the trains never ending supply of newly wounded, the medical staff looked nearly as bloody and muddy as their new admissions.
“At least my hands are clean,” she thought. It didn’t really matter. The poor boys who moaned in death’s agony, with their faded, shrouded eyes like the fog spreading over the hills, they would never criticize. Their drug-induced comfort was one of the few things she could offer, with a word of praise and encouragement.
“You are so very brave” and “You needn’t worry, I’m right here to help you” were the phrases that she repeated like a mantra to each broken body on the makeshift cots in the hospital tent. They gripped her hand, sometimes in a fever of delirium, thinking their mother was there at the bedside. She never corrected the mistake. They would ramble on, saying the name of their sweetheart or sister, and calling for mother, all of whom would never be seen again. She was cursed and privileged to be the one who heard their whispered cries to those far-away loved ones, unable to attend the death bed vigil.
The fleeting thought came to her, “Nursing is a profession”- Matron Withers’ statement
at the School of Nursing she’d attended in Boston, who had constantly reminded them to be professional. Amy could still hear her brittle voice during some of their early wound care training nearly three years ago, (following one of the young nurse’s fainting episodes during class).
“Emotional detachment is the key to being perceived in a professional way, and I will have no dramatic outbursts by any of you. What doctor ever went into a hysterical fit at the site of a putrid wound, or the screams of a patient’s bandaging routine? Many of the treatments you will learn to administer may cause you distress, and your patient pain, yes, but of what good would a timid, silly nurse be at the doctor’s side? Besides, nurses need to attain some of the same respect the doctors are afforded, and this will only come about if nurses stop being perceived as the tearful handmaiden, washerwoman, bedside companion, swooning female …”
Amy had been one of her favorite students. It was not Amy’s nature to be overly demonstrative, and her crisp British accent made her sound even more all-business like. What would Matron Withers have said this morning, had she observed Amy making the dressing change rounds with Dr. Angel?
“Sorry, Mrs. Withers, I was not professional.” Amy confessed aloud.
Although they all shared the duty of the hated wound rounds, Amy was often requested by Dr. Angel. All of the nurses had skill and training, but Amy had the quiet strength and finesse that Dr. Angel appreciated and required when layer after layer of matted gauze was carefully removed from the mushy stumps and unclosed wounds. Amy sometimes visualized the garden back home, with the rows of hollyhocks and snapdragons. Like digging in the garden through the soft earth and discovering worms and snails and last years’ bulbs, her methodical hands would uncover the last vestige of gauze to expose the healthy pink granulated flesh surrounded by yellow and green slough, with stitches and drains often in place. At times, the sickeningly sweet rotten fruit smell would assault her before the wound was cleansed for Dr. Angel’s inspection. Seeing the wound was easier for her than smelling it. How frequently she cursed her acute sense of smell these days.
As she carefully removed old dressings, those brave soldiers would whimper like small children, and sometimes the pain was so great that outside the tent, the shrieking and crying sounded nearly inhuman.
“What a mercy to have Morphine,” Amy thought, although there were cases when no amount of medication was completely effective. This morning had been one of those cases.
As she pushed the wheeled dressing cart from cot to cot, Dr. Angel would request the solutions and tools needed for debridement and treatment. Much of the wound cleansing and treatment could be done during surgery, and this had improved the outcome for many of the soldiers. As soon as possible within the first hours of the wound occurring, the debris was extracted in surgery, under anesthesia, then a rubber tube or several were inserted, into which the dark liquid antiseptic was pumped every two hours, keeping the wound bathed continuously. The drains were arranged so that the liquid wouldn’t run out, and a dressing of non-absorbent cotton applied. Amy was proud of the number of soldiers they were able to treat effectively and avoid amputation. Although, for many of them, it just meant being ready to return to the front all the sooner.
She was musing over this very thought as Dr. Angel’s comment brought her back to the task at hand.
“Why don’t you start with the Dakin’s, Nurse Hollindale, and then I can take a better look at this one.”
Carroll-Dakin’s was the antiseptic solution of choice for cleansing wounds, and Dr. Angel would typically request the Carroll-Dakin routine as a precaution to prevent wound infection. The supply trains were late, and the medicines were running low after the vast numbers of newly wounded had arrived. That morning during wound rounds, she had stocked the cart with the remaining Dakin’s solution. The laboratory technician typically mixed it up every morning fresh, and as he handed it to her suggested she use it
“What a god-send that amazing chemical is! The trains should be here with our next shipment anytime,” she had told him with confidence, as she had loaded the bottles on her cart. The instrument tray was covered by a sterile towel, (although so much of what they did in the hospital was better described as aseptic and certainly not sterile); the tray contained one rat-tooth and one plain forceps, probe, hemostat, scissors, sterile covers, rubber gloves, irrigation syringe, tincture of iodine and alcohol sponges.
Amy had earned the top scores in her materia medical course, and was fascinated by the workings of the newer, improved pharmaceuticals. Although nursing had taken leaps in the last war, the complexities of many of their new treatments using antiseptic solutions helped heal wounds which in the past would have festered and caused inevitable death. She constantly blessed modern day medicine, which made caring for the horrendous wounds from the battlefield hopeful. Nearly all the amputations and surgical wound debridements were performed with ether or chloroform, so the poor boys would generally survive the shock of pain and surgery. Anesthesia had developed into a science and antiseptic technique had changed outcomes drastically. Amputation was a last resort, not like previous wars where the soldier met the saw immediately. But, oh, how she hated the sickly sweet smell of the amputation barn! This delicate sense of smell was her nemesis. She could do nothing to diminish the daily assaults. Every outbuilding, every tent, even the laundry hut had the stench of decay and death. She shook her thoughts aside and attended to the young soldier. Morphine first, that was her motto.
The young private’s weeping wound was a pile of brownish-yellow gauze on the lateral abdominal wall. Not something that could be stitched together and covered with healthy skin, just a wreckage of mangled flesh which they would try desperately to repair. He would not have survived surgery anyway, and Amy was afraid he would be another soldier that they futilely treated. He was burned over the chest and abdomen, from a shelling which had taken out many of his battalion. Her least favorite wounds were abdominal; they so often went bad no matter how conscientious the nurses cared for them. The soldiers all received antitetanic serum, the date marked on their medical tag. But there was no injection to prevent wounds from becoming septic. Remembering back to the four points of wound treatment from her nursing training, (a) the arrest of hemorrhage; (b) the prevention of infection; (c) the approximation of the wound margins; and (d) the application of a protective dressing, “Well,” Amy thought, “We surely won’t meet all the criteria. But he isn’t hemorrhaging and we can at least put a clean dressing on.”
He had received an initial dressing presumably at the field hospital, Amy was unsure of the time frame as it had not been marked on his medical card, but the opportunity for infection to produce this level of pus and putrification meant likely a couple of days had passed. All the drainage present on the initial dressing had dried to create a woven fabric of dead skin and torn flesh, and even though she had soaked the wound thoroughly with normal saline solution prior to attempting removal, it was not unlike mother’s butchery efforts at home when the pork skin and hair had to be removed from the fat to dump in the pot for soap making. She was feeling all thumbs as she tried to find the end of the matted gauze.
Amy always medicated her patients prior to the wound rounds. She had read on his tag that the soldier’s name was Scotty and he was only 19, he had dropped into a haze of unconsciousness since they delivered him from the ambulance this morning.
As she started to gently separate the remaining dressing, he sprang out of his desperately quiet state and sat straight up, grabbing her arms and screaming in an agony of pain.
As quickly as he acted, Dr. Angel reacted, getting a firm hold on the soldier’s torso and pulling him back, quickly administering another, larger dose of intramuscular morphine. She was shaken, and Amy spoke softly saying “It’s all right, Scotty, I’m trying to help you. You are in the hospital. We are here to help you.”
The soldier began to sob, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, so sorry,” and dropped back into his prior state of lethargy.
Amy’s eyes filled and her arms were bruised, but not more than her heart. How she hated to be the cause of pain instead of alleviating it! Dr. Angel gave her a concerned, questioning look, but she nodded she was ready to proceed.
Once uncovered, the center of the wound had the white round movement which Amy recognized as the beginnings of maggot formation, and she checked with Dr. Angel before using any of the Dakin’s. He agreed, they would redress the wound and let the maggots do their work, which sometimes proved far more useful than any of their own debriding and cleansing attempts. Besides, they might need to spread their solution a long way today.
The outer edges of the wound and burned areas received the careful administration of Ambrine. From the cart, the water bath was prepared and the paraffin, rosin, and wax cut into small pieces were placed in the enamel cup and brought to a temperature of 140 degrees. Amy carefully brushed the solution over the burned areas with the soft brush that she had soaked in antiseptic solution. Her soldier lay inert as she ministered to him, only an occasional sigh escaping his lips. Tomorrow she and he would both have a much easier time redressing these wounds, and she was satisfied as she carefully placed the last bandage.
Amy offered an apology to Dr. Angel for not realizing the young soldier needed a larger dose of morphine, and she was a little embarrassed by her reaction to everything. She so disliked making emotional displays and always prided herself with performing tasks on a professional level.
“Please excuse my lack of insight, Dr. Angel, I had assumed he was not conscious and could handle the dressing change with a little less morphine. Thank you for acting so quickly,” she said apologetically.
“You couldn’t have known he had that much strength in him, did he hurt your arms, Amy?” He looked at her with great consideration as he thought to himself how much she made his day brighter, and even though the tasks at hand were gruesome, they enjoyed bantering together when the conversation was just between them.
Dr. Angel always called her Amy when he wasn’t in front of patients or Mrs. Hartman, but Amy called him Doctor even though he had said many times she could call him John, it just felt too familiar to her, and besides, wouldn’t Matron Withers positively haunt her dreams if a nursing student of hers called a doctor by his first name?
“Oh, they might have a little bruise, is all. He might have successfully pulled them out of their sockets without you there, though. I thought he was much less responsive, my fault. What do you think about that wound?”
“I wouldn’t place a bet on it healing. It’s a shame he didn’t get here earlier.”
Amy respected Dr. Angel, and knew he generally made a very accurate diagnosis. He was always caring, and showed great compassion to the wounded. She had seen him shake his head and go to the next cot more than once, distressed that they could do so little for some of the men. He was powerfully built, and could easily manage to overcome a thrashing patient, but she had seen him hold a child as gentle as a mother when they treated the little French children from the town, sometimes with wounds, sometimes with gastritis from eating grass or cooking up the beetles they collected to put in their watery soup. Starvation was a common ailment among the French people whose food stores had been overtaxed for the past 4 years. She never once saw a plump French child.
After completing the rounds, Amy scrubbed her hands, feeling like Lady Macbeth, unable to hide the bloody traces. At least they had plenty of the green soap; potash and olive oil not difficult to come by. She spent a few moments applying the special preparation she and Elsie used on their chapped hands. Amos, the laboratory technician, got them the sulfurous acid to mix with the glycerin, and they used the cream liberally. It was amazing, how inventive one could be when supplies were limited.
“No rose oils available here, just what is prudent will do, although I do so miss the smell of flowers. Not perfume, real flowers.” Her practical thoughts wandered to the local environment, sometimes obtaining simple ingredients seemed monumental. She detested the strong perfumes used by the French women whose company some of the servicemen paid for. Amy had said to Elsie just yesterday after completing a treatment on one of the men,
“Soap would have gone a lot farther than perfume for his girlfriend, although in most of their cases, probably some douching with permanganate would be a better idea.”
Amy recalled the base hospital where she was first introduced to the treatment for gonorrhea; an injection with a small glass syringe of permanganate of potassium, 1 grain in 8 ounces of water, several times a day into the urethra. The men may have enjoyed themselves for a time but certainly weren’t after arriving at the hospital with the usual list of complaints: feverish, complaining of loss of appetite, constipation, and burning pain with a discharge of thick, whitish or yellowish pus as they passed water.
She often thought back to the French Doctor, Le Pileure’s quote, “Without a doubt it would be better to be chaste, but chastity is like peace, we always talk about it, and we don’t often keep it.”
The prevalence of venereal diseases among the troops was somewhat appalling. Most of them were instructed by their officers about the hazards of these “love trysts”, but it must seem a small price to pay for a few moments of escape from this fiendish war. It got them away from the front for a few days of treatment, a somewhat warmer bed and semi- regular meals for a week, at any rate.
“The things we never learned much about in nursing school,” she said and Elsie had agreed.
That initial shock of Base Hospital 18 had been her baptism by fire. She would be quoted many years later, to another generation, “I saw sights no woman should have seen” and no man either, for that matter.
Training days January 1918
Prior to arriving in France, there were many weeks in New York, at the Hospital training area, and it all seemed so long ago now. The army hoped to prepare their new recruits, and Amy would never have guessed at the time that what she saw and did would seem like child’s play compared to the evacuation hospital.
In New York, she and Elsie bunked in a room together, at the Holley Hotel (although it certainly seemed more like the old nursing dormitory than a hotel, with so many of the medical staff wandering the halls). They worked long hours at the hospital, like all the other enlisted nurses awaiting transport to the European campaign. So many dismembered young men, so many shell shock and burned beyond family’s recognition, all eventually spending many weeks there at the hospital receiving rehabilitation and retraining. Some of them would never have faces, or lives, that could truly be restored.
The young male patients frequently became too attached to their angels of mercy, and the nurses were careful to encourage many letters home and tried to arrange activities to cheer their wards. For many of the demoralized soldiers’, their one condolence was knowing they would not have to return to the front, and for that some of them were openly thankful. The ideal of war had been shattered by their time in the trenches, and many of them were just glad to be alive.
New York had been a kind of adventure. Boston was a poor country cousin in comparison, and even though it was wartime, and they all were hearing bitterly harsh stories from their wounded patients, the nurses were able to get away a few evenings and enjoy theatre and music in the big city. They actually had a half day off a week. A great play was a wonderful escape from the day’s dreariness for many of them. They had been waiting since mid-January, and false rumors of transport to France seemed a weekly occurrence. All the additional training, the drills, learning their gas masks technique, had been condensed into a two week time frame. Then finally in April the news came, they would be departing within a few days, and everyone was a bustle of nervous activity. Amy got a message to her family, who planned to see her off. The medical staff took the ferry to Holboken, New Jersey, where they would meet their ship.
Crowds surrounding the docks were separating from the departing troops, and the shear number of humanity was daunting to Amy. From the upper stories of the industrial buildings, workers hung out of the windows wishing all the troops well, and a band was blaring songs as the waiting crowds of friends and family cheered, tossing flowers and kisses to everyone. There were scenes of lovers parting, women holding infants on their hips and hugging the soldier-fathers for one last time, proud mothers watching as their young and idealistic sons marched up the gangplanks into their new steel home.
The Crossing, April 1918
Amy recalled not that many years ago landing and departing another ship, walking from the gangplank to Ellis Island with father, mother, her 2 sisters and brother, and the new baby sister, Patty. Mother and the baby had been ill through much of the crossing, as had so many others in the ship. She shuddered to think of being closed again in the bowels of a ship with the stench of vomit and unwashed bodies.
There was no war then, and she had been able to walk freely above ship at that crossing, who knows what would be the regulation with the navy and army deciding their fate.
“I think almost anything can be tolerated for less than 2 weeks, though,” Amy cheered herself with the thought.
It seemed strange to be heading back to the continent where she had lived most of her life, and stranger still to think of the last 3 years and what so many of her English friends, classmates, neighbors, and relatives had endured in those first harsh years of the war. Amy had read the papers like everyone else, but the family had also kept abreast of the war through the letters of relatives. In 1916 Sheffield had been bombed by German zeppelins. She had lost three cousins and a great number of her friends from her township already.
How could Leon even question her need to enlist? What a privilege for women to have the chance to serve in the army as nurses. It was both her countries at war, they needed her, and she now had the skill and training to make a difference.
She felt a tug on her heart as she remembered their last time together. Leon had already enlisted and was ready to ship out for training, when she broke the news of her plans. They had been sitting on a chaise in the unused anteroom of the nursing dorm holding each other, whispering their plans to be together as soon as the war was over, as man and wife, when Amy blurted out “I have spoken to Matron Withers, and have the necessary papers, I plan to enlist as a nurse in the army corps now that school is completed”. The stunned silence was broken by a sort of bellow sound, like the pump organ in her parents’ parlor.
“The hell you are!” and Leon jumped up and started ranting about women in the war, particularly at the front, women’s place at home, women asking for permission before arranging everyone’s life, none of which settled well with Amy.
And he called her bullheaded, stubborn, ridiculously idealistic; the list went on and on. She was not one to raise her voice, even in the heat of arguing. She became silent as a stone. She inwardly believed the entire conversation to be the most unbelievable blustering diatribe on his part, considering he hadn’t asked any one’s opinion on enlisting, and as he finished with the climactic remark, “No woman of mine will be enlisting in the army.”
She said in a voice that was deathly quiet, “I was not asking for permission. I was informing you now, rather than writing it in a letter once you are no longer here. I am sorry you feel that way. Since you make it plain that no fiancé of yours will be serving their country, I release you of your obligation towards me.”
He stood there, a slack-jawed dullard, not comprehending what she was saying, as she removed her ring and placed it in his hand.
They were matched for stubbornness, each deeply offended by the other. They had not had another time to talk seriously before he departed for training at Fort Slocum. Hurtful things had been said, and both of them felt much wronged by the other. Although she promised to write, she knew a great chasm had formed between them. It was a physical ache in her being, to feel this separateness, but now there was an ocean and a war between them, and the uncertainty of them both surviving this time was weighing on her heart.
The entire family had waved her off, her sisters with many tears, her parents much more stoic. They had already sent Harry off to war, and had not expected to be offering their daughter as a sacrificial lamb. She had told them of her plans shortly after the painful disclosure to Leon, and had suffered some additional berating. Her father had been stunned into silence. Her mother was more animated. But they listened, and Amy was able to make them understand how torn she felt, having the means to save some lives, versus staying comfortably at home instead; it was just not an option for her. She had to go. Besides, she assured them, it would not be so dangerous, they didn’t put nurses at the front lines and they had much more to worry about with Harry over there.
They had encouraged her in the nursing training and now, realizing she was free to choose her own path, granted their blessing, secretly feeling pride that their daughter was serving with some of the first women in the American Expeditionary Forces. Amy knew that her mother had been in many risky situations as a midwife and local herb expert, caring for the diseased and homebound in their English country shire. Why, the last episode of typhus in their local village was likely more dangerous than her plans to join the Army. She realized her mother more than anyone understood this need of Amy’s to heal where there was opportunity to do so.
They had hugged each other tightly and Amy promised she would write, and be home before they knew it. She glanced over the ship rail, and could see them all at this distance moving like marionettes, with flags and handkerchiefs waving them off.
Like a line of ants, the troops entered the ship, were shown to their berthing compartments and Amy with the rest of the medical team received orientation to the ships’ locations of washrooms, mess halls, and the abandon ship stations, and also shown where to store their haversacks, gear, etc. There would be daily drills for everyone on board, including the medical staff. The female nurses naturally had separate berthing compartments. Amy stored her trunk and sat on the firm surface of her bed to begin her first letter home to her parents and sisters, they would enjoy her impressions of the trip and arrival in France. After the long wait in New York, it seemed like a dream: they were finally off.
The bustle of the day had worn them all down. Amy carefully placed the caduceus pin that designated her as an officer in the nursing corps (the winged staff and serpent with an “N” to depict the U.S. Army Nursing Corps, worn on her outdoor uniform) in her small
personal tin, and hung her uniform on the hook strategically placed for just such a purpose, then she and Elsie put on their night clothes and fell into their berths. Most of their gear had been issued to them at camp, one could not bring beyond the number of items allotted as there was insufficient space for storage. It had seemed somewhat sparse to Amy, she took a quick inventory: one pair of above the ankle brown lace-up boots, a second pair half height, and galoshes, a couple pair of gloves, a mere half dozen woolen stockings, two woolen undershirts, two petticoats, three night jackets, a corset, two nursing caps, a felt hat and heavy worsted wool coat (Army issue, navy colored), two woolen skirts and half a dozen blouses of durable linen fabric with cuffed sleeve, (grey colored versus white, as the usual white uniform had proved to be quite impractical early in the war), a woolen dress, both white aprons and a couple of colored aprons, a bedding roll, a toilet gear kit, shoe cleaning and mending kits, the mess kit (including a metal knife, fork, spoon, cup, and canteen); handful of washcloths, a collapsible rubber basin, writing implements, pocket knife, lantern, military song book and new testament, note book, assorted bandage packets, and of course her identity tag around her neck.
“All my earthly possessions,” she smiled to herself. For the next year, she would work, eat, sleep, and live a new kind of existence in an Army hospital.
She and Elsie were exhausted. Amy lay quietly listening to the muted sounds of men working, laughing; she knew many would not sleep tonight.
“Elsie, are you asleep?” she whispered.
Chuckling, “No, I can’t believe this is actually happening. There was a time when I thought we wouldn’t end up being sent over. Now I’m scared. Are you scared, Amy?”
“A little, I guess, yes. But more so, I worry about knowing everything we should, will we make mistakes, will we know how to treat these men, and be good nurses? I wish I had a few years to back me up, I feel like we’ve been well trained, but I need experience. I wish I had been a nurse for the past 10 years, instead of a few months. I guess this is the best way for us to get experience, though.”
“Maybe more than we want, huh? I hope we won’t be sorry we didn’t stay state-side. I will miss some of the fun we had getting to know the city. Of course, this is just such an adventure!”
“You know, when we saw all the wounded men back at base camp, with their scarred faces and missing limbs, I thought of my brother Harry, and Leon, fighting in the trenches, laying without care in some mud hole, and it made me desperate to get over there right away. We will have the means to relieve some suffering, and give our part. That’s going to really be something, Elsie. I think we should be scared, it would be foolish not to be, but we should also be confident that we are doing the right thing.”
“You always sound sure of yourself, Amy. That’s what I love about you, I was feeling scared and homesick and now I’ve had the pep talk about serving my country and helping the boys. You should work in the recruiter’s office, or maybe you could be in one of the short films we’ve been seeing ad nauseam, that encourage us all to help the war effort,” Elsie said with a smothered laugh.
They laughed together, and whispered of some of their past experiences in the recent months of training; learning to use gas masks, and how funny they had looked to each other, like giant grasshoppers; reviewing what to do in an air raid, some of the military drills had seemed ridiculous at the time. So many new skills had been acquired since working in the base hospital in New York, they were sure they were more than prepared. They were more than equipped to handle whatever they met in the upcoming months, and were naively feeling better as they said goodnight. They both stayed awake for a long while with their own private thoughts and fears, but eventually the gentle rocking of the ship and the lapping of the waves had them lulled to sleep.
The clean salt air was a bracing relief from the musty stench of below deck. Amy watched the waves undulating, meeting together and peaking in frothy whiteness. Colors of the sky reflected her moods, pale yellow solar warmth, icy blue green, some afternoons as grey black as the heavy rain clouds hanging above the horizon. As far as her eye could see, this dark, unknown entity, the sea, over which they bobbed, plummeted and glided, seemed a mirror in response to her changing moods.
The drudgery of the crossing was reflected in most of the crew and medical staff’s
bipolar moods. They tried to be cheerful, and then after another day of redundant drills, greasy shipboard meals, fellow bunk mates losing the same consumed greasy meal, many of them found it difficult to remain pleasant. Amy wondered if this sailing would never end, and then she would think about what awaited them, and wonder how quickly they would all look back at this time as perhaps a holiday.
But they had all been training and waiting for so long that the frustration of not actually being there, and the close quarters amid the shipmates, was fraying on everyone’s nerves. All were aware of an underlying tenseness, out on the open sea, even with their military escort and strength in numbers (there were 5 ships total in the convoy initially), that other ships had not made the crossing safely. They were targets out here for the German subs, and all the drills on earth would not likely save them if they were actually hit.
This beginning sense of life’s vulnerability would pervade most of her waking moments in the months to come. One morning, the gulls accompanied her on her walk about the deck, a sign that land was close at hand. The shore reached out to them, the sun reflecting from silvery cliffs, blinding her.
France at last.
Nearly everyone was clamoring to see, hanging from the ship’s railing, and hollering excitedly. Amy recalled this same feeling, pulling into New York’s harbor several years ago with her family, with the excitement of a long awaited goal realized. They had reached the land of opportunity that Ellen, “Nellie” and John Charles, “Charlie” Hollindale had dreamed of. Harry could be a graphic artist, and not just a minion in the silverworks of Sheffield (the town known for making cutlery since the 1300’s). Their daughters would have opportunities in America that would never be realized in England. Although nervous with trepidation, there was a sense of satisfaction, the first leg of a long journey a fait accompli. That time, long ago, had been punctuated since with many successes. They had managed to buy the Victorian eight-sided house from the landlord, after he had rented them a mere shanty upon arrival. Amy still remembered mother cursing that same landlord while they were cleaning up the hovel (including the bed-bug infested mattresses) which she turned into a tidy, cozy home when they were first situated in America.
Mother had started a business of refurbishing homes, the landlord soon realizing she could help him get much more money for his houses if they were cleaned, painted, and wall-papered. In her spare time she was still doing midwifery, with living examples of many little children walking the streets of Taunton whose mothers had been aided during the birthing process by Nellie Hollindale. Some of those same children followed father as he walked to work at the Walton and Reed, receiving a candy from his well supplied pockets. Harry had been schooled in graphic artistry, and after the war would pursue his career. The girls were growing up happy and receiving fine educations. Amy had seen her own dream realized. She had worked hard, doing aide work in the state hospital to meet the school’s pre-requirements. Due to ill health, (a case of rheumatic fever as a child) she had been tutored at home for a number of years in England and her educational records were not acceptable; hence she had needed to “prove” her abilities. Well, she had shown them, she thought rather smugly, and completed nurses training with honors from an excellent school, now thousands of miles away, crossing again that same vast ocean. She would soon be stepping onto French soil, beginning a life of many unknown adventures.
As the ship unloaded her vast cargo, the medical staff and soldiers were hailed by some of the people of Brest. An occasional pretty French girl would manage to give a kiss to a willing young soldier, and the mood was surprisingly festive among the arrivals. Everyone was thrilled to be off the boat, and nearing their final destination. They would spend only a brief time in the city before being transported via truck and train to the first of the hospital assignments, in Amy’s case, Base Hospital 18.
Hours and hours later, following a truck and train excursion which rattled their teeth and extended their bone weary fatigue to the point of collapse, they arrived at their first assignment.
Colonel John Finney was director of the John Hopkins Unit at Base Hospital 18 in France. The arrival of new recruits was welcomed with enthusiasm, the current medical staff of the base hospital had worked consecutively for over 30 hours, and the wounded still poured in. Amy and Elsie were assigned to a surgical ward, and given only as much time as it took to dump their belongings in the temporary tents which would serve as home for the next month. As Amy looked out over the peaks of the numerous whitish tents, she thought of mother’s egg-white icing, all peaked and pretty, covering a delicious confection. The inside of their tent, however, was not pretty. The rain had been falling this past week, a wet beginning to the summer, and although the hills were green, the trails between the tents and buildings were mucky and brown, and the tent had a musty, earthy smell.
“Well, it will be like camping with Harry in summertime back home, I guess I’ll have to get used to it” she thought, and said to Elsie out loud, “Looks like we’ll hear the birds right outside our door!” Actually, the booming of distant canon fire was what they both heard, but didn’t mention.
Like shrapnel tossed from the hand of God, rain continued to pelt their metal helmets,
and raise the muddy water far past their hobnails. This blasted rain had been steady for the past 6 days. Rivulets forming along the edges of his slicker landed into the tops of his boots, adding to the overall water level, and Leon hunched beneath his poncho, a foolish gesture since he was wet clear through his uniform. His hand touched the button over his left breast, where the picture of his sweetheart was hidden in the locket-button he’d had created from the regulation army private’s uniform. “Probably consider that defacing government property, and have me sent to the brig if they only knew,” Leon smiled secretively.
The one relief rain brought was the brief cleansing of the acrid and putrid stench in the trenches. Unwashed bodies, stale blood mixed with other bodily fluids and excrement, cigarette smoke and decaying flesh, no one could adequately describe the smells. He methodically sorted through the living and dead to prepare the wounded for the
stretchers. He wondered how many rotting bodies lay underneath the thick mud that might never be claimed. Most of the boys moaned quietly, if at all, too far gone to scream objections as they lifted the battered bodies out of the hole. At the other end of the stretcher, Danny grabbed the young privates arm that hung tenuously by a few ligaments, it wouldn’t be there tomorrow, but then, by the looks of his gaping side wound, it didn’t matter.
“I think this one lied about his age, couldn’t be a day over 16,” Leon spoke out loud to no one in particular. The sallow, mud caked face of the young boy barely had the development of whiskers. He wondered about the letter that would be sent home to inform the family that their brave boy was gone. Such a blasted waste.
Leon hated getting farther into the pile, for the sites became nearly unbearable as they sorted hope from hopeless. Bloated drowned rats were floating at the top of the trench, and one the size of a small cat scurried out from under the pile of bloodied, ragged uniforms.
“The filthy buggers,” Danny quipped, as another bold well fed rat poked his head out, “they look healthier than we do.” The eyes and exposed flesh off of the dead bodies were often stripped by these offending creatures, and some of the boys played a game of enticing them for food and then shooting them into oblivion.
It was a waste of good shell, but it gave you a warm feeling inside to rid the world of one more rat.
Leon and Danny had been good mates since their training at Boston General Hospital, and had enlisted together. In the past 6 months they had experiences that they never referred to, and both tried to forget.
Danny was responsible for Leon meeting the love of his life. For that Leon would forever be grateful, and he reminisced to that day 2 years ago now, over a lifetime ago.
Boston General Hospital 1916
Leon and Danny grabbed their books and exited the anatomy lab. The cadaver reeked of formaldehyde, and Leon was anxious to smell something else. If being a coroner meant getting used to that smell, he might have to reconsider career plans. Classes consisted of biology, anatomy, advanced first aid, business, mathematics, and training as an orderly in the psychiatric ward of the Hospital. Leon was fairly certain that last part of the curriculum was a result of the universal belief that you must be crazy to want to work with dead people. Or possibly, there was no one to staff that part of the hospital, and the use of students was a brilliant plan. Either way, he had to spend three days a week caring for the insane.
The medical training was surprisingly to his liking, and he signed up for a pharmacology class developed for students with plans to go to medical school. The vast amount of reading and homework was making it apparent to Leon that much of his social life could be affected in the near future. His goal was to know every female nursing student, perhaps not in the biblical sense, but at least with an opportunity to “know” them. Danny was much more sensible, and as his very good friend, attempted to keep Leon out of mischief.
As they walked along the five foot brick wall dividing the Psychiatric Hospital from the “normal” people, Leon stopped to stare at the apparition advancing on the other side of the wall. All that was visible was the most glorious hair, the color of the golden orb as it exited the pale salmon sky, with a hint of red.
“I need to find out what the rest of that looks like,” stated Leon, as he ran the remaining distance of the wall to peer down the other side. Danny hurried behind him, but when he got to the other side and saw the departing trim figure with the siren’s hair, Danny moaned “That’s Amy Hollindale, and she’ll have nothing to do with the likes of you. She takes her studies very seriously.”
The gauntlet was delivered; nothing was more to Leon’s liking than a challenge.
Leon pumped Danny for all the information he knew about Amy. Danny had her in his Materia Medical class, she was English, “quite the dish,” but he claimed she was totally brilliant and only interested in the top grades, the finest performance, and seemed to have no interest whatsoever in any of the male students.
“Good,” Leon thought, “There won’t be anyone in my way.”
Later that evening, he dressed with care and walked to the Nurses’ dorm where the dragon-lady, Matron Withers, kept record of all her nursing students’ whereabouts. Leon happened to know by first hand experience that she wasn’t omniscient, or able to prevent her students from having a good time on their one-half day off a week, not if he could help them.
“Good-evening, Matron Withers. It was such a fine day today; I hope you were able to enjoy it a bit.” Leon spoke in his most courteous and winning voice, flashing a handsome smile at the fierce looking woman with the intensely staring dark eyes.
Matron Withers was rather tall and angular, looking the part of the spinster she indeed was, and also a successful 36 year old nurse, who had dedicated herself to the development of her nursing students. She congratulated herself on each of their accomplishments and took partial credit, knowing she had kept them on the straight and narrow path during their early nursing careers. She prided herself on a nursing dormitory which was run efficiently and with the highest moral standards, and felt personally responsible to each of her girls’ parents who left her in the charge of their precious daughters. She did not appreciate Mr. Richards unsettling the girls, and thought he was here on her doorstep way too frequently.
“What brings you here this evening?” She had no intention of letting him waltz in. She knew what he was about, even if he did have charming manners and was considered handsome by her entire dormitory. Those poor girls were so easily taken in.
“I was hoping to speak with one of your nursing students, Matron Withers,” humbly spoken while flashing another smile at her.
“And which one might that be, seeing you have a notion that they are all waiting with baited breath for you to come calling?” He was always polite, that much she appreciated, but she was very skeptical of his motives, all the same, knowing he had somewhat of a reputation as a “lady’s man”.
“Amy Hollindale.” He said the name with a careful detachment, aware that the gatekeeper could send him off, if he seemed too eager.
“Humph. I doubt she wishes to speak to you, Mr. Richards,” was the dragon’s terse reply.
“Well, I think she should have the opportunity to tell me that herself,” he politely persisted.
“Very well. You wait right here.” She set her thin lips disapprovingly, and pivoted in a flourish of black gabardine skirt, on her practical black buttoned heels with her severely combed black hair pinned at the nape of her neck, and went marching up the stairs.
He was left standing in the foyer, which for the dragon-lady seemed almost welcoming to Leon, “She must be finally wearing down from the barrage of charm and pleasantness I continually approach her with,” he laughed to himself.
Matron Withers knocked on the door of Amy’s room.
“Yes, come in” was the quiet reply. She was curled up on the side chair perusing an anatomy lesson.
Matron Withers got right to the point.
“There is a male student downstairs who wishes to speak to you. I must tell you he has a very poor reputation among the staff, and he would not be worthy of your company. He insisted I come tell you he was here. I have however told him you would not be the least interested in seeing him. His name is Leon Richards. I doubt you know of him. He is a worthless rogue, and has tried to go out with every nursing student in this building, and tried to do more than that, and I am personally affronted by the audacity he shows in asking to meet you. He is simply interested in one thing, and I forbid another of my nursing students to be a pawn in his game of male championship”. Matron Withers completed her tirade by folding her arms across her chest, looking closed and cross.
“You don’t mean you forbid me to meet him, do you Matron Withers?” Amy asked sweetly. She respected the Matron, and was very happy to be considered one of her pet projects, but was well aware of what the matron was able to enforce, and choosing Amy’s affiliations was not within her power. Nor was Amy going to allow anyone, including Matron Withers, to say to her “I forbid it”.
“I don’t mean I forbid it,” she sputtered. “I think it wise for you to send me down to tell him you have no desire to meet him,” she said in a conciliatory tone.
“Well, now I am just a bit curious to meet this rogue. I will come down,” Amy stated with unarguable certainty.
Matron Wither’s approach had the exact opposite of the desired effect. Amy was deferring to someone of authority but also determined to make up her own mind and since early teen years had even been encouraged by her parents to make independent decisions. Even though she had the appearance of a well brought up and proper young woman, Amy furtively read much of the suffragette’s literature and was a great proponent of women making their own paths, not ones which were determined by others. Women should appreciate their own minds and abilities, and she was sometimes described as “head strong” because she believed this philosophy wholeheartedly.
Leon was still waiting in the foyer, and was taken aback at the vision gliding down the stairway. The hair was not the only glorious part of this woman, she had a sensuous, feminine figure that even the high-necked utilitarian grey poplin blouse could not hide, and a trim waist that centered over hips swaying with grace in every movement. Typical of Leon, he had perused the body first, and then was arrested by beautiful wide-set eyes that matched the grey poplin, with a fringe of reddish lashes, eyes bright with life, and a flash of good humored curiosity in them. Her nose tipped up slightly, above soft full lips, all painted to perfection in a backdrop of porcelain white skin.
“My God,” he thought, “how could I have not seen this before?” He actually found himself speechless.
“I understand you are Mr. Richards?” She said in her lovely British accent, which Leon decided was the perfect accompaniment to her perfect body and face.
“Get yourself together, you oaf!” he silently said to himself.
“Yes, I’m Leon Richards, my good friend Danny has you in a class and said you are the top student, and I was hoping you would agree to tutor me in the pharmaceutical class.” “What did I just say?” Leon could not believe he just asked her to be his tutor, but it came out unbidden. He heard the dragon lady thump off into her cave with a sound which resembled a strangled cough, he actually thought she might have laughed at him. Well, no wonder, such a fool he was making of himself.
“I am fairly busy with my studies, but I might agree to help you on one night a week, I’m not sure exactly what you would need.”
She really didn’t have the time, but he was roguishly handsome when he smiled and something about his deep brown eyes was so reminiscent of her beloved brother Harry, that she surprised herself by agreeing. She was also a little puzzled by this turn of events, and thought perhaps Matron Withers was wrong about him, and he actually was a serious student. She had always been partial to young men with wide brown eyes. She inwardly sighed, she so missed her “little brother” Harry, whom she had absolutely adored her whole life, and could barely think of him, a young man in a soldier’s uniform now.
“I only have Tuesday evenings that would suffice, my other evenings are a rather late shift at the hospital, and I save my half day off for family and catching up, so, if that is agreeable to you, I do hope Danny’s opinion of me will prove accurate.” And she gave him a warm smile.
Leon thought about Danny’s description of her, and decided his friend had completely underestimated her appeal; “quite the dish” was a total understatement. A renaissance nude by Rembrandt crossed his mind, with all that red hair falling over her ivory shoulders, that’s how he’d like to see her. But he said, “Tuesdays would work very well for me, after 6 pm, would you like me to call here?”
“That would be fine, there’s an anteroom in the back that I believe we could use, I will obtain Matron Wither’s approval, or the library if not.”
“Oh my,” Amy thought, “I hope I will be able to convince the Matron that he is not some ogre after my female virtue!”
It was decided, Leon could not believe his good fortune, and he fairly skipped back to the men’s dorm to holler at Danny about his latest conquest (however, he was not completely honest with his friend about the tutoring aspect of the meetings. He could not have stood the laughter and plaguing that would have taken place). It would be a long while before Danny discovered what their initial Tuesday night rendezvous consisted of.
There would follow the next several weeks of pretense at tutoring, at least on Leon’s part as the tutored, although he learned something in spite of himself. It was obvious from the first meeting that she did not think of him as a suitor, and he tread carefully lest she expel him altogether. She had a wonderful, quick mind matched by her sense of humor and he had to work sometimes just to keep up with her. He found that he truly liked her, and surprisingly wasn’t just interested in making advances; he knew he had met a “quality” woman that could not be trifled with. He had a history with many women, although
having met Amy he would say he had met lots of “girls” before, that this was his first real woman.
She had that serious side of her nature, and despised it when he teased her about being so “English”, and “to lighten up a bit”. In fact, he recognized she was such an idealist that he worried she would be sorely disappointed in humanity as she experienced more of it (he felt his experiences in life had made him a bit cynical, but certainly more realistic). She was an enigma which he wanted desperately to understand. Underlying her soft curves and warm spirit was a will of iron. He had no reason to have serious disagreement with her, for which he was quite glad; he would probably lose the argument in any case. Her opinions about the topics they discussed were well thought through and substantiated by her vast love of reading. They often laughed about getting off track and into sometimes heated discussions regarding women and the vote, morality in the current culture, and typically concluded the evening with the knowledge that they had solved the wealth of the world’s problems together. She wormed her way into his heart, and before he realized what was happening, he was irrevocably and passionately in love with her.
As the world continued in its insane pace of destruction, Leon completed his studies for the quarter and knew it was time to make a decision. He could stay in school, and possibly be conscripted anyway, or he could enlist to go “over there”, serve his country and help end this lunacy which seemed to be spreading to all parts of the earth. He had never been too politically minded, but nearly everyone kept abreast of the latest news that was plastered every morning as front page headlines. The sinking of the Lusitania had not convinced all the American people that war was inevitable, not even following the heightened submarine warfare and horror tales from the European front. The final straw would seem to be the Zimmerman telegram which was published news on March first, the German Foreign Minister Zimmerman offering US territory to Mexico in return for aligning themselves with the German cause. Public opinion changed dramatically. The US congress declared war on Germany and its allies April 6, 1917, with the full support of the American public. That was 8 months ago, and Leon felt it was well past the time to dilly dally over the decision. He would not complete his schooling, but that could not be remedied. He could no longer be neutral, and felt duty-bound to join the ranks of many of his classmates and home town friends, although he did not harbor grandiose ideas of being a hero. He felt he was anything but an idealist, and did not buy into all the newspaper propaganda about the grandness of war. He suspected it was an ugly undertaking, and if history proved him right, this war would be no different from any other, with inconceivable loss and destruction.
At Thanksgiving holiday he would have the opportunity to tell his family and his sweetheart. He remembered Amy stoically listening as he explained what he planned to do, and then crumpling in a heap as he held her close, and promised to live through the upcoming months, to come back for her, to have a life together. She apologized for her emotional outburst, but he was secretly satisfied that her heart would be broken just as his would be, when it came time to actually leave her. He was officially enlisted on December 6, 1917. She had announced her own decision only two weeks later.
Evacuation Hospital 6
Dr. John Angel had completed the wound rounds and was headed off to the surgical tent to spell Dr. Hampton. He loved working with Amy Hollindale, one of the finer nurses trained at his hospital back home. She was so capable and yet so tender. Sometimes he wanted to whisk her away from the dreaded sights of the wounded, but she never hesitated to stand next to him and deal with whatever horrendous mauled piece of flesh presented itself. He remembered the first day he had seen Nurse Hollindale arriving at Evac 6. She had been transferred with a few other nurses from base hospital 18 as the wounded poured in and the staff were utterly exhausted. It still was not nearly enough, but everyone was thankful to see a few more trained nurses and one surgeon arrive.
“This is a far cry from Boston City Hospital.” It was his first greeting to Amy
Hollindale. He recognized her petite form with the stunning golden-red hair and was too happy to see her. Her soft grey eyes had the startled look of a fledgling swallow after the mother bird had sent it out to the big wide world with a firm shove from the nest. Amy immediately recognized him, with genuine surprise. She appeared simultaneously pleased and less anxious. Familiarity was discouraged by the Chief Nurse, Mrs. Lona Hartman, but he would have an opportunity to talk with Amy later, when the beady, scrutinizing eyes of Mrs. Hartman were elsewhere. Anyway, he was in charge here, thinking “What a curious thing, to have that woman terrorizing me about the nursing staff.”
Since he could certainly have the final decision in scheduling, or requesting specific personnel at his discretion, he was able to manipulate spending a portion of nearly every day with Amy Hollindale. He looked forward to seeing her fresh face, which always lifted his spirit, and working in some proximity with her whenever possible. He had enjoyed catching moments away from Mrs. Hartman’s penetrating gaze, and gotten to know Amy more in these past weeks. Her English efficiency and professionalism was only enhanced by that well hidden tender part of her that surfaced at times like this morning. She was an amazing young woman, full of surprises.
The moment of entry into the surgical ward sometimes reminded him of a night at the Wang Theatre back home in Boston. Gas lamps with golden ethereal rays lined the walls, eyes needing to adjust to the dim light couldn’t focus immediately and then a realization as they focused on the ten tables with the varied stages of surgery occurring. The dark khaki blankets covering the door openings to prevent light from the enemy overhead created a sultry and mystic atmosphere. There the comparison ended. No gilded carved cherubims hanging on the walls, no glittering chandeliers lighting the velvet covered seats, and no carefully washed, perfumed and plumed female persons to exchange light hearted banter with. Chloroform mixed with sweat, a little sweet scent of ether tossed in, blended all together in a wash of acrid blood which covered the surgeon’s gowns, the blankets, and the buckets of partial limbs to be removed by the orderlies, smells that always met him at the door, and the sight always caught him off guard, even after thousands of hours spent in the operating theater. Nearly slipping on the bloodied wooden floor, he grouched at an orderly, “Come mop this mess up!”
Dr. Charles Hampton, affectionately known as “Champ” was running the final sutures up a massive chest wound. He was elated to see his friend and coworker arrive, which meant he would have a chance to grab a smoke and relieve himself. He had been sweating for some time under the electric bulbs of the surgical tables until the electricity had gone out, there were still a back up of surgical cases, and the gas lamps slowed everyone down a bit. He gave a quick slap on the back to his replacement. “All yours, Arc.” (The nickname had stuck; Champ had dubbed him Arc Angel since their first introduction early in the war. Dr. Angel had been hovering over some patient, unwilling to turn things over to the relief physician, none other than the capable Dr. Hampton, who claimed it was just like trying to enter the Garden of Eden and being prohibited by the Arc Angel). They had become fast friends.
John Angel had always wanted to heal. Growing up in a rural farm town of upstate New York, he had been raised with animals and some of life’s cruelty. He remembered the first day he had to help his mother kill and pluck chickens, and decided then that he would prefer to fix rather than kill and eat; collecting the eggs was a much more humane activity. When he was a young boy of ten, he had tried his hand at simple suturing, his first patient a grey squirrel he saved from the steel-mouthed clutches of their family dog. The poor thing was in too much shock to object, and he had tried his best to patch up the underside where his dog had torn a significant bit of skin apart. He had nursed the squirrel for 3 days, feeding it thin mush several times a day, but the little creature had died in spite of his effort. He gave it a special burial in the herb garden behind the kitchen, simultaneously acquiring a craving for the knowledge to mend and heal. At first his parents humored his desire to check out medical books at the local library, but by the time he was 13 it was apparent to them both that their son would likely go to medical school, and his ambition had never wavered. He had graduated with honors from Harvard Medical School and was practicing at Boston City Hospital when the demand for physicians to enter the war was no longer something he could ignore.
The nurse anesthetist was carefully administering ether via the Allis inhaler, which consisted of a face-piece, a large rubber bag into which the soldier was breathing, and the box which contained the ether. The surgical nurse had the instruments ready, and the team was waiting for him. John scrubbed and gowned, and soon became engrossed in the process of separating fascia lata from the patients left thigh to remove the pieces of shrapnel that the x-ray had located.
Amy dressed in the cleaner of her two uniforms, and buttoned her coat up. She marched across the muddy track that was once a road to the officer’s tent. The Quarter Master, Captain Legg, had been told Lieutenant Hollindale had a request for him, and his curiosity was piqued. He looked up as she entered, and smiled at her formidable stance: as if he was impressed by her five-foot-one, very feminine form. Although she tried to keep her hair in check, soft curls escaped her nurse’s cap in this moist weather, and her pale skin gave her an almost breakable appearance, like a porcelain miniature in his wife’s curio cabinet at home.
“She’s a damn good looking woman, what a shame to be here in this hell-hole,” he thought to himself, but said “What can I do for you, Lieutenant Hollindale?”
“Captain, I would like to take a bit of your time to discuss a specific request regarding acquisition of a storage area.”
The Captain suppressed a laugh; she was so official sounding in her careful British accent, requesting what was little more than a closet.
“And what would this be about?”
“Well, Captain, there are those here who are Christian, and they have no place to worship. There is an unused storage space behind the store rooms which could suffice for a chapel. I would appreciate your authorization to prepare the space for the men to use as they would like, for a quiet place.” She was hoping she did not sound demanding or begging, but she intended to get this space approved.
“I believe this would be possible if the space is not needed for stores. I’ll have a look at it.” He was well aware of the area she requested, it suddenly seemed everyone wanted it, and certainly space was at a premium these days. His corporal had only this week discussed plans for the area. He had every intention of allowing this woman to have whatever she desired, within reason. There was little he could do to help anyone these days, it seemed. He knew her reputation as a nurse to be impeccable and besides, she was a lot better looking than the corporal who had asked for the space, and higher ranking to boot.
True to his word, the Captain looked at the space the next morning, a cheerless room with a tiny grey smudged window, forgotten clutter nearly covering the greasy wooden floors, and a dank smell which hardly seemed like a chapel to him, but within a day, the approval was forthcoming.
Amy and Elsie spent the next two weeks with stolen moments to supervise the preparing of the linen they had found, which was transformed from tea stained ecru to pure snowy white; the laundry attendant was able to perform miracles. The room clearing and cleaning required additional help, a couple orderlies volunteered to remove the mounds
of debris and haul buckets of water and ammonia. They helped build what sufficed for church pews out of old shelving. While cleaning and scrubbing, Amy was able to vent some of her frustration, so many things could not be cleaned, could not be fixed, and recently she had succumbed to a heavy depression and feeling of uselessness. No matter how hard she worked, how vigilant she nursed, the boys died, it was totally out of her control. No level of nursing care or expertise would change the fact that nearly every day she lost a patient, and some days lost many. And there was no end in sight.
She escaped into a world of her making, where things were simpler, where problems could be eradicated by a thorough scrubbing. Before much time elapsed, the long neglected space began to brighten and take on another appearance. Amy’s spirits brightened along with the chapel.
It smelled fresh now, and a stream of light poured through the little window. The bunch of red poppies in the window sill filtered a rosy glow. Amy had scrounged a rickety wooden table, but on that Sunday as she laid the sparkling white linen over it, and lit the three candles, the table became almost holy, and she could hear the soft bells of the church back home, and see the town arriving in Sunday’s finest, lining the pews to sing the words “A mighty fortress is our God”. When the chapel was officially open, Amy looked through the doorway and saw some of the soldiers approaching, and she thought, “Here they come, those cootie boys in their cootie clothes. That’s all right, just so they don’t spoil the altar.”
She and Elsie had worked so hard to make this quiet small space one of peace and sanctuary, and she felt a melting of her heart as she saw some of their tear-stained faces and knew they were infused with the same sense of holiness she had felt earlier. She needn’t worry. God would meet them here, she thought.
Since her earliest memories, Amy had loved the sound of the train whistle. In Sheffield, England, the train station was a hubbub of commotion, and there were favorite trips to the station from as far back as she had recollections.
While it was only she and her brother Harry, before the numerous other Hollindale girls were old enough, her parents had dressed them in their best clothes one Saturday, and told them they were to have a great privilege, to see King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra visit in Sheffield. Amy, though a young age, was old enough to understand what an event this would be, and spent some time mimicking her mother by preening in the mirror above the washstand. She remembered it all as though a film were playing in her head, her mother Nellie looking so happy and beautiful, and her father kissing her furtively on the neck, for which he received a quick response of “Charles, the children!”. They got to ride to the station in a hansom cab, and Amy was nearly mesmerized by the clopping of the horses’ hoofs. The city was charged with excitement, it felt just like the night before Christmas.
As they neared the Midland Station, she and Harry squealed and pointed at the flags and flowers decorating the street. They had to disembark and walk now with the rest of the populace that lined the sides of the street, where the crowd would be kept at a distance from the royalty. A band played music, soldiers with ornate uniforms of scarlet and gold were seated on their stately horses near the gilded carriage pulled up to the platform, and the Sheffield crowd, more people than she had ever seen in one place, were all awaiting the arrival of the royal couple. Amy expected Cinderella to appear at any moment. The air became electrified with the hum of excited voices as the train whistle blew in the distance. The anthem played and the blaring of the whistle got closer, the entire crowd pressed in for a good view.
Amy and Harry were fortunate to be short and at the front, so she could see the lovely feathers from the queen’s hat. Amy was awestruck at the King and Queen, so shiny and colorful, like two peacocks, as they were helped into the carriage and passed the crowds, waving and smiling. All the rest of the day was as memorable, with a picnic in High Hazels Park and a long walk along the Don River. The magical moment that day held in her mind would always be a part of every train whistle. As she got older, the train still held a fascination and excitement, and sometimes her father would let her accompany
him to the station to pick up a shipment of goods being transported to the silver factory. That usually meant a trip through the market, and a happy break from the monotony of all the household chores that Mrs. Hollindale needed help with. How deep and melodious that train whistle would blow, against the chatter of people, scraping of chairs, whinnying of horses outside, and in her heart she wished to go somewhere, watching that train pull away from the dock with the steam fading into the grey Sheffield skies.
Now the train whistle with the screeching wheels was a portent of agony, and the stretcher bearers were not able to carry the wounded quickly enough into the waiting receiving room, where the broken pieces of soldiers were separated into wards in the evacuation hospital. That first experience with the train emptying out her bowels of wounded was still fresh, and the whistle now caused an unconscious reaction, a twisting of Amy’s stomach, her heart pounding in her chest, with a feeling of being trapped, and nowhere to go.
It was not yet dawn, and the stretchers came steadily. Dr. Hampton with several of the nurses assigned to the receiving tent looked at the tags on each of the wounded. This one was sent to the left, where the surgical area was set up like Ford motor company to fix parts and pieces on the conveyor belt. This one went to the right, where intensive efforts to rehydrate and manage wound infection would hopefully place another soldier back at the front before too long. This one should have gone to the hospital for the gassed, but that great idea of specializing hospitals to care for certain ills had only looked good on some general’s paperwork, and didn’t seem to work with the enormity of wounded that needed care. His body was wracked with a hacking cough, and the accessory muscles of his abdomen sucked in with each painful breath. The pink tinged drool freely flowing from his contorted face, and the severe respiratory distress spoke of chlorine gas. He had been decontaminated, and sent on the train in better shape than he was currently in. That was the terrible joke about those boys who were gassed. For a time, they would feel safe and joyously believed it had not been so bad, that greenish fog that had choked and burned in their lungs hadn’t actually caused permanent damage. How wrong they were, as the hours wore on, and the deep muscular pain in their lungs intensified.
The next one had those unmistakable wounds which smelled of gaseous gangrene, which went immediately to the surgical area for amputation. Usually those poor sots had lain in a muddy, rat infested trench for long enough that infection was inevitable. The French soil in the trenches was a breeding ground for the bacteria which blossomed into gangrenous flesh. Thanks to new surgical treatment and the knowledge of debriding wounds, most of the soldiers would survive, albeit sometimes with missing limbs. The stretcher bearers at times looked like they needed to be carried in and given some respite, such an exhaustive and continual stream of wounded that they moved about. Dr. Hampton was now called to the surgical area, as the four hours of sorting work was completed. Soft grey light edged in rose crept on the horizon. The day was just beginning.
Hours later, the stars sprinkled across the black sky twinkled intermittently, still slightly illuminating the vast landscape of charred tree skeletons. Had it only been 14 hours since the first arrivals? A distant rumbling could be heard from the continuous shelling at the front. All was settled for the moment in Ward 4, and Amy could steal this moment to breathe in, and wonder how the stars were not affected. Their light seemed eternal, but it brought her no comfort. The never ending trail of stretchers had brought 250 new wounded to sort and stack, at least that is how it had felt to her. Not enough time, not enough water, not enough hands to bathe the wounds, feed the hungry, lost eyes, give the last rites, mark another cot for the orderly to empty, it was endless and her weary soul and exhausted body had to find a moment to regroup.
Elsie was wandering between the cots, and had shoved Amy out into the night air. Usually Amy could drum up some sweet memory of home, or hum a tune that brought Mother’s face in front of her, as her sisters all readied for bed in the evening. That was how she could tuck her soldier boys in at night, and feel that all was well. But tonight, the sadness and bleakness of her dying boys could not be dimmed by a faded past memory. Their faces loomed in her mind like a ghoul on All Saint’s night, the hollow eyes, the grey sunken cheeks, and the terrified aura of death in the atmosphere. It seemed too trivial to say “I’m here, don’t be afraid. Here’s a little medicine to help you rest,” as she gave another dose of morphine. The “death throes” were aptly named, so many did not go gently into that good night, but jerked and threw themselves out of the bed linen, in fits of agitation and anxiety, wracked with coughing spasms and rattled, painful breathing, past the comprehending phase of death approaching, and in some hell of only their own knowing.
She saw the young boy tonight, Owen, whose hand had held hers so tightly, shaking with fever and with that look of terror in his face, but unable to voice what pictures were painted in his mind’s eye. His anxious, incomprehensible mumbling was accentuated with the only understandable words “Mother, mother,” which he kept repeating. She had been able to calm him after the second injection of morphine, assuring him that mother would be with him, right next to him to hold his hand and whisper comfort. She simply could not leave him, nor did his grip on her hand lessen. She had watched by his side, giving more morphine when he cried out in pain, and feeling his grip loosen as his pulse had become thready, irregular, and the labored breathing more shallow, so slow, gasping, and finally absent as his young life ebbed from him.
There had been too much blood loss, too much time in the filthy trench before he had been attended to, too much systemic infection, and she knew as soon as they settled him in the ward, with the smell and pallor of death pervading, that he would not last the night.
Sometimes she could find no meaning at all in what was happening, but out of this would come that fervor of determined activity, and she would say to herself, “not one more soldier of mine is dying tonight”. She had worked like a madwoman, infusing fluids, staunching bleeding, handing out morphine as though it were the pulled taffy she and her sisters loved to eat until their teeth hurt. Now a little sugar would do her some good. Elsie, her best advocate, had handed her a small glass of lemonade, which many of the nurses thought as the cure-all for what ails you, and she shoved Amy bodily out the door while telling her emphatically, “Don’t even think of re-entering this ward for at least 20 minutes”.
Amy wandered across the rutted road to the edge of the perimeter. It felt good to stretch her legs. The aching in the small of her back eased a bit as she stretched her arms up to the sky, and had no care if someone saw what looked like a desperate woman beseeching the Lord in his mercy to give them all a rest from the 72 hour barrage of shelling in the distance, which meant the train would keep whirring along the tracks, the ambulances would be pulling up to the receiving tent, the blood and tears would flow, and the weariness in her soul would have no reprieve. How they all needed a reprieve! Drops of rain began to wet her upturned face, and she knew it was God crying in his heaven, for the sons of men.
Amy and Elsie had walked through the town this afternoon, getting a much needed respite from the smells and sounds of the evacuation hospital. The little bakery, with the glass cases looking bereft of the things that Amy could picture there, like fluffy meringues, delicate confections studded with nuts and fruits, delicious delicacies sprinkled with Baker’s sugar, had but a few choices of breads. They liked to be able to contribute to the town’s economy, and bought a hard, crusty loaf of fresh dark rye bread, taking their treat to the town center.
From their pack they added some jam, and sat together visiting and eating, and saying to the beggarly young ones who shyly came up to them, “Bonjour, si vous plez?,” offering a slice of bread. The little ones would laugh and say things in rapid-fire French, which neither Amy nor Elsie could understand, and run off with their treats. One of the young girls was missing a limb, and another had the remains of his burned face scarred into twisted lines along his left eye which was no longer usable. Amy had witnessed a few of them, survivors treated at the hospital, who scavenged in the trash cans for food and found instead the German oyster shell grenade that exploded as they rummaged, killing some and maiming many. The children of the town looked so thin, with hungry eyes and unwashed bodies, and all the women looked bone-weary.
The French had been at war for the past 4 years, yet the French people had a kind of resilience, and determination, that had kept them unconquered throughout incredible loss and destruction. Germany had thought to march right through Paris, and indeed had gotten within 18 miles of that goal. But the will and resistance of the people had not been fully calculated. The war still raged, all these years later. Although the towns were ravaged and depleted of young men and food stores, they had managed to survive this long, and the Americans were welcomed among them as the hopeful saviors.
Amy looked across the plaza at some of the young women, standing outside the doorway of the town inn, with forlorn, wasted and painted faces. She started to say something to Elsie, but fell silent. What could she say? It was their American soldiers that were paying the money, and degrading the women. Then again, the women were there, and creating their fate. “Who’s to say I wouldn’t end up like them, if our roles were reversed?” she thought. She knew if her baby sister Patty had no food, and father and Harry were away at war, she would do almost anything to help her mother care for her sisters. Amy struggled with the morality of it, but saw the total annihilation of the town’s prosperity, their young men gone, not enough food to feed them, and knew some of those women saw no other way to survive. Amy figured most of them needed medical treatment; venereal disease was rampant among the troops. She was saddened and ashamed that the same uniform she wore was passing in and out of those doors. She saw their pitiful, empty eyes, many of them the ages of Alice and Dorothy, her fresh younger sisters back home, and ached inside for their lost innocence and lost selves.
Just that week she had received a letter from Alice. Poor thing, thought Amy, she was so unaware of what her elder sister was experiencing, but Amy loved to read her chatty news, and catch the enthusiasm that the Hollindale girls tossed like confetti to anyone within their company. She and Dorothy had been attending the auxiliary meetings, and folding bandages which she “hoped you would get to use, Amy, and think of us at home with love and affection”. The girls had also sent knitted socks and mittens for Amy, knowing that the soon approaching winter would be cold, but hoping Amy would be home before she would need to use them “for we have planned some wonderful Christmas activities and you must be home in time to officiate”. Alice was a talented musician, and played the piano at the YMCA in town for the parties the boys attended before being shipped off to Europe. She was also pert, adorable, and a spark of life, and Amy was sure she was breaking numerous hearts, and also writing numerous letters. She was such a softy, Amy knew she wouldn’t be able to say “Yes, I’ll write,” to one soldier, and turn down another. Amy suddenly missed her sisters so much, their lighthearted fun, and their young unquenchable spirits. She felt old, grim, and cynical sometimes. Things had changed her. She knew she could never be so light and unconcerned again, would probably never be the life of the party and invoke the hilarity of her sisters. The pictures would always be in her mind, what was happening here. She wondered what her sisters would think of her now, if they all were together again. Death had marked her.
As she and Elsie reentered camp, they had a sixth sense that the couple days of quiet everyone had enjoyed was short-lived. Their days were long, arduous, but satisfying in the sense of accomplishment and hard work. But they relished the ebb in the busy 12 to14 hour days when they had time to catch their breath. They had learned to grasp those moments, and try desperately to fill them with something resembling life; a walk in the woods, a tour of the town, a quick letter home, before they were hit with the next onslaught of crushed human bodies.
A day in the life
The morning sun was not yet arisen, but Amy and Elsie were already dressed in the cold, damp air. As quickly as possible they would slip into their layers of uniform: stockings, undershirts, blouses, skirts, aprons, boots, coats, and do a quick brushing of hair, donning of cap, washing of face in the briskly cold water, and downing a hot cup of tea before setting off to the ward. The early morning fog had not lifted, and Amy always enjoyed this time of the day, she imagined the later part of the day, once the sun was beating down on them, with the conflagration of flies which incessantly hovered over food and wounds. How she hated them, and tried to keep the gauze tents shut over her wounded boys to keep the vile flying swarms away. The truly cold wet days of Fall would be a welcome relief, as the fly nuisance would be replaced by soft snow flakes with the icy cold of wintry morns.
The first glance at the ward was always with a critical eye, looking for things out of place, triaging injections and immediate care needs. They would circle the rows, like mother hens rounding up their chicks, then make medication rounds.
The official cathartic pill consisted of extract of colocynth, jalap, mild chlorid of mercury and gamboge all compounded, and the pill was part of the daily ritual for most of their minimally mobile patients. Nurses all had a great fixation with bowel routines, knowing it was essential to improving the health of their patients just as much as all the other routines in a day. There were, of course, a number of other laxatives and purgatives available, castor oil being in ample supply before breakfast. Dressings were sometimes changed before the morning meal, though more often the tediousness of the wound administrations waited for the doctor’s rounds, after the boys were fed and medicated.
Following a breakfast usually consisting of egg and porridge, many of the patients needing to be spoon fed, the nurses would quickly grab a bite themselves. Amy marveled at how quickly they could devour their breakfast, and be back at work on the ward. She was uncertain if she would ever relearn precise, slow English manners. She laughed within herself, “Wouldn’t Mother be appalled at the way we eat like barbarians, truly soldiers in the army!”
Bed baths, changing linens, passing bed pans, medicating, staunching bleeding, administering fluids, bandaging and re-bandaging took up the better part of their day. The tasks were never-ending, but the nurses frequently found ways to encourage a lightness of spirit which was as essential to the wound healing as all their medical expertise afforded. The soldiers were but mere boys, and enthusiastically participated in playing jokes, being raucous, and falling in love with their angels of mercy.
News in the form of mail was greeted with eyes alight with excitement, and the
volunteers or aides would read to the boys when the nurses were busy. Amy often
thought being the mail deliverer must be the best job in the army, as everyone loved you immediately, and looked for you expectantly. Today she had sent off a letter to home, with much of the gruesome detail of her daily life deleted, although she knew Mother was interested in the diversity of her nurse’s role. She had told Ellen Hollindale of her first experiences in the surgical suite, with a remark about the buckets of limbs, and realized later that remark had horrified the entire family. The erasure of most of her activities throughout the day left her letters with amiable tales of entertaining the boys, as though she ran a YMCA program. She suspected her mother would read between the lines and know that there was much not said in her letters. Amy was certain she did a better job of censoring her letters than the army did.
Two days of wounded throughout the nights, and the cots were filled to overflowing. Amy knew someone somewhere kept track of the wounded, which hospital received which train load, truck load, how many open beds were left, but she was certain that particular person must have taken a vacation. They simply couldn’t squeeze another cot in, and the nurses were ready to drop from exhaustion. Wounded soldiers whose condition improved were sent out to make room for the seriously wounded, those who needed immediate attention –the revolving door. There was no end. It was exactly like the child’s story of the old woman’s pot of never-ending porridge that overflowed, out the door, as far as the eye could see. Only a few of the walking wounded remained, since they frequently needed medicine or bandaging and could be sent on to the base hospitals. The evacuation hospital was arranged to clear out the wounded as quickly as possible, returning them to the front, or for lengthy rehabilitation to a hospital farther behind the front, but always making room for the next avalanche of critically ill.
The shell and mortar firing had kept up throughout the day and evening, and many of the men in their cots were fitful. Amy hated the screaming of the horses as much as any other sound, the poor beasts who during the air raids would be hit by artillery fire or inhaled the poisoned gas. She could always recognize that tell-tale sound: a high pitched keening, such abject suffering for yet another of the vulnerable in this Great War.
The lights were extinguished. Darkness pervaded the ward, and some of her soldiers whimpered. Amy walked among them, speaking softly and telling them she was here “Just look at my watch, you can see me still,” as she pointed to the glowing dial, and soothed those restless men as though hushing a baby. The sudden shrill interruption for the sleeping wounded came blaring out of nowhere, a loud, mournful cry before the whizzing and exploding of bombs and mortar fire. When the horn sounded for the air raid, the conscious men called out to her, “Get out of here while you can, nurse,” and realizing she wasn’t leaving, would call “Hide under my cot, nurse,” always worried for her safety.
She would not leave her boys, even though she was supposed to evacuate with the rest of the medical staff. Amy silently said to herself, “I will not hug the turf” and knew her place was here, with those brave boys who faced the greatest enemy, Death, with forbearance. The sky was lit up with the fires of the distance, and Amy knew there would be more wounded coming that night, moving silently in the darkness.
Leon wandered through the town in search of a quiet spot. This was a strange and new sensation for him, needing quiet and solitude. He had obtained an English printed book to hoard, and planned to spend his break time lounging and reading until mess call. He passed several of the small plastered houses on the edge of town with their piles of manure in the front yard. It perplexed him still, even though he understood this to be a sign of their prosperity. “Why would anyone want to sniff manure all day?” he thought to himself. The hayloft of a barn at the end of the street served his purpose well, and he was soon engrossed in the pages of another world.
He awakened from a much needed sleep to realize he would be late back to camp. As he hurried in, he was met by the corporal on duty who was slightly apologetic, but had to escort him to the brig. That very same day the captain had sent out a memo, stating anyone not reporting to mess call would spend one week in the brig with half rations. The captain was tired of the men disappearing into the town, requiring medical treatment for clap and gonorrhea within a few days of their town frolics. He needed them at the front, not in the hospital wards.
There were 20 of the soldiers currently detained in the crowded quarters. As a way of showing their mutual solidarity and lack of contriteness, they all agreed to shave their heads and grow their beards. Leon had a dark beard which grew quickly and made his brown eyes look even deeper. The men decided a good source of local entertainment would be letting the guard duty officer accompany them continuously to the latrine (since the men were required to have the officer present, and had to two-time it back and forth, this kept the guards busy and tired and gave the confined men a sense of smug satisfaction).
Leon’s turn arrived to request permission to use the latrine, and as he jogged alongside the guard, he happened to look across the wire fencing to the hospital ward tents. As though lightening had jolted him, he stood struck still for a moment, and knew he was seeing the light of the departing sun on the hair of a woman’s form which entirely embodied that of Amy Hollindale.
He started yelling wildly, “Amy, Amy, Amy” and running towards the fence with complete abandonment. The guard caught up to him soon enough, and manhandled him back to the brig, although with some compassion for such a crazed soldier. He knew all too well what it was like to see someone long gone, certain they were in that French woman’s face, or the departing view of a graceful neck. The corporal chided him “for frightening that poor nurse nearly to death,” and tried to talk rationally about what an easy mistake it had been, with the light departing and all. Leon would not be convinced that he hadn’t seen her, she had glanced up with some horror on her face and even at a distance, he could feel those grey eyes piercing him.
He had a mere 24 hours to complete in the brig, before returning to his post. As he dreamed of his sweetheart that night, he was lonelier than he had been for many months. The surety that he had seen her was replaced by doubtful longing, and the remembrance of their parting in Massachusetts so many months ago, with harsh words spoken. Letters had been sparse. Although the picture over his heart and the woman who had won his heart were the same, he was not altogether sure that her feelings had remained unchanged, recalling how he had acted like an overbearing school master when she had told him of her plans to enlist in the Army following her nurses’ training completion, “since they were accepting female nurses, and I happen to be one now”.
Well, he wouldn’t accept it then. It was different for him, he was a man, expected to serve in a soldier’s capacity with the world at war. Why couldn’t she just stay at the home front, there were plenty of wounded there who needed nursing? But she had that look of steel in her grey eyes, and told him with cold certainty that her duty was to serve her homeland, and her birth land, and he would have to accept that.
He had not accepted gracefully, and she had released him from his commitment of marriage. That had made no difference to him, his heart was hers whether she chose to keep it or not. He had since then learned firsthand how men and women fought the war alongside each other, and his respect for the women in the First Army had grown exponentially; he pondered his feelings for Amy throughout the night, tossing and turning until the sun’s first light.
In August the American First Army was officially established, under the command of General Pershing. The four day St. Mihiel Campaign ended the 16th of September, costing 7,000 American casualties, and plans were in place to simultaneously begin the next salient. The middle days of September were spent in preparation, with troops and materials moved into place for the Meuse-Argonne offensive, officially beginning the morning of September 26th. The grass would barely rise up from the removal of the German tents, when the American forces would be staking their own. But the struggle to gain a yard at a time in the Argonne Forest was costing the Army dearly. The wounded were sent back from the front lines in trucks, trains, ambulances, and more lay where they fell, covered in the layers of French soil where they would remain.
Danny and Leon had been sorting through the layers of flesh and filth, working in the triage tent to get the men sent out, treated, buried, or whatever the case might require. Sleep and mess hall had been a desired but unattained luxury, and they were moving in robot-like regularity to try to reach a stopping point. The artillery sounding in the distance was an ongoing staccato, and the occasional whizzing sound overhead would cause some of them to drop to the ground with hands over their heads.
At the break of dawn Leon was escorted to the commanding officer. He took a few moments to ponder what regulation he had offended now, uncertain if there was cause to be concerned about new repercussions. As he entered the tent, Sergeant Dolan motioned for him to sit, and said without preamble,
“It looks like you are some lucky son of a bitch and get a transfer to the Evac hospital, what I hear is that’s a promotion from the dressing tents and trench recovery. You must have the right connections. Like I can spare another body, but nobody asked me. Get your gear, the ambulance drivers will drop you off on their next route.”
As Leon started to question, and had some concern about leaving Danny behind, the Sergeant barked, “That’s an order, private, non-negotiable”.
Leon sat in the back of the ambulance as they bumped over the rutted road; it was a tortuous trip for those wounded men in the back. The drivers tried to maneuver as best they could but there was no helping the jostling and jerking as they journeyed past the battered villages and burned out forests. The risk of taking a leisurely ride through this country meant a higher likelihood of having enemy fire from above, or sniper fire from the patches of woods as they passed. The drivers of necessity had to go as quickly as humanly feasible, and pass the wreckages of previous unsuccessful trips along the route; a wheel here, a burned out truck there, and the occasional dead body on the side of the road that had not yet been tended to. Leon watched out the window as two sturdy looking farm women were fighting with a team of oxen to plow through a muddy field.
The people were war worn and hungry, but he saw over and over again the resilient human spirit fly in the face of hopelessness and despair, and was humbled by it. He felt like he was eighty sometimes, instead of a young man in his mid twenties. The war changed people; it had changed him. His lighthearted gallantry and male championship had been replaced by a need to make every moment count, a realization that he might not have another day, another hour even, and he regretted all his wasted youth, and regretted most of all the time that had escaped him, that he could not recapture. Underneath all of this was a sense of urgent need, to hold the woman he loved, and tell her how foolish he had been, how nothing mattered but his immense love for her, how he hoped to have years to prove it to her. He prayed for this, uncertain if he would survive this hellish war, but hopeful to have the chance to say the words to her.
As they drove up to Evacuation Hospital 6, Leon helped the drivers empty out the ambulance, and asked at the receiving desk where he should check in. An orderly escorted him to Captain Angel’s quarters, and Leon was amazed to see the same Dr. John Angel of Boston, Massachusetts welcoming him to Evac 6.
“It’s good to see you, private Richards. I have it on good authority that we probably wouldn’t win the war without your services at the hospital here, so I took it upon myself to have you transferred. You will be serving as surgical assistant to myself and Dr. Hampton, generally that is a 10 to 12 hour shift, although it depends entirely on what is brought in from the front. I know you have some experience in this area, but orderly Witkin will help orient you to the staff and equipment. Also, there is a communication here for you to read later after you are settled in your quarters. I’ll see you at 1400, surgery ward A.”
Although he believed this man was surely not worthy of the woman, John Angel knew of their prior engagement and had reluctantly agreed to have Private Richards transferred at Amy’s request, he could not have said otherwise to those beseeching, beautiful eyes. They could certainly use the help at the hospital, which was tremendously understaffed. Completing the discourse, Dr. Angel handed Leon a sealed envelope with “Private Richards” written in a hand that was unmistakably Amy Hollindale’s. Leon blanched, and stumbled over the words, “Thank you, Sir” as he exited with the orderly.
He tried to listen well to the orderly’s explanations on location of the mess hall, supplies, staff quarters, morgue, and a general orientation to the facilities, but the letter in his
jacket pocket was burning clear through to his heart, and he could scarcely conceal his impatience with the perfunctory orientation. The orderly delivered him to the enlisted men’s quarters, and Leon tossed his haversack and gear on the cot, hunching into a corner to tear open his letter.
I was uncertain if indeed providence had smiled on us, and actually placed us in this same piece of France together. I was able to obtain the information that you were in fact the wild man calling my name some weeks ago. We have not nearly enough staff, particularly with the recent numbers of wounded, and having known you before, Dr. Angel had agreed to help get you transferred to the hospital as a surgical assistant. He has also generously agreed to be our intermediary to relay communication. I think we may possibly meet together if we can be discreet. If this is agreeable to you, Dr. Angel can be relied upon for caution. Please direct correspondence through him.
If this was not a letter bursting with unrequited love and devotion, it was at least a letter that opened the door to communication and it was the opportunity Leon had prayed for, a chance to say what he had thought of over and over these long months and an ocean apart. As a buck private, he was not allowed any contact with an officer, but it would seem that Dr. Angel would help them make connection. He quickly wrote down the simple statement “When can we meet, and where? I will await your reply,” knowing that he could never begin to write the things that must be said to her, face to face.
Leon waited the next week to get an acknowledgement from her, with none forthcoming. The days and evenings were so busy with the number of wounded to attend to, that he could only spend his few short hours on his cot, in the moments before exhausted sleep overcame him, to think of her. Nearly two weeks later, Dr. Angel handed him a letter with the recognizable penmanship across the front. It was kind of Dr. Angel to wait until nearly the end of the shift, or Leon would have been entirely useless. As they completed placing the drains, closing and bandaging the mid thigh wound of a young soldier, and clearing the basins, Dr. Hampton arrived as relief surgeon, with another assistant available, and Dr. Angel and Leon both had their first break in ten hours.
Leon hurried off to his quarters, and quickly read the note from Amy. It said simply: “Meet me at 1630 at the edge of the forest behind the kitchens; we can go for a walk as I understand we both have been allotted some free time”.
She didn’t see him approaching as he came to the end of the street, her face was turned toward the edge of the woods, as though listening. Her heavy army issue coat hung open, and he noticed the paleness of her skin, and a thinness that wasn’t there before, and took in the wispy red curls at the nape of her neck, and the laced heavy brown boots in contrast to the ankle-length simple woolen grey skirt. She was always a mystery to him, a delight of femininity and strength, with an inner beauty that shone through her personage and captivated his imagination and heart. It was not just the beautiful form that he loved, but the essence of her that was a paradox of human emotion and character. She was gentle, yet she was a pillar of strength. She was caring, yet she could cut you to size with a few well chosen words. She was intelligent yet such a dreamer that she might seem foolish to some. She was passionate, yet so “English” at times that one might mistakenly assume she had no emotion whatsoever. She was everything he ever wanted in a woman, and he only hoped he was still able to claim her heart as his.
There was a slight chill in the air now, with fall approaching and the leaves showcasing their diverse beauty in an artist’s palette of vermillion and ochre. She turned suddenly, and their eyes met. He was lost, and found, in that moment.
She motioned slightly to the right, and began to walk slowly ahead into the wooded park. He followed at a discreet distance, lest they be seen by a casual observer- together,
officer and enlisted man. A little distance into the woods was a seldom traveled sheep trail, which they began to climb, and he offered his hand to her. The magnetism of their hands touching opened a floodgate of long submerged desire for them both, and they stopped suddenly along the path, in a riveting embrace.
Words tumbled from Leon as he held her next to him, wanting to bridge all these long, lonely months, but she hushed him with her soft lips on his.
“It doesn’t matter, Love, nothing matters now but this moment.”
He held her and kissed her, and together they traveled from the desperate war wracked forest hidden in the outskirts of Souilly to an ethereal land of love and promise. Leon threw their coats down over the pine scented forest floor, and gently laid her down on their bridal bed. He loved her, needed her, wanted to possess her, but he would not force something on her that was not of her choosing. In answer, she pulled him closer and moved to his desire, more passionate and needy than he. The pounding of their hearts blended together and drowned out the distant thundering of the artillery along the front. Later, as they lay content in each others’ arms, they whispered together of the love and longing that had kept them both hoping through the sorrow and pain of the war, that they might have a chance together, that they would find each other, and together would come home.
Amy and Leon referred to Dr. Angel as “their angel”. Unknown to Amy, he had become accomplice to clandestine meetings partially because he could not say no to her. It was impossible to look at her, listen to her, and not want her to have whatever thing it was that she asked of him, especially if her look of gratefulness was directed at him. He knew it was total foolhardiness, to throw her into the arms of another man, if he ever hoped to have an opportunity to tell her what he felt. He was quite certain he would never disclose to her how much he cared, because he was too aware of her committal to Leon. So he proceeded headlong into the certainty of losing her, in reality of never being able to have her, rather than being the one who forbid something she desperately wanted. Someone in this terrible war should have moments of happiness, even stolen moments, even forbidden moments, and he knew she was happier now than he had seen her for a long time. She looked less haggard these past weeks, even though the work load was as bad as ever, and he knew it was a glow from sheer happiness. She was a flower in bloom, a woman in love.
She had arrived to the dressing tent that morning with a number of welts on her beautiful skin, and when he asked what in God’s name had happened, she laughed and said she had quarreled with some hornets. He recognized her discomfort, and allowed her to press on with the task at hand after she definitively dismissed his idea that he needed to look more closely, and she was thankful that he let the subject drop. She had blushed prettily, and he had allowed her to finish getting the dressing cart prepared.
“Lord, please don’t quiz me anymore,” thought Amy.
She could feel the heat on her face, and cursed her inability to be nonchalant at this moment. Her thoughts were transported to the field of grass that she and Leon had wandered in, laying down together as they embraced and fervently touched each other, his kisses showered down the nape of her neck. In this passionate moment, the air raid alarm sounded from a distance, and as she moved abruptly, she unwittingly freed a ground hornet’s nest from beneath their warm bodies. The swarm was suddenly buzzing everywhere. Leon had thought quickly, and managed to throw his coat over her head as they ran from the clearing, with the black angry beasts following them. They had screamed and yelped and laughed like schoolchildren.
Although the war was ever present, some moments belonged only to them, and their love was a formidable force in the midst of a confused, desperate, ugly world. She spent many exhausted nights in the privacy of her bunk reminiscing on the solace they imparted each other in the tender stolen moments they shared. Now it suddenly seemed less private. Leon had multiple bites visible, everywhere over his face, neck, and chest and it would only be a matter of time before Dr. Angel should see him and recognize something of what had happened. Amy was uncomfortable with the idea, she knew how much Dr. Angel respected her, and how repeatedly kind he had been to her, and his opinion of her was important. She had a sense that he thought too much of her, though. She was no different than any of the other nurses, just someone doing the job that was presented to her, hopefully doing it well, and in some stolen moments, trying to find some joy in this despairing time.
No one recognized that the blue tinged face and hands, profusely bleeding nose, and paroxysmal coughing of the young soldier just settled in the gas ward was not a victim of gas warfare. Not for several more days would the war department issue warnings of containment and confinement. Already, back home in Boston, the hospital wards were lining up bodies like cords of wood in every available corner, showing stages of a rapidly deteriorating and often fatal disease process. It would be later misnamed the Spanish Influenza. Within a few hours, the soldier in the gas ward developed empyema: a complication of the pneumonia which caused the accumulation of pus in the chest cavity, requiring surgical drainage. Dr. Angel had been recently reading about medical concerns regarding influenza among the soldiers in occasional briefings. He was called to the bedside and rightly diagnosed the young man, performed the surgery, and had him settled in a quarantine tent within two hours. This was just the beginning of another holocaust. Fear spread among the medical staff, and before long, the common soldier was aware that the early signs of flu might mean death just the same as the green fog that followed the whizzing sound in the trenches.
The medical staff began an additional routine of cleansing all the equipment with disinfectant. They were to wear gauze masks at all times when delivering direct care to the secluded wounded in the influenza ward. Dr. Angel was aware of the added work load on all his nursing staff, and covertly watched Amy for the first signs of illness. This morning they had already seen to the arrival of another 150 new wounded, several of whom went straight to the influenza ward. He wanted her away from this new plague of death and destruction, and had even taken her aside and suggested she remain assigned to the orthopedic ward. In her usual perceptive way, she was aware that he was trying to protect her, and at first was somewhat affronted.
“What precisely do you mean, stay in the orthopedic ward? Doctor, I hope you don’t think I am looking out for myself and scared of catching something from one of the soldiers?” She was irritated, with a flash of submerged anger in her intensely grey eyes.
“No, no, you would be anything but selfish when it came to nursing. It’s that you work too hard, and I just can’t loose any more staff to this dastardly illness. I am worried about you.” He gently placed his hand over hers, and said beseechingly, “Amy, you look very tired.”
She was a little surprised by his candor and personal touch, and slightly pulled away. “Dr. Angel, you are kind to be concerned for me. I have a duty, like every other nurse here, to see to the wounded. It would be shirking that duty to place myself out of harms way because I was fearful of contacting an illness. Don’t you agree?” She looked at him with respect but also bold determination.
She was so stubborn, and bound to do the right thing, blast it, that he knew he would not be able to convince her of anything. He tried a new tactic.
“If you are exhausted you are much more susceptible to the flu virus, and then instead of helping the boys get better, you’ll be a Typhoid Mary among them. Now, promise me, you’ll take the rest of the afternoon off, get some sleep, and eat something. You’re looking malnourished.” He had every line of her memorized and her hundred and two pound frame seemed even smaller the last two weeks.
She started to laugh at that. How he loved to see her smile, and hear that lilt in her voice.
“Dr. Angel, you are quite persistent. I am certainly not diminishing at a rapid rate. It has been so very busy the last few days, I think I have forgotten to eat much. Certainly you must admit, the meals have not been too appealing of late, either. If I eat another tomato I may turn into one. I suspect we all look a bit malnourished.”
They had had a plethora of stewed tomatoes and corned beef recently, the cooks tried to disguise it in other forms, but all the staff was sick of it and picked at their food, eager for the supply trains to arrive with new stores. He loved the way she could transform from the formidable English nurse to the approachable girl next door in a matter of minutes. She had such a quick sense of humor, and could lighten the mood with her gentle laugh. He also recognized he had achieved the right approach, she would always listen to reason and “do the right thing” by “her boys”. She was like a mother lion with her cubs, and he had only to remind her that they needed her healthy to have her comply with his request. Although he also knew it was futile to ask her not to work with the influenza patients. As a matter of fact, nursing was something she not only did beautifully, but he knew she much preferred a challenge. She liked to have her hair on fire, and he enjoyed watching her when she was in the thick of a crisis, she was so confident, decisive, and capable.
“Well, the fact is, I love everything about her,” he silently said to himself. Someday he might tell her. What he did say aloud, with a smile, is “I guess I’ll have to order you to take the afternoon off, then?”
“Oh, all right, I mean, yes, Sir, I’ll follow orders and get some rest. It doesn’t seem fair, though, when everyone else is working as hard as I am.” She thanked him graciously for his concern, and hurried off to do “one more thing” in ward 6, after promising she really would take a break afterwards. He watched her exit the building, with a kind of longing in his heart that he would not fully acknowledge, and quickly returned to the task at hand, there was no time now to spend with his private thoughts.
The nurses would not allow anyone to care for those staff that became ill with influenza. They would care for their own. Elsie had complained first of a headache, then of a sore throat with a dry cough, and when she had sharp pain in her back and abdomen; they had called in Dr. Angel who confirmed influenza. Elsie was quarantined with 3 other female nurses who had similar symptoms, in a separate area of the hospital. The isolation ward was quiet as a tomb. Amy had gowned and placed her face mask before entering the room, but she could still smell the carbolic acid which was heating in a shallow metal saucer on the stove in the corner. The windows stayed open and the heat stove was constantly replenished but the room always had a chill to it. They all knew the importance of fresh air in the sick room. Rest, fresh air, adequate nutrition were key elements to convalescence and the nurses caring for their friends added a healthy dose of love into each teaspoon of balm. Amy prepared the Friar’s Balsam. Two teaspoonfuls of benzoin, added to a pint of hot water, would help sooth Elsie’s wracking cough and tight lungs. She would hold Elsie’s head gently and have her take deep breaths in, speaking in that soothing tone that nurses and mothers knew around the world. Amy would tell her stories from her sister’s letters, and help Elsie write letters home to her family. Not a word about the war, the sick wards, the utter fatigue of her colleagues. Elsie needed sweetness and light, and Amy would sing her silly songs from her childhood to make her laugh, always ending the day with “To bed, to bed, said Sleepy Head. Let’s stay a while said Slow. Let’s stay a while said Slow. Put on the pot said Greedy Gut, we’ll sup before we go. We’ll sup before we go.”
“Oh Amy, I miss having you right next to me when I sleep. My roommates aren’t nearly as entertaining as you,” Elsie whined and then gave a wan smile. Amy could hear the hacking cough of Jane, and the moaning from another cot, and tried hard not to be depressed. Her friend needed her encouragement, not her morose, pessimistic thoughts.
“I’ll be back to care for you day after tomorrow, they have me assigned elsewhere tomorrow.” She didn’t mention the wound rounds, or the ongoing supply of fresh wounded that poured in daily, or the short supply of personnel to care for them.
“I’ll light a candle for you tonight, and wish on a star, love, and you’ll feel better tomorrow.” She gave her hands a squeeze, wishing she could hug Elsie to herself but conscious of the isolation decree. As she exited the room, she left the external clothing in the hamper for the orderlies to disinfect, and washed carefully, thinking of Miss Nightingale and her founding work of sanitation. All nurses knew the best way to keep from spreading infection was to wash your hands, wash them again, and wash some more.
That night, while settling in for a few hours of sleep, Amy gargled and sprayed her throat with a solution of permanganate of potash, and took the 15 drops of essence of cinnamon on a lump of sugar (all the precautions that Dr. Angel insisted she use if she must go in and out of the isolation ward).
“That ought to sweeten my disposition a little,” she said aloud as she hurried under the sparse blankets atop her cot, feeling the cold biting through her wool nightshirt. Sleep would come quickly, as her weary body found rest, and her mind had a moment to wander into the slippery land of dreams, where the world could be painted with colors of her choosing.
Her nightgown was made of gossamer. Her long red hair gleamed silvery white like a river flowing down her back. The luminescent moon was a glowing circle of light spreading across the sky, reflected on the edge of the mountain top. She was gliding barefoot through a heavily scented field, with red poppies scattered everywhere. There was a trilling sound, and the trees were bursting with the colors of summer, greens and yellows, bathed in the silver light, and the air smelled sweet and new. She saw the bird, on a low branch, inviting her to touch its silken wings, with a tail of purple plumage, and a jeweled ruby colored throat, its head thrown to the sky, singing a song of triumph. She wanted to be close to it, and hurried her pace through the poppies. The bird flew to the next tree, and she tried to catch up. It looked at her, she knew it was a tease, and would keep flying just out of her reach. But it was so beautiful, she had to keep trying, and she began to run through the field, until her legs became so heavy. Still she couldn’t stop. She kept running and running. The poppies blurred together, and soon she was wet up to her waist in the field of blood, flowing out of the side of the mountain, and the faces of all the dead she had seen floated up to the top of the blood, and she screamed and she couldn’t stop screaming. Awakening with the scream, her nightshirt was wet with sweat. She was shaking, and couldn’t stop. She recognized the voice and was comforted.
“Amy, Amy, it’s just a dream.” He held her so tenderly, and stroked her hair, that she started to cry and couldn’t stop.
She became fully awake, and aware of him, and knew it was Dr. Angel comforting her, she was suddenly horrified at the whole situation, and pulled away in utter embarrassment. He explained he had been heading back to the officer’s quarters and passed by her tent just as she must have been awakening from her nightmare. Her heard her scream and hurried in to see what the matter was. He didn’t say he often strode by her tent late at night like a guard dog, when he knew she would be there. He also didn’t say that as she cried in his arms, his heart was wrenched and he wanted to hold her like this forever. But he had already embarrassed her and made her uncomfortable, and could see she was confused by his attentiveness.
“Did you want to talk about it?” He tried to use his professional, caring doctor voice.
“No, no, it was just a dream, but there was blood everywhere.” She swallowed hard. “It was upsetting, but I’ll be fine.”
“You really need more rest, Amy, or you’ll end up sick like Nurse Elsie. Promise me you’ll take better care of yourself.”
“Oh, you worry too much. I just get a little overwrought sometimes, and I’ve been so concerned that Elsie would be all right, she’s actually doing much better now. I’ll be fine.” She was dismissing him.
He apologized, she apologized, and he made light of the situation by letting her know that the Germans had heard her screaming and finally cleared out of the Argonne Forest.
The wounded continued to poor in. The recent push on the front had resulted in nearly 30,000 German prisoners of war. Some of these were wounded, and sent to the care of American nurses in the base and evacuation hospitals. Most of the medical personal were able to separate the idea of the “enemy” from the German wounded. They were patients, with parts of their beautiful young faces and bodies ripped asunder by the inventions of modern warfare, with numerous shrapnel pieces to dig out of their soft body tissue, with deep painful wounds requiring probing and debridement causing much human agony. They had all seen the face of war, and it was not one of any certain race or country. All had suffered, all had lost.
Amy remembered the first young French child she treated from a nearby village that had been carried in the arms of the distraught mother, who nearly collapsed with her precious burden on the hospital grounds. The mother spoke with the interpreter and told the sad story of her child, along with some of his little friends, who had been searching for leftover food in the garbage cans. Suddenly a catastrophic explosion left one of the children immediately dead and her young boy with his arm torn off. The grenades were strategically left in the garbage cans by the retreating Germans, knowing that food was scarce and the garbage would be searched. There were many children who required treatment for missing eyes and limbs. Leaving wounded behind to use up limited resources and unfit to help in the war effort was a tactic used by fighting men throughout the ages. War was not a new idea invented by the German people, and Amy had seen enough hate and prejudice to last her lifetime.
Amy had left Wilhelm’s bed for the orderly to clear. He had arrived from the front over three weeks ago. She saw the look of quiet terror on his young face that first day. She had initially not understood more than a few snips of phrases that he could make clear to her, with broken English. But he had called her schwester (sister) and said he had always wanted one. She called him Wil. He looked at her with eyes that were aged beyond his 15 years by the cruelties of a war he never chose, sometimes begging for death to release him from his foul, treacherous prison of a body. His soft curly blond head had miraculously been untouched by the mortar, with fine features that spoke of a finer soul. He had a heavy muscular body, what was left of it, that belied his young years. One of the orderlies understood a good deal of German, and could translate for Amy. At times, when the orderly was able to sit with them, they would carry on quite a conversation about Wilhelm’s early life. Amy had discovered from the orderly that he had been raised in a rural area called Bischofsheim near Mainz, Bavaria. A farm boy. From the first moment he had asked for “wassa” the two of them had been on a mission to understand each other. Amy spooned broth into him, and he would say “subbn”, but when he graduated from clear liquids, they laughed together when she called his hearty soup “subbn” and he corrected her, “subbm”… “mmmm”.
“What possible difference could one letter make?” she had asked, and he seemed to understand her irritation. They both laughed together. When she fixed his toast and said “marmalade”, he gave her his delighted smile and said “mamalad” … it made them seem the same. Breakfast in the morning she learned was “fruhstuk”, with “salami” (sausage) and “oa” (egg) which was his favorite though a rare treat. He always said “danggshe” for every small encounter of her nursing, and “dschuings” when he was required to use the urinal or perform any other bodily function. She remembered shortly after he arrived, giving him his first bath or “bod” with care to not cause any added pain to his burns, and as she bathed his beautiful young body so marked by the “progress” of warfare, she was saddened knowing he would never fully become a man. He had enjoyed the smell of the “soaffa” (soap), his eyes lit up like a child’s, and had given her so many thanks that she was embarrassed at what little could please him. She would sit by his cot and ask how to say each thing on his meal tray, and he would patiently repeat it until she said it right, often making him giggle at how badly she pronounced it. It thrilled her to see the boyish look in his face, his eyes young again, as they should be.
He would start each morning of her rounds off with a soft “Griasgood, Schwester”. Her mission was to give him whatever kindness she could. After administering care for him day after day and feeling the tug on her heart as he bravely withstood her wound ministrations, they were comrades in an inexplicable way, determined to fight the war on their own terms, with peace pervading.
His right arm and leg had been torn severely by the mortar hit, with burns sustained along the right side of his body. Since the first week, the severe pain from the burns had subsided with the usual treatment of Ambrine. It was still painful, but he no longer cried out with the bandaging. The burns were never the major concern. The lower portion of his leg, with gaseous gangrene, had been removed immediately after arrival to the hospital. The mangled right arm had only a portion remaining and had been surgically debrided and cleaned, leaving a short flap to serve as his upper arm. Amazingly he had not died from blood loss in the field. He rarely asked for anything, or complained, and always thanked her for any small attention. Last week, when he had gotten quite agitated, and she was unable to calm him, she had called the orderly for assistance. Something about his personal belongings, he had some German marks; that much she was able to understand. Wilhelm had no family left to contact since his mother died shortly after being widowed at the beginning of the war. He wanted Amy to have his marks, and would not quiet until the orderly wrote out a simple “will” bequeathing his small satchel or “kufan” to her.
She repeatedly told him he would need his things when he got better, but he sadly shook his head and looked at her almost admonishingly. Amy was touched, and understood his need to settle things. Initially, after the orderly had translated, she had tried to argue about it, but he was beyond reasoning and was clearly upset she should not agree. She saw how peaceful and happy he was to have her nod her assent finally. He was so young to have such concerns, yet experienced beyond his years. She wished she could transplant him to his father’s farm, where he could help make the wine that their farm was known for in the region. He had told her about the harvest festival and the riotous times had by the farm workers and local villagers. He had been appalled at Amy’s lack of winery knowledge, and had tried to remedy her ignorance with the help of the translator. She had promised to learn to drink wine, and he had made her write down several of his favorites.
Wilhelm had survived his second surgery to remove more gangrenous tissue about a week ago. Amy knew over the last three days that the stump of mushy flesh remaining of his right upper thigh would never heal. Dr. Angel had simply shaken his head the last time the dressing was changed, and the angry tissue surrounding the wound continued to spread up to his groin and belly. Two days ago, as he became feverish, his skin a ruddy color, he lapsed into his native tongue, and she was able to understand little. He spoke of the “dung, koidzug” (dark, cold train) as though living again the wounding and transport, but later she thought perhaps he meant something else, and had seen a vision of a train leading elsewhere. His blood had been poisoned by the infection, and his high fevers and sanguine complexion had now been replaced by clammy, anemic, grey skin.
In a moment of clarity last night, he had grabbed her hand and clasped it to his breast, mumbling “Aug wiedaschaung, schwester” as both of their faces wetted with tears.
He’d lapsed into a coma. Wil had passed before morning, unobtrusively, while she sat by his cot. She thought of Michelangelo’s David, his face like a sculpture of perfect youth with the translucent marble skin of death. She marked the cot, then quietly took a break, and walked to the edge of the officer’s barracks. All that was left to testify to his life she held in her hands at this moment, the treasures he had left her. There was a small book of verse, in German, pasted in the front was a family picture slightly torn and bloodied, with a much younger Wilhelm sitting between a doting father and mother, and inside an envelope were the marks. Amy was suddenly wracked with sobs. So many children fighting a war they had nothing to do with, their lives lost, and for what?
Oh, to be done, to have this over. She was so tired of feeling this aching loss; she didn’t want to feel at all anymore. It was much too painful, and she could not get her mind around it, could not make any sense anymore of what she was doing. Maybe someday, she might have some enlightenment, be able to explain some of this, but what did any of this mean to her now? It was too much to have another life ended, for no purpose, and no one was left who cared. She cared too much. She cried for the German mothers, the French mothers, the British mothers, the American mothers, all the mothers that gave their sons as those sons gave their lives for this endless hell of a useless war.
“No rest for the wicked they say” quoted Elsie as she and Amy were shaken out of a too brief sleep at 5 am by an aide shouting “four more trucks are here and they’re asking for you at the receiving tent”.
“My God, they said the war was supposed to be over this morning, perhaps they forgot to let the generals know,” Amy snapped at the aide, who shrugged his shoulders as they hurried down the muddy track. They had heard the pounding at the front throughout the night, that ominous steady drone of fighting artillery worse than they could remember. At 3 am she and Elsie had finally collapsed on cots, fully clothed, and slept the sleep of exhaustion. For some, the war would be over in a few more hours, at 11:00 A.M. exactly, as the guns shuddered to a halt. Armistice. For others the war would be done earlier this morning, as the guns tore through their bodies and left them lying in the fields of France. And for others, the wounds they carried would be a reminder of this war for all their lives.
Amy bundled in her wool coat; the nights were so chilly now. The first hint of light was on the horizon and the hoarfrost was covering the ground as she stepped out for a brief and shocking intake of clean cold air, before entering the tents with the smells of war that would forever haunt her dreams. The Artillery fire kept steadily humming in the background all that long morning, and at 11:00 sharp all the church bells in Souilly rang out, but among the medical staff at the hospital there was little cause to celebrate as the wounded poured in and continued to need sorting and treatment.
“There’s no lack of the most horrendous gunshot wounds I’ve seen in a while,” said Dr. Hampton as they entered the receiving tent. He was preparing to relieve Dr. Angel in surgery. The fighting had been ferocious throughout the night, and no Armistice would make a difference in the next few days as the medical staff strove to save the badly wounded. Both doctors had been up throughout the night but would occasionally take a break at the receiving tent before standing another several hours in the operating tent. It was humanly impossible to do surgery after surgery and not get off your feet after hours of it.
Amy busied herself with the eight stretchers stacked at the front, which needed to be cleared as soon as possible for the next group coming in. Glancing at the tags, she let the orderly know to send this one to the surgical tent. This one to the orthopedic ward. She blanched as she looked at this one’s tag. His face was swollen, muddy and bloodied, so she was unable to recognize him fully, but the name she knew. Danny Whitechurch, and written on his tag was a death sentence. He had been thrashing about until the narcotic he’d received had finally taken some effect. He groaned imperceptibly as the orderlies picked up the cot and headed to the gas ward.
Although volumes of the gassed patients went to a specialized hospital, the necessity of medical treatment prevented the transport of many, and Evac 6 had their share of soldiers laying in the clutches of gas inhalation. Amy believed gas warfare to be the most cowardly invention of all time, and was appalled that the allies used it. She commented to Jane, the nurse with her as she hurriedly finished the triage, “A steady wind blowing in the direction of your enemy, a light fog, and a nice, gentle temperature, topped off with a dead calm in order to place the shells directly where they will do the most damage in total darkness, and you have the recipe for wreaking the worst possible calamity on your fellow man, who could possibly be proud to perform such an act? Whatever happened to facing your enemy? Some things I will simply never, ever, understand.”
The moans and groans, and distressed breathing, and the smells from the burn treatments, met Amy some time later as she entered the ward and looked for Danny’s cot. She had sent a message for Leon, but wasn’t sure when he would know that his friend was here. Danny had obviously been gassed a few days previously, with a number of complications set in since then. Amy approached his bed quietly. He had vomited a serious amount of blood, and was having fluid replacement. His chest cavity was sucking in air with painful determination and was rattled by an occasional weak cough. Signs of pneumonia with serious lung impairment, Amy knew. It would be a race between respiratory failure and fluid depletion. She could see the muscles in his ribcage through his thin gown, alternating like an accordion. His swollen eyes were closed, with tears flowing from the outer edges. Every inch of exposed skin on his torso and arms were covered with reddish yellow blisters, the telltale signs of mustard gas. One of the nurses, Maggie, was preparing to irrigate his eyes with normal saline, followed by castor oil to prevent matter from gluing his eyes together. He would likely be blind, as though that was of import she thought, and Amy spoke quietly “I knew him back home, is there something I can do to help with his care?”
“Another set of hands is always welcome, although he needs much more than we are able to offer him,” and Maggie gladly let her take over.
Amy gently bathed his eyes, talking quietly to him. He was moaning, mostly unconscious, but she was hopeful he would recognize a familiar voice. “Danny, it’s Amy, you remember me? We had some good times with Leon in Boston, and you won’t believe it, but he’s not far from us now. He’ll be in later to see you, he’ll be so glad you were sent here where he can check in on you.”
Amy secretly thought it might have been much easier for Leon to just hear that his friend was wounded, and died, rather than see him like this. There was little that could be done, even to keep him comfortable to the end would be a challenge, when the narcotic wore off, the body would writhe in pain, and short of a large overdose, the cycle of stuporous sleep and tortuous wakefulness would be unending. She only hoped it would end quickly.
Leon saw Danny very late that night. They had him strapped to the cot to prevent injury, his thrashing was intermittent and he periodically screamed “Help me, I’m choking”.
The nurse gave him another dose of morphine, and he quieted with Leon at his side, holding his hand. Leon softly relayed stories of the experiences they had shared. The patients in the ward were like Mexican jumping beans, when one cot settled, the next one would begin shaking and moving. The screams and moans were constant though, and Leon was sickened at the sight of his friend. He could do little, but the nurse let him sit next to the bed throughout the night. He listened to the raspy, rattling breaths sucking in and out, which seemed to take every ounce of energy from his friend. Some hours later, Danny sat up and began vomiting, first a dark brown and then a bright red. Between the orderly, nurse, and Leon, they kept buckets emptied. What seemed like hours passed, but in reality was only twenty minutes or so. Danny fell back, blue lipped and ghastly grey, and gasped several times, then lay inert. Unnecessary formality, but the nurse checked his pulse and blood pressure, and slipped away, to let Leon sit undisturbed for a while. Silent tears streamed down his face.
Two wizened apples, the last of the harvest, hung on the limb of a gnarled ancient tree in front of a stone washed cottage at the outskirts of Souilly. He spied them as he headed back to camp, having purchased fresh bread at the bakery. After some haggling with the old woman on the porch, Leon had purchased them for an astounding amount of money, but was thrilled with the bargain. Fresh fruit was nonexistent, and the army stores of food were monotonously unrecognizable of late, some sort of goulash mixture with canned vegetables, affectionately referred to as slop by most of the recipients. Amy had been ill the past two days, and two particular persons had hovered around to ensure it was not the beginnings of influenza. Dr. Angel had been panicked when he heard she was incapacitated, and had insisted he personally assess the situation to be satisfied her illness was merely fatigue, accompanied by a slight cold. He had instructed the Chief Nurse to take her off the schedule for the next three days, and had ordered her to remain in her quarters until that time. She had agreed when he pressed the issue, insisting she might possibly be contagious to the wounded that she served.
Three days in her quarters seemed desirable at first, she was utterly exhausted and slept 14 hours straight to begin with, but Amy soon was restless. Her profound sense of duty caused increasing anxiety, which was only somewhat alleviated by Elsie’s assurances that “If you had to get sick, this was a good time, it’s been slow, even the boys are bored stiff”. She whiled some time away writing letters, and read a little while she was quarantined.
Leon managed to sneak in to her tent unobserved during mess call, startling her and causing her heart to beat rapidly in her chest. She was wrapped in a blanket with her hair cascading down her sides, a wan appearance that nearly vanished as her eyes sparkled with the mischief he performed.
“Oh, Leon, what if you are caught, you’ll be shot or hanged!!” She laughed.
“Not when I tell them I was delivering the medicine which might heal the princess,” and he produced the two apples and bread from his haversack.
Amy clapped her hands delightedly, although the apples would have been horse fodder at home, they looked marvelous to her. He sliced them and she took a bite, and said much to his satisfaction “they are like nectar of the gods”.
For all her decorum and properness, she had forgotten her state of disarray at the sight of his dearly beloved face, he however was acutely aware of her thin gown, and the goddess tresses that he desperately wanted to run his hands through.
“I’d better hurry now, before anyone manages to see me,” he stated-and before I ravage you in your tent, then they really will hang me after I’ve been discovered. The woman had a profound effect on him; he wanted nothing more than to be with her only, always, without one interruption. She could make the rest of the world disappear for him, and she be its only occupant.
The war was now officially over, but for the medical staff and the wounded, many more months of care were needed. In accordance with the armistice terms, the territory
assigned to the American Third Army was the beautiful and historic Moselle Valley from the borders of Luxemburg to the Rhine. The area contained only two large towns, Treves, and the larger of the two, Coblenz, with about 65,000 inhabitants. Evacuation 6 would be moving forward along with the other evacuation hospitals. Supplies needed packing, walking wounded and those whose condition warranted were sent to the base Hospitals, and the level of activity reached a fever pitch. The troops were sent on separate train cars, along with most of the medical staff, a day before the nursing staff. Unlike the men, who traveled in a US Pullman car with clean straw on the floor, and a charcoal brazier to heat coffee by, the nurses traveled in a French train car whose heater was non- operational, and the nurses nearly suffered hypothermia before arriving at their destination. There was no hot coffee, or cocoa, and deplorable conditions for the three days of travel. (Lona Hartman would later write a letter of complaint to General Pershing for the conditions her nurses had to suffer in the move from Souilly, France to Coblenz, Germany, now occupied territory.)
The morning departure time arrived, shockingly cold. The nurses were bundled as much as possible, wearing double underclothing, gloves and heavy hose, and buttoned into their wool army coats. There was heavy frost on the ground, and as they gathered in the train car, they said their own goodbyes to the place that held such tragic memories and yet had been home these past months, and headed to the land of occupation.
Although the cold was incapacitating and most of them stayed bundled together for body warmth, some of them bravely ventured to the windows to enjoy the scenery. Amy enjoyed looking out to the steep cliffs along the Moselle River, with terraces of vines planted in dizzying rows, absent of their leaves and looking like thousands of hands intertwined. Her practical mind wondered how anyone managed to weed them. The paths of stone resembled one of mother’s quilts tossed over the hillsides, with intricate patterns of monochromatic color and design. Amy suddenly missed the rolling green hills of home. As the train ran along the trestles and through the mountain tunnels, she gazed at views of medieval castles in the Rhine valley, so much like fairy tale picture postcards, and she imagined the little people hiding in the forests as the fog rose up from the damp pine floor, and the princess was all alone, imprisoned in the tall stone tower.
The German people were surprisingly welcoming, as glad to have the war over as the Americans. The train moved slowly through the smaller villages, and people waved cheerily as they passed. As they entered Coblenz, Amy was surprised to see such modern buildings and a cleanliness that had been absent in the French towns. The largest center for the medical staff of the AEF was situated in Coblenz where Evacuation Hospital No. 6 was established in what had been a splendidly equipped German military hospital. The hospital was a grand hotel looking affair with rows of windows along the front eyeing the tired nurses as they trudged with their trunks beneath the stone entrance. The American flag waved at them from the top of the turret. Mid December, with the ground covered in new white snow, and this, their new home in an occupied land, would be where they spent their Christmas.
The German townspeople loved the Christmas holiday. The town sparkled with the festive decorations of lights and wreaths, and trees were hauled home, the smells of cinnamon and fruit-filled baked goods wafted through the crisp air, and the lightness of the holiday spirit pervaded. Many a lighted window framed the young German children, rosy cheeked and laughing, trimming trees and preparing for the holiday festivities. Americans and Germans alike joined in the towns activities, with soldiers sitting in church pews alongside the “conquered”. Amy was dreadfully homesick, but also had more free time than she had in the past year, and she and Elsie enjoyed walking in the glistening snow through the streets, listening to “O Tannebaum” and “Stille Nacht” while humming along, eating twisted sticky sweetbread and drinking hot cups of cocoa.
On Christmas day, the cooks had gone “all out” to treat the medical staff to a wonderful holiday meal. They had roasted goose with stuffing, nuts and orange slices, delectable minced pies, squash delicately sweetened, and cider. Everyone ate with gusto, and not a scrap was leftover. Amy received a belated Christmas box from home filled with things which brought immediate nostalgia and homesickness: mother’s famous raspberry jelly, new wool socks, maple sugar candy, a beautiful assortment of silk and linen squares and needlework supplies with a note from her sweet mother “Amy dear, I know you may not have much extra time, but I am anticipating your arrival home soon, and this is something to make the trip home less dull. We all love you, and are so proud of you, and can’t wait until you are home again. Love, Mother”.
In fact, Amy did have time in the evenings, and enjoyed making simple remembrances for many of her friends that would go their separate ways as the war effort came to a final close.
In January, a large population of the civilian and military staff battled both pneumonia
and typhus. An entire wing of the hospital was dedicated to the care of infectious diseases; new staff were added to the original evacuation hospital staff as the care shifted from surgical to more medical cases. The army relocated internists to assist with the care of the medical patients and spent considerable time and attention improving the sanitary conditions, including the water supply. But for some, who had survived the muddy soil of the trenches in France, the war ended for them as they succumbed to pneumonia and died in the hospital wards in the occupied land of Germany.
Though influenza continued to be a challenge and the hospital had a good share of their own cases, the general good health of the command was attributed to overall improved sanitation: the troops were finally housed in comfortable barracks with adequate food. Sleeping in beds again and having regular meals along with fresh air and exercise, it seemed to Amy a page right out of her nursing book: proper care of the convalescent. With the exception of the control of venereal diseases, and finally solving the lice problem among the soldiers, the physical condition of the men was overall fairly good.
Now most of them knew they would likely survive the war and a more insidious infection ensued. Ennui and depression needed the attention of the medical staff, and in fact spread to them as well. Everyone was tired, and dearly wanted to be home, the days drug on in a monotony of home-sickness and despair. The rumors that certain units were to be sent home were often unfounded. The hospitals had many long-term patients, just waiting for the point at which they could handle the trip home to the U.S.
The YMCA brought in theatre and entertainment. The Red Cross effectively organized social gatherings and galas, and the nurses were always desired as dance partners. A hardship for Leon was knowing that Amy would attend the officers’ parties, which he could not. As it became increasingly more difficult to see each other with the pace at the hospital now almost leisurely (clandestine meetings could not be hidden amidst the confusion of arrivals, departures, and an enormous work load), they had resorted to writing letters again, missing each other dreadfully as winter’s drab garb of grey skies, grey stone, and grey moods matched their own. Spots of color began exchanging winter’s garments for the first signs of springtime.
“The Red Cross dance is tonight, Amy, and you need to go” Elsie announced as she entered their room before throwing herself down on one of the built in bunks and attacking her boots with some ferociousness. Elsie was looking flushed and pretty, and had a package under her arm from her shopping trip to town. She pulled out two hand embroidered collars and cuffs, one the color of new spring leaves, the other a darker forest green.
“Pick which one you are wearing to the festivities, it’s Fastnachtsdienstag, Fat Tuesday, and the St. Patrick’s Day Dance, and we’ll be ready”. (For all intents, the Red Cross Dance would be in honor of March’s holidays, all rolled into one).
“Good Lord,” Amy said with some enthusiasm, “Wherever did you get such a find?”
Elsie laughed delightedly; her friend had been in an intolerably sullen mood lately. “Nothing like something new to cheer up a depressed woman! I found an old seamstress downtown, who probably had this fabric hanging as curtains, but isn’t it fun, and look at her fine stitches she’s produced?”
Amy indeed was impressed, she herself was an excellent needlewoman, and was intrigued at the beautiful and intricate rose and leaf pattern expertly stitched.
“So, what do you say, shall we go dazzle them all with our new finery and our winning ways?” Elsie was sure she could get Amy to stop her moping, and a good twirl with a handsome officer might help get Leon out of her head for the evening.
“Oh, you do love to cosset, Elsie, but I love you for it!” Amy chose the lighter green, knowing that Elsie’s dark brown hair and green eyes would be the perfect accompaniment to the deep green color. They giggled excitedly while getting primped and powdered.
They had managed to get new uniform skirts issued them since their stay in Coblenz, and with more time allotted them recently, their boots were always clean, even their aprons looked less bedraggled these days. As they donned their new finery and fussed with their hair, they felt like schoolgirls again, and they both had the heightened color of excitement and anticipation as they entered the hall where many of the medical staff were already enjoying a departure from the ordinary fare with assorted sandwiches, cookies, and punch that was furtively enhanced by special additives.
Dr. John Angel had experienced a similar level of coercion to show up to the dance. He had been nearly drugged and dragged by Champ to the refreshment table, and was enjoying a glass of punch with a healthy dose of rum added. He saw them enter, and his heart skipped several beats as he looked at Amy, the unattained prize, the woman who had been by his side and secretly in his heart these many months. He hurried over before anyone else had a chance to accost them (the nurses were in high demand as dance partners) to ask for his share. Although Amy was thinner, and he had been concerned about the paleness of her skin lately, tonight she glowed and her eyes sparkled with green flecks that matched the touch of soft green she was wearing.
She dazzled him, without the slightest idea of how affected he was by her. Her hair was braided and twisted together without the covering of her nurse’s cap, and she reminded him of a fairy nymph, any moment she might disappear in a cloud of fairy dust. He included them both in the compliment, “My, won’t you two beautiful ladies give us a few broken hearts tonight.”
A piano was being badly beaten by one of the officers, and Amy was cajoled by her nursing supervisor, Mrs. Hartman, into playing a few tunes. Even Lona Hartman had made concessions this evening in her appearance, with her hair less severe, looking positively inviting. After playing a few stanzas, most the men joined in to sing “Katy, beautiful Katy” and soon the party was off to a roaring start. When some of the Red Cross personnel arrived, with a mini band including a pianist, John Angel plied Amy away. They carried some punch and snacks to an alcove, and sat for a time reminiscing.
“What will you do when you go back to the states, Doctor?”
“Amy, after all that we’ve been through, I wish you’d call me John.”
“Oh, it’s too late now, after all these months,” she laughed, “Doctor is your first name.”
“Well, I guess I must be satisfied with that, then.” He looked at her a little sadly, and then said “I have a letter from the chief surgeon at Boston General; he’s hoping I will come back. But my folks are not too healthy these days, so I may try to locate in New York.” He was actually quite certain he would not go back to Boston, it was time to let go of his fantasy about ever having something more than a friendship with Amy, and he didn’t particularly desire seeing her and reopening his wounded heart on a daily basis.
“Sounds like the nurses may stay on a little longer. Champ and I have our orders for the end of the month.” He had read over his papers, and proceeded at that time to close off a little at a time, his open wound. He wondered if he would find someone else, though he was certain not like her. She saw herself as a good friend and colleague, with a unique shared history after so many intense experiences together, but nothing more. He asked her to dance when a waltz struck up, she was supple and womanly in his arms, not the extremely professional British nurse he remembered meeting more than 2 years ago. As they twirled to the music, he spun in his mind the last thread of what might have been, now safely hidden in his cocooned heart. Within two weeks he was on a vessel bound for New York, USA.
As men were sent home, the Third Army was reduced in size and the hospitals began to shrink. During the release of the final divisions, most of the hospitals were closed and personnel returned to the United States in batches, many times awaiting orders repeatedly delayed, with rumors of leaving common and all of the army personnel were thrilled to finally step onto the ship that would take them home. Evacuation 6 no longer existed in it’s original entity, but combined with others, until Evacuation Hospital No. 27 alone remained, located in the buildings of the former German military hospital at Coblenz. It became the last base hospital for the American forces in Germany.
Amy finally received orders of transfer, and would leave on April 17, 1919, to arrive in New York before the first of May.
Only in her dreams and unspoken desires this past year had Amy envisioned being back in her own bed at home. All those months in the direst of circumstances, the thought of home provided comfort, but returning seemed an unreality. The starkness of death everywhere kept her from the certainty that she would again see her dear parents, and stay up late into the wee hours talking with her sisters as they often did. She loved the crazy eight sided house, with its idiosyncratic floor plan. Mother had made it their home and it was filled with laughter and comradery, along with the generosity of spirit which was a trademark of Nellie Hollindale.
That first night back, as she scrunched down under the goose down quilt, and gazed around her flower-covered walls and filmy lace curtains, she had a sense of the surreal. Her mind flashed on the countless scenes of torn bodies and broken minds, the multitudes of young men who touched her life and lay buried in that foreign land, the decay and death that had pervaded her day to day existence this past year; the sights and smells of war that she would never be fully free of.
Yes, she had seen things no woman should have seen. She had experienced the grim reality of war, and would forever be changed by it. What could she be proud of, and what could she ever share with anyone about the things that had happened in that place? She knew for some, the memory of war was brief and lives were cut short in the fields and trenches of France. For others, the scars of war would be carried throughout their lives, twisted like the miles of barbed wire along the front, in the hidden recesses of their minds, and sometimes a dream would remind them of the horrors they strove in waking hours to forget.
Days drifted by, and Amy tried desperately to be connected to the happenings at home and in her family. She felt marooned from everyone, detached and withdrawn. She was an actor on the stage, her well rehearsed role enacted by rote. Her sisters would ask a timid question, but then were not comfortable hearing her share stories of her experiences, even though she was careful to edit details as she spoke, and never shared some of her darkest secrets from the war. They sometimes glanced at her a little furtively, uncertain what to say, but mostly glossed over and tried to “lighten her up” with their silly songfests at the piano and endless engagements outside the home.
Amy mostly felt like a wet blanket at the social gatherings that she used to infect with gaiety, and she would often decline to go with them. Nellie watched her daughter closely, and was aware of the sadness behind her eyes, and the thinness of her appearance, and plied her with English remedies and special dishes. As the month disappeared, Amy checked the mail daily for news of Leon. She had not heard from him since first arriving home, and was suddenly overwhelmed with fear.
Could she have been wrong, was this relationship a result of the fervor and heat of war, had he gotten what he needed then from her, and would his life move in a different direction without her? Had the experiences shared been so intense that they both wanted only to lick their wounds, forget, and go on? Would she be so sullen and changed that he wouldn’t want to be with her, back in the states, in a life without war and chaos? Would they have a place to share together, and be able to make a life together with something new, would life flow from the death that had been their experience? She was filled with doubts.
Sunday afternoon. The peonies and roses bloomed in the yard, their light sweet perfume promising a day sparkling with blue skies, and fresh scents of spring in June. Mother was cooking pot roast and the smells of baked bread wafted up the stairs. In spite of her doubts, inside herself Amy was still content to be home and safe, becoming reacquainted with the familiar. She was learning that the mundane tasks of the household could be savored with her senses, and she could smell life in them.
She had gone with Mother last week, and been the midwife’s assistant as a healthy and beautiful baby girl was delivered. The delicate newness of that precious life, and the exuberant celebrating by the baby’s parents permeated the household, and Amy recognized the joy in life. She had started looking for it, every day, hoping to be surprised by something joyful. Yes, there was joy to be found. On this peaceful Sunday, Amy had been in some other place as she sat with her loved ones in the family pew during the service, while hymns were sung, and the sermon preached.
But at some point in her foggy state that morning, she had a moment of startling clarity, remembering how God had met them all in that little makeshift chapel, miles away in a foreign land, unexpected and unannounced; and life had meaning. She realized there would be healing for her. Although she would not forget, she would live, and her suffering, and the suffering of so many that she had witnessed, had perhaps taught them all the preciousness of every moment, and to live this day.
As the bell rang on the front porch, Amy heard her mother answer the door and call loudly, “Oh Amy, your boy is home” and as she ran down the stairs, into Leon’s arms, she knew the answers.
Edith Amy Hollindale was one of three women in WWI to receive The Purple Heart for meritorious services while serving as a nurse in the American Expeditionary Forces during the First World War. It was awarded to her, according to the citation, for “exceptionally meritorious and conspicuous services at Evacuation Hospital number 6,” Souilly, France, signed by General John Pershing. She served one year overseas and was discharged in June of 1919.
Years later, when her daughter would listen to Amy’s death bed stories in first person of her heroic acts and bravery, she would say “You were some woman, mother” and Amy Hollindale would reply “The opportunity was there, that was all”.
She and Leon were married nearly fifty years and had two daughters, a son who was still born, and numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. Her legacy of inner strength and dedication continues to be evident in the generations who are proud to be in her lineage, and this book is dedicated to all of them.
I am proud to call her my grandmother.
Notes from Amy Hollindale’s effects, likely informational nursing meeting, entitled “Institutional Nursing”
- General Hospital Nursing
- The supply rarely exceeds the demand, due to the type of work and arduous training, the incompliant woman is usually weeded out during training period.
- Regularity and performance depends largely on the nurse’s efficiency and personality.
- The qualifications necessary are health, strength and endurance, at least a graduate of high school or its equivalent, self-control, promptness, neatness, patience.
- Training or preparation- usually three years is required with special courses in any definite branch of nursing given as post graduate work which makes training sometimes run much longer than the required three years. This training must be taken in a recognized or registered school of nursing under strict supervision of competent instructors, etc.
- During training remuneration is very small, some schools do not give wages but provide uniforms and books with maintenance, others give a small wage requiring the nurse in training to provide her own uniforms and books. This amount rarely exceeds 15 dollars a month unless it is the last year of training. After graduation a nurse doing general duty in a hospital can usually get around 75 to 80 dollars unless doing special duty, which of course is paid more accordingly.
- A nurse’s training is mostly advantageous if the person taking it, as it develops, has a competent personality, which is desirable in all walks of life, teaching patience, and ability to meet the public also helpful in every day tasks even if it is not followed professionally. The main disadvantage is the risk one runs in undermining her own health in the care of others, becoming infected from various diseases, and working with the sick; so long as only a person of strong physique, and placid temperament can overcome the natural inclination to sympathize with their ailments
7.A. A promotion and advancement depends largely on a nurse’s competence, executive ability and opportunity.
7.B. Leisure during training is taken at different intervals, a nurse averaging from 8-10 hours a day with one half day through the week depending on the size of the hospital and personnel. Vacations usually average 2-3 weeks during training but after graduation a nurse is given longer vacations and better hours.
7.C. I do not know much about this as only county, state, federal, institutions have a system dealing with retirement, pension, etc.
8. Professional ethics are similar to those practiced in the Army, a nurse showing precedence at all times to those in authority, superintendents, doctors, seniors, and other nurses, etc. there is also a moral obligation a nurse holds to her school to conduct herself in such a way by action and speech that she will not injure the reputation either of herself or her school. Obligations due to officers and management of the hospital are mainly obedience and restraint from criticism. There is also obligation to patients, the main ethical point is not to discuss her patients secrets and business with others, this being dishonorable and not consistent with the pledge a nurse usually takes at her graduation, which is known as the “nightingale pledge”, a pledge of honor, loyalty and devotion to the profession.