After the painful births and deaths of I don’t know how many committees, after six weeks’ struggling with something we imagined to be Red Tape, which proved to be the combined egoism of several persons all desperately anxious to “get to the Front,” and desperately afraid of somebody else getting there too, and getting there first, we are actually off. Impossible to describe the mysterious processes by which we managed it. I think the War Office kicked us out twice, and the Admiralty once, though what we were doing with the Admiralty I don’t to this day understand. The British Red Cross kicked us steadily all the time, on general principles; the American snubbed us rather badly; what the French said to us I don’t remember, and I can’t think that we carried persistency so far as to apply to the Russian and the Japanese. Many of our scheme perished in their own vagueness. Others, vivid and adventurous, were checked by the first encounter with the crass reality. Continue reading
- May Sinclair was a novelist and noted writer. At the start of the Great War she volunteered to work with Dr Munro’s Ambulance Corps and in these diary entries she chronicles her experience with the group in Belgium. The Corps, rejected from service with the British Red Cross, was embraced by the Belgian Red Cross and worked under their auspices.
In Sinclair’s account names of the individuals within the Corps have been changed. To avoid any confusion the aliases Sinclair used in the original text will remain however the following is a partial list of Aliases followed by actual names.
- The Commandant – Dr Hector Munro
- Ursula Dearmer – Lady Dorothie Feilding
- Mrs Torrance – Elise Knocker (later Baroness T’Serclaes)
- Janet McNeil – Mairi Chisholm
- Mrs. Lambert – Helen Hayes Gleason
Other individuals are referred to by a combination of aliases, real names as in the case of Grace Ashley-Smith or by omitting a name all together as in the case of fellow author Sarah McNaughton.
May Sinclair’s diary entries are medium to long reads.
Please note the date is approximate
The Prince, next morning, sent the gamekeeper in to the station at S to meet the wounded and take our lot out to K . The maids all requested him to bring young and dashing cavalrymen if possible handsome in any case, no infantrymen. What eventually did arrive out to us was a miserable dejected-looking lot of infantrymen, Hungarians, Slovenes from Carniola, and one Bosniak.
The men were all badly wounded so badly that the doctor, when he saw them, sent the Princess away, saying
“No, Highness ; this is not work for any one with weak nerves. Send me the English lady she is more likely to stand this sort of thing.”
The doctor was the leader of the pan- Slav movement in the district, and I am convinced that he put me in charge of the hospital simply because of the opportunity this gave him of talking war to one who shared his views and sympathies.
“I assure you, Fraulein,” he said, as he dressed a shrapnel-wound in a man’s shoulder, “I assure you, whichever way it goes, it’s the end of Austria : if the Central Powers win we become simply a province of Germany: if they lose, it’s the disintegration of Austria. A country composed, as Austria is, of so many races, each one more discontented than the other, must not risk going to war. It’s all the fault of that puffed-up, vain-glorious peacock in Berlin ! It was he sent that ultimatum to Serbia. Na, Serbia is the hardest nut they’ve ever had to crack. My son, who is in the artillery, fighting against the Serbs, says that even if we could concentrate all our forces against Serbia, we should still find it difficult down there. He says the Serbs are simply capital fellows, and their officers are the best in Europe. Cue must really say it serves William right. He’s getting it hot everywhere. Of course you know that Paris is safe now?”
The Hungarians boasted of being alive at all after so many hardships. “But that’s Hungarian,” they would say proudly. “A Hungarian can go for three days without any food at all and still laugh and sing. It’s our spirit that does it. You should see the Russians run when we charge. Once we’ve gone four days on potatoes which we ate raw from the fields as we went along, then we went into the trenches and made an attack after being sixteen hours again without food. We made the Russians run too at least, some of them not all ; oh, no ! not all,” the Hungarian said, shaking his head.
“They fight well, then ? ”
“Like devils absolutely like devils. God! you can’t shoot them down ; and these fellows” fiercely pointing to the Slovenes “won’t. try. They won’t aim ! And if we Hungarians once shoot down a Russian twelve spring into his place like mushrooms out of the ground.”
I asked what would happen if the Russians would win.
The Hungarian was indifferent to issues. ” It really makes no difference who wins. The Russians aren’t bad, and they’re awfully good to their prisoners. Lucky chaps who get taken prisoner war’s over for them ! If the Russians win we’ll be just as well off at home as we were before, so what does it matter ? I wonder why we are fighting against Russia ? The Serbs killed the Archduke but Russia ? Anyhow, nothing matters if we were only back in our homes again. Still it’s no use getting depressed like that Bosniak there. He’s like a dead man; and what’s the sense of being a dead man when you’re still alive ? ”
The poor Bosniak was really very miserable. He was the only one of his race in the hospital where nobody could speak Bosnian.
The (Slovenes) also were disappointed that their wounds healed so quickly, which meant their speedy return to Galicia.
“It’s bad enough to have to fight at all,” they said, “but to have to fight against one’s own race is a terrible thing. If only our officers would be decent ; but they shoot us from behind if they think we’re slack with the Russians. There are awful things happening in Galicia, and it’s not good to be a Slav in Austria.”
One Slovene told us very proudly that his brother, who had been in America, had taught him some English, and on our inquiring what it was, he reeled off
“Son of a bitch, daughter of hell, damnation, glory Hallelujah ! ” On seeing our blank faces, he asked, ” Isn’t it English ? My brother said it was real English.” We assured him that his brother was a master of English, but cautioned him that in future it would be wise if his brother explained the meaning of what he taught him.
Hell in so calm and pastoral a place. The autumnal country pitted and torn by cannon!
Frankfort, Germany. We are still in the enemy’s country of course, but have come out of our prison Altheim. All were early at the Bahn-Hof. There for the last time, please God! we found our old horror the Chief of Police. He had a long paper in his hand, and read out our names; “Hamilton?” “Here!” “Your passport?” (which he scrutinised as if he had never seen such a thing before), and so on. As we got our precious papers back we passed through the barrier, where our tickets were clipped, and on to the platform above. The train when it came in was crammed with soldiers, and we were advised to wait two hours for the next, but (to a woman) we all preferred travelling third, or even fourth class, rather than remain another hour where we had suffered so much. Miss G—— told me afterwards that she had travelled with two German men, who cursed England up and down, using the most horrible language about her. Continue reading
Fifty women and children go. We sleep in Frankfort, and cross from Flushing to Folkestone. Oh! that terrible mined sea, and the “untersuchung” of the Frontier. I tremble for this Diary, all letters I have destroyed.
Terrible news! A telegram was posted up in the town this morning, saying that three English “Panzerkreuzers” had been sunk by one German submarine. Of course the church bells pealed, and the flags came out, and the children sang “Nun danket alle Gott,” because 950 brave Englishmen had gone under. We are much depressed, and our depression is aggravated by the want of occupation here. We dare not sketch for fear of being “verhaftet” (arrested). It is no good writing because every scrap of paper will be taken from us on the frontier; nobody I know plays bridge, and so I read and walk all day long. Continue reading