Kate Luard

Nantes, France

Orders came last night to each Matron to provide three or five Sisters who can talk French for duty up country with a Stationary Hospital, so M. and I are put down with two Regulars and another Reserve. It is probably too much luck and won’t come off. The duties will be “very strenuous,” both for night and day duty, and we are to carry very little kit. The wire may come at any time. So this morning M. and I and Miss J——, our Senior Regular, and very nice indeed, got into the train for St Nazaire to see about our baggage, and had an adventurous morning. The place was swarming with troops of all sorts. The 6th Division was being sent up to the Front to-day, and no medical units could get hold of any transport for storing all their thousands of tons of stuff. One of the minor errors has been sending the 600 Sisters out with 600 trunks, 600 holdalls, and 600 kit-bags!! The Sisters’ baggage is a byword now, and we could have done with only one of the three things or 1-1/2. We have been out nearly a month now and have not been near our boxes; some other hospitals have lost all theirs, or had them smashed up. We at last traced our No.— people and found them encamped on the wharf among the stuff, trying to get it stored with only one motor transport lent them by the Flying Corps. They were very nice to us, offered us lunch on packing-cases, and Major —— cleaned my skirt with petrol for me!

They sorted out the five kit-bags and boxes for us from the rest, as we have to go in to-morrow and repack for duty,—only sleeping kit and uniform to be taken, and a change of underclothing. They said we’d have to make our own transport arrangements, as the 6th Division had taken up everything. So in the town we saw an empty dray outside a public-house, and after investigating inside two pubs we unearthed a fat man, who took us to a wine merchant’s yard, and he produced a huge dray, which he handed over to us! We lent it to the Matron of No.—, and we have commandeered the brewer for No.—’s to-morrow. Then we met a large French motor ambulance without a French owner, with “Havre” on it, which we knew, and sent Miss —— in it to the Asturias to try and collar it for us to-morrow. She did.

There were a lot of Cavalry already mounted just starting, and Welsh Fusiliers, and Argyll and Sutherlands, and swarms more. We had another invitation to a packing-case lunch from three other M.O.’s at another wharf, but couldn’t stop.

We saw three German officers led through the crowd at the wharf. The French crowd booed and groaned and yelled “Les Assassins” at them. The Tommies were quite quiet. They looked white and bored. We also saw 86 men (German prisoners) in a shed on the wharf. Some one who’d been talking to the German officers told us they were quite cheerful and absolutely certain Germany is going to win!

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Kate Luard

Nantes, France

The latest wave of this erratic sea has tossed us up on to two little French seaside places north of St Nazaire, the port of Nantes. There are over 500 Sisters at the two places in hotels. No.— and No.— and part of — are at La Baule in one enormous new hotel, which has been taken over for the French wounded on the bottom floor; the rest was empty till we came. We are in palatial rooms with balconies overlooking the sea, and have large bathrooms opening out of our rooms; it is rather like the Riffel in the middle of a forest of pines, and the sea immediately in front. The expense of it all must be colossal! Every one is too sick at the state of affairs to enjoy it at all; some bathe, and you can sit about in the pines or on the sands. We have had no letters since we left Havre last Thursday, and no news of the war. We took till Sunday morning to reach St Nazaire, and at midday were stuffed into a little dirty train for this place. I’m thankful we didn’t have to get out at Pornichet, the station before this, where are Nos.—, —, —, —, and —.

The Sisters of No.— who had to leave their hospital at —— handed their sick officers and men over to the French hospital, much to their disgust. The officers especially have a horror of the elegant ways of the French nurses, who make one water do for washing them all round!

Kate Luard

Le Havre, France

Le Havre, France

R.M.S.P. Asturias, Havre.—At last we are uprooted from that convent up the hot hill and are on an enormous hospital ship, who in times of peace goes to New York and Brazil and the Argentine. There are 240 Sisters on her, one or two M.O.’s, and all the No.— equipment. She is like a great white town; you can walk for miles on her decks; she is the biggest I have ever been on; we are in the cabins, and the wards and operating-theatres are all equipped for patients, but at the moment she is being used as a transport for us. We are supposed to be going to St Nazaire, the port for Nantes. They can’t possibly be going to dump No.—, No.—, No.—, No.—, and No.— all down at the new base, so I suppose one or two of the hospitals will be sent up the new lines of communication.

Poor Havre is very desolate. All the flags came down when the British left, and the people looked very sad. Paris refugees are crowding in, and sleeping on the floors of the hotels, and camping out in their motor cars, and many crossing to England. There is a Proclamation up all over the town telling the people to pull themselves together whatever happens, and to forget everything that is not La Patrie. Also another about the military necessity for the Government to leave Paris, and that they mustn’t be afraid of anything that may happen, because we shall win in the end, &c., &c.

We don’t start till to-morrow, I believe; meanwhile, cleanliness and privacy and sheets, and cool, quick meals and sea breeze, are cheering after the grime and the pigging and the squash and the awful heat of the last fortnight. I have picked up a bad cold from the foul dust-heaps and drainless condition of the smelly Havre streets, but it will soon disappear now.

I wish I could tell you the extraordinary beauty of yesterday evening from the ship. There was a flaming sunset below a pale-green sky, and then the thousand lights of the ships and the town came out reflected in the water, and then a brilliant moon. A big American cruiser was alongside of us.

We shall get no more letters till we land. I have a “State-room” all to myself on the top deck; the waiters and stewards are English, very polite to us, and the crew are mostly West African negroes, who talk good English. The ship is very becoming to the white, grey, and red of our uniforms, or else our uniforms are becoming to the ship, and her many decks; but why, oh why, are we not all in hospital somewhere?

Kate Luard

Le Havre, France

Le Havre, France

We are leaving to-morrow, on a hospital ship, possibly for Nantes K. has given orders for every one to be cleared out of Havre by to-morrow.

We found some men invalided from the Front lying outside the station last night waiting for an ambulance, mostly reservists called up; they’d had a hot time, but were full of grit.

The men from Mons told us “it wasn’t fighting—it was murder.” They said the burning hot sun was one of the worst parts. They said “the officers was grand”; many regiments seem to have hardly any officers left. They all say that the S.A. War was a picnic compared to this German artillery onslaught and their packed masses continually filling up.

There is a darling little chapel on this floor, beautifully kept, just as the nuns left it, where one can say one’s prayers. And there is also a lovely church, where they have Mass at 8 every morning.

You can imagine how hard it has been to keep off grumbling at not getting any work all this time; it is one of the worst of fortunes of war. It seems as if most of the “dangerously” and many of the “seriously” wounded must have died pretty soon, or have not been picked up. The cases that do come down are most of them slight. Some of the worst must be in hospital at Rouen.

Kate Luard

Le Havre, France

Le Havre, France

No orders yet, so we are still waiting, packed up.

Went with one of the regulars to-day to see the big hospital ship Asturias with 3000 beds, and also to see Sister —— at the No.— Maritime Hospital. They’ve been very busy there dressing the wounded for the ship. Colonel —— brought us back in his motor, and met the Consul-General on the way, who told us K. came through to-day off a cruiser, and was taken on to Paris in a motor. Smiles of relief from every one. One of the Sisters had heard from her mother in Scotland that she had five Russian officers billeted! They are said to be on their way through from Archangel.

Troopships full of French and English troops are leaving Havre every day, for Belgium.

Wouldn’t you like to be under the table when K. and J. and F. are poring over their maps to-night?

Kate Luard

Le Havre, France

Le Havre, France

We all got up at 5.30 to be ready, but I daresay we shan’t move to-day. Yesterday we had two starved, exhausted, fugitive (from Amiens) No.— Sisters in to tea on our floor, and heard their stories. The last seventeen of them fled with the wounded. A train of cattle-trucks came in at Rouen with all the wounded as they were picked up without a spot of dressing on any of their wounds, which were septic and full of straw and dirt. The matron, M.O., and some of them got hold of some dressings and went round doing what they could in the time, and others fed them. Then the No.— got their Amiens wounded into cattle-trucks on mattresses, with Convent pillows, and had a twenty hours’ journey with them in frightful smells and dirt. Our visitor had five badly-wounded officers, one shot through the lungs and hip, and all full of bullets and spunk. They were magnificent, and asked riddles and whistled, and the men were the same. They’d been travelling already for two days. An orderly fell out of the train and was badly injured, and died next morning.

It is very interesting to read on Monday the ‘Times’ Military Correspondent’s forecast of Friday. He seems to know so exactly the different lines of defence of the Allies, and exactly where the Germans will try and break through. But he has never found out that Havre has been a base for over a fortnight. He speaks of Havre or Cherbourg as a possible base to fall back upon, if fortified against long-distance artillery firing, which we are not. And now we are abandoning Havre!