Friday, 16 October 2009

The Diary of a Zepp. Night

This account, written by a VAD, is taken from the Gazette of the 3rd London General Hospital (TF) Wandsworth, and published in the June 1916 edition. The Gazette was probably the best of all hospital magazines, due mainly to the foresight of the Commanding Officer, Colonel Bruce Porter, in employing a group of men who were all members of the Chelsea Arts Club and too old, or unfit for normal military service. In addition to their work as orderlies at the hospital, they wrote, illustrated and published a monthly magazine which resulted in one of the finest insights into life in a large military hospital during the Great War.

9.15 - Night Sister blows in rather hurriedly. "All lights out, and just run round to the other wards." Start off on my travels, beginning by badly barking my shins on radiator. Make a frantic dive for the door and land with a resounding crash into a screen. Start once more, and eventually arrive - falling over every possible object en route. Dash upstairs and drop metal matchbox down well of staircase with a noise like several bombs. Await result in palpitating silence. Nothing happens, so "carry on."
9.45 - Suffering from shock and ready for anything. See figure silhouetted against window. Ask what it's doing out of bed, and find it's the statue that adorns the ward. Retire crushed.
10pm - Frenzied search for respirators and solution by matchlight. Wake most of the patients with the striking and singe hair and eyebrows, but success attends my efforts. All is prepared. Do your worst, O Hun!
10.15 - Obtain electric torch, and, shrouding it in kit handkerchiefs, go forth in search of adventure and, incidentally, of Night Sister. Am asked by a gentleman if I can direct him to L ward. Offer him the services of my glow-worm, and put him on the broad road that leadeth to L. The same old tale again, I suppose: cherchez la femme.
10.30 - Fire in side ward insists on blazing. Damp its ardour, but it bursts forth afresh every few minutes. On ordinary occasions to look at it is to put it out. Tonight it needs a pint of water or so every half-hour (more or less) illustrating the cussedness of things as they are.
11pm - Toast feet on radiator and search the heavens for the foe. Nothing doing.
11.30 - Still nothing doing.
12 midnight - Suspense is wearying. Decide to have supper. Cook something - bacon - by the smell thereof - make coffee, and pour three parts down the sink in the endeavour to strain it. Eat and drink in solid darkness; but all is tasteless, dust and ashes as it were. Queer what a difference sight makes to flavour.
12.15 - A tiny light comes down the ward, swaying and dancing through the blackness. Is it a fallen star or a Will o' the Wisp on his nightly travels? 'S neither, but our "Lady of the Lamp" on her midnight round. And the news she brings: "Raid in the ___ district, nothing definite." Cheering. Will they blow usup en masse or a ward at a time? Take a gloomy survey of my past, and speculate on the chances of arriving 'there' whole or in portions.
12.45 - Patrol the ward, pitying the unsuspecting patients slumbering regardless of peril!
1.30 - A not very lucid interval.
3.15 - Another visit from the Lady of the Lamp. No tidings either way. Why, oh why, did I leave my happy home and come on night duty?
4am - Dawn begins to lighten our darkness and the order "Lights out" coincides with the running of the first train to be released. It dashes through with a whoop of triumph and defiance, and I pull myself together and decide that it's not such a bad life after all.

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