Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Intelligence Officer

This is part of an account written by Sister Catherine Black while working at a Casualty Clearing Station in 1916. Born in Ireland and trained at The London Hospital, Whitechapel, she was later the private nurse to King George V until his death in 1936.

Catherine Black - 'Blackie'


     The German wounded had exactly the same treatment as our own, except that they were not allowed to speak to one another, and we were always ordered to place them in beds as far apart as possible. I can only remember one departure from this rule, and that was at a C.C.S. just behind the lines. A German prisoner, an officer of high rank, was brought in slightly wounded, and given a bed in the corner of my ward. On the day following his admission the British medical officer in charge of the station sent for me and told me that he had some instructions of the utmost importance for me. A patient, who would appear to be a German officer, would be brought to my ward later that day and I was for once to reverse all previous orders and put him in the bed next to the prisoner. He would in reality be an officer from the British Intelligence Department seeking certain valuable information, but I must be most careful to keep up the illusion. Although he would not, of course, be wounded, I must nurse him in the usual way and allow him every opportunity for getting acquainted with the German in the next bed. The Sister on night duty was to be given the same instructions as I. No one else in the station was to know anything, for the entire success of the plan depended on its secrecy.

     Late that afternoon another convoy came in and among them was a German officer.  His uniform was torn and covered with mud, and when he was carried in by two ambulance men he seemed so obviously ill and in great pain that I thought at first sight he could not possibly be the one for whose arrival I was prepared. Then he gave me the signal that I had been told to look for, and I ordered the stretcher-bearers to put him into the empty bed next to the German prisoner who had been admitted the day before.  Then began an elaborate game of make-believe. Never on any stage have I seen such an actor as that Intelligence Officer! His part was carried out to perfection. Not only did he completely deceive the German next to him as to his credentials, but he even hoodwinked the nurses and orderlies into believing him a badly wounded man. The Night Sister and I backed him up for all we were worth. At the proper times we put screens round his bed, carefully dressed and re-bandgaged his imaginary wounds to the most realistic exclamations of pain and protests in broken English. When he appeared to be suffering very much we carried out the pretence of giving him injections. Every day the whole performance of nursing him was carried out with scrupulous care, the only difference between him and the other patients being that no orderlies were allowed to attend him; Sister and I did everything for him ourselves. To avoid creating suspicion, we carried out exactly the same procedure in the case of the bona fide German officer. Very soon there were whispered conversations between the two beds, but we took good care to be out of earshot when that happened.

     On the fourth day the German officer was transferred to a prison camp, and our mysterious patient was 'evacuated.' We never knew his destination, but a week or two later I received unofficial information that the plan had been a great success. Somehow or other I linked this up with the news that our troops had taken an important German position.

King's Nurse, Beggar's Nurse, Catherine Black, published by Hurst and Blackett, London, 1939

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