Sunday 26 May 2013

On This Day - May 26th 1940

I have copies here of many accounts by members of the military nursing services who were serving in France between the outbreak of war and mid-June 1940. The originals are held at The National Archives, ref. WO222/2143.  This one is the last part of a descriptive and atmospheric account by Sister Gretchen Leyland of No.6 Casualty Clearing Station. An experienced nurse, she trained at Guy's Hospital between 1930 and 1933.


Sunday 26th May 1940

A pump had been started for water and a dynamo to supply electric light in a wider part of the abri, where a Theatre for minor cases had been improvised. We had one or two dressing stations set up and were in a position to function as a C.C.S. in a small way.  I was sent to attend to twenty German prisoners who were in the former strong rooms. Pte. Sunderland gathered some equipment and came with me. In spite of the language difficulty we set two of the unwounded ones to the task of tidying up and cleaning the dishes with paper and we set about dressing the wounds of the others and prepared two for operation.  After a time Pte. Sunderland went off in search of food and water and I found it rather eerie to be alone with the German prisoners, except for the sentry outside, in a silence which was only broken by the sound of artillery coming nearer and nearer beyond the ridge behind the hospital.

The news came that the Sisters were to be evacuated along with the German prisoners and the last of the wounded.  In the morning one of the Nuns had asked me if the rumour was true that the British would not be able to hold back the Germans. This idea had not occurred to me and I had told her that of course they would be held back. Even now we assumed that we were being sent to work in a base hospital simply because a C.C.S. could not function very well in these conditions.  We left a unit that seemed to be downhearted at our going and made our last journey by ambulance through a desolation which included a field full of dead horses.

As we came into Dunkerque we saw a heavy roll of black smoke pouring across the sky. It was the ending of the burning Oil Dumps.  We realised that we were en-route for England but not that the whole of the B.E.F. was being evacuated, in spite of a continuous marching up of small companies of men beside the long queue of ambulances.  The hospital ship was crammed with twice the number it was meant to take and I renewed dressings which had not been touched since the field ambulance until 3.30 a.m. when I went up on deck.  My last memory, like my first of this period of the war, is of Calais, for I watched it now a high blaze, climbing into the air and shining far on the dark water.

No comments:

Post a Comment