Letters & Poems

Stacks Image 3242
LETTER FROM DOROTHY CHALMERS (WAAC)
I have been here a fortnight today, and got my uniform the day before I came: I would not get it until I was really working! I am learning all kinds of outdoor work, and can milk, feed calves, and pigs, and poultry, and drive the milk float. This is such a lovely old fashioned farmhouse, black and white, with funny little windows and a beautiful garden. I get up at four o’clock every morning, and enter into the joys (?) of milking, with the cows’ tails tied to prevent them swishing into my eyes. Then I scrub out milk tankards – this is hard, especially if any milk has been left in the bottom – and I nearly fell into one the other day, We do have fun though the most part is really heavy, dirty work.

I was knocked over by a calf this morning, and my hand is pretty badly hurt, but the experience did not equal that of being chased by the old sow, as I was the other day; she took a dislike to me as I was carrying a huge sack of potatoes up the field. Of course I ran as fast as I could, but she kept up with me until I backed through a hedge, tearing my dress on a piece of barbed wire. My revenge was complete though. Yesterday, we went (the Farmer and his wife and I) to the market and sold the offensive animal for £9.10.0d.

My farmer is also the village blacksmith, and I am learning to shoe a horse and blow the bellows; the sparks fly from the anvil and make holes in your clothes – not to mention yourself.

Some people tell me that I shall not be able to go on with my far work in the winter, because it will make my hands so bad. But I intend to stick it. Our men don’t stop fighting in cold weather, and neither shall I. My only brother is in the trenches – so you know how I feel about it!

Dorothy Chalmers
(WLA)

POEM BY CHARLES DAVIES
Private Charles Davies from Winnipeg, who had served in the 12 Canadian Field Ambulance, wrote the following lines which appeared in a Canadian newspaper in 1919.

SHORNCLIFFE CAMP

Folkestone, though Queen of the Southern Coast,
I'm loath to leave your grassy warren;
Those steep white cliffs that beacon like a genial host
Receding from my eyes night dim with tears.

What soothing hours and happy days so dear does memory recall;
The walk along the Leas, the leafy undercliff, and Oh, that changing sea,
When the rich red sunset sparkles on thy face,
Such are my thoughts of thee picture of grace.

Garden of England! Men of Kent!
Think of your heritage; the flowers sweet scent,
That wooded glade at Seabrook, primrose clad;
The glimpse of moving picture shore to make you glad.

Those verdant meads of Shorncliffe Plain,
Bright green as emeralds after rain.
Deep down in mist of blue lies sleeping Sandgate town,
Whose twinkling lights shine like some fairy's crown.

St. Martin's spire, neath which brave Plimsol sleeps,
Whose noble work the British sailor reaps;
The bugle blasts and all war's grim array,
Much as it did in Moore's fair distant day
Not even the mists of Passchendaele and its blood strewn duckboard track
Can blot from out my memory the charm of Radnor Park,
Who would not fight for thee, dear land,
For every flower and Kentish maid's fair hand.

Who cares for the muddy trenches and the shrapnel's piercing scream,
The waves of poison and all the ghastly scene?
There are those away in the Golden West dearer than Nelson's name-
Mothers and wives and sisters; it's for them we play the game.

Charles Davies

Letters made available by the Red Cross from
Miss Dorothy M.Robinson daughter of Major General Sir C.W.Robinson. Miss Robinson was a Red Cross Nurse at Waverley Abbey Military Hospital in Farnham Surrey.

DECEMBER 3RD 1915
My Dearest Mother,

Thank you so much for forwarding Joan’s letter. I am glad she is getting on so well. I think that all things considered it is much better that Gladys Gourment is not coming here. Her cousin really made a bad character for herself as everybody knows it and would associate Gladys with it, it would not be very nice for her.

I met another Waverley Abbey girl at the station and drove up in her motor and sent the two lots of boxes on the cab that came to meet me! Janie met me in the Hall and I could not see the Commander as she was out, since I’ve tried four times to see her, and always hit the time she is out. I really can’t make another effort as I shouldn’t know what to say when I did see her, all this time after my arrival!.

I am sleeping in what is known as the Cubicles. It is a large room divided into seven cubicles, and is above the stables. Now the stables are used as a laundry so you can imagine there is no fear of being cold at night. They really are awfully nice cubicles, the bed is a very comfy one, but I’m exceedingly glad I had the electric torch with me that Daddy gave me.

My cousin Jamie is the 2nd nurse and I’m third which is a ripping arrangement. She is supposed more or less to be in the Abbot ward whilst I’m in Lady of the Lake. As a matter of fact we hop pretty freely between the two. As there are wardmaids under us, we have all the nice part of the work without any of the other!

Yesterday an officer brought over some men of his regiment and they gave a variety entertainment. They were most clever. A conjuror, a musician and a ventriloquist came. All the patients were taken into the Monastry Hall, the ones that could not move were put on stretchers on the floor and the others were in chairs etc. They enjoyed themselves most awfully. Jamie and I only saw a small part at the end as we had a whole lot of dressings etc. to prepare, but to judge from the cheering and laughing that went on it must have been a brilliant performance. I think it was a very good idea of the officer’s myself as he could select suitable men, and they naturally know exactly the sort of thing that amuses Tommies.

How are you getting on? I hope nothing new has turned up, which requires a vast amount of energy to meet it!!

Please give my love to Daddy and Charlie.

Your loving daughter
Dorothy
Jamie and I are getting quite expert at calling each other Beverley and Gaisford I occasionally omit to answer but that is a minor detail. Jamie’s day off is Monday and mine is Tuesday.

Dorothy

Letters made available by the Red Cross from
Miss Dorothy M.Robinson daughter of Major General Sir C.W.Robinson. Miss Robinson was a Red Cross Nurse at Waverley Abbey Military Hospital in Farnham Surrey.

FEBRUARY 10TH 1916
My Dear Mother and Daddy,

Very many thanks for your letter I told Jamie about Jack and she was very pleased. You must have had a thrilling time what with Jack and Bob popping in. I am so glad that Bob managed to get leave – though I wish it were for more than five days. Jamie was up this morning. It really was quite dreadful, we were half afraid that she would not be able to at all. A new man developed alarming symptoms and the doctor was puzzled to know whether he was in for rheumatic fever or spotted fever. Of course he was packed off at once and there was a great carbolisation in his ward and all of us who had been near were vigorously sprayed with the antidote (a vile process). We have not yet heard definitely, but it is not thought to be spotted fever and the doctor thinks that even if it is it is safe to go about. I am only telling you all this as Jamie had to writ to Aunt Esme about it and I was afraid you might hear a distorted account and be alarmed. If anything of that sort did happen you may be sure I’d always let you know the exact truth about it.

I am feeling very cross as a patient of ours has been whisked off by the Cambridge. He was not in the least fit to travel, but after much perseverance there has been a distinct improvement the last two days, the doctor was wild at having to send him and it was positively dangerous. What Jamie will say I can’t imagine.

I am just going to have a bath. Hurrah! The second in ten days! Quite a luxury.

Your loving daughter
Dorothy
P.S. I am enclosing Joan’s cable and was so glad to see it.
P.S.2 I am so glad Dr Cockburn has given you a tonic. I hope you are taking it! I have put my name on the list for March.

Dorothy

Letters made available by the Red Cross from
Miss Dorothy M.Robinson daughter of Major General Sir C.W.Robinson. Miss Robinson was a Red Cross Nurse at Waverley Abbey Military Hospital in Farnham Surrey.

MARCH 8TH 1916
My Dearest Mother,

Very many thanks for the £2, your letter and all the other various letters you forwarded. I was very interested in Joan’s on night duty. It certainly is a most topsy turvey life it feels most strange to have meals in the middle of the night and odder still to go to bed at 10. O’clock in the morning! I have been having a most amusing time this evening.
Tomorrow is discharge day and the men always behave badly in honour of those departing – if they can. Three of them evidently thought they’d see if they could hide in somebody else’s bed in one of the wards and come back late without my knowing. I don’t usually go round this end much between 8.30 and 10, but being Tuesday night I thought I would and went about 9.15. Of course I found the empty beds, knowing the men in them were good sorts and wouldn’t do anything really bad, I said nothing but took away all the bedclothes – which very much upset the gravity of the other patients. About 10 o’clock they came back and started hunting quietly for them not wishing me to hear and thinking one of the other men had played a joke on them. After a bit one of the men hinted that I might have them and of course they had to come and ask me for them. I really meant to scold them but they were so sheepish and taken aback that I had to lough instead. However I hardly think they will try these games again. The monkeys had gone to the ward at the very farthest end of the hospital and had lain under the bedclothes two of the men there – so that there were three in one bed; how the nurse there did not notice an unusual bulkiness I can’t imagine .But they got back without being spotted for which I was rather glad.

Wednesday night – that is tomorrow night, is my night off and I’m spending it with the Oakes whicj I am looking forward to.
We have just had another fall of snow. By the way the Zeppelins came over in our direction – at least one did and the Zeppelin hooter at Aldershot sounded the alarm at 1.50 you can imagine how thrilled we were, but they never came actually over us, but were at Frimley.

After a bit we telephoned to Aldershot camp ( as hospitals are allowed to know on account of the patients) but they had not heard which way it was going. I half an hour we telephoned the Flying Corps headquarters at Aldershot and they said that they just had a message from the home Office to say the raid had been beaten back and we need take no further precautions .It appears that though they killed a few people they did not get as far inland as they meant to.

The £2 will last me about three weeks. Boarding fee and washing together come to about 14 shillings a week – not more.

Best love to Daddy
Your loving daughter
Dorothy
P.S. It is too distressing about Cotterell maids really are appalling just now.

Dorothy

EXCERPTS FROM LETTERS
The other day I stopped to assist a young lad of the West Kents who had been badly hit by a piece of shell. He hadn’t long to live, and he knew it. I asked him if there was any message I could take to someone at home. The poor lad’s eyes filled with tears as he answered, “I ran away from home and enlisted a year ago. Mother and Dad don’t know I’m here; but you tell them from me I’m not sorry I did it. “ When I told our boys this later they cried like babies. But, mind you that’s the spirit that’s going to pull England through this war, and there isn’t a man of us that doesn’t think of that poor boy and his example every time we go into fight.
Letter to a fellow Tommy’s Father -

‘I was severely wounded by shrapnel but your nobel lad Spencer, carried me to safety. With such men as him England must win. He fears nothing’.
Letter from trenches February 1915

We can’t receive too many socks. In this dampness they get so muddy they have to be thrown away and cannot be repaired. We also need indelible pencils paper and envelopes. A very good gift is a bottle of quinine pills, which can avert a coming chill and cure rheumatism or stiffness of the bones. An occasional bar of soap can always be disposed of with great ease and should be carbolic or disinfectant. Very few of the men have any tooth powder or tooth brushes left. A towel is generally a useful present. I can’t insist too much on chocolate, as Tommy loves sweet things and gets very few out here. Send him a mouth organ or a football, and you will help him forget the monotony of his days.
An officer wrote on 4th January 1915

Strolling down to the trenches on Christmas morning I was staggered to find Germans and English all crowded together between the opposing wire entanglements. Tommies were swapping Woodbines for cigars and talking a desperate lingo of Cockney-French and pidgin English. Gunner Herbert Smart – an Aston Villa footballer in peace time – watched the Germans putting out Christmas trees and lanterns along the tops of their trenches on Christmas Eve. Then men began walking out to shake hands. This went on until midnight on Boxing Day without a single shot being fired. I met a German who had been a waiter in London. He says they do not want to fight and I think he was telling the truth.
As carols were sung and bottles clinked, a private in the Queen’s Westminster Rifles recalled the joy of ‘no lead flying’. A rifleman declared that ‘ if I had not seen for myself the effect of Christmas on these two lines of trenches I should never have believed it. Peace and good will between men who have been murdering one another for the past five months is incredible. A few hours before we were careful to keep our heads down and now we were sitting on the parapet of our trenches, throwing our cigarettes to our enemies, who wandered out into the middle of the lines. They even offered to play us at football.
Here we are looking at the role that women played during WWI, but are you sure you know how the war actually started?

If not, read more here!