The Great War, I was there - Part 22

Photopress JOYS OF 'BLIGHT Y ’FOR CONVALESCENTS Life for the wounded soldier who had reached convalescence under the care of V.A.D.s was usually a gay and cheerful affair. Here is a photograph, taken during 1916 at a military hospital in England, which will recall to many an ex-soldier those happier times of the War, when the grim front line seemed faraway and the fighting man, well on the way to recovery, could take his ease and have no thoughts of the morrow. that for several seconds I stood in the doorway of J and looked for Edward in vain. Then, half-way down the award, blue pyjama-clad arm began to wave, and the next moment I was beside his bed. For a moment or two we gazed at each other in tremulous silence. One of his sleeves, I saw, was empty and the arm beneath it stiff and bandaged, but I noticed with relief, as I looked with an instinctively professional eye for the familiar green stain, that the outer bandage was spotless. With his one available hand he was endeavouring to negotiate a breakfast tray I helped him to eat a poached egg, and the commonplace action restored to both of us the habit of self-control. C vex then, neither of us could say much. He seemed—to my surprise, for I remember Geoffrey’s haggard depression after a much smaller wound— gayer and happier than he had been all through his leave. The relief of having the great dread faced and creditably over was uppermost in his mind just then it was only later, ashe gradually remembered all he had been through on July 1, that Victor and Geoffrey and I realized that the battle of the Somme had profoundly changed him and added ten years to his age. Throughout that day, when he saw no one except myself and the uncle who 859 again sent out a series of telegrams, the astounding coincidence of his arrival at Camberwell possessed all his thoughts. At Waterloo, he told theme, congestion had been so enormous that there was no hope of being allocated by request to special hospitals.“ I simply couldn't believe my eyes,” he concluded, “when an orderly pinned a label on me saying‘ 1st London General.’ ”That afternoon and for several succes­sive days, I was allowed to have tea with him in his ward. Except for a brief good-night it was my only chance of seeing him, for I was on duty without a break for nearly a fortnight. Even the end-of-day ten minutes were difficult to wrest from the J Charge-Sister, a cynical old curmudgeon who could not be persuaded that I really wanted to talk to Edward, and not to flirt with the twenty other officers whose beds sur­rounded his in the crowded ward. She was so palpably hostile to my visits that one evening, exhausted by ten days’ unremitting endeavour to save thirty or forty shattered men whose tendency to die continually threatened to defeat us, I suddenly relapsed into tears as 1 sat by Edward’s bed, and could do nothing but try wordlessly to choke them back ashe stroked my hand with his long, thin fingers. ward as usual, and was in the midst of preparing dressing-trays— with which, regardless of floors and lockers, the day now began— when I heard a voice agitatedly calling:“ Brittain !Brit­ tain !Come here!” I turned, and saw to my great astonishment the elder of the two V.A.D.s from J standing in the door­way. She was panting so much from hurry that she could hardly speak, but managed just to gasp out:“ I say— do you know your brother’s in J ward ?”By pure good luck I managed to avoid the complete wreckage of my dressing- bowls, and gasped in my turn:“ WJiat! Edward in J ?”“Honestly, he is,” she answered “jerkily I’ve just been washing him. Sorry I can’t stop— only got permission to overcome and tell you !”And she rushed back across the road. j was excitedly explaining the situation to my Charge-Sister, when Matron —the stony-eyed and somewhat alarm­ing successor to the first Matron, who had left the hospital a few weeks earlier for work in another field—rang up to say that Second-Lieutenant E.H. Brit­ tain had income with the convoy that morning and was asking for his sister. I could see him, she added, as soon as I could be “spared from the ward.” Overwhelmed with work though we were, the Sister told me that I might go and need not return at once, so, half-dazed with surging emotions, I raced over to the College. Such a confusion of screens and stretchers and washing-bowls replaced the orderly beds of the previous night,
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