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   Chapter 4 IV ToC

My War Experiences in Two Continents By S. Macnaughtan Characters: 37586

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


I have not written my diary for some weeks. I went home to England and stayed at Rayleigh House. On my way home I met Mr. F. Ware, who told me submarines were about. As I had but just left a much-shelled town, I think he might have held his peace. The usual warm welcome at Rayleigh House, with Mary there to meet me, and Emily Strutt.

I wasn't very tired when I first arrived, but fatigue came out on me like a rash afterwards. I got more tired every day, and ended by having a sort of breakdown. This rather spoilt my holiday, but it was very nice seeing people again. It was difficult, I found, to accommodate myself to small things, and one was amazed to find people still driving serenely in closed broughams. It was like going back to live on earth again after being in rather a horrible other world. I went to my own house and enjoyed the very smell of the place. My little library and an hour or two spent there made my happiest time. Different people asked me to things, but I wasn't up to going out, and the weather was amazingly bad.

I was to have gone back to work on the Thursday week after I arrived home, but I got a telegram from Madame Sindici saying Furnes was being shelled, and the hospital, etc., was to be evacuated. Dr. Perrin, who was to have taken me back, had to start immediately without me. It was difficult to get news, and hearing nothing I went over on Saturday, January 23rd, as I had left Mrs. Clitheroe in charge of my soup-kitchen, and thought I had better do the burning deck act and get back to it.

Mr. Bevan and Mr. Morgan met me at Calais, and told me to wait at Dunkirk, as everyone was quitting Furnes. One of our poor nurses was killed, and the Joos' little house was much damaged. I stopped at Mrs. Clitheroe's flat, very glad to be ill in peace after my seedy condition in London and a bad crossing. Rested quietly all Sunday in the flat by myself. It is an empty, bare little place, with neither carpets nor curtains, but there is something home-like about it, the result, I think, of having an open fire in one room.

On Monday, the 25th, I went back to work at Adinkerke station, to which place our soup-kitchen has been moved. I got a warm welcome from the Belgian Sisters. It is very difficult doing the station work from Dunkirk, as it is 16 kilometres from Adinkerke; but the place itself is nice, and I just have to trust to lifts. I fill my pockets with cigarettes and go to the "sortie de la ville," and just wait for something to pass-and some queer, bumpy rides I get. Still, the soldiers who drive me are delightful, and the cigarettes are always taken as good pay.

One day I went and spent the night at Hoogstadt, where the hospital now is, and that I much enjoyed. Dr. Perrin gave up his little room to me, and the nurses and staff were all so full of welcome and pleasant speeches.

On Monday, February 8th, I went out to La Panne to start living in the hotel there; but I was really dreadfully seedy, and suffered so much that I had to return to the flat at Dunkirk again to be nursed. My day at La Panne was therefore very sad, as I nearly perished with cold, and felt so ill. Not a soul came near me, and I wished I could be a Belgian refugee, when I might have had a little attention from somebody.

On Tuesday, February 9th, a Belgian officer came into Adinkerke station, claimed our kitchen as a bureau, and turned us out on to the platform. I am trying to get General Millis to interfere; but, indeed, the rudeness of this man's act makes one furious.


14 February.-I have been laid up for some days at the flat at Dunkirk. It is amazing to realise that this place should be one's present idea of comfort. It has no carpets, no curtains, not a blind that will pull up or down, and rather dirty floors, yet it is so much more comfortable than anything I have had yet that I am too thankful to be here. There is a gas-ring in the kitchen, on which it is possible to cook our food, and there are shops where things can be got.

Mr. Strickland and I are both laid up here, and Miss Logan nurses us devotedly. Our joy is having a sitting-room with a fire in it. Was there ever anything half so good as that fire, or half so homely, half so warm or so much one's own? I lie on three chairs in front of it, and headache and cold and throat are almost forgotten. The wind howls, the sea roars, and aeroplanes fly overhead, but at least we have our fire and are at home.

17 February.-Another cold, wet day. I am alone in the flat with a "femme de ménage" to look after me. A doctor comes to see me sometimes. Miss Logan and Mr. Strickland left this morning. There was a tempest of rain, and I couldn't think of being moved. They were sweet and kind, and felt bad about leaving me; but I am just loving being left alone with some books and my fire.

I have been lying in bed correcting proofs. Oh, the joy of being at one's own work again! Just to see print is a pleasure. I believe I have forgotten all I ever knew before the war began. A magazine article comes to me like a language I have almost forgotten.

18 February.-This is the day that German "piracy" is supposed to begin. We heard a great explosion early this morning, but it was only a mine that had been found on the shore being blown up. The sailors' aeroplane corps is opposite us, and we see Commander Samson and others flying off in the morning and whirling back at night, and then we hear there has been a raid somewhere. When a Taube comes over here the sailors fire at it with a gun just opposite us, and then tell us they only do it to give us flower-vases-i.e., empty shell-cases!


Mr. Holland came here to-day, and told me some humorous sides of his experiences with ambulances. One man from the Church Army marched in, and said: "I am a Christian and you are not. I come here for petrol, and I ask it, not for the Red Cross, but in the name of Christ." Another man came dashing in, and said: "I want to go to Poperinghe. I was once there before, and the mud was beastly. Send someone with me."

My own latest experience was with an American woman of awful vulgarity. I asked her if she was busy, like everyone else in this place, and she said:

"No. I was suffering from a nervous breakdown, so I came out here. What is your war is my peace, and I now sleep like a baby."

I want adjectives! How is one to describe the people who come for one brief visit to the station or hospital with an intense conviction that they and they only feel the suffering or even notice the wants of the men. Some are good workers. Others I call "This-poor-fellow-has-had-none." Nurses may have been up all night, doctors may be worked off their feet, seven hundred men may have passed through the station, all wounded and all fed, but when our visitors arrive they discover that "This poor fellow has had none," and firmly, and with a high sense of duty and of their own efficiency, they make the thing known.

No one else has heard a man shouting for water; no one else knows that a man wants soup. The man may have appendicitis, or colitis, or pancreatitis, or he may have been shot through the lungs or the abdomen. It doesn't matter. The casual visitor knows he has been neglected, and she says so, and quite indiscriminately she fills everyone up with soup. Only she is tender-hearted. Only she could never really be hardened by being a nurse. She seizes a little cup, stoops over a man gracefully, and raises his head. Then she wants things passed to her, and someone must help her, and someone must listen to what she has to say. She feeds one man in half an hour, and goes away horrified at the way things are done. Fortunately these people never stay for long.

Then there is another. She can't understand why our ships should be blown up or why trenches should be taken. In her own mind she proves herself of good sound intelligence and a member of the Empire who won't be bamboozled, when she says firmly and with heat, "Why don't we do something?" She would like to scold a few Generals and Admirals, and she says she believes the Germans are much cleverer than ourselves. This last taunt she hopes will make people "do something." It stings, she thinks.

I could write a good deal about this "solitary winter," but I have not had time either to write or to read. I think something inside me has stood still or died during this war.

21 February, Sunday.-The Munro corps has swooped down in its usual hurry to distribute letters, and to say that someone is waiting down below and they can't stop. They eat a hasty sardine, drink a cup of coffee, and are off!

To-day I have made this flat tidy at last, and have had it cleaned and scrubbed. I have thrown away old papers and empty boxes, and can sit down and sniff contentedly. No convoy-ite sees the difference!


I think I have learnt every phase of muddle and makeshift this winter, but chiefly have I learnt the value of the Biblical recommendation to put candles on candlesticks. In the "convoi Munro" I find them in bottles, on the lids of mustard-tins, in metal cups, or in the necks of bedroom carafes. Never is the wax removed. Where it drips there it remains. Where matches fall there they lie. The stumps of cigarettes grace even the insides of flower-pots, knives are wiped on bread, and overcoats of enormous weight (khaki in colour, with a red cross on the arm) are hung on inefficient loose nails, and fall down. Towels are always scarce; but then, they serve as dinner-napkins, pocket-handkerchiefs, and even as pillow-cases, so no wonder we are a little short of them. There is no necessity for muddle. There never is any necessity for it.

The communal life is a mistake. I wonder if Christ got bored with it.

On Sundays I always want to rest, and something always makes me write. The attack comes on quite early. It is irresistible. At last I am a little happy after these dreary months, and it is only because I can think a little, and because the days are not quite so dark. I think the nights have been longer here than I ever knew them. No doubt it is the bad weather and the small amount of light indoors that make the days seem so short.

I am going back to-morrow to the station, with its train-loads of wounded men. I want to go, and to give them soup and comforts and cigarettes, but just ten days' illness and idleness have "balmed my soul."

22 February.-Waited all day for a car to come and fetch me away. It was dull work as I could never leave the flat, and all my things were packed up, and there was no coal.

23 February.-Waited again all day. I got very tired of standing by the window looking out on a strip of beach at the bottom of the street, and on the people passing to and fro. Then I went down to the dock to try and get a car there, but the new police regulations made it impossible to cross the bridge. I went to the airmen opposite. No luck.

There is a peculiar brutality which seems to possess everyone out here during the war. I find it nearly everywhere, and it entails a good deal of unnecessary suffering. Always I am reminded of birds on a small ledge pushing each other into the sea. The big bird that pushes another one over goes to sleep comfortably.

I remember one evening at Dunkirk when we couldn't get rooms or food because the landlady of the hotel had lost all her servants. The staff at the ---- gave me a meal, but there was a queer want of courtesy about it. I said that anything would do for my supper, and I went to help get it myself. I spied a roll of cold veal on a shelf, and said helpfully that that would do splendidly, but the answer was: "Yes, but I believe that is for our next meal." However, in the end I got a scrap, consisting mostly of green stuffing.

"But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room"-ah, my dear Lord, in this world one may certainly take the lowest place, and keep it. It is only the great men who say, "Friend, come up higher."

"You can't have it," is on everyone's lips, and a general sense of bustle goes with the brutality. "You can't come here," "We won't have her," are quite common phrases. God help us, how nasty we all are!

I find one can score pretty heavily nowadays by being a "psychologist." All the most disagreeable people I know are psychologists, notably --, who breaks his promises and throws all his friends to the wolves, but who can still explain everything in his sapient way by saying he is a psychologist.

One thing I hope-that no one will ever call me "highly strung." I wish good old-fashioned bad temper was still the word for highly strung and nervy people.

... I am longing for beautiful things, music, flowers, fine thoughts....


La Panne. 25 February.-At last I have succeeded in getting away from Dunkirk! The Duchess of Sutherland brought me here in her car. Last night I dined with Mrs. Clitheroe. She was less bustled than usual, and I enjoyed a chat with her as we walked home through the cold white mist which enshrouded La Panne.

This long war has settled down to a long wait. Little goes on except desultory shelling, with its occasional quite useless victims. At the station we have mostly "malades" and "éclopés"; in the trenches the soldiers stand in the bitter cold, and occasionally are moved out by shells falling by chance amongst them. The men who are capable of big things wait and do nothing.

If it was not for the wounded how would one stand the life here? A man looks up patiently, dumbly, out of brown eyes, and one is able to go on again.

La Panne. 27 February.-I have been staying for three nights at the Kursaal Hotel, but my room was wanted and I had to turn out, so I packed my things and came down to the Villa les Chrysanthèmes, and shared Mrs. Clitheroe's room for a night. In the morning all our party packed up and left to go to Furnes, and I took on these rooms. I may be turned out any minute for "le militaire," but meanwhile I am very comfortable.

The heroic element (a real thing among us) takes queer forms sometimes. "No sheets, of course," is what one hears on every side, and to eat a meal standing and with dirty hands is to "play the game." Maxine Elliott said, "The nervous exhaustion attendant upon discomfort hinders work," and she "does herself" very well, as also do all the men of the regular forces. But volunteer corps-especially women-are heroically bent on being uncomfortable. In a way they like it, and they eat strange meals in large quantities, and feel that this is war.

Lord Leigh took me into Dunkirk in his car to-day, and I managed to get lots of vegetables for the soup-kitchen, and several other things I wanted. A lift is everything at this time, when one can "command" nothing. If one might for once feel that by paying a fare, however high, one could ensure having something-a railway journey, a motor-car, or even a bed! My work isn't so heavy at the kitchen now, and the hours are not so long, so I hope to do some work of a literary nature.

* * *

To Miss Macnaughtan's Sisters.

Villa les Chrysanthèmes

La Panne, Belgium,

Sunday, 28 February.

My dear Family,


It is so long since I wrote a decently long letter that I think I must write to you all, to thank you for yours, and to give you what news there is of myself.

Of war news there is none. The long war is now a long wait, and the huge expense still goes on, while we lock horns with our foes and just sway backwards and forwards a little, and this, as you know, we have done for weeks past. Every day at the station there is a little stream of men with heads or limbs bandaged, and our work goes on as before, although it is not on quite the same lines now. I used to make every drop of the soup myself, and give it out all down the train. Now we have a receiving-room for the wounded, where they stay all day, and we feed them four times, and then they are sent away. The whole thing is more military than it used to be, the result, I think, of officers not having much to do, and with a passion for writing out rules and regulations with a nice broad pen. Two orderlies help in the kitchen, the soup is "inspected," and what used to be "la cuisine de la dame écossaise" is not so much a charitable institution as it was.

One sees a good deal of that sort of thing during this war. Women have been seeing what is wanted, and have done the work themselves at really enormous difficulty, and in the face of opposition, and when it is a going concern it is taken over and, in many cases, the women are turned out. This was the case at Dunkirk station, which was known everywhere as "the shambles." I myself tried to get the wounded attended to, and I went there with a naval doctor, who told me that he couldn't uncover a single wound because of the awful atmosphere (it was quite common to see 15,000 men lying on straw). One woman took this matter in hand, purged the place, got mattresses, clean straw, stoves, etc., and when all was in order the voice of authority turned her out.

This long waiting is being much more trying for people than actual fighting. In every corps the old heroic outlook is a little bit fogged by petty things. One sees the result of it in some wrangling and jealousy, but this will soon be forgotten when fighting with all its realities begins again.

I think Britain on the subject of "piracy" is about as fine as anything in her history. Her determination to ignore ultimatums and threats is really quite funny, and English people still put out in boats as they have always done, and are quite undismayed. Our own people here continue to travel by sea, as if submarines were rather a joke, and when going over to England on some small and useless little job they say apologetically, "Of course, I wouldn't go if I hadn't got to." The fact is, if there is any danger about they have to be in it.

Some of our own corps have gone back to Furnes-I believe because it is being shelled. The rest of us are at La Panne, a cold seaside place amongst the dunes. In summer-time I fancy it is fashionable, but now it contains nothing but soldiers. They are quartered everywhere, and one never knows how long one will be able to keep a room. The station is at Adinkerke, where I have my kitchen. It is about two miles from La Panne, and it also is crammed with soldiers. There seems to be no attempt at sanitation anywhere.

I wish I had more interesting news to tell you, but I am at my station all day, and if there is anything to hear (which I doubt) I do not hear it.

There is a barge on the canal at Adinkerke which is our only excitement. It is the property of Maxi

ne Elliott, Lady Drogheda, and Miss Close, and to go to tea with them is everyone's ambition. The barge is crammed with things for Belgian refugees, and Maxine told me that the cargo represents "nearer £10,000 than £5,000." It is piled with flour in sacks, clothing, medical comforts, etc. The work is good.

I am sending home some long pins like nails. They are called "Silent Death," and are dropped from German aeroplanes. Boys pick them up and give them to us in exchange for cigarettes.


I want to tell Tabby how immensely pleased everyone is with her slippers. The men who have stood long in the trenches are in agonies of frost-bite and rheumatism, and now that I can give them these slippers when they arrive at the station, they are able to take off their wet boots caked with mud.

If J. would send me another little packet of groceries I should love it. Just what can come by post. That Benger's Food of hers nearly saved my life when I was ill at Dunkirk. What I should like better than anything is a few good magazines and books. I get Punch and the Spectator, but I want the English Review and the National, and perhaps a Hibbert. I enclose ten shillings for these. What is being read? Stephen Coleridge seems to have brought out an interesting collection, but I can't remember its name. I wonder if any notice will be taken of "They who Question." The reviews speak well of the Canadian book.

Love to you all, and tell Alan how much I think of him. Bless you, my dears. Write often.

Yours as ever,


* * *

1 March.-Woe betide the person who owns anything out here: he is instantly deprived of it. "Pinching" is proverbial, and people have taken to carrying as many of their possessions as possible on their person, with the result that they are the strangest shapes and sizes. Still, one hopes the goods are valuable until one discovers that they generally consist of the following items: a watch that doesn't go, a fountain-pen that is never filled, an electric torch that won't light, a much-used hanky, an empty iodine bottle, and a scarf.

5 March.-I went as usual to-day to the muddy station and distributed soup, which I no longer make now that the station has become militarised. My hours are from 12 noon to 5 o'clock. This includes the men's dinner-hour and the washing of the kitchen. They eat and smoke when I am there, and loll on the little bench. They are Belgians and I am English, and one is always being warned that the English can't be too careful! We are entertaining 40,000 Belgians in England, but it must be done "carefully."


It is a great bore out here that everything is stolen. One can hardly lay a thing down for an instant that it isn't taken. To-day my Thermos flask in a leather case, in which I carry my lunch, was prigged from the kitchen. Things like metal cups are stolen by the score, and everyone begs! Even well-to-do people are always asking for something, and they simply whine for tobacco. The fact is, I think, the English are giving things away with their usual generosity and want of discrimination, and-it is a horrid word-they are already pauperising a nice lot of people. I can't help thinking that the thing is being run on wrong lines. We should have given or lent what was necessary to the Belgian Government, and let them undertake to provide for soldiers and refugees through the proper channels. No lasting good ever came of gifts-every child begs for cigarettes, and they begin smoking at five years old.

I often think of our poor at home, and wish I had a few sacks full of things for them! I have not myself come across any instances of poverty nearly as bad as I have seen in England. I understand from Dr. Joos and other Belgians who know about these things that there is still a good deal of money tucked away in this country. I hope there is, and we all want to help the Belgians over a bad time, but it would be better and more dignified for them to get it through their own Government.

I had tea with Lady Bagot the other day, and afterwards I had a chat with Prince Francis at the English Mission. Another afternoon I went down to the Kursaal Hotel for tea. The stuffy sitting-room there is always filled with knickerbockered, leather-coated ladies and with officers in dark blue uniform, who talk loudly and pat the barmaid's cheeks. She seems to expect it; it is almost etiquette. A cup of bad tea, some German trophies examined and discussed, and then I came away with a "British" longing for skirts for my ladies, and for something graceful and (odious word) dainty about them. Yesterday evening Lady Bagot dined with me. This Villa is the only comfortable place I have been in since the war began: it makes an amazing difference to my health.

It is odd to have to admit that one has hardly ever been unhappy for a long time before this war. The year my brother died, the year one went through a tragedy, the year of deadly dullness in the country-but now it isn't so much a personal matter. War and the sound of guns, and the sense of destruction and death abroad, the solitude of it, and the disappointing people! Oh, and the poor wounded-the poor, smelly, dirty wounded, whom one sees all day, and for whom one just sticks this out.

I have only twice been for a drive out here, and I have not seen a single place of interest, nor, indeed, a single interesting person connected with the war. That, I suppose, is the result of being a "cuisinière!" It is rather strange to me, because for a very long time I always seem to have had the best of things. To-day I hear of this General or that Secretary, or this great personage or that important functionary, but the only people whom I see are three little Sisters and two Belgian cooks.

To give up work seems to me a little like divorcing a husband. There is a feeling of failure about it, and the sense that one is giving up what one has undertaken to do. So, however dull or tiresome husband or work may be, one mustn't give them up.


6 March.-To-day I have been thinking, as I have often thought, that the real power of the Bible is that it is a Universal Human Document. The world is based upon sentiment-i.e., the personality of man and his feelings brought to bear upon facts. It is also the world's dynamic force. Now, the books of the Bible-especially, perhaps, the magical, beautiful Psalms-are the most tender and sentimental (the word has been misused, of course) that were ever written. They express the thoughts and feelings of generations of men who always did express their thoughts and feelings, and thought no shame of it. And so we northern people, with our passionate inarticulateness, love to find ourselves expressed in the old pages.

I find in the Gospels one of the few complaints of Christ. "Have I been so long time with you and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?" All one has ever felt is said for one in a phrase, all that one finds most isolating in the world is put into one sentence. There is a wan feeling of wonder in it; "so long," and yet you think that of me! "so long," and yet such absolute inability to read my character! "so long," and yet still quite unaware of my message! The humour of it (to us) lies in the little side of it! The dear people who "thought you would like this or dislike that"-the kind givers of presents even-the little people who shop for one! The friends who invite one to their queer, soulless, thin entertainments, with their garish lights; the people who choose a book for one, who counsel one, even with importunity, to go to some play which they are "sure we shall like." "So long"-they are old friends, and yet they thought we should like that play or that book! "So long"-and yet they think one capable of certain acts or feelings which do not remotely seem to belong to one! "So long"-and yet they can't even touch one chord that responds!

We are always quite alone. The communal life is the loneliest of all, because "yet thou hast not known me." The world comes next in loneliness, but it is big, and with a big soul of its own. The family life is almost na?ve in its misunderstanding-no one listens, they just wait for pauses....

... The worship of the "sane mind" has been a little overdone, I think. The men who are prone to say of everyone that they "exaggerate a little," or "are morbid," are like weights in a scale-just, but oh, how heavy!...

... This war is fine, fine, fine! I know it, and yet I don't get near the fineness except in the pages of Punch! I see streams of men whose language (Flemish) I don't speak, holding up protecting hands to keep people from jostling a poor wounded limb, and I watch them sleeping heavily, or eating oranges and smoking cigarettes down to the last hot stump, but I don't hear of the heroic stands which I know are made, or catch the volition of it all. Perhaps only in a voluntary army is such a thing possible. Our own boys make one's heart beat, but these poor, dumb, sodden little men, coming in caked with mud-to be patched up and sent into a hole in the ground again, are simply tragic.


7 March.-"The woman's touch." When a woman has been down on her knees scrubbing for a week, and washing for another week, a man, returning and finding his house in order, and vaguely conscious of a newer and fresher smell about it, talks quite tenderly of "a woman's touch."...

... There are some people who never care to enter a door unless it has "passage interdite" upon it....

... The guns are booming heavily this morning. Nothing seems to correspond. Are men really falling and dying in agonies quite close to us? I believe we ought to see less or more-be nearer the front or further from it. Or is it that nothing really changes us? Only war pictures and war letters remain as a fixed blazing standard. The soldiers in the trenches are quite as keen about sugar in their coffee as we are about tea. No wonder men have decided that one day we must put off flesh. It is far too obstrusive....

... To comfort myself I try to remember that Wellington took his old nurse with him on all his campaigns because she was the only person who washed his stocks properly....

... Surely the expense of the thing will one day put a stop to war. We are spending two million sterling per day, the French certainly as much, the Germans probably more, and Austria and Russia much more, in order to keep men most uncomfortably in unroofed graves, and to send high explosives into the air, most of which don't hit anything. Surely, if fighting was (as it is) impossible in this flooded country in winter, we might have called a truce and gone home for three months, and trained and drilled like Christians on Salisbury Plain!...

... Health-i.e., bad health-obtrudes itself tiresomely. I am ill again, and, fortunately, few people notice it, so I am able to keep on. A festered hand makes me awkward; and as I wind a bandage round it and tie it with my teeth, I once more wish I was a Belgian refugee, as I am sure I would be interesting, and would get things done for me!

A sick Belgian artist, M. Rotsartz, is doing a drawing of me. I go to Lady Bagot's hospital, where he is laid up, and sit to him in the intervals of soup. That little wooden hospital is the best place I have known so far. Lady Bagot is never bustled or fussy, nor even "busy," and her staff are excellent men, with the "Mark of the Lamb" on them.

I gave away a lot of things to-day to a regiment going into the trenches. The soldiers were delighted with them.

11 March.-There was a lot of firing near La Panne to-day, and a British warship was repeatedly shelled by the Germans from Nieuport. I went into Dunkirk with Mr. Clegg, and got the usual hasty shopping done. No one can ever wait a minute. If one has time to buy a newspaper one is lucky. The difficulty of communicating with anyone is great-no telephone-no letters-no motor-car. I am stranded.


I generally go in the train to Adinkerke with the French Marines, nice little fellows, with labels attached to them stating their "case"-not knowing where they are going or anything else-just human lives battered about and carted off. I don't even know where they get the little bit of money which they always seem able to spend on loud-smelling oranges and cigarettes. The place is littered with orange-skins-to-day I saw a long piece lying in the form of an "S" amid the mud; and, like a story of a century old, I thought of ourselves as children throwing orange-skins round our heads and on to the floor to read the initial of our future husband, and I seemed to hear mother say, "'S' for Sammy-Sammy C--," a boy with thick legs whom we secretly despised!

I have found a whole new household of "éclopés" at Adinkerke, who want cigarettes, socks, and shoes all the time. They are a pitiful lot, with earache, toothache, and all the minor complaints which I myself find so trying, and they lie about on straw till they are able to go back to the trenches again.

The pollard willows between here and Adinkerke are all being cut down to build trenches. They were big with buds and the promise of spring.

14 March.-I went to the station yesterday, as usual. Suddenly I couldn't stand it any more. Everyone was cleaning. I was getting swept up with straw and mopped up with dirty cloths. The kitchen work was done. I ate my lunch in a filthy little out-building and then I fled. I had to get into the open air, and I hopped on to an ambulance and drove to Dunkirk. I had a good deal to do there getting vegetables, cigarettes, etc., and we got back late to the station, where I heard the Queen had paid a visit. Rather bad luck on almost the only day I have been away.

I am waiting anxiously to hear if the report of the new British advance yesterday is true. When fighting really begins we are going to be in for a big thing; one dreads it for the sake of the boys we are going to lose. I want things to start now just to get them over, but I rather envy the people who died before this unspeakable war began.

* * *

To Mrs. Keays-Young.

Care of Field Post Office, Dunkirk,

17 March.

My Dearest Baby,


I have (of course) been getting letters and parcels very badly lately. I am sending this home by hand, which is not allowed except on Red Cross business, but this is to ask how Lionel is, so I think I may send it. My poor Bet! What anxiety for her! This spring weather is making me long to be at home, and when people tell me the crocuses are up in the park!-well, you know London and the park belong to me! Are the catkins out? We can get flowers at Dunkirk, but not here.

Not a word of war news, because that wouldn't be fair. A shilling wire about Lionel would satisfy me-just "Better, and Bet well," or something of that sort.

Always, my dear,

Your loving,

S. Macnaughtan.

P.S.-Your two letters and Bet's have just come. To be in touch with you again is very pleasant. I can't tell you what it was like to sit down to a pretty, clean breakfast to-day with my letters beside me. Someone brought them here early.

I heard to-day that I am going to be decorated by the King of the Belgians, but don't spread this broadcast, as anything might happen in war.

* * *

20 March.-I met an Englishman belonging to an armoured car in Dunkirk a couple of days ago. He told me that the last four days' fighting at La Bassée has cost the British 13,000 casualties. Three lines of holes in the ground, and fighting only just beginning again! Bet's fiancé has been shot through the head, but is still alive. My God, the horror of it all! And England is still cheerful, I hear, and is going to hold race-meetings as usual.

At the station to-day I saw a mad man, who fought and struggled. I thought madmen raved. This one fought silently, like a man one sees in a dream. Another soldier shook all over like an old man. Many were blind.

"On the whole," someone said to me in England, "I suppose you are having a good time."

There is a snowstorm to-day, and it is bitterly cold. It is very odd how many small "complaints" seem to attack one. I can't remember the day out here when I felt well all over.

Last night some Belgians came in to dinner. It was like old times trying to get things nice. I had some flowers and a tablecloth. I believe in making a contrast with the discomfort I see out here. We forced open a piano, and had some perfect music.

21 March.-The weather is brighter to-day; the sound of firing is more distant; it is possible to think of other things besides the war.

Mrs. -- came to the station this morning. I think she has the most untidy mind I have ever met with.

With all our faults, I often wish that there were more Macnaughtans in the world. Their simple and plain intelligence gives one something to work upon. Mrs. -- came and told me to-day that last night "they laughed till they cried" over her attempt at making a pudding. I should have cried, only, over a woman of fifty who wasn't able to make a pudding. She and -- are twin nebul? who think themselves constellations.

* * *

To Miss Mary King.

Care of Field Post Office, Dunkirk,

22 March.

Dear Mary,

My plans, like those of everybody else, are undecided because of the war. If it is going to stop in May I should like to stay till the end, but if it is likely to go on for a long time, I shall come home. I don't think hot soup (which is my business) can be wanted much longer, as the warm weather will be coming.

I have been asked to take over full charge of a hospital here. It is a great compliment, but I have almost decided to refuse. I have other duties, and I have some important writing to do, as I am busy with a book on the war. I begin work as early as ever, and then go to my kitchen.


When I do come home I want to be in my own house, and I am longing to be back. Many of my friends go backwards and forwards to England all the time, but when I return, I should like to stay.

I am in wonderfully comfortable rooms at present, and the landlady is most kind and attentive. She gives me a morning cup of tea, and the care and comfort are making me much better. I get some soup before I go off to my station, and last night I was really a fine lady. When I came in tired, the landlady, who is a Belgian, took off my boots for me!

When I come home I think I'll lie in bed all day, and poor old Mary will get quite thin again nursing me. The things you will have to do for me, and all the pretty things I shall see and have, are a great pleasure to think about!

Yours truly,

S. Macnaughtan.

* * *

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