RAMC man tells of his work with the wounded

Private C. W. Gray, a Luton man now at the front with the RAMC, sends us a very interesting letter. He says:

I had about an hour's notice to start from England and, of course, it was kept a secret as to where we were going - but when we did get there (it happened to be Le Havre, France) we knew it - the French people gave us a real good welcome. We had about seven miles to march, but we didn't walk two yards without men or women or even children coming up to us shaking hands and saying "souvenirs?" Everywhere we heard the same. It seemed a bit strange for us chaps at first to have a Frenchman talking to us for five minutes and not being able to understand him.

Well we soon got to work. We left Le Havre eight or nine days later and went to St Nazaire. There it was I was put on my first job, which was what they called "station fatigue". The work was meeting train-loads of wounded from the firing line and carrying them to the hospital ships. And it was there I had my first experience of the war. It was only a sidelight, but there was plenty to do and there were a lot of very bad "cases".

For instance, there was one poor chap who had so bled on his way from the firing line to St Nazaire (where we were) that he had stuck to the stretcher. Another chap had a wound to his abdomen. He told me that as he was lying on the ground a German came along, and the Britisher put up his hands to show him the best way he could, not to fire on him. But the German fired, and the bullet went through the middle of one hand and blew a finger off the other.

Anyway we were kept busy on that job for about a fortnight, and then I had to go sick with rheumatism. I was in the "Dock" (hospital) for a few days, and from there I went to the convalescent camp where, as I was an RAMC man, they put me on dressing the other patients. In a day or two I left there and I was put on a job at an "inspection" hospital. We were there to look after all the minor complaints, such as bad feet, accidents etc, of the men belonging to the base here.

I was at that for about three weeks or more, and all the time I thought I would rather be in the firing line. While I was here the only bad cases we had were, first, a man fell down the rocks and split his skull, and it was my job to to dress and stitch his head. The other, there was a chap sitting outside his tent and his chum was loading his rifle for the night, and by accident pulled the trigger, and he shot his chum through the head, killing him instantly. His mate wanted to commit suicide afterwards. The very next day a chap was cleaning his rifle and put a shot through his foot.

After a time I was sent to the firing line and then I had what one might call "work" to do. But I like the work and now I have got an hour off - the first for six days. Of course we get sleep, but some chaps don't even get that hour off, so I'm lucky. There are thousands almost who have come off the field wounded - some mortally, some otherwise, and it makes us feel pretty sick to know that there are still hundreds whom we cannot bring off the field.

Some of the poor chaps are wounded in such a way that it is practically impossible to operate on them here, so they have to go to England. Some say, "Where am I for, chum?" So I say "England, you lucky old dog". But I don't envy them. I would rather be here in good health than sick in England. I would rather be helping the poor chaps here.

[The Luton News, November 5th, 1914]