Sunday, 10 November 2013

Posted to France

"Half past five.  And still Commandant has not sorted the letters.
.    .   .    .    .
At six o'clock the room is practically empty.  Those who are hungry for letters have given up in despair and gone to lie down.  The ten o'clock convoy may turn out a certainty, although the eight o'clock one is off.  Five new drivers arrive straight out from England.  They look half-dead.  They have had a drive of about seventy miles in the snow in an ambulance on top of a filthy crossing to Boulogne.  They are completely exhausted.  The tea is finished, too.  I am about to enquire of cook when Commandant comes in.  She eyes the newcomers severely and, without any greeting, turns to me.
'Smith, show these drivers to the vacant beds and see they report to me in five minutes.'
What a welcome! No wonder the poor things look depressed.  She leaves her door open.  I simply dare not ask about the tea.
'I'm dying for a cup of tea,' says one, 'and then I'm going to have a sleep.'

Poor deluded fool.  She has no idea she will be sent straight out to learn the various localities of the different hospitals, to take over her own ambulance at midnight.  She is lucky if she gets a cup of hot tea first.  It all depends whether Commandant has closed her door and I can bully cook.

'Smith.  Take one of these new drivers. Preston, go with Smith.'

The snow is thick now.  I am so cold my fingers refuse to grip the wheel. ... How am I going to point out the landmarks when they are all snow-obscured?  The black tree-stump on the left that leads to Number Eight, the shell-hole that indicates the turning to Number Five, and so on.  Familiar as the landscape is to me, it takes me all my time to keep my bearings.  We go on and on in silence till the station is reached.  We couldn't converse, even if we felt chatty.  The snow gets in our mouths every time we open them.
This girl has been twice round the camp...I am only supposed to take her once.  But so worried am I at the possibility of the wounded men being ditched in the snow ... or worse... I have exceeded my duty.  The result is she has not located one hospital correctly.

It is after ten when we get back.  I am so numb I cannot feel my feet.  All I want is a hot drink, a fag, a hot-water bottle, and an hour's stew in my fleabag.

There are four letters on my camp-bed from my sister Trix, one from mother, one in a handwriting I do not recognise, and one from Aunt Helen.  They can wait until I am warm and cosy under my blankets."

Not So Quiet ... Stepdaughters of War  Helen Zenna Smith (pseudonym of Evadne Price)  based on the war diaries of Winifred C. Young.
[This is one of the less searing passages to read of those young ambulance drivers' experiences on the night convoys of wounded men.]

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