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Excerpt from a letter written by a nurse at Netley

Taken from The Ararat Advertiser 17th June 1915


NETLEY MILITARY HOSPITAL.   A young lady who left this district   some time ago as a war nurse writes, under date Southampton, England, 16th April, thus interestingly to a relative:—  At last we are in a settled place of abode. On reaching London we were told that our hospital was not ready for occupation, but we are now settled.   It is the premier military hospital of England. The length of the building is a quarter of a mile—a most beautiful building and the sisters' rooms are lovely, with every comfort. The view from the writing room, where I am sitting, is simply beautiful. The hospital is built right on the beach, and in front are the Southampton waters. A pier runs out for a good way, but it is too shallow for large vessels to approach, so small motor boats run between this and the shipping pier. The grounds slope to the waters edge, all grass, with tall fir and spruce trees, and glorious beds of hyacinths, daffodils, etc. There are also golf links and tennis courts for patients and nurses. The officers and orderlies' quarters are behind the hospital. The run down from London was through most exquisite country. We were two hours in the train - express right through. I have never seen such lovely country, and, being spring, it was at its best. Beautiful slopes and hills covered with thick undergrowth, and very much cultivated, the primroses peeping out through the hedges. We passed near Aldershot, and soldiers and horses were all over the place. I have never been in a military hospital before, so it seems very simple to us after the busy life in an ordinary hospital. The doctors are all in uniform. They are all army reserve men, as the staff is at the front. The colonel is the chief doctor, and they range down to lieutenant. Captain Ham, a Victorian, is stationed here. In the Red Cross department are a lot of Japanese nurses - such quaint little articles. They say they are good, but are a nuisance on account of their language, as an interpreter, has always to be at hand. The hospital is fairly quiet just now, but a train with 88 new cases arrived yesterday. They are of all varieties, from shrapnel wounds to frostbite, and many are medical, such as rheumatism and pneumonia. They have just got rid of their Indian patients. There were 600 here, but there are still over 200 Germans, who of course, are guarded. I met them going along to dinner to-day. They have theirs after our men. It looked so strange to see this small army of quiet looking chaps walking along, followed by two of our soldiers with their rifles over their shoulders. They are not allowed to leave here with a scratch unhealed, and depart with a warm outfit of everything. They were all much more badly wounded than our men. Our men, of course, do not fraternise with them at all. It seems when the Indians were here they wanted to do for the lot of them, as they hate them so, but our men are not so vindictive. This hospital has one thousand and forty patients, so you can tell the size of it. Each division consists of eight wards running off an immense corridor, covered with glass, where the patients sun themselves. There are 95 beds in each division, with four sisters and eight orderlies. It was built for the Crimean war, and Queen Victoria was very fond of it. Matron said she was a regular nuisance, as she was always tripping over from the Isle of Wight across the way, and spoilt the men terribly; so much so, that they had the same patients in for years. If they were discharged as cured they told the old lady, and she said they were to remain, and remain they did. They were mostly old Indian Army men, of whom the Queen was very fond. Matron said since she died Royalty does not trouble them. King Edward used to come occasionally, but King George only came for the first time the other month. All the patients up are dressed in butcher blue suits, with red ties. When they arrive each is given a kit, blankets, sheets, one pillow, suit and under-garments, also their dishes, and on departure these are handed over and losses accounted for. Breakages are allowed for, but clothing has to be accounted for. It looks so nice to see the blue garbed figures getting about on the lawns or resting on the seats - Belgians, Germans and the English, all dressed alike, but they wear their own head gear the Black Watch in their little Scotch black caps, and each regiment in their particular cap or hat. They are all so good, and stand their wounds well. The Germans are especially brave, and make no fuss over their wounds. Many of the men are suffering mentally, but it is only temporarily, being caused through the terrible sights and priva- tions they have come through, and will pass away after a few weeks care and rest. The Tommies are very jolly chaps, full of jokes and nonsense, many itching to get back to the front, but many dreading it. Many here are from the great retreat, as they call Mons, and many from the still more ghastly business of Neuve Chapelle. It is all so calm and peaceful here that you can scarcely imagine that only 50 miles away is a dreadful battlefield. The convalescents are sent off to their friends for a few days' respite, then back to the front again. All the large businesses have sent hundreds of men to the front, and the lifts are worked by girls. The shops all have large boards with the names of their employees at the front and a space left for entering what happens to them. There are 400 from one shop, and already many of the spaces are filled up. It is all very sad, but what are they to do with their country calling to them. The women over here are very brave. Nearly everyone has someone at the front. They see that it means that England goes under if the men are not forthcoming.

Written by Sister T. CHADWICK.


Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley, England (May 1915)

At last we are settled temporarily at above hospital, which is a most exquisite place on the coast in Hampshire.  We came in and fear trembling, as it is the premier military hospital of England, being No. 1 Base.  The first wounded from the front arrive here still covered with the mud of the trenches.  I can’t tell you how lovely is the scenery!  The journey down from London was through beautiful English country marked with rounded hills and slopes covered with tall trees and the fields all divided by hedges.  Then there are splendid roads, just broad white lanes bordered with hedges, and riverlets and brooks running along, the banks of which are covered with primroses and white daisies.  I have never seen such flowers as are here.  The tulips are especially beautiful, and this hospital has widow boxes full of these blooms.  I really must get a post card of this place.

First of all this hospital is the longest in England, being quarter of a mile from end to end.  It is four stories high and the grounds slope down to the sea.  It is just one green sward with tennis courts and golf links all along the front and with broad drives all over, and great towering firs, spruce and lime trees.  The lawns are interspersed with lovely beds of hyacinths, daffodils and tulips.  A pier runs out from the centre of the drive, and here our late Queen Victoria often came to see her soldiers.  She first stepped off on to the pier from a small boat from the Isle of Whight [sic] across the way.  She loved this place, but since she died Royalty does not visit the place.  King Edward came occasionally, but our present King has only been once, and that since the war to visit the wounded.  In front lie the Southampton waters and big hospital ships and large steamers are anchored in front of us.  Southampton is 2 miles off and the patients come by train right into the grounds.  The wards are so very different from civilian hospitals and the work also is different, the orderlies playing an important part in same.  A large glass corridor runs the whole length of the hospital, all sunny and airy, with beautiful palms and pot plants.  The hospital is divided into divisions and each division contains 95 beds.  There are 1,040 beds in the main building and numbers of tents outside.  There are 50 doctors here, all army men who rank as Colonels, Captains and Lieutenants.  The whole staff here, at present, is a scratch one, the former staff of doctors, orderlies and nurses all being at the front.

The patients are from England, Scotland and Ireland.  We also have Belgians and a party of 600 Indians left before we came.  The Indians had their own cooks and were so funny getting about, the Mohammedans bowing and kneeling to the sun out in the grounds and the Hindus chanting their prayers.  One sister said she was so glad to see them depart.  They were furious when the German patients passed them on their way to dine, and wanted to do for the lot and had it not been for the guards, there would have been murder.  There are about 300 German patients here.  They are not allowed to leave with a scratch on them and go out with a good warm outfit of everything.  Sixty German prisoners were exchanged for sixty English through Switzerland, and our men were not at all well treated.  We nurse the prisoners just the same as our own men.  Of course, they are under guard all the time.  I meet them every day going to dinner accompanied by four guards with drawn bayonets.  The patients, British, Belgians, and Germans are all garbed alike in bright blue woollen suits with bright red ties, and our men look so nice going about the grounds, some playing hockey and others golf, the Germans enviously watching them from their balcony.  They do not play games, but every afternoon from 2 till 5 they are exercised on the lawns in front.  There is only one German officer left now.  He can be seen a lonely looking man, sitting out on the lawn, for he is free to go where he likes, having patrol.

Next door is a beautiful mansion and we can go through their grounds and they have the right of driving through the hospital grounds.  The owner is the Hon. Mrs Elliott Yorke (nee Bottischilde.)

The New Forest is quite near here and we are to visit it before leaving.  It is a large reserve netted off and contains wild ponies and other wild animals, also primrose and bluebells galore.  Winchester, the old capital of England, is also near.  This part is really the oldest settled part of England and the New Forest is of historic interest.  You would love English scenery.

It will be a great experience for us being in this military hospital.  Our present lot of patients are nearly all up and about.  Rheumatism is very prevalent, also pneumonia and pleurisy.  The English boys are so young looking and have lovely coloring and fair hair.  They only look 15 or 16 years, whereas they are 18 to 20.  The patients are all very well treated, the delicate ones having chickens, stout and port wine, and plenty of milk.  When you think of the awful time they have spent in the trenches, only bully beef to eat, they deserve every luxury.  We have many Canadians in at present, and they are just as brave as can be, and stand their wounds being dressed better than the English.  There are every sort and condition of bullet wounds, many clean ones but very many septic.  The Xrays are used at once to locate tract of bullet and see the fracture.  Tetanus was very bad a few months ago but is declining, the fighting not now being in the richly manured soil of Champagne and Mons.  Kipling’s nephew and many famous doctors and lawyers, are here, all of whom enlisted as privates.  The Tommies are so jolly and funny and entertain us with their experiences.  They are more interested in football than anything else at the present time.  The hospital has both men and lady masseurs who live on the premises.  There are numbers of bad eyes and much deafness due to the cannonading.  Quite a number of the cases are mental, not very bad, but just silly from shock.  They mutter all night and day about the Germans and trenches but they soon recover after a few weeks of rest and quietude.  Often when the night nurses wake them up they jump up in alarm thinking they are in the trenches, the Germans attacking, but when the poor fellows realize where they are, they snuggle up into the blankets again.  Many were in the trenches three weeks without their clothes being off so you can imagine the state of their feet etc.  They hardly had any sleep, consequently they do nothing but sleep for a couple of days on arrival in England.

There are a number of high class German prisoners here and some of the cases are dreadful.  One of the prisoners had both eyes shot and another nearly the whole side of his face blown off.  This must be a haven of rest for them, but they are not allowed to read our papers or fraternize with our men.  Our men have great comforts.  There is a billiard room and no end of gramophones and amusements.  Bands come to play twice a week in the grounds.  It is a lovely place and we were made very welcome, being classed as senior sisters with all the privilages of the senior staff.



Netley Hospital, Southampton, 25th May 1915

It is now three weeks since our arrival at Netley Hospital and shall remain here until our own Australian Auxiliary Hospital is in readiness.  There will be a great number of Australians here shortly.  I have had several in my wards who have been to the front, volunteering from England.  Everyone is pleased with the Australians answering the call so well.  I have had an invitation to Romsey, where there are a lot of Australians who came over with the 1st Expeditionary force.  They have been there quite a long time and are keenly anxious to go to the front.  I should like to see the encampment, as I might see some of the Stawell boys there.

We are frantically busy, trains filled with wounded coming in every day or so.  Sometimes 150 a day arrive, and it is awful when they come in at night as we can scarcely cope with the rush.  The baths are used here for the septic cases, which are so numerous.  The very bad cases simply live in them.  The geysers are attached to each bath, and the hot water can be added and lot of without disturbing the patients, many of whom have their meals in the baths.  The bath treatment does them an awful lot of good.  A young sergeant of 22, who got his stripes since the war, is being so treated.  He is just riddled with bullets and shrapnel.  It takes hours to do his dressings, but he is going to get better in spite of all his injuries.  He will be minus an ear and several fingers, but I think his legs and arms will yet be saved.  They are all such boys, and oh, so brave!  We have the heroes of Hill 60 here now, and also those from St Julian.  It is just wonderful how they survive their injuries.  There is one of the patients getting round the grounds in his chair.  From here they are sent to convalescent homes and then they have furlough for a fortnight and then back to the front again.  Many of the sisters here are leaving for the front.  Numbers have been sent to Malta, Dardanelles and Serbia.  Some of them do train duty and go right up from Southampton to Aberdeen on hospital trains.  Others do ship duty and bring the wounded over from France.  Lots of the orderlies at present are Kitchener’s men or the “New Army” as they are called.  They are really very raw, and I can scarcely understand a word they say, being just fresh from the mills and coal mines.  We find it very hard to get them into working form, but they are coming on.  They only receive 1s per diem, and it is very good of them to volunteer, as we really could not do without them.  I like the military hospital.  The bugle sounds the reveille at day break, also the retreat at sun set, the first post and the last post at 9.30 p.m.  Then a bugler always precedes a train and, in the night, when we hear the bugle we know a train is in and it will be a busy day for everyone.  There does not seem any indication of this dreadful war ceasing yet.  Men are hurrying up to get better.  They do not look forward to returning, but are all determined to go back again.

The weather is simply perfect, glorious mild days, and Sol shines all day now.  The trees take far longer to burst than they do with us.  You never saw such beautiful trees!  I had an opportunity of going for a glorious motor tour on an afternoon off duty.  One of the officers, a London specialist, took us to the New Forest in his Rolls Royce.  We went flying through Hampshire.  Such roads, not a bump all the way!  The new forest is simply lovely, and extends for miles and miles.  The trees are so tall, and grow densely in forests.

From The Herald May 29th 1918.

SAPOLIO is soap in case you were wondering...

Thanks to Lynn Holmes for sharing this photograph of the masseuses at Netley in 1918. From the Netley Hospital Heritage Group Facebook page.

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