Letter From Malta – Summer 1916

This letter from Miss Fairclough, was written in March, and gives her first impressions of the hospital at Malta, where she is in charge of the kitchen:

4, Strada Kirscia,
St. Julian’s Bay,
Sheina,
Malta.

Beneath a white green-lined parasol I look at the word March, which has just been written, and then gaze with admiration at the gorgeous blue sky peeping through the trees, and wonder if June ought not to have been put instead. It is perfectly glorious weather at present, and the sea lives up to its name of blue Mediterranean, and is so clear that one wants to bathe at once.
I am particularly enjoying to-day as it is my second day off since arriving in January, as work naturally occupies nearly all and every day. My first invalid kitchen was in a 12ft. square tent, beloved of all winds that blow, and was hardly ever still; but one day a very grand General indeed came to inspect, and as the fluttering canvas nearly knocked off his lovely gold-embroidered cap, and the tin draught-screen round the oil stove played muffled thunder as it waved to and fro, he raised his voice to remark, “You must have a wooden hut.” The wooden hut materialised into two rooms in a Married Quarters’ Block, near an operating theatre and a dentist-so the blend of ether, gas, and fried onions in that corner is considered very fine. The work itself is very much the same as kitchen work in a Red Cross Hospital at home, except that more Army routine has to be followed in the drawing of stores, clean towels, oil and coal. The patients catered for are not many in proportion to the numbers in the Hospital, but are quite enough to make the hours from 9 to 12 extremely busy, especially when four different kinds of diet must be arranged-such as when ten men may have beef fillets, mashed potatoes, and tomato sauce, and treacle sponge to follow; 14 others will have haricot beans and tomato sauce, with a milk jelly to follow, and perhaps three need chicken creams and milk or egg jelly.
The dinners are served at any time between 12 to 12.30; it depends upon the time the ward orderlies arrive, after which cold things for the next day are begun-the orderly going off for his dinner first, and later I depart for mine, after which we mutually tidy up and get away any time from 2.45 to 3.15 generally the latter now. There seems more work in a house than in a tent, although we have practically the same furniture, but it is now spread over a larger space.
Two more kitchens are to be opened in other hospitals, and it is very interesting going to see them and their different situations, as some hospitals are under canvas, others in beautiful old buildings, some in converted barracks and so on.
Malta is a curious rocky land, and historically most fascinating. I was remarking on the majesty of the old fortifications to a lady the other day, who told me they had been built originally by Turkish prisoners, who were kept ill underground chambers now used as granaries. I had wondered what these granaries were or could have been, because one walks over a large paved space with little square openings at regular intervals, on top of each of which is placed a large round stone like a mill stone with a number stamped on it, and these spaces are the roofs of the granaries, and the now covered squares were the only means of entrance of air and light, and the unfortunate prisoners were lowered into them nightly, and taken out to work during the day. [It gives one a shock to see a basket load of hay being drawn up by means of a chain and pulley, and to think it once could have been a human being.]
At one time I used to go to my work through passages made through the fortification walls, and across a drawbridge over a deep moat, and was surprised at the length of the passages and wished them shorter. They are now used as roads to take the goats out of the town into the country. It was quite amusing to emerge down some very, rough steps, into a large space where donkeys were always waiting to be harnessed to little flat no-sided carts, one of which invariably started to bray and set off the whole set.
The other day I went to call at a beautiful old fort, and was given tea out of doors on the rocks, overlooking one of the harbours, and sat on grass – a fact worth mentioning, as there is not a great deal here, though the wild flowers are lovely. We spent a very entertaining time watching the little launches, locally called Puffers, dash across from landing-stage to landing-stage, while being Saturday there were many charming little sailing boats scudding along, with here and there a big ship, all no the exquisite blue-green water.
At present I am sitting in a garden under orange trees, just beginning to bloom, under which are arum lilies also in bloom, while figs, apricots and almond trees take up the rest of the space. You would have loved the violets, and the flower sellers’ baskets now are the most exquisite still life flower groups one could find the natives have an extraordinarily happy talent in the grouping of colours in these, though not so successful in placing colours in a garden.
It is so lovely out here this afternoon, and when the bees hum I immediately picture the Hut and its surroundings. What makes it more Forestry than ever is the sound of a distant clucking hen.
If you think this letter worth putting in the Magazine please do, but it has had to be rather stiffly written on account of Censor rules, and also because I promised not to write for the Public Press before leaving home, and though the Magazine can hardly he called the Public Press, still it is as well not to transgress. I have written to Miss Douglas to give an account of my routine, and If there were any Items in it you thought suitable to add to the above I don’t suppose it would matter. How I wish I could say more: but it’s no use running the risk of having the whole letter destroyed.
The work is fascinating, not so much from the actual cooking point of view, but from the organisation point, and how to circumvent the appalling red tape, and as they have asked me to organise two more kitchens, and train the helpers to a certain extent, I feel that it has been worth while coming out here, and the experience is invaluable.
The present acting Red Cross Head is Mrs. Radcliffe, whose husband, Colonel Radcliff, is on the staff here, and they live at the Palace, and when I had to see her the other night she remarked on my shoulder badges, and asked whereabouts, in Wilts my Detachment Home was, so I said Salisbury, whereupon she remarked, “Oh, that’s where the Godolphin School is that Lord Methuen is always talking about: do you know it?”
The Palace is a beautiful building, and it was most interesting seeing at least some of it. I intend trying to see the State Rooms, which are open to the public, which contain some very interesting things.
With very kindest remembrances to all.
I remain,
Yours affectionately,
MARGARET FAIRCLOUGH

Old Girls News – Christmas 1915

Dorothy Sydenham is working in the 4th Southern General Hospital, Devonport. She is in a special ward now, and has ear, nose and throat cases. Katharine was working in Taunton until the Red Cross Hospital closed.

Nancy Humphreys worked for a month in the Salisbury Infirmary, and Muriel Vicary had three months there. Margaret Tracey has been there, and Kathleen Hulbert and Kittie Prothero for even longer.

Norah Montgomery has been doing Registration work, 200 houses, with an average of 5 papers a house; it was a big job, but most interesting.

Emma Burt goes every day from 10 to 5 o’clock to a hospital for Australian soldiers. She looks after the laundry and sewing. She does the carving, and sees after the teas and all odd jobs.

Amphyllis Middlemore is organising secretary under the Staffordshire County Council for their thrift scheme throughout the county, which includes local instruction in cooking and economical house-keeping, and in mother craft, and also a system of labour exchange, chiefly for agricultural work, I think. It entails much writing and going about visiting, in the various districts, and arranging meetings and committees.

Kathleen Pearce hopes to get into a hospital, only her age is against her. Until then she is working at the convalescent home, where she says it does one good to see how cheery and brave the men are-even those who have lost limbs; the other day two on crutches raced each other, and you would have thought it was the greatest fun in the world Kathleen also writes to a lonely man in her brother’s platoon, who says “he feels quite different now he knows someone takes an interest in him.”

Grace Cobbold is working at the War Relief Office, and at a canteen.

Estella McKean, is Secretary for the Red Cross Hospital.

Bice Moggridge is working at the Winchester Red Cross Hospital, in the kitchen, and when she is 21 she hopes to work in the wards. She is still going to have lessons on the Cathedral organ in her “off” times.

Cicely Janson has gone to work in a hospital in Malta.

Ruth Strange says we are kept very busy at our hospital, nearly always full and some very bad cases. We get quite a number of operations, and the men are simply wonderful, so plucky, it is a pleasure to nurse them.

Dorothy Chippendall has been working at the V.A.D. hospital at Kirkby Lonsdale, until it closed she helped in the office and with the linen; after a little holiday she wants more work.

Ruth’s doctor husband has just got a commission. Ruth has four boys, Harold, Alec, Michael, and Patrick.

At the Indian Hospital Alexandria 1915 – Christmas 1915

It was the beginning of March when I first arrived at the Hospital in Alexandria. There was then no mention of the Dardanelles Expedition, and the Hospital was occupied entirely by Indian sick and wounded, chiefly from France. It was the most lovely place, built right down to the sea, and had formerly been a huge hotel. The big “Winter Garden” made our largest ward, taking about 300 beds. The Hospital was equipped for 500 beds, but soon after I arrived it grew to 700, and before I left we had, when very badly rushed, put in 1100 or 1200 men! The staff consisted of English Doctors, eight English Sisters, and a lot of Indian orderlies and followers. The whole Hospital was originally meant for Indians only.

Quite suddenly at the end of April we were given a few hours notice to prepare for a big rush of Australian wounded from the Dardanelles. They were to be the men from the original and now world-famous landing on April 25th (1915). All wounded were to be brought straight back to Alexandria, there being no hospitals on the islands round the Dardanelles as there now are. The worst cases remained at Alexandria, while slighter ones went to Cairo, and still slighter ones to Malta and home.

Arrangements at first went anything but smoothly. Nobody seemed to have the slightest idea of what an enormous and overwhelming rush of wounded there would be. Ours was the only hospital (except the permanent Alexandria Civil one) really ready; schools and colleges were being hastily turned into hospitals when the first rush came in. Before we knew where we were 22,000 wounded were lying in ships of every description at the docks. The authorities were at their wits end where to put them.

Of our little staff several Sisters were taken to go to Red Cross trains to Cairo, so it was a very tiny nursing staff indeed left to grapple with the incoming rush of men. You can’t imagine what a rush it had meant getting ready and changing the place from an Indian to an English hospital! Everything had to be so different, especially the food and feeding arrangements, and the Indians had to be tucked away somewhere. But when the Australians arrived the work really began. They poured in, stretcher after stretcher, just as they had left the peninsular, with their blood-stained, dusty uniforms. The first lot told me they had been several days on the boat (a transport ship, not a proper hospital one). They had been packed like herrings coming over, with no nurses, hardly any orderlies, and only a few terribly over-worked doctors.

The only food to be got was Irish stew, which most of the bad cases had been unable of course to eat. Even the worst cases had had no milk. It was not to be wondered at that many had died on the way and that very many more died as soon as they reached the hospitals. We worked from 3pm, when they started to arrive, till 3am, next morning, getting them to bed, cutting off their uniforms, washing and feeding them, and dressing their wounds. The surgeons and theatre sisters never went to bed at all, as they were working hard all night. It was a continual stream of stretchers going up to the theatre door. At night there was one sister to about 300 cases; we couldn’t spare more, and such cases! In my section of 100 beds only two men could get up, and they worked like slaves, day and night, helping the others. If one had not been so over-worked one might have seen the funny side in our cosmopolitan collection of helpers. As it was we wrestled, with anything but amusement, with our Arab cooks and waiters (they were too hopeless, giving the worst cases most impossible things to eat), our Greek Boy Scouts, who helped in the wards, our Indian orderlies, and our Russian Jew cleaners! None of them talked English. In the end some of the Australian Light Horse came and offered themselves as orderlies. They worked in shifts, often 24 hours on end, and were simply magnificent. Such great strapping, six foot men they were; most of them from wild station life, and none of them had ever seen the inside of a hospital before. I said to one, “I don’t think it’s a bit good for you seeing all this, just before you are off to the peninsular yourselves,” and he said, “Ah, but Sister, seeing all this will make the boys fight like a thousand devils.” And it did.

For many days we worked from 6.am till late at night with distinctly sketchy and rushed meals, and for at least six weeks no one ever saw the front door. But it was a joy to work for such men. They were marvellous, so plucky and so cheerful, and just pining to get back. But it made one’s heart ache to walk down the long rows of tightly packed beds and see all these fine men literally “broke” in the wars.

It was the same at all the hospitals; doctors and nurses working day and night, the in-coming wounded meeting the out-going ones on the stairs and going into their still warm beds. Men packed into every corner – on beds, in between beds, in corridor passages, tents, and in kitchens. But gradually out of the chaos a great order grew; more nurses came from home, more hospital ships, more hospitals and now Egyptian medical arrangements can hold their own with any in the world.

M.E. HARDY

Mr Foxton-Ferguson’s Lecture – Christmas 1915

On Sunday, November 28th, we had a most interesting lantern lecture by Mr. Foxton-Ferguson upon the history of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John, from which Order has spring the St. John Ambulance Society, which is doing such invaluable work to-day.

Mr. Ferguson told us of how the Order was started during the Wars of the Crusades, when many of the monks nursing pilgrims in a hospital near Jerusalem, wished to help in the war against the Turks, and so an Order of soldier monks was founded, known as the Knights Hospitallers of St. John, which had for its badge a white Maltese Cross upon a black ground. We heard of how valiantly they fought against the Turks, till they were obliged to leave the Holy Land, and retreat first to Rhodes, and from there to Malta, where after the most desperate struggles they succeeded in repelling the Turks. Though owing to political reasons many of the Knights were obliged to leave Malta and return to their own countries, the Order never entirely died out, and is gaining fresh life during the present war.

While the Knights of St. John were struggling against the Turk in Eastern Europe, Priories of the Order of St. John were springing up in England. The chief of these was that of Clerkenwell, and to-day all the arrangements for the St. John Ambulance Society are made in the buildings erected upon the foundations of the old Clerkenwell Priory.

The slides illustrating the lecture were perfectly beautiful, and we were filled from beginning to end with the keenest interest.

LILIAN KING