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The Glory of the Trenches Coningsby Dawson

The Road To Blighty

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Kindness again--always kindness! The sisters on the train can't do enough; they seem to be trying to exceed the self-sacrifice of the sisters you have left behind. You twist yourself so that you can get a glimpse of the flying country. It's green, undisturbed, unmarred by shells--there are even cows!

At the Base Hospital to which I went there was a man who performed miracles. He was a naturalised American citizen, but an Armenian by birth. He gave people new faces.

The first morning an officer came in to visit a friend; his face was entirely swathed in bandages, with gaps left for his breathing and his eyes. He had been like that for two years, and looked like a leper. When he spoke he made hollow noises. His nose and lower jaw had been torn away by an exploding shell. Little by little, with infinite skill, by the grafting of bone and flesh, his face was being built up. Could any surgery be more merciful?

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In the days that followed I saw several of these masked men. The worst cases were not allowed to walk about. The ones I saw were invariably dressed with the most scrupulous care in the smartest uniforms, Sam Browns polished and buttons shining. They had hope, and took a pride in themselves--a splendid sign! Perhaps you ask why the face-cases should be kept in France. I was not told, but I can guess--because they dread going back to England to their girls until they've got rid of their disfigurements. So for two years through their bandages they watch the train pull out for Blighty, while the damage which was done them in the fragment of a second is repaired.

At a Base Hospital you see something which you don't see at a Casualty Station--sisters, mothers, sweethearts and wives sitting beside the beds. They're allowed to come over from England when their man is dying. One of the wonderful things to me was to observe how these women in the hour of their tragedy catch the soldier spirit. They're very quiet, very cheerful, very helpful. With passing through the ward they get to know some of the other patients and remember them when they bring their own man flowers. Sometimes when their own man is asleep, they slip over to other bedsides and do something kind for the solitary fellows. That's the army all over; military discipline is based on unselfishness. These women who have been sent for to see their men die, catch from them the spirit of undistressed sacrifice and enrol themselves as soldiers.

Next to my bed there was a Colonel of a north country regiment, a gallant gentleman who positively refused to die. His wife had been with him for two weeks, a little toy woman with nerves worn to a frazzle, who masked her terror with a brave, set smile. The Colonel had had his leg smashed by a whizz-bang when leading his troops into action. Septic poisoning had set in and the leg had been amputated. It had been found necessary to operate several times owing to the poison spreading, with the result that, being far from a young man, his strength was exhausted. Men forgot their own wounds in watching this one man's fight for life. He became symbolic of what, in varying degrees, we were all doing. When he was passing through a crisis the whole ward waited breathless. There was the finest kind of rivalry between the night and day sisters to hand him over at the end of each twelve hours with his pulse stronger and temperature lower than when they received him. Each was sure she had the secret of keeping him alive.

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The Glory of the Trenches
Coningsby Dawson

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