Dreadful conditions in Serbia

One little known aspect of the First World War is the terrible epidemic of typhus which devastated our ally Serbia. William Hunter (1861-1937), the British doctor and fever specialist who was in charge of tackling the disease, was an family friend of the Glyns, and was surprised to run into Ralph in Serbia.

15 March 1915

My dear Ralph

I did not know the last time I saw you in Harley St that our next meeting or greeting would be – of all places – in this Heaven-forsaken and distressed land.

I am asking Colonel Harrison – our Secretary Attache here – to carry to you the letters contained herein – viz to Captain Fitzwilliams – RAMC Influenza officer at [Straela?].

I am out here as Colonel AMS in Comand of some 30 officers of the RAMC as a great Sanitary Corps sent out by the War Office to deal with the frightful problems presented in this country.

We arrived in Nish on Thursday the 4th inst, stayed there till Monday the 8th inst, interviewing all the Government Officials – from the Prime Minister downwards. Came on here to Hdquarters with my Major a week ago – brought up the other officers here last Thursday; and have during this past week been fearfully busy, amid all kinds of uncomfortable conditions, preparing our plans of operations for the whole Serbian Armies, to which we are attached.

Our stores arrive in a day or two, but already we have been able to decide – & our recommendations have enabled the Serbian Authorities to decide on the plan of operations to deal with the frightful epidemic now prevailing.

Will you tell my dear wife how things are in this country?

Will you also try to se Captain Fitzwilliams at Malta, & ask him to see that the ‘food stores’ we have ordered are sent out at once. We want them very badly.

During the last 10 days we have indeed “gelebt und gelutten”. But things are straitening [sic] out, as the result of continuous pressure.

My Headquarters will be here – with my stores & laboratories, while the larger part of the Corps of officers are going forward, elsewhere.

It’s a great fight we have to put up – against dreadful conditions of disease – & we can only aim to do our duty: against all odds, whatever they may be. No such problem of infection has ever been presented to any body of men in modern history.

I asked Mrs Hunter specially to write to Lady Mary, telling her of my mission – on which I was despatched with some 3 days’ notice, and I little knew that you had gone before.

I hope you are very well – and that you will call on my dear wife & tell her that, in spite of all difficulties, things are moving.

With all good wishes.

Yours ever sincerely
Wm Hunter

Letter from William Hunter to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C31/4)

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