Dead meat

The Caversham clergyman who had signed up as an army chaplain was sent to a hospital. He sent back this very graphic account of one patient’s appalling wounds – a trigger warning may be in order before you scroll down.

S. Andrew’s
Things seen in a hospital

I am glad they have made a Hospital Chaplain if only because it brings one into contact with such an amount of heroism, patience, and persevering industry. It is greater than anything I had ever dared to believe existed in this England of ours.

I was asked this morning to help with a dressing; a man had been badly smashed; there were other wounds as well; one in particular in the hip that was bad, but it was the arm that chiefly mattered. I say an arm but it looked to me almost like a piece of dead meat; for a moment I thought the hand had been amputated, but then I saw there were fingers, or what had once been fingers. I was asked to support the wrist and the elbow, and more skilful hands than mine directed me where I was to hold; there was nothing which gave any indication to me as to the position of the wrist and elbow. And then they began to examine, and I will try to remember wounds; there was one I know in the palm of the hand, but that could not be dressed then, time and the patient’s strength did not permit; there was one somewhere above the wrist; there was a gaping one where the elbow joint had been excised; there was another a little above that, and there was one on the back of the shoulder that was very difficult to reach.

He had only just come in to our Hospital though he had been four months wounded, and one tried to picture what that arm had been like at the beginning of the treatment which had gone on for those four months in that French Hospital. The wounds had not been dressed during the thirty-six hour s that he had been traveling, and they were dirty and very painful. The sister had not yet learnt how to handle him deftly nor the exact position of all the wounds, and in moving the arm and getting off the dressings she could not help causing him exquisite torture which he shewed by screwing up his face, but he never uttered a cry.

Meanwhile, partly to distract his attention from what was being done to him I asked him to tell me his story and he told me of all the long months during which the doctor in France had worked on his arm. The elbow had been excised as far back as May 1st; then there had come a time when the doctor had given up hope and decided to take the arm off, but it so chanced that the day on which it was to come off was the day that the King and Queen had chosen to visit the Hospital and there were no operations; then the next day there was a slight improvement and the doctor determined to try a little longer and the arm was saved. And now the order had gone out to empty all French hospitals to make room for fresh wounded and the doctor had sent his patient home to Blighty, just pinning on his army papers a brief note, “let us know how he goes on.” That was his reward for all the self-sacrificing work, just to know that it had not all been in vain.

And while the man was telling the story the dressing was going on and occasional spasms of pain shot across his face. The Sister was not too occupied to forget that he might be feeling faint and sent for some soda water. There was even time for merriment when she found ointment of some kind on his shoulder and laughingly remarked she was sure it was some doctor put that on. All doctors are supposed to love ointment, and most nurses hate it, chiefly, one suspect, because they have to get it off again.

It was all just an incident part of the daily routine of a base Hospital, but I wanted to hug everyone connected with it, doctors, nurses, patients and all. A pawkey Scottish private who was helping remarked that it was nothing, that when a corporal in his company had won the V.C. he had forty wounds, but only twenty-nine of them had been serious. I asked what had become of him, and he said, “Ah, he’s living yet; he lost an arm, and an eye, and some fingers of the other hand and I misremember whether he lost a leg or no, but he’s worth fifty dead ‘uns.”

Some of the men in another hospital were talking about the various military decorations; they talked of the men who had won the Military Medal and the Military Cross, but when it came to the Victoria Cross they said that a man was generally dead by the time he had won the Victoria Cross in the war.
THOS. BRANCKER.

Caversham parish magazine, November 1917 (D/P162/28A/7)

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“Are we down-hearted”?

A PoW writes home after two years in the hands of the enemy.

Prisoners of War.

We think it would interest our readers to see extracts from letters from one of our Prisoners of War, Private W. Simmonds, of Dedworth. Every month we send in from Clewer a small collection for the Prisoners of War Fund. This month 16/- was sent. The Boys of St. Augustine’s Home contribute largely towards it. Mrs. Buttress and Mrs. Cowie very gladly receive contributions, however small, as they all mount up. They are sent in the beginning of each month, and after reading the letter you will see how very grateful the recipients are. The parcels used to be packed weekly at the Town Hall, Windsor, but now they are sent straight from the London Depot, 4, Thurloe Place, London, S.W.

Letter from Private Simmonds, Kriegsgefangenenlager, Prisoner of War, Langensalza, Germany, Jan., 1917.

Dear Mrs. Cowie,

So pleased to have the pleasure of writing to you, to let you know that I am still in splendid health, thanks to the parcels you send me weekly, for these I think go a long way to keep our spirits up in this very trying time, but I suppose we shall have to stick to our well-known motto – “Are we down-hearted”? At present there is still the same answer amongst us, that is, “No.” But we shall be pleased when it is all finished and we can return to those who are dear to us again.

Madam, I should be very pleased if you can give any instructions as to the acknowledging of the parcels, as no name of the donor is received from the Central Prisoners of War Committee, London. It was a splendid parcel, and of course I should like for yourself to continue packing the parcel, but there we are in war time, and orders are orders, so we must abide by them for the present, but not much longer, I hope.

You say in your letter, Madam, that we must have patience, but I am afraid mine won’t last out; being here two years has tried my patience to its utmost, but still with the help of those fine parcels I have managed to pull through with flying colours. I shall certainly have to visit that War Shrine in Dedworth when I return.

And now will you kindly convey best wishes and thanks to His Worship the Mayor of Windsor, yourself, and all helpers of the Committee and all in the dear old Royal Borough and vicinity for their-never-to-be-forgotten kindness towards myself and all other unfortunate comrades of the Borough. I am sure, Madam, if you and the Mayor heard how good we all speak of you, you would be prouder than the V.C. winner. Again thanking you and all members of the Committee for their kindness,

I remain yours thankfully,

W. SIMMONDS (Private).

Clewer St Andrew parish magazine, March 1917 (D/P39/28A/9)

In honour of a teenage hero

John Travers Cornwell (1900-1916) was a teenage sailor who was the youngest winner of the Victoria Cross in World War I (two younger teenagers won the award in the 19th century.) Aged just 16, he was fatally wounded during the Battle of Jutland, but single handedly manned the guns for the last part of the battle. He was given a posthumous VC, and although he had no Berkshire connections, his youth and courage inspired the mayor of Windsor to order a half holiday for schools in the borough.

21st September 1916

Mr Packwood is absent having been called to Oxford by the military authorities for medical examination.

The school closed at noon, the mayor having given a half holiday in honour of John Travers Cornwell V.C.

Windsor Royal Free Boys’ School log book (C/EL72/3, p. 159)

A terrible price – are we worth it?

Eric Guy Sutton, a member of the wealthy family which owned Sutton’s Seeds, Reading’s iconic horticultural business, had joined up soon after the start of the war. He was awarded the Military Cross a year later for saving a fellow soldier’s life, but was killed in action in April 1916. His home church, St John’s, was devastated by the news.

It was with great sorrow and deep sympathy for the bereaved family that we heard of the death of Lieut. E. G. Sutton. This most promising young officer, who had already been awarded the Military Cross for an act of great courage and self-sacrifice, was killed on Saturday, April 8th, in the gallant performance of his duty. We shall hope to publish some details of his career in the next issue of the magazine.

“Ye are not your own. You are bought with a price” (1 Cor VI.20)
Most of us were moved, I think, a few weeks ago by a story of almost unexampled heroism given in a list of recently conferred V.C.’s. A young officer attempted to throw a bomb into the enemy’s trench. The missile, however, struck his own parapet and fell in to his own trench. The officer cried a warning to his comrades and himself sprang back into safety, but then noting that his warning had been unheeded, turned back, flung himself upon the bomb and was destroyed by its explosion. And I wonder what were the feelings of his comrades and whether the thought of our text came into their minds, and they said to themselves: “We are not our own, we have been bought with a price.” And I wonder how many of us at home had the same thought in our minds as we read the account, or whether we have ever sufficiently thought at all that not to one such glorious act of heroism, but to countless splendid and ungrudging acts of devotion, do we owe today the security of our shores, the air we breathe untainted by foul poison emanations, the food we eat unstinted in quantity, our women their honour, our children their deliverance from brutality, our old people the quiet, even tenor of their placid lives, and all of us our immunity from the horrors that have desolated Belgium and Poland and Serbia.

We are bought with a price! Who will deny it? Vicarious suffering! Vicarious death!, say some. “We can’t understand it, we can’t accept it!” To such, I say: Alas for the poverty of your intellect and the hardness of your heart, when the very thing is happening today before your very eyes and crying to your souls. When not one minute passes, but even now in France, in Russia, on the seas, wherever the ceaseless battle rages, a man dies that other men may live. We are bought with a price, and day by day in that pitiful concentration of tragedy we know as the casualty list, the bill is presented, and every now and then, at longer intervals, the account is rendered up to date. And how stands it today? Some half a million of Englishmen slain, mutilated, sick, languishing in pestilent Wittenberg prison camps – for us. Mown down by machine guns, crashing from the air in the shattered aeroplane, settling to the ocean-bed in the sunken submarine, buried beneath the soil, buried beneath the waves, unburied in the hideous no-man’s-land between the trenches, tossing in our hospitals, limping about our streets, cry of the wounded and sob of the broken of heart, laughing boys who do not know what awaits them, grave-faced men who do, going forth in courage to do their part – behold the price that is paid; the price that is paid for us; in virtue of which we sit tranquilly in this church this morning, and shall walk tranquilly home to our tranquil and ample dinners.

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