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Sister Elsie Tranter was attached to 1 General Hospital from January-March 1918 where she undertook a course of training in the use of anaesthesia.

According to the Long Long Trail list of Base Hospitals in France and Flanders, 1GH was located here from December 1914 to January 1919. It was the only hospital in this town.

Slinging the slumber juice

10.11.1917  Fritzie has been doing so much damage lately to medical officers that the supply of them now is not equal to the demand and many more are needed to cope with the ever increasing work. There is a scheme afoot for army nurses to be trained as anaesthetists so as to free medical officers for medical and surgical work. To this end, two hundred and fifty volunteers have been called for from amongst all the nurses on service. I have given in my name and hope to be accepted…

16.1.1918  Yesterday we received instruction all day in the use and administration of anaesthetics. Our teacher, Miss Penland, is very nice indeed and does not seem to think us too much of a bother. When she is in America, she is Dr Mayo’s anaesthetist.

Today Miss Penland allowed me to give two anaesthetics – plenty of supervision and not much anaesthetic – still, it was a start. We will only be here for two months then, if we pass our examination, we will go onto a CCS.

24.1.1918  …we heard ourselves described as ‘the three Australians who give the dope’. Another expression they [Canadian sisters] user for our work is, ‘slinging the slumber juice’.

8.2.1918  We have been a little busy the last few days. My anaesthetics now number thirty-one. Sometimes we have to go to the wards without Miss Penland to give short anaesthesia for a dressing. We find this work rather a big mental strain, although of course the responsibility really rests on our teacher but we are gradually becoming more accustomed to it and, as the days go by, we learn more how to avoid the danger points. None of us has had any mishaps, though Miss Penland tells us we are sure to have some bad times. I trust her prophecy will not be fulfilled. We visit the patients after operation to see how they have recovered from the anaesthetic and to learn from them how to make the administration easier and more pleasant for them…

Elsie Tranter, In all those lines

Villa Orphée

Top: postcard, courtesy edithappleton.co.uk. Bottom: A contemporary photo of La Villa Orphee from Une balade sur ETRETAT

This Convalescent Home is a fine place – it is called the Villa Orphee and it is in the Rue d’Offenbach. This was originally Offenbach’s home and it was here that he wrote Tales of Hoffmann.

We three have been given a large room in the top of the house with a large dressing room adjoining it and a bathroom next door. This is an American unit (New York Presbyterian Hospital). We were rather shy about coming here at first but we had only been here a very short time when we realised we had found ‘the better ‘ole’…

17.1.1918  It is quite a long walk from the Villa Orphée to the Hotel Blanquet, The mornings are very cold and the walk down puts a keen edge on our appetites. We take all the short cuts in the mornings but we never take the same way home. It’s only by a stroke of luck that we arrive back at our billet at night for the roads are so black, dark and all the turnings look alike. Last night we got hopelessly lost and had to get a military policeman to show us the way.

17.1.1918  From our bedroom window here, there is a delightful view over the town and out to sea. The town is built in a semi circular bay, with great outstanding cliffs and rocks forming natural arches and pillars at each end. Etretat means ‘hamlet of the setting sun’. It is supposed to be the most beautiful spot in Normandy…

26.1.1918 The view from our bedroom window is glorious. Tonight at sunset there was the softest, prettiest light over everything. It is hard to tell where the sea ends and the sky begins.

Elsie Tranter, In all those lines

From Sister Elsie Tranter’s diary

The beach

20.1.1918  Just about one hundred yards to the left of our theatre – on the beach – an underground river has its outlet. This water, as it comes up through the shingle, is quite warm. Each day at low tide we can see the village women washing clothes in the spring water. They scoop out nice basin shaped holes in the shingle and as these fill, they get busy. How they can kneel on the shingle for so long I do not know but they do not seem to mind it.

A little farther on, round the first set of rocks, is a little sheltered bay. Looking down at low tide from the top of the cliff, it looks as if the foundations of a house had been laid there but that is not so. It is an oyster park that belonged in days gone by to Marie Antoinette. This park is just a number of concrete beds about 2 ft deep, 12 ft long, 6 ft wide. The oysters were brought here from other parts of the coast and placed in these beds. At low tide they were covered with the warm spring water and at high tide by seawater. This is supposed to impart a very special flavour. In Marie’s day she used to have the oysters sent to her in Paris where, no doubt, she had many a gay oyster supper. The fisher folk still use some of the beds in this park-but they keep them carefully boarded over. In the cliffs near the park is a large cave that has a ledge of rock along one side of it. The fisher folk believe that if anyone is drowned along this coast that the sea fairies take the body and place it on this ledge of rock. They say that far back in the cave is a secret stairway leading to the house of the fairies in the rock.

The Boiling Cauldron

14.2.1918  We had a day off duty today and at high tide (10 a.m.) visited the Boiling Cauldron [Le Chaudron]. A path leads along the top of the cliffs. Over Port d’Amout, the path becomes narrow and deep and suddenly ends in a flight of irregular steps of much worn chalk. The steps widen upon the brink of the cliff on the side sheltered from the wind. From here, the base is reached by a zigzag path-slippery and slimy-protected in part by a wooden railing. At the base is the entrance to a low tunnel. Before going in, we gazed in silent wonder up the face of the cliff, so straight and so solid, it looked about 400 feet. The tunnel is dug through to the other side of the cliff. It is not very long but low and pitch dark till you get about half way through where there is a little rise. After passing this, the light from the other end cheers things up a little. When about half way through, the vibration of the waves beating on rocks sounds like distant cannonading. The tunnel terminates in a gallery and staircase. Here is the cauldron. The sea beating in for centuries has worn a deep recess in the rocky wall. At high tide the waves rebound one on the other, forming a white, seething, boiling mass. Pebbles and stones are flung high up into the air. As the waves recede, the water seethes up through all the crevices in the rocks and it looks exactly as if it were boiling. Certainly a wonderful sight.

Elsie Tranter, In all those lines

Images & resources

  • Information about Etretat from Alain Millet – part of the pages on Edith Elizabeth APPLETON O.B.E. R.R.C.
  • N° 1 General Hospital British Expeditionary Force 1914 – Brian Dunlop, Photos taken by and of my Great Aunt ? family name Barrett. Stationed in N° 1 General Hospital Etretat during 1914
  • Nobody ever wins a war: the World War I diaries of Ella Mae Bongard, R.N. – Ella Mae Bongard, Eric C. Scott (Janeric Enterprises, 1998) – Canadian nurse in the US Army Nursing Corps; she spent most of her time at No. 2 Base Hospital at Étretat

Our photos of Étretat, 2011

Photos & captions on Flickr

Published Thursday July 7, 2011 · Last modified Sunday September 14, 2014
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia Licence

We're pleased that people are using this website as a source for locations, quotes and other primary source material. It's why we published our notes on the web. But we'd very much appreciate a footnote or credit. Much of the hospital (and other) location information for Lemnos and the Western Front is original research -- thank you, from Bernard & Cheryl