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Helen Fowlds

No. 1 Canadian Stationary Hospital, Lemnos

Nurse on donkey. c 1916. Greece. [Possibly Canadian Nursing Sister Ruby G. Peterkin as the photograph is in her papers, which consist of letters home.] Library and Archives Canada MIKAN no. 3192172

France was nothing to this…

Our girls are better now and all on duty so the work is easier and we are all in better spirits. By the time this reaches you I suppose you’ll have seen by the papers of Miss Munro’s death. She is one of #3’s Sisters – they are a few minutes walk from us and it seems just like one of us. I knew her quite well coming out on the ship and as she was Mrs. Bell’s greatest friend I saw quite a lot of her. Mrs. Bell was one of the D[ ]ne’s in Peterboro – and they both knew Aunt Lauder – so she may be interested in hearing of her death out here.

http://www.trentu.ca/admin/library/archives/f1915-35.htm

Sept 13

I must be aclimatized now for I am feeling perfectly splendid. Our meals are better too and we have ceased to regard men who come for tea simply as a means to an end – and that end – food. Tonight we had Hamburg Steak and French fried potatoes and jam roll pudding.

Our afternoon teas are functions. To-day we had a lieut. and two of the dearest middies from the Glory and officers from most of the thousand odd English regiments around here, and Sundays there isn’t standing room. The Capt. of the Blenheim that Kipling wrote about in his “Fleet in Being” comes quite often and the other day we had mostly all the officers of the Empress of Britain.

We have a ripping lot of girls in this unit and the men certainly like to come here.

Sept 15

One of our Sisters went to England today too. She went armed with blank cheques from us all and thousands of commissions. If any one had said to me “You may go too” I don’t think I’d really have wanted to go. There is a fascination about this life.

I wish you could look in tonight. The marque stretches from our front gate to about the kitchen and the beds are packed as near together as possible – no tables or chairs & just a narrow passage up the middle – very rough as the land wasn’t levelled before the tents were put up.

In the centre we have our kitchen dressings, medicines etc. The kitchen consists of a large packing case [with] two smaller ones on top- and the only piece of oil cloth in the camp – a present from the Cook’s assistant who was a patient for a few days. He brought it from France himself and we show it with great pride.

Our stoves are called Primer heaters, they burn coil oil and hum in a strong breeze, but they are contrary things and are always acting up at the most critical times. It is easier to work here than in the tents we had in France as we have everything under one roof.

They say we’ll be in huts before long and that will be better. We are to have huts to live in too. I think it will be rather cool later, but as I brought all my heavy things I am quite prepared.

We are going up for supper now as it is midnight and after that I’ll try to write to Don and Eric so will close now. We are having a week night duty down here in rotation – so it won’t be hard on anyone.

Our meals are very much better now and if we had butter I would have nothing to complain about.

http://www.trentu.ca/admin/library/archives/f1915-36.htm

Sept 19

But you can see that we aren’t objects of pity and wrecks needing to be recalled. Myra and I preach this doctrine all day long – that the men we are meeting here are men we’d never meet any where else, and we are the only Canadians out here. If we can make good in their eyes – they judge all by us – as we will always think kindly of the navy in general after meeting with such kindness from the men here – and that it’s just as important to have our mess a place to which they all like to come as it is to have the hospital a place where the men know they’ll be well cared for.

I can tell you it’s taken some managing too. Some of the girls are the sort that loves to get hold of one person and ignore the rest of the world but they are being made to understand that these people are their guests and that it’s a crime to devote themselves to anyone in particular. With the result that now we can have most delightful times and no one feels left out.

… Another thing we never do is introduce anyone. Every one talks to every one. Charleson insists on “Mr. So-and-so meet Sister so-and-so” till everyone is purple with embarrassment. No man will come into a room if he knows he’s going to be bawled out that way.

http://www.trentu.ca/admin/library/archives/f1915-37.htm

Sept 27

It was awfully sad about Mrs. Jaegart (or however she spelled her name) – She was a tower of strength to to her girls when Miss Munro died and went about long after she was run down physically and mentally. #3 had bad luck right from the start. They were an untried unit – and in charge of an old man whose political influence got him the job. He didn’t know enough to hold out for reasonable consideration and was dumped on a site that had been formerly used for troop latrines. We were among the first to introduce bucket latrines and to that and the fact that our officers insisted on a uninfected site for the camp – we owe our good health as a unit.

Their land was full of infection to start with and with dust what it was at first – they were sure to feel the effects. Even yet they haven’t the same degree of perfection in their sanitary arrangements that we have. Of course its easy to place blame afterwards – and the old man in sick himself now – but I know you well enough to be sure that this goes no further and I am only writing it to show you that because they have had tragedies it isn’t a foregone conclusion for us.

http://www.trentu.ca/admin/library/archives/f1915-39.htm

One dear Scotch boy from Inverness – gave me addresses of relatives of his named Grant and said we must be related – of course it’s only fun but he was only 21 and as like Eric as could be and homesick and afraid of the future and Myra adopted him and made a new man of him, and we have the addresses of all his people in case anything happens. He said after this his religion would be #1 Can. Stat. Hosp. instead of CofE.

Oct 11

Yesterday Myra and I were to have motored to Kastro with two officers of the Scottish Horse but at the last minute they couldn’t get the car. We walked to Portianno the nearest village and do you know it was the first time I had been in one of the villages though they are within easy walking distance. I enjoyed it immensely – the houses are a fair size and painted white and green and pink, to suite the taste of the owners, but inside they are awfully dirty – and the streets are not what one would wish – But never have I seen the filth we saw in Etaples in France and even in Boulogne. The shops are all catering – in their prehistoric Eastern way to the troops and every day they have more stuff to sell but they are frightfully slow to take advantage of their opportunities.

http://www.trentu.ca/admin/library/archives/f1915-40.htm

Dec 11

Our road lay through our camp where daily improvements appear till now it is a model of neatness and swank – A huge sign built of white and red stones [with] #1 Can. Stat – & maple leaves in the four corners. In France all the hospitals – in tents – had huge Red Crosses against a white ground. They said it was so aircraft could tell they were hospitals but out here they don’t seem to care for that style and the designs are many and varied. #2 Aust – has a map of Aust – and the R.A.M.C. like snakes climbing up the pole.

After we left the camp limits we decided it would be too wet to cross the flats so went around about half a mile to the new road. Hundreds of Gypsy laborers were working. They are a queer lot. Motley seems to be their only wear – army boots, native trousers – white once – khaki coats – and blue army overcoats – some old ones they had left over from peace time I suppose – striped blankets around their necks and all sorts of hats. They were carrying earth and they work in unison – all sit down together – talking plenty of time to fill their baskets – then they all get up together and then all start off to their everlasting chant. They say or rather sing “Mahomet is carrying this load we must help him”. Between you and me they leave the big end of the stick to Mahomet for they are the laziest devils I ever saw. They don’t stand the cold weather very well – poor souls –

http://www.trentu.ca/admin/library/archives/f1915-44.htm

Dec 19

The famous “29th Div.” came off several days ago. They have been in the thick of it since the first landing and practically none of the original officers and men are left. They came down here and the reinforcements went to Cape Hills where it is expected we are to “put on a show” – as they say.

We know a great many officers in the 29th and of course we are greatly interested. Their camp is next ours and is the camp – as they are the heroes of this end of the war.

http://www.trentu.ca/admin/library/archives/f1915-46.htm

EXTRACTS FROM DIARY

It was one of the hottest days we’d had and the dust rose in clouds. As the little procession vanished over the hill we started home and kept it in sight till it crossed the river. It surely was a sad sight and awfully hard on her people to have her die out here. Such a desolate place for a woman to be buried and everything so different from what it would have been at home.

The dirty, springless waggon, the half wild mules needing the whip every few yards to keep them from breaking into a gallop, the white cap fluttering in the wind, the poor little Tommy in the next waggon with spades etc. that they did not trouble to hide, “the foot sore firing party and the dust and stench and staleness”, the millions of flies, the squad of buglers that joined the procession farther along, all jarred terribly on one’s nerves. It was so absolutely matter of fact, and military, strictly active service.

Somewhere across the valley they have a graveyard, and later in the afternoon we heard the firing of the Salute and the “Last Post”.

Our first centipede

To me belongs the honour of discovering the first centipede in our tents. I was chasing a small and harmless spider from my bed when Forbes shrieked that there was an express train running along the sheet. It had disappeared when I turned but we finally found it curled snugly away under the mattress. I have never felt so sick.

It was a black thing about 6 inches long and yellow underneath. It had millions of legs and travelled with surprising rapidity.

http://www.trentu.ca/admin/library/archives/fdiary-1.htm

ANZACS

They are a splendid lot of men, more like the Canadians who pride themselves on being westerners and think a certain amount of swashbuckling manner and a disregard for discipline makes them marked men. They get a trifle on one’s nerves with it all, but they are good sports for all that. Their accent is a cross between that of the Cockney and the Down East Yankee. Their uniforms are quite the best I’ve seen so far, and all the officers are crazy to get their Tommie tunics for shooting or riding coats. They are of a soft, yet heavy khaki flannel Norfolk’s style, belted in, with soft trim over collars and soft cuffs. Their hats are wide brimmed soft felt worn up at one side with the regimental badge to hold them in place. They had splendid boots issued to them too – Some officer, not an Australian told us that a number of Australians back from Anzac [ ] at ordnance for their own issue of boots, but were refused and given regulation army pattern. A while later they found that their issue had been given to the Gyppie labourers. Of course, naturally they were furious.

[PHOTO OF HER TENT]

Nov 20

It has been frightfully windy, and cold. Regular November weather. This morning I looked over the flats and found them under water. The sea must have risen considerably in the bay. It is almost to within a stone’s throw of our hospital boundary, but will not rise much higher of course.

jan 14

Clint saw #2 Aust. embarking yesterday. She said she never saw a more disorganized mob in her life. Men came running down with [ ] etc. under their arms, others with blankets full of stuff, for all the world as if they were running from a fire. Those Sisters must have put up with a great deal. The day before they were ordered to embark, waited till 6 pm. and then went back to find their tents had all been struck. It was a bitterly cold night too.

http://www.trentu.ca/admin/library/archives/fdiary-2.htm

Diary of Canadian nursing sister Helen Fowlds

Published Monday May 16, 2011 · Last modified Tuesday June 14, 2011
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