Hope Weatherhead joined the A.A.N.S.(Australian Army Nursing Service) on 4 August 1915, aged 34.
(Ellen) Hope Weatherhead married Prosper George Alfred Grinter. She died 15 November 1966 aged 86 and is buried at Ballarat. The War record of Sister Hope Weatherhead is published in Clampett, Muriel Evelyn 1992, My dear mother, M. Clampett, Noble Park, Vic.
When we arrived at the Pier we got off. The men on the boat lifted our baggage on to the pier, then the two barques steamed away and we were left sitting on our luggage gazing at the barren Island and wondering if anybody would come to meet us; presently up came a “Jock” in Kilts, and said; what are you all doing here? we replied; we have come to nurse you soldiers. He said; dear me you have come to an awful place, and nearly everybody who comes to this Island dies, even if they only get a sore finger, we buried the Matron of the Canadian Hospital last week, and one of the nurses is to be buried tomorrow, and several had gone mad and had to be sent back to Canada. The Island is alive with vermin.
During this cold weather the frost bitten and trench feet cases came down in hundreds from the trenches; some were bitten on the hands, feet and ears, many had to be amputated. We had numbers of British West Indian Soldiers admitted with frost bitten limbs; the bad cases were very difficult to treat on account of the black skin, it was impossible to watch for signs of demarcation. The limbs were always painful and most patients said the only time they could get relief was when they put them outside the bedclothes and let the cold wind blow on them.
The treatment was given according to the condition, some were treated with hot foments, others were painted with Picric Acid and some were bathed with hot water once a day and a special Trench Feet Spirit Lotion and Powder applied. The chief thing was to keep the frozen parts warm although it always increased the pain. The prescription of this special Trench Feet Lotion and powder was said to have been given by the French Medical Officers to our Medical Officers. It proved to be very good.
We had our first experience in France with a bomb about the end of 1916. Early one morning a tremendous crash was heard, the huts shook and the windows rattled and all the things fell off the shelves; the patients knew the sound only too well; they called out a Bomb … and sure enough one had been dropped only a few yards from the railway line which was about three chains away from the Hospital.
I was put on night duty for the first time in France about November 1916 in a line of tents which contained one hundred beds; Medical and Surgical Cases mixed. The tents were badly pitched, there were about seven Marquees in a row all joined together as one big tent and pitched on the rough weather side of the Camp and no shelter from the blizzards which came off the English Channel so anyone who had any experience with tents could guess what these tents were like with a gale blowing full force against them, many nights I had to go out with the orderly and hammer the pegs in and tighten the ropes otherwise they would soon have been down on the patients, when it flapped the patients got a shower bath and the water poured through on to the beds. We only had a few ground sheets which we covered some of the very sick patients with. The Charge Sister complained every day to the C.O. he made no attempt to get them altered until after several weeks when the beds were so wet that the Sisters refused to put patients into them and there were no means of getting them dried.
At this time the Hospital was very worrying for anyone working in it with a conscience our C.O. had got very careless, he was reported to be drinking heavily and on one occasion was helped off the train in the early hours of the morning with one bedroom slipper on and a boot and lyjiny missing, so needless to say an Officer like this at the head of affairs the men of the unit did pretty well as they liked.
The Orderly did the ordering of the rations for the Ward to me there seemed to be too much beer, brandy and whiskey being drawn every day. The Orderly was very often muddled with drink and on one occasion at 10 a.m. he was so drunk that when I went to give a tray full of mugs of beef tea he nearly sent me and the beef tea flying to the floor and a convalescent patient came to the rescue, I knew that he must have got Alcohol in the Hospital as he had not been out of the Hospital that morning. I spoke to the Medical Officer, he said that he could not do anything and that the Hospital was in a terrible state, and going to the dogs. Our Matron who was an old woman seemed very hopeless and unable to do anything to right matters; things had reached such a climax that I felt they could not go on much longer and they must soon right themselves.
Most of the medical Cases in these tents were suffering from Trench Fever, Nephritis, Rheumatics, Pneumonia; the Surgical Cases were all slightly wounded, there seemed to be a good deal of Trench Fever. These patients suffered from headaches, pain in the back and limbs, the Shins were most painful, the Pulse rapid and Temperature which usually remained high for a few days. Sometimes the patient would feel quite well in four days and able to get up and in about a week would get another attack. I have known some patients to get six attacks; recovering at intervals of about a week.
About the end of 1916 our Matron went to England, a new one took her place, so many changes took place and new rules regulations and Etc. were made. She made nearly a clean sweep of the Nursing Staff and only a few of us who had been with the Unit all the time were left. I expected my turn to be sent away to come any day; but I think all that saved me was the flower garden; In my time off duty I made a garden around the Sisters Mess as gardening has been my hobby all my life.
We were all very sorry to see all our old Sisters going we knew they had done their part conscientiously and were not the cause of the condition of the Hospital; they had all worked like slaves and under terrible conditions, and now that the Hospital was being made more comfortable and convenient for working in, strangers slipping into the comforts which the nursing staff had all been waiting for so long. A new O.C. had also arrived, we felt very sorry for him because we knew he had an awful task in front of him.
Matron, not once did she do any work outside her office; she had no idea what work was attached to admitting, say twenty cases, and generally at the same time getting ready fifteen or sixteen cases for evacuation to England in one Ward and only three Sisters and sometimes two, one orderly and a few convalescence patients to help; at the same time, numbers of cases being got ready for Operation and the X-rays. This is the work that went on for weeks and months at a time, and during all this turmoil a sister had to leave her work and fill two hot water bags and put them in the Matrons bed and stoke up the fire in her bedroom and carry her supper to her at 11 p.m.
The Hospital had been made bigger and we could now take in about 1,500 patients, many of the huts had about 78 beds. The Germans were using a new Gas called Mustard or Yellow X. It was a very deadly gas and the patients suffered terrible pain, one would not recognise a patient who had been badly gassed, they were so disfigured with burns and swollen, the eyes very swollen and closed, the skin was always burnt worse in the axillas under knees, groins or in any parts where the skin rubbed against the skin, also the membrane of the mouth and throat, some patients were unable to speak the voice having completely gone. In all cases that were badly gassed, pneumonia nearly always set in a few days after, very few seemed to recover; many that were showing signs of improvement died quite suddenly. The eyes and burns seemed to respond quickly to treatment, and many lotions and ointments were tried for the bums and eyes but Soda Bi-Carb and Calamine Lotion proved to be the best and in most wards they were made the standard treatment. As soon as the patients were admitted, the treatment was commenced before they had been seen by the Medical Officer. A sister would go around with an Irrigator full of Soda Bi-Carb lotion and irrigate all the eyes and noses if burnt and cut the blisters which were full of fluid and give them a gargle of the same lotion, wash the burns with Soda Bi-Carb and apply pads of lint which had been soaked with calamine Lotion.
It was necessary for those who were nursing the gassed patients to wear a mask we generally sprinkled a few drops of Eucalyptus on it to keep down the odour which was very offensive especially if the lungs were bad. The lung cases were treated with inhalations of Menthol and Eucalyptus or Zinc Benzion Co the patients were allowed to have which ever they found the most soothing. The Menthol and Eucalypt was given with steam or sprinkled on a mask which fitted over the patients mouth.
One evening I went on duty at 5 p.m. and found that a very bad case had just been admitted so I started the treatment, he was so badly burnt that it took me about an hour to fix him up and by 8 p.m. my voice had gone I could not speak above a whisper, my throat felt very sore; needless to say that I did not have my mask on; fortunately it cleared up in a few days. It was a lesson to me not to work on a badly gassed patient again without a mask.
Numbers of shell Shock patients were admitted to the hospital, some of these were very pitiful cases some dumb others affected in the way of paralysis of the limbs and many so tremulous that they could not hold a cup of fluid in their hands or feed themselves, we did not do much in the way of treatment only rest in bed and plenty of nourishment, sometimes the dumb ones were given a general anaesthetic, I can’t remember one case that regained his speech this way, all of these cases were transferred to special Nerve Hospitals for treatment. The genuine ones were sent to England and any who were suspected of malingering were not allowed out of France but were sent to an English Hospital where they treated all these cases. The air raids which were very bad in this district specially during 1917 and 1918, had a bad effect on Shell Shock cases, some patients seemed to go quite mental as soon as the Anti-Aircraft guns started to put up the barrage to keep the enemies Machines from getting over Boulogne. At times the Air-Raids were very terrible and it is a wonder that all the patients and staff too in the Hospital were not suffering from Shell Shock.
During our two years at Boulogne the sick and wounded came in thousands. I got my leave of fourteen days about every year which I spent in England, it was a great treat to get away from air-raids, wounded men and army rations.
The wounds during 1918 were not nearly so ghastly as those of 1916 and 1917; nearly all were machine gun bullet wounds. The work would have been much lighter for the Sisters if the war had been fought with Machine Guns.
Some time before the Armistice the Influenza Epidemic or better known as the Plague, broke out in France, although Bouloyne Wimereux and all the Villages in our district seemed to escape it, all of our cases were brought down from the trenches. Many died soon after admission, the bad cases seemed to suffer very much, far more than an ordinary case of pneumonia. Many things were tried in the way of treatment, but the bad cases never showed any signs of responding to the treatment, the patients who only had a light attack recovered, but seemed very weak and run down after it and needed a long convalescence. We kept all the influenza cases together in special Wards all the staff and patients in the Ward had to wear a mask with a drop of Eucalyptus and Menthol sprinkled on it. I was very glad we had to wear masks, for the odour of some of the bad cases was almost unbearable specially when one had to bend over them for hours at a time, giving them temperature sponges changing poultices etc.
We were very glad when the plague died out, they were very heavy cases to nurse, and our Surgical Wards were very busy at the same time during the retreat of the Germans. It was very sad to see so many soldiers dying with this awful plague specially many of the Tommies (English) who had been out in France since 1914 and had escaped being wounded.
I was on night duty when the Armistice was signed, we had a big convoy of wounded in about Midnight and they brought the news so to make sure our people in the office rang up H.Q. so the news was soon spread, when I told my patients in the early hours of the morning they took it very quietly and j ust gazed into space they did not seem to realize it, of course we thought our Hospital would be empty in a few weeks; but we were very surprised to find ourselves just as busy as when the big advances were on. We had no idea that there were so many men, prisoners of War until the exchange of Prisoners started after the Armistice, they came down in thousands all Nationalities, once I counted ten different Nationalities in one Ward. We used two languages English and French, most of the forces understood a little French. The Prisoners of war came down in a shocking state, specially the French and Italians and Algerians. I scarcely know how to describe them, most of them were skeletons with the skin which was in an awful condition stretched tightly over it, most of their abdomens very swollen and tense many were quite unable to keep any food down, and we had to put them on rectal feeds, some of them only lived a few hours after admission and others we were able to patch up and got them strong enough to continue the journey to their own country.
They all told me many terrible stories of the treatment they had received from the Germans. It would take me too long to write them, they were kept working behind the German lines until many of them died from starvation at their work. The only food they were given was beetroot which was boiled with horse bones. The horses which had generally been dead a long time and were too offensive for the Germans to eat, were given to the prisoners who said the flesh was often putrid and the smell made them sick. They were given a little black bread and a few potatoes sometimes. They were made to work and if they fell down from exhaustion, the guards would hit them with their rifles or kick them. For months they lived on grass and roots of plants. It was a case of only the fittest surviving.
Many of these Prisoners especially Italians and Algerians were suffering from Pthisis, most of them in the last stages. I nursed Prisoners of War, all Nationalities for three months they all told me the same stories of their shocking treatment. Many of them came to us dressed in rags and bootless.
I thought that when the Armistice came we would not have to deal with Malingerers any longer, but to my surprise they came in more than ever, they all wanted to leave France at once, of all the cases I nursed during the War I found the (lead swinger) the most trying and difficult to manage. It would take too long to write about them.
During my two years and seven months in the North of France I nursed mostly English men as very few Australians were admitted to our Hospital, they generally went to English Hospitals reasons unknown to us. 1 must say the English Soldiers were splendid patients one could not help admiring the pluck and spirit of the wounded ones, it was very unusual to have one who gave any trouble, at times the food was bad enough to rouse any man’s temper yet one rarely heard these fellows complaining. I have often wondered how we would have managed if there had not been any convalescent Tommies to help with the work in the wards, they were really splendid workers very few knew anything about Hospital or kitchen work, but they learnt quickly and after a time some were able to do the work as nicely as a Sister. They helped the Sisters with the wounded, held the limbs while they were being dressed, carried the buckets of soiled dressings, looked after the Primus Stoves which were always a terrible worry to a Sister for Sterilising. They did many other jobs too numerous to mention.
I was very pleased when word came in March 1919, to close the Hospital, I had just completed my three years in France of hard work under trying conditions with the long severe winters and air raids and often no fires or heating.
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