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Remembered Today:

The Happy Hospital

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An Intake of Wounded

Sue Light



An Intake of Wounded

The façade of the hospital is like a dark cliff rising into the blackness of the sky. At the base of the cliff, faintly illuminated by some stray beam of light from a partly-curtained window, stand a double line of figures in khaki – orderlies. They chat and joke in subdued voices. Some puff the surreptitious cigarette.

Suddenly there is a stir. Someone has caught sight of the lamps of the first ambulance, creeping at a snail’s pace along the road on the far side of the railway line. Before they have disappeared round the turn by the hospital gates two more lamps are seen, slowly – ever so slowly! – moving across the vista; then another pair…. and another. Each pair of lamps represents a motor ambulance driven with that patient skill which is demanded by slowness rather than speed; for the precious freight must not be shaken in transit.

The orderlies’ ranks stiffen; the chat ceases; cigarettes are thrown away. The first ambulance has passed through the gates and is gliding up the drive. Simultaneously the main entrance door of the hospital is thrown open, the electric lamp above it is switched on, and the Matron and a group of sergeants issue forth on to the flight of steps to superintend the intake.

The ambulance gently comes to a standstill. Four orderlies step from the ranks. One opens the back cover that has hidden from passers-by the vision which, perhaps, it would have been better for all to see – and ponder. His fellows are smartly unfastening the straps that hold each stretcher on its shelf.

Four pairs of muddy boot soles, projecting from beneath blankets, indicate that the ambulance is full. Who are the owners of those passive, oddly pathetic feet – who are these latest victims of war’s chance? It is not (for the moment) the orderlies’ business to enquire. The only problem is to move these helpless pieces of human wreckage, as rapidly and comfortably as may be, to the place where they will in due course be repaired. The great machine which has employed them knows their names and whereabouts; it may be that even already, in some remote office, clerks are diligently entering them (“religion,” “age,” “length of service,” “married or unmarried”) in countless dossiers. The stretcher handles click into place; each is grasped by an orderly. “Haul!” – the stretcher, with its immobile burden, slides out. “Lift!” – strong arms raise it, lest it bump as it emerges. “All clear, lower!” – the four bearers back away, with their stretcher, and mount the steps into the hospital.

The receiving-hall is brightly lit. On the table at the far end stands a great tank of steaming cocoa and an array of cups. Orderlies are bringing in piles of bundles of “blues”; others are ready with string and labels and vast volumes in which the newcomers’ belongings may be listed before they are taken to the pack-store. As our stretcher enters, borne by its quartette of orderlies, it is stopped at the door. A doctor bends over the patient. “What’s your trouble, eh?” Two weary eyes unclose and the pale lips whisper, “Shrapnel wound in the left thigh”… “Enteric”… “Frost-bite”… “Rheumatism” – the possible answers are, alas! Innumerable. Promptly the doctor decides the ward to which the patient must be entrusted: a metal ticket, bearing the name of the ward and the number of the vacant bed, is placed on the stretcher, and it moves forward to make room for another…

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There are such a lot of good pieces - so much of the tiny detail not found elsewhere, and the sort of things that can be so important to know if you're trying to follow a relative's journey through the War.

My main problem at present, is thumbing through and trying to choose which one to do next from such a wealth of items.


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So well written, I could see the scene before me, I could here the chatter, the roll of the tyres on the cobbles as thay came to the gate, the smell of the mud on the boots. Fantastic and as Marina says you can always put them all up.


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The volumes are not in any particular order, except by date, so it's a real hotch-potch of thousands of items. So I'm trying to wade through at present to find some that at least give some sort of initial framework - should get easier after that, if my typing fingers last out. :)


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A good piece of descriptive writing. I liked the illustration too, with it's use of light. I almost felt cold and wet myself.


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