Nursing Sister Kate Luard: diary from a Field Ambulance, spring 1915

We have previously written about Essex girl Kate Luard, who served as a nurse on the Western Front throughout the whole of the First World War. One of Kate’s relatives, Caroline Stevens, is writing a blog about Kate’s wartime experiences, and here, 100 years after they were written, shares with us some of Kate’s diary entries for spring 1915.

On August 6, 1914, two days after the British Government declared war on Germany, Kate enlisted in the QAIMNSR (Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service Reserve).  During her first year in France and Belgium she serves on the ambulance trains until, on April 2, 1915, she receives movement orders to report to the Officer Commanding at No.4 Field Ambulance. This brought her close to the front line and she referred to this in her diary as ‘life at the back of the front’. Here she also worked in an Advanced Dressing Station.

A Field Ambulance was a mobile front line medical unit for treating the wounded before they were moved to a casualty clearing station. Each division would have 3 field ambulances which were made up of 10 officers and 244 men. A field ambulance would include stretcher bearers, nursing orderlies, tented wards, operating theatre, cookhouse, wash rooms and a horsed or motor ambulance.

The field ambulances set up and supplied Advanced Dressing Stations which were basic care points providing only limited medical treatment and had no holding capacity. The wounded were brought here from Regimental Aid Posts which were only a few metres behind the front line in small spaces such as a support or reserve trench.

THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916

An advanced dressing station of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) on the Montauban – Guillemont Road. September 1916 (Imperial War Museum)

From Kate’s diary:

April 2nd, 1915. Good Friday

So hell became heaven and here I am at railhead waiting for a motor ambulance to take me and my baggage there.

11 A.M.  Had an interesting drive here through a village packed with men billeted in barns and empty houses–the usual aeroplane buzzing overhead, and a large motor ambulance convoy by the wayside. We are in the town itself, and the building is labelled No.4 Field Ambulance Dressing Station for Officers.

Still Good Friday, 10pm. (Kate spends a luxurious night in Maire’s Château where Generals and officers are usually billeted.)

 

April 3rd, 1915. Easter Eve, 10 P.M.

Have been on duty all day. They [the wounded] are nearly all evacuated in a few days, so you are always getting a fresh lot in.

I found my own new billet this morning before going on duty; it is a very old little house over a shop in a street off the big Place. It is a sort of attic, and I am not dead sure whether it is clean on top and lively underneath, but time will show.

 

April 7th, 1915. In bed, 10.30 P.M.

We are busy all day admitting and evacuating officers. A very nice Brigade-Major came in, in the night, with a shell wound in the shoulder. This morning a great jagged piece was dug out, with only a local anaesthetic, he stuck it like a brick, humming a tune when it became unbearable and gripping on to my hand.

I was off at 5pm and went to Beuvry, the village two and a half miles away that was shelled last week; it is about half-way to the trenches from here. Met and passed an unending stream of khaki, the men marching back from their four days in the trenches, and all steadily trudging on with the same coating of mud from head to foot, packs and rifles carried anyhow, and the Trench Look which can never be described, and which is grim to the last degree. Each lot had a tail of limping stragglers. They said they’d had a very “rough” night last night – pouring rain – water up to their knees, and standing to all night expecting an attack which didn’t come off; but some mines had been exploded meant for their trench but luckily they only got smothered instead of blown to bits.

 

April 10th, 1915. 10.30pm.

It is difficult to settle down to sleep to-night: the sky is lit up with flashes and star shells, and every now and then a big bang shakes the house, above the almost continuous thud, thudding, and barking of the machine-guns and the crackling of rifle firing; they are bringing in more to-day, both here and at the hospice.

THE BATTLE OF ARRAS, APRIL-MAY 1917

Stretcher cases awaiting transport to a Casualty Clearing Station lie on the ground outside a dressing station at Blangy near Arras, April 1917 (Imperial War Museum)

April 16th, 1915

This afternoon I saw a soldier’s funeral, which I have never seen before. He was shot in the head yesterday, and makes the four hundred and eleventh British soldier buried in this cemetery. The French gravedigger told me there was another to be buried this afternoon. It was very impressive and moving, the Union Jack on the coffin (a thin wooden box) on the waggon, and a firing party, and about a hundred men and three officers and the Padre. It was a clear blue sky and sunny afternoon. The graves are dug trenchwise, very close together, practically all in one continuous grave, each with a marked cross.

 

April 26th, 1915. 11 P.M.

We have been admitting, cutting the clothes off, dressing and evacuating a good many to-day. There is a great noise going on to-night, snapping and popping, and crackling of rifle firing and machine guns, with the roar of our 9.2’s every few minutes.

 

Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western FrontThe above are extracts from Kate’s first book ‘Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front 1914-1915’. Go to www.kateluard.co.uk and click on ‘blog’ for entries which are posted on the same day as the events of 100 years. You can also read all the extracts which you have missed.

During her time in France, Kate exchanged numerous letters with her family at home in Birch near Colchester. The majority of these letters are held in the Luard archives at the Essex Record Office, Chelmsford.

ERO is stronger with Friends: purchase of the Saulez collection

The Friends of Historic Essex are a charity which supports the ERO. Throughout the centenary of the First World War, the Friends and ERO are working together on the Essex Great War Archive Project, which aims to preserve documentary evidence of the period for educational study, family history research and community histories. The project includes looking out for documents relating to Essex people and places during the War, and where possible acquiring them for our collection.

If you would like to help, would you consider making a donation or becoming a member of the Friends? Details are available on the Friends’ website.

Here, Archive Assistant Sarah Ensor shares details of the most significant purchase made as part of the project to date – the Saulez family collection. (A version of this article first appeared the Autumn 2014 edition of the Essex Journal.)

The Friends of Historic Essex have recently acquired a family collection which has since been deposited at the Essex Record Office (Accession A14026).

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Rev. Robert Travers Saulez (D/P 511/28/1)

A large part of the collection consists of letters and telegrams from and relating to the sons of the Reverend Robert Travers Saulez (right). Robert was born in India in 1849 where his father, George Alfred Frederick Saulez, was an assistant chaplain at Nainee Tal. After gaining his degree from Trinity College Cambridge Robert served as curate in Lancashire, Hampshire and London before moving to Essex in 1886. According to Crockford’s Clerical Directory he was vicar of Belchamp St. Paul from 1886 to 1901 and rural dean of Yeldham from 1899 to 1901, vicar of St. John, Moulsham from 1901 to 1906 and rector of Willingale Doe with Shellow Bowels from 1906 to 1927. He retired to Twinstead where he died in 1933.

Robert and his wife Margaret Jane had three sons and a daughter between 1882 and 1887. Their sons, Robert George Rendall, Arthur Travers and Alfred Gordon were all educated at Felsted School and later served in the army. The letters deposited appear to date from towards the end of the Boer War through the Great War and beyond.

Robert George Rendall Saulez answered the call to serve in the South African Constabulary from 1902 to 1904 so is likely to be the author of the earliest letters in the collection. He volunteered soon after the outbreak of the Great War and served with the Army Service Corps in Egypt and Palestine. He was a good horseman and was recognised during the war for his share in providing an efficient transport service by ‘Horse, Camel or Motor’. After the war he served in the Supply and Transport Corps in the Indian Army until about 1922 after which it is believed he settled in the country.

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Bundles of letters fill the boxes

On leaving school Arthur Travers Saulez attended the Royal Military Academy before joining the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was posted to India in 1907 but returned to England prior to 1914 and was sent to France in May 1915. He achieved the rank of Major and having survived the Battle of the Somme was killed on 22 April 1917. The pencil in his diary which is amongst the collection is lodged in the page of the week of his death. A window was erected in the church at Willingale Doe in memory of Arthur Travers Saulez by the officers, NCOs and men of his battery.

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The diary of Arthur Travers Saulez, with the pencil still marking the spot where he made his last diary entry before being killed in April 1917

 

Hart’s Annual Army List for 1908 shows that the youngest of the brothers, Alfred Gordon Saulez, had joined the Army Service Corps in 1906 and when war broke out he was sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914. Like his brother Arthur he rose to the rank of Major but unlike his brother he survived the war; however nothing is known of his service throughout the conflict so hopefully some of his letters are in the family collection and will reveal more. Following the Armistice he was posted to Mesopotamia where he died in 1921 apparently as a result of the ‘excessive heat’; he left a wife and two children.

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One of the more unusual items within the collection – a remedy for poisonous gas

Robert and Margaret’s daughter Margaret Hilda embraced the opportunity that the Great War gave women to be involved. She served with the Scottish Churches Huts which, like the YMCA, provided support behind the lines in France. Following the war she married Wilberforce Onslow Times at St. Christopher’s in Willingale Doe with her father conducting the service.

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Marriage of Margaret Hilda Saulez, with her father as minister (D/P 338/1/11, image 95)

Until this collection of over 300 letters and other items can be sorted and catalogued the full story of this family’s experiences serving their country remains untold. It is hoped that funding can be raised to expedite the cataloguing and storage of the collection and the provision of an educational resource for students and people of all ages. If you as an individual, group or institution are interested in helping fund this project then please contact the Friends of Historic Essex by e-mail or by writing to them care of Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT.

You can also help to support the Essex Great War Archive Project by coming to a fundraising quiz organised by the Friends on Friday 17 April 2015 at Galleywood Heritage Centre – full details, including how to book, can be found here.

An Essex nurse on the Western Front: Sister Katherine Evelyn Luard (1872-1962)

On International Women’s Day 2015, we thought we would highlight the story of one extraordinary Essex woman, Sister Kate Luard. A version of this post first appeared in Essex Life magazine.

Katherine Evelyn Luard was born in Aveley in 1872, the tenth of 13 children, the daughter of a vicar. She grew up at Aveley Vicarage, and then Birch Rectory near Colchester.

Kate Luard Birch Rectory

Sister Kate Luard in her Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve uniform in the doorway of her family home, Birch Rectory. Reproduced courtesy of Caroline Stevens.

Kate, known as Evelyn or Evie to her family, was aged 42 when the First World War broke out, but she headed straight to France, arriving there on 20th August 1914, just 16 days after war was declared. She had previously served as a nurse in the Boer War in South Africa in 1900-1902, and joined the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Reserve as a Sister. She worked as a nurse on the Western Front until December 1918, in field hospitals, casualty clearing stations, and on ambulance trains. She was awarded a Royal Red Cross and bar for exceptional service in military nursing.

Photograph of one of the hospitals Kate worked in on the Western Front (D/DLu 55/10/5)

Photograph of one of the hospitals Kate worked in on the Western Front (D/DLu 55/10/5)

Kate and her family exchanged hundreds of letters during the War, many of which are held at the ERO, and she also kept a diary, which was published anonymously in 1916 as Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front, 1914-15; a copy is available in the ERO library. A collection of her letters was also published in 1930 as Unknown Warriors: the Letters of Kate Luard, RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918. A new edition of Unknown Warriors was published in 2014 – you can find out more about it here (again, a copy is available in the ERO library).

Just a few of the many letters the Luard famiy exchanged during the War

Just a few of the many letters the Luard famiy exchanged during the War

Kate’s letters home are a mixture of descriptions of her nursing work and requests for her family to send her food and other home comforts. In one letter written from the Hospital Ship Carisbrook Castle at St Nazaire she describes a night transferring sick and wounded soldiers from the hospital train she was then stationed with:

When you stand off for a few hours from the gruesome details & pathetic streams of broken, dirty, ragged bandaged cripples that one is occupied with all day it gets more & more infathomable & heartbreaking. 1500 were disembarked from the trains yesterday & they are still streaming in. One train of bad cases yesterday took 8 hours to unload.

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First page of a letter from Kate Luard to her family written from the Hospital Ship Carisbrook Castle (D/DLu 55/13/4)

In another letter written from Rouen Kate asked her family to send her a tin of bullseyes, a tin of oatmeal biscuits, tea, Slade’s toffee, chocolate almonds, a large homemade spice cake, a tin of honey (if such a thing existed), and nut-milk chocolate. She also asked for an aluminium camp candlestick, a probe and a comfortable cushion to use on the uncomfortable hospital train.

Kate worked on the Western Front throughout the war, and returned home in 1918 to care for her sick father. She later worked as matron of a house at a boys private school, and in the last years of her life she lived in Wickham Bishops with two of her sisters.

If you would like to discover more about Kate, have a look at the published versions of her diary and letters in our Searchroom library, or you can order up the documents we look after that relate to her for yourself. If you would like to find out more about our county during the War, keep an eye out for our First World War displays and events throughout 2015.

Document of the month, January: A dark and stormy night in the Mediterranean, January 1815

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Among the anniversaries of 2015, the end of the Napoleonic Wars stands out.  The Battle of Waterloo in June 1815 ended almost a quarter of a century of warfare. On a smaller scale, it opened the delights of the Continent to a new generation of British travellers.

Clarissa Trant in 1829, by David Maclise Frontispiece to C.G. Luard (ed.), The journal of Clarissa Trant 1800-1832 (London 1924), which is available in the ERO Library.

Clarissa Trant in 1829, by David Maclise. Frontispiece to C.G. Luard (ed.), The journal of Clarissa Trant 1800-1832 (London 1924), which is available in the ERO Library.

Clarissa Trant, then aged 14, began this travel diary in January 1815, when Napoleon was still in temporary exile on the island of Elba. Her party embarked at Lisbon in a Danish galliot bound for Marseilles. By the 22nd the ship lay off Cape Palos, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, but that night a ‘dreadful gale’ blew up:

‘… It hailed, snowed, thundered & lightened – the sea washed at every moment into the cabin and a sudden motion of the vessel knocked the lamp with violence against the ceiling and left us in total darkness … We heard a very loud clap of thunder , and immediately after a scream from the sailors … the Captain … threw open the door of the cabin and exclaimed Oh Sir come on deck, the lightning has fallen on my vessel … – everyone on board thought the ship was on fire as the deck was full of smoke …’

Extract from Clarissa Trant's journal, January 1815 (D/DLu 16/1)

Extract from Clarissa Trant’s journal, January 1815 (D/DLu 16/1)

The cover of Clarissa Trant's travel journal (D/DLu 16/1)

The cover of Clarissa Trant’s travel journal (D/DLu 16/1)

In fact, the lightning had merely burned a hole in the mainsail and knocked some of the crew off their feet. The Trants sailed on – only to be approached on the 27th by what seemed to be a pirate ship from Algiers. Clarissa and her governess were hastily squeezed into a secret compartment meant for smuggling contraband. The ‘pirates’ turned out to be ‘a few dirty harmless fishermen’, and on the 29th the Trants safely reached Marseilles. As they entered the harbour, Clarissa ‘felt almost as if I was coming into a new world’. It was at Marseilles that she heard the news of Napoleon’s escape.

After further adventures, Clarissa eventually married the Revd John Bramston, vicar of Great Baddow, but she was not to reach old age, dying at Witham in 1844. Her diary descended through her daughter Clara to the Luard family before being deposited in the ERO in 1970.

Clarissa’s diary will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout January 2015.

Diary of John Farmer of Saffron Walden, Quaker, of his travels in America 1711-1714

Regular Searchroom visitors might have noticed that each month we display a different Document of the Month. November’s selected document is a diary made by John Farmer of Saffron Walden, describing his travels in America between 1711 and 1714 (Acc A13685). Here, Archivist Allyson Lewis tells us about this fascinating document…

The members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers or Friends) were early settlers in America, escaping religious and social persecution in England.  In America they were similarly persecuted by the Puritans in New England and settled further South in what is now New Jersey.  William Penn, a Quaker who was educated at Chigwell School, was granted a huge tract of land which he called Pennsylvania and which became a model for religious tolerance and a refuge for many European sects including Mennonites and the Amish who continue to practice their separate way of life there today.

Amongst the Quakers there is a tradition of asking for permission to travel to witness their faith amongst other people.  John Farmer, a Quaker living in Saffron Walden in the early 18th century, asked for permission to travel further than most – to America.

On his return he wrote a journal about his travels, recording meetings with other Quakers.  He boarded the Thomas of London bound for Maryland, arriving in January 1712.  He went on to North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, the Jerseys, New York, Rhode Island, and Nantucket Island meeting Friends in local meetings and attending the Dover, New Hampshire Quarterly meeting.   He records that many Quakers being pacifists refused to make use of weapons and garrison houses to protect themselves from raiding Indians during the ongoing war and were left unharmed.

While in North Carolina he heard of a Friend who was in dispute with his local meeting in Pennsylvania so moved himself and his family to North Carolina.  However he refused to join the local meeting of Friends but settled about 20 miles away amongst “very wicked people” for the sake of “very cheep and good land which they and he forceably took from Indians: whereas he might have bought his land of Indians for an iron pottage pot but would not.  These Indians having been much wronged by English French and Pallitins [Palatines, German refugees transported to the colonies by the British government in 1710] did at last com suddenly upon ym and killed and took prisoners as I was told 170 of them and plundered and burnt their houses.  Amongst the rest the said Friend was killed as he lay sick in his bed and his wife and 2 young children were carried away captive and indured much hardships.  But upon a peace made with ye Indians they were delivered and returned to Pennsylvania.”

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The Quakers’ message of equality before God and respect for all was well received by the Indians.  Their fair dealing in trade and refusal to carry weapons were also factors in their good relations with the Native Americans.  John Farmer had meetings with many Native Americans in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.  He met with a group of natives in Maryland and speaking with the help of an interpreter told them about his beliefs in God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, “to which ye Indians severall times gave their approbation in their way by a sound.”  They followed him to a Friends’ meeting at George Truit’s house in Mulberry Grove near the ‘Poakamoak’ [Pocomoke] River on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay.

Another meeting was held in “the Indian king’s palace” near the Susquehanna River about 60 miles west of Philadelphia, where he slept on bear skins on platforms in front of a fire as it was a cold and frosty night.

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John Farmer calculated that he had travelled 5,607 miles around North America before he continued his mission in the West Indies where he visited Quakers who had been banished to the Caribbean from New England. He returned to Saffron Walden in 1714.

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The diary will be on display in the Document of the Month case in the Searchroom thoughout November, and will be available for searchers to order in due course.