The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
Army Sketches — 3. In a Hospital
Nursing sisters do not, as a rule, figure on the staff of a casualty clearing station; but this war has seen tinny stranger things occur, and it so happened that, at a certain casualty clearing station in a front line camp, a nurse found herself in a hospital tent with every bed occupied and wounded men lying on stretchers in all spare corners.
In private life, when out of her nurse's uniform, she was a small, unaggressive person, with very little to say for herself; but in the soldiers' ward no Commander-in-Chief is more absolutely and impli sitly obeyed than the army nurse. This girl had, in her own phrase, always bren lucky, which is to say that she had been on transport work in the early days of Gallipoli and had helped the doctors, working like driven devils twenty-four hours out of the twenty-four, doing their best to keep up with the rush of work all day and performing urgent operations all night—rei eyed from want of sleep, sickened with the constant smell of anaesthetics, un'ended wounds and unwashed humanity. Later she had be-n at an advanced stationary hospital in Palestine, where the Hun aeroplanes came over once a day, and where there was a constant coming and going of troops and guns, camels, Arabs, soldiers,—in fact, a sort of daily picture show with most of the ac ors alive. And now she had got a chance to do some work in a casualty clearing station, where the men came in fresh from the battlefield and all hands were working feverishly to keep up with the rush. Truly, if there is ever a parade of troops in order of merit, the medical and nursing units should march very near the front.
After a while she came and stood by the bed.
"How is he getting on?" she said.
"Not too good", replied one of the amateur nurse", judicially. "He's a signaller, and he will keep on trying to call his mates up; wont keep his hands still at all".
Here the patient broke in with a use of words half reasonable, half delirium, with his pooj, shattered brain still trying to set the organs of speech and action in motion.
"Can't raise 'em", he said. "We went together all through it, me and Charley and B!uey. And .... there, is that a flag? .......... Regimental signallers we were....... Ack- emma, ack-emma...... What does he keep sending ack-emma for?...... Regimental signallers is no catch .... half the time ly- ing on your stomach in the sand with a Turk whanging at you, and trying to work the flag over your head ..... I'll ring 'em again..... This is Brigade .. this is Brigade__ Do you get me? ... They put me on Brigade signalling, but I'd sooner be back with the old Regiment ... Let me try if I can raise 'em with the flag; line's cut somewhere ....." And again he struggled to get his hand free.
The nurse looked at him in silence for a while. She had seen birth and death, had seen plenty of suffering—querul his hypochondria and silent heroism. Death, the great mystery, was around her every day; and yet she never had got quite used to it; some nerve vibrated always at sight of a man passing out into the great unknown.
Then the patient broke out into an army song with one or two questionable verses in it.
"Cut it out, Digger, cut it out", implored one of the watchers. "Don't sing that, there's a nurse here.''
"Let him sing", said the nurse, brielly. "I have heard that—and worse".
Then an idea struck her. "Give him this fan to hold," she said, "it might keep his hands quiet. It's very good of you boys to look after him; and I'll be back in a minute".
As soon as the fan was placed in his hand, the patient began to wave it from right to left and back again in a sort of figure of eight. "I'll call up G.H.Q.", he said. And for a while he lay fairly quiet, the motion of his hand apparently serving to keep him contented. Then he made another struggle to get out of bed, but the watchers held him. "I must go and raise G.H.Q. on the wire," he said. "If I did well with Brigade,
I must report to G.H.Q.....I don't like leaving the Regiment though ..... It's a. rise to get on G.H.Q....... all among the heads there.......Is that a flag!..... See me on G.H.Q.; you wont know me ......" And again he relapsed into unconsciousness.
The wind sprang up suddenly, as it has a way of doing in the Desert, and set a small piece of green tent lining fluttering at the door. The patient's eye caught it and he waved his fan in answer. "There they are", he said, "that's Charley callin' up and they 're all right all the boys I don't feel too good Take the flag a minute ..... " And a few seconds later the signaller had marched out to report to G.H.Q.