We Will Not Cease
When we came to Dover there was great bustle and excitement on shore. We saw the battered hull of the Vindictive as we came in. She had been in action at Zeebrugge the night before, and I heard afterwards that she was taken back that night and sunk in the entrance channel. Men were being taken ashore in stretchers, many cases of shell-sock.
We were put on a train and told we were going to Southampton. It was a long journey round the coast and by the time we arrived at the hospital, we were all worn out. We were in a building at some distance from the main hospital. It seemed to be run as a sort of convalescent home. Tired as we were, our spirits went up at the sight of the pleasant surroundings and at the sense of freedom which seemed to pervade the place. There were no wards. We slept in bedrooms, two in each. The next day confirmed the favourable impression. The building was no larger than an ordinary house and there only seemed to be about a dozen patients in it altogether. We wandered about the grounds and the adjoining park without restraint. We mixed with the people outside and in the evenings could sit and watch them playing cricket on the green.
One of the orderlies asked me if I were interested in gardens. I said I was. He took me down and introduced me to the gardener, and I spent hours with him, watching him at his work. He was always in good humour and never in a hurry and took a real interest in all he did. I asked him to show me where page 161 he got the special soil for his plants, and he took me out into the wood which bordered the garden.
In a day or two, although we had arrived in a state of exhaustion, we began to feel the benefit of the air and the freedom. Appetite stirred in us and energy began to revive. I think now that the M.O. at Wimereux had meant us to remain there. But there was no such luck in store for us.
We had been there a few days when, one morning, an army doctor came strutting in. We, the men who had come from Wimereux, were standing at ease.
‘Line them up against the wall,’ he said to the orderlies. They did so.
‘Had any trouble with them?’ he asked.
‘Oh no, sir, none at all.’
He addressed not one word to us. but proceeded to discuss us with the orderlies as if we had been cattle and very inferior cattle at that. Never having met anything of the kind before, we were all nervous, and when he suddenly seized the eyelid of the first in the row, the man jerked his head back in alarm. The M.O. now condescended to say: ‘I won't hurt you. I want to look at your eye,’ and, returning to the attack, regained his hold of the eyelid and pulled it up. The examination was over in a fraction of a second.
‘Do you know what day of the week it is?’ he asked the man. He didn't know it. ‘Stand aside.’
We had all turned our heads to look. ‘Keep your face straight,’ he snapped at me and jerked my eyelid up. ‘Do you know what time it is?’
I didn't know. We had no watches. There was no clock in the room and nothing to mark the passage of time for us. But it was noted as a sign of ‘taking no interest in surroundings.’ He was the last word in military efficiency and put us all through in less than five minutes. Not one of us could answer the stock questions. Not one of us passed the test. The whole thing was farcical but it had a tragic side for us. We were cast out of that paradise.
A day or two later we were sent away by train. We asked the orderlies where we were going, but they were vague. To a page 162 hospital somewhere near London, they said. On our way we collected another batch of nerve and shell-shock cases. Many of these were much worse than we were, but we were all kept together. Some of them were quite without control, crying like children. Every time we passed another train they would fling themselves screaming onto the floor, tearing at the boards with their teeth and nails. Whereupon the orderlies would fall upon them with their fists, and throw them into a corner, where they would be quiet from sheer exhaustion. It may sound brutal to say so, but we felt a relief when men were silenced in this fashion. We only just had enough control not to give way ourselves, and when one is just managing to hold on, one can't have much sympathy for those who break down. I felt as if my flesh were being torn off in strips, and it was years before I could see a train come into a station without a sensation of uneasiness.
It was a gloomy journey. We had a feeling of foreboding, and were oppressed with fears of we knew not what. Something vague, shadowy, menacing, lay before us. We had had heavy rainstorms on the journey, but as the train passed through London, the sky cleared. I asked questions of the orderlies and one of them pointed out Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, as we crossed the Thames.
We arrived at our destination, Bradmore Hospital. By this time most of us were completely knocked up. I have no idea of what happened after our arrival. It is probable that I collapsed from exhaustion, for I remember nothing more until I woke and found myself in bed in a ward. I felt very weak, and it was several days before I could get up. I could see none of the men who had come with me the day before. Most of the men in the ward were sick or wounded, Several of them were dying and their groans and cries were heart-rending. Two beds beyond me a man was having his wounds dressed. When his body was laid bare it was a ghastly sight that met the eye. for it looked, literally, as though a ploughshare had torn it from neck to heel. I was told he had lasted a long time, but had not much further to go. That night his groans grew fainter. He called some names in a familiar way, and all was still.page 163
In the next bed to mine a bright-faced young chap was sitting up. I spoke with him. He was intelligent and seemed perfectly normal, but before long he poured out a tale of sexual experiences—whether real or imaginary it was impossible to tell—weeping bitterly and imploring me to tell him if there was any forgiveness for him. The next day he had two visitors, women, and he did the same to them. Whether delusions or not, it was a tragedy either way. Probably quite well fitted to cope with the ordinary demands of life, the unnatural and extra-ordinary conditions in which he had found himself had been too much for him, as for so many others.
I was anxious to know what sort of place this was that I had come to. It was not easy to find out while I was in the ward. I raised myself up and looked out of the window. The ward was on the ground floor and there was a large, well-kept lawn outside. A blackbird alighted in the centre of it. He raised his tail and balanced himself for a moment, swinging backwards and forwards, and flew off to the nearest trees. They were huge elms in a field not far away. The landscape was green and pleasant and typically English. I sank back again, too tired to keep on looking, but satisfied that things would not be bad when I could get up and leave this ward. Physically I was comfortable and warm for the first time in months. There were plenty of blankets and my bed was right in front of a pleasant fire.
I was told I could get up. I was to move permanently from that ward and be established in new quarters. Still feeling rather shaky, I was taken along to the M.O.'s room. He started at once, in a very patronizing manner, to question me about my experiences at the Front. He was very anxious to know what conditions were like there, and asked me questions that he would not have ventured to ask anyone else. What sensations did one have in the midst of heavy shell-fire?—and others of the same kind. I did not trust him and was not at all inclined to talk about it, so gave him very little satisfaction. He asked me why I had refused orders and I told him briefly what my attitude to war was. He began to hold forth on the law of the survival of the fittest.page 164
Irritation was rising in me and I had difficulty in controlling it. I had heard enough of that stuff, I said. What was happening to the world's best and fittest men? Every day they were being smashed up and slain in the war. He cut me short by asking me suddenly if I would go into the fields to produce food for the people of England. I said I was doing that in New Zealand when the authorities arrested me. It seemed silly to me to leave a farm in New Zealand to go back to nature while I took on planting potatoes in England.
‘In any case, I am just out of bed. Would you say I am fit to do farm work?’
‘That's not the point,’ he said. ‘How much you can do doesn't matter. The point is, will you say that you are willing to do it?’
I was suspicious of this persistence. Why should it matter to him? It was strongly reminiscent of the way in which officers in Sling and in France had tried to entrap me into doing some thing in the army.
‘What is my position here?’ I asked.
‘You are a patient in a military hospital. Now answer my question. I want a straight answer, Yes or No.’
‘Until I know more about it than I do at the present, my answer is “No”.’
He became openly angry and told me that by my stubborness I had put myself into a position of absolute dependence on the army. My anger rose.
‘You say I have put myself into a position of dependence on the army! The New Zealand Government and the army authorities are entirely responsible for what has happened to me. They knew very well what my attitude was before they sent me out of New Zealand. I have only stood to my principles and as for being dependent on the army, let me go out of here, and I'll find my own way back to New Zealand without any further help from them.’
But he had the last word.
‘I'll give you three days in bed for insolence. Orderly, three days in bed for this man, for insolence.’
The orderly marched me off to the bed I had left that day, page 165 expecting never to return to it. I was shaking with excitement and helpless anger. I was not sorry to be back in bed, but furious that any man should have it in his power to inflict this humiliation on me, and treat me as if I had been a badlybehaved child. I was angry with myself too, for having allowed my irritation to get the better of me, and having, consequently, made such a bad showing. Anyone in the condition I was in is at a great disadvantage in argument, being so easily roused to excitement.
When I opened my eyes in the morning I found that a new patient had come in. He was lying in a bed not far from me, rolling his eyes and looking round the room. No one took any notice of him. His eyes lighted on me and he smiled. I spoke to him and he smiled still more. He had dark eyes, straight black hair and a broad swarthy face. He was, I learned, a halfcaste Maori, which meant that he had a white ancestor some way back. He was a throw-back almost entirely to the dark race, only the yellowish tinge of his skin showing that he was not a pure Maori.
When I had finished my three days, I was shifted to a large ward upstairs. It had two long rows of beds and windows along each side which let in plenty of light. On the opposite side of the landing a door opened into a large dining-hall. There were about fifty men in the ward, amongst them ten or a dozen New Zealanders. Here I found several of the men who had come with me from Boulogne. Where the others had gone, I don't know. It did not take me very long, once I was out of bed, to find out what sort of place we had come to. It was a prison in every sense of the word. In some ways it was worse than any prison. The men were more utterly helpless in the hands of the orderlies than ever were prisoners in the hands of warders. In that place force and fear reigned triumphant. There was no consideration for the men's nerves, no tact, no persuasion, only threats and force. Did a man offer resistance or give trouble—trouble that often could have been avoided by the exercise of a little tact on the part of the orderly—he would immediately be surrounded by orderlies, and one of them would fell him. They would keep him on the page 166 broad of his back, holding down his arms and legs. Sitting on his chest and opening the fastenings at his neck so that he could breathe, they'd ask him if he had had enough. If he said ‘No’, or was silent, one of them knelt on his head and crushed it down on the floor. This left no marks and at the same time never failed to bring about the submission of the patient, who was nearly always weak physically as well as in his nerves, and had no resistance in him. When he had said ‘That's done it’ or ‘I give in’ they let him up and marched him off to the M.O., who sent him into No. VII Ward for a longer or shorter time as the case might be, and sometimes never to return. It must not be imagined that the orderlies were particularly brutal. They were not. But the hospital was run on a system of force and utter disregard for the rights or needs of the patients—a system that gives less trouble than another way—and, that being so, the orderlies used these methods.
There must have been a large number of men in No. VII Ward, and as far as we could observe, they were all completely insane. When we were out on exercise there was only a fence between them and us, and we had plenty of opportunity of seeing and hearing what they were like. I never heard an intelligent word from them, not even a request for tobacco, and yet the babble of their voices rose like an orgy of the damned. With troubled eyes and twisted faces they walked, each man alone. Though there were so many, no two ever walked together. The bonds that unite men had snapped and each man was alone, dreadfully alone. Their lips moved continually, but they could not speak. They could whisper and mutter. They could shout and howl. They had once been men. They had been soldiers who went out to fight. Now they were only human wastage. Alive and yet life held nothing more for them—only torment. Looking at them I wished that all the world could see these men, could look into their minds and souls, scorched and blasted by the fireblight of war, and hear them cry for a loss—the greatest loss of all—which they feel. but cannot comprehend.
Having this horror before their eyes, the threat of being sent into No. VII kept the men in our ward in a state of abject page 167 terror. It was no idle threat, they knew, and against the sentence there was no appeal. It was looked upon as a death sentence, for they knew that the effect of putting in there a man whose nerves were already weak was often to drive him insane.
The majority of the men on our side of the barrier were perfectly sane and rational at all times, but most of them suffered from frightful fits of depression. Their nerves were bad and the atmosphere of the place was depressing to the last degree. Of treatment there was absolutely none. We never saw the M.O., except when some unfortunate was brought before him to be dumped into No. VII. The orderlies looked upon us as only one degree better than the men on the other side of the barrier, and treated us accordingly.
The following episode will convey an idea of their attitude towards us. At meals the Tommies sat at a long table running down one side of the hall. The New Zealanders sat at a smaller table by themselves. One morning at breakfast, a day or two after I had been shifted into the upstairs ward, we were all served with the usual plate of porridge, but no spoons were supplied.
Someone called out: ‘We've got no spoons!’
An orderly shouted back: ‘You can go ahead. You're not getting any!’
Some of the Tommies began to eat, but there were stifled curses from others. One of the New Zealanders asked: ‘What are we going to do?’
I rose from the table: ‘We are going to get spoons, but don't let anyone touch a mouthful of that porridge till I come back.’
I walked up to the orderlies' counter. Two New Zealanders followed me. I said to the orderly: ‘Will you give me a spoon, please?’
‘We are not issuing spoons,’ he rapped out.
‘So I see,’ said I, ‘but the New Zealanders won't eat without spoons, don't imagine it.’
He looked at our table where the strike was holding good. Reluctantly he handed me a spoon. Then all the other New Zealanders walked up and got spoons. One Tommy came up page 168 and demanded one, too, but he hadn't enough support. He was told his mates were all eating without spoons and he could go and do likewise. They all submitted and from that time, had to lap their porridge as best they could from their plates. It was sickening to have to see and hear them at it. When one took into account the atmosphere they lived in one could not blame them, although I do think that if they had stood together they would have won. At the same time I must admit that my revolt was mainly bluff and had very little behind it. If the orderlies had continued to refuse us spoons we could have done nothing and would have had to lap our porridge like the rest.
The rationing was so short that we were in a state of continual hunger. The principal diet was porridge and potatoes. Of meat we got so little that it was no more than the taste of it in our mouths when we did have it. We got potatoes and sometimes a small portion of cabbage or other vegetable for dinner, one potato if they were a fair size and two if they small. Jackets and grape marks and grubs were all devoured. No food was ever left over or anything that had the taste of food. Of bread, bitter, sodden stuff, made from potatoes and some kind of dark meal, we got very little indeed. We usually had a small allowance of cheese for tea, a very small quantity of bread with a little fat on it, and a cup of thin, watery cocoa. Sometimes, in addition, we got some biscuits. For breakfast we had the cocoa again and porridge. The quality of the food, except for the bread, was all right. It was the quantity that fell so far short of what was needed. In many cases the condition of the men's nerves was due to their physical state, and nourishing food, and plenty of it, would have made all the difference. We were told that everyone in England was short of food, but that they were as short as we were I don't believe. The orderlies had plenty. At the other hospital the food had been of good quality and sufficient, and my brothers, who were both in hospital in England, told me that the food was ample. But these were ordinary hospitals, for ordinary men. We were different. We didn't matter and nothing we said would be listened to. We were kept alive and kept secure and that was all.page 169
We were allowed out for exercise in the morning and again in the afternoon. We walked up and down in front of the building, between points where orderlies stood on guard. Inside or outside, we were never for one moment away from their watching eyes. Once, to test the strictness of their watch, I slipped behind some bushes where I could see all that went on. It was only a matter of seconds before one of the watching orderlies missed me, and his eyes moved round in search of me. In no time he had spotted me and signed to me to come out. Another time I was digging up dandelion roots with a piece of stick. They were juicy and they eased my hungry stomach a little. Glancing over my shoulder I saw two orderlies stalking me. They sprang on me.
‘Trying to poison yourself! We've been watching you.’
It took me a long time to convince them that dandelion roots are not poisonous.
We had tea at five o'clock and went to bed for the night immediately afterwards, although there were still hours of daylight. We were not allowed to get up again for any reason whatever. Though the latrines were just across the landing we were not allowed to go to them because in that case the orderly on night duty would have to leave the ward, unwatched, while he supervised in the latrines. Hence there had to be a chamber-pot under every bed. There were about fifty of them and every day a patient would be told off by the orderlies to clean them, bring them to a state of shining perfection and stack them up for inspection. The job was hated. There was more trouble over it than over any other. Only certain patients had to take it in turn while the others were exempt. What this discrimination was based on we never knew. It was submitted to, perforce. The will of the orderlies was law. I passed through one morning and saw the Maori patient, Fred Parsons, who had lately come into our ward, just finishing the job for the second time, having failed to pass the inspectororderly with them on his first attempt.
He called out to me as I passed: ‘Do you think this will do?’
He had built them into a beautiful pyramidal structure, but just as he was putting the finishing touch to it, there was a page 170 crash, and down it came. An orderly came up, shouting: ‘What's this? What's this?’ Fred's nerves were already on edge with having to do twice over a job he loathed, and the crash had further upset him. The orderly's shouts were the last straw. He still had a pot in his hand, and, swinging it in the air, sent it hurtling into the pile. Orderlies swarmed like bees. Fred gave one wild glance round. Then, filled with the primitive instinct to escape at any cost, he fled into a little room at the end of the ward and made for the open window. He was caught by the legs before he could get through, and it ended in his being marched off to the M.O. He appeared among us again in the evening, as meek as a lamb. Next day, he told me all about it.
‘You'll go to No. VII and you'll stay in there until you learn to behave yourself,’ said the M.O., ‘and you'd better make up your mind to do it quickly, for I won't come at once when you send for me.’
‘I won't send for you,’ said Fred, still defiant and not realizing what he was in for.
But he had not been long in No. VII before his pride broke down utterly, and he was humbly and abjectly imploring the orderlies to get the doctor for him. It was the end of the day before his frantic appeals were listened to and he was allowed out.
‘A dreadful place,’ said Fred. ‘Not a man there I could make friends with.’
Everything about the place was kept spotlessly clean. The floors were of wood, kept in a high state of polish. Such a standard was not required of the bodies of the patients, but we were kept reasonably clean. For the first few weeks after we were admitted we had a bath every week. After that we had a shower, also weekly. During the bathing stage the patients were soaped, washed and dried by the orderlies, although, as a rule, quite capable of doing it for themselves. The first time I had a bath at Bradmore, one orderly washed me while another with a notebook, looked for marks, boils, scabies, or any other manifestation of skin trouble, writing down what he found, page 171 and on subsequent occasions checking up any alterations. He was scrutinizing me carefully from the back.
‘What on earth are you doing?’ I asked.
‘I'm looking for your wound. Is this it?’
‘What are you talking about?’ I exclaimed in annoyance. ‘I've got no wound.’
‘Yes, you have. You've got a wound stripe on your coat.’
‘Then it's a mistake and it'll have to come off.’
I couldn't convince him. As a parting shot he remarked in triumph: ‘You've got a wound all right. It's in your papers!’
When I afterwards got my coat back I looked to see if he had spoken the truth about the stripe. Sure enough, it was there! It semed strange that I hadn't noticed it, coming to Bradmore. Having no knife to cut it off with, I chewed and tore it with my teeth until I got it off.
There was no recreation of any kind. At Wimereux there had been cards for those who were well enough to play. Here there were none. No books, no magazines, no papers. Only a little publication called The New Zealander, which gave lists of men in hospitals and occasional items of news from New Zealand. Most of us were by that time capable of reading, if only for a little, and something very light. But there was nothing. No services were ever held. No ministers of religion came near us. Outside we wandered aimlessly within our narrow prescribed limits. In the ward we sat or stood about. We could smoke. The hospital allowance to smokers was twenty cigarettes a week. No matches were allowed, but every morning an orderly came in with one in his hand. ‘Here, you men, light up.’ One man got a light from him and that served for the whole ward, each man giving a light to his neighbour. One match, one ward, very economical. After, there was generally someone smoking from whom one could get a light.
We only had one another's company, and the large majority were gloomy, depressed and utterly crushed by the position in which they found themselves and the frightful atmosphere of the place. Many of them had turns in which they would sit for hours, gazing before them with an expression of fixed and hopeless misery. Once or twice while I was there, there page 172 were attempts at suicide in our ward. One man stood up suddenly at breakfast and cut his throat with a knife that he had managed to secrete, carefully watched as we were. In less time than it takes to tell the surgeon was on the spot. The man's veins were clipped up and he was taken away, to be stitched at their leisure. Whether he lived or died we never heard. He never came back to us. This may seem to imply the necessity for precautions, but the large majority of the men were not suicidal, and in better surroundings and in an entirely different atmosphere would these attempts at suicide have been made? If we could have gone outside and mingled with other people as we had done at the other hospital, what a difference that would have made!
Fred Parsons, whom we nicknamed Rua, provided the sole enlivenment to the general gloom. Underneath it all he was bitter and realized his position as acutely as any of us. His pride encouraged him to give full rein to his natural humour. Being a Maori, he got away with things that would have landed any of us into trouble. It pleased him to regard the place as a Zoo and when he saw people coming in he would call out: ‘Roll up, roll up and see the animals! They are all quite docile and will eat out of your hand and glad to get the chance!’
As we came up the concrete steps from exercise outside the orderlies shouted at us to look sharp about it and hurry up. Fred turned round and shouted to us: ‘Come on. Bradmore heroes, over the top!’
He gave us a speech on the Maori. He held forth on the wrongs of the Maori race. Their country, their lands that they had held for centuries, had been taken from them by the Europeans. He forgot his own drop of European blood and identified himself with his dark ancestors.
After he had finished he came over to me. ‘How did I do? All right?’
‘What about the Morioris, Fred?’ I asked.
He grinned. ‘They killed everyone. Glad you didn't say that when I was talking. I couldn't have said a word.’
Once or twice we had visits of inspection from army officers.page 173
We were lined up and they inspected us, asked a question here and there, and that was the end of it. Fred's broad, cheerful face stood out in contrast to the general appearance of despondency.
One officer was moved to address him: ‘Well, my man, and what's your trouble?’
‘Feeblemindedness, sir,’ said Fred, promptly, with a perfectly unmoved face. (‘Poor fellow, he must be pretty far gone to admit it like that.’)
‘Oh, and how does it show itself?’
‘In coming to this bloody war, sir.’
The officer gave a snort and turned away. Many of us would have liked to have emulated Fred when we were asked patronizing questions, but we were not game to. We knew we would not have got away with it as he did.
For the New Zealanders there was just one green spot in the desert. Every week we were visited by Mrs Archer. She distributed cigarettes, enquired after the health of each man and endeavoured, without much success, to elicit something more than the usual ‘Thank you’ and ‘Better, thank you’ which was our limit. The consciousness of the way in which we were regarded made us tongue-tied and stiff, and I don't suppose Mrs Archer had any idea of that eagerness with which we looked forward to that visit and counted the days until it came round again. It was the one break in the monotony of our existence, the one contact with the outer world, and took us out of the dreary round of our own companionship.
There was one man who tried to make up for our shyness, on one occasion at least, by being over-bold. When we were admitted into the narrow, passage-like room in which the visits took place, he was in the lead. He went straight up to Mrs Archer and kissed her. We were very angry. It made us look a lot of fools, for she would certainly regard us as being in the same category with him, capable of any crazy action.
In the weekly publication I have mentioned, there appeared a report of the condition of all the New Zealanders in hospitals. Every week there was a rush for the new number to see what was said about us, and every week, with monotonous page 174 regularity, there appeared opposite each of the names of the New Zealanders at Bradmore the remark: ‘Much about the same.’ The reports were supposed to be sent in by the official visitors. There was much speculation as to who was responsible for them in our case. As we never saw the M.O. we judged that the orderlies must supply Mrs Archer with a report on our condition. We always looked anxiously for clues as to how we were supposed to be getting on, and as to whether we were likely to be getting out in any definite time. As far as we knew, our fate lay in the hands of the orderlies, but what it was, we had no means of knowing.
I said to some of the others that I thought, considering how much we appreciated Mrs Archer's visits, that we should try to express our gratitude to her in some way. They all agreed that it should be done, but no one seemed ready to do it. We were held back by the knowledge of how we were looked upon. Victims of a heartless and brainless system, we reacted naturally to it, were judged by our reactions and the verdict was against us. I determined, however, to put it all out of my mind for the moment, and the next time Mrs Archer came, to speak to her in an ordinary way. She had a small boy with her. I made some remark about him. She responded at once and we talked about him; her grandson she said he was. I told her how greatly we appreciated her visits, that she must not think, because we had not said anything about it, that we were not grateful to her for her kindness. For once a polite speech was absolutely sincere, for everything I said was true. She asked me if I had written home. I hadn't, I said. I hadn't felt able to. She offered to write for me. I knew that my people would be much more alarmed at hearing from someone else about me than they would be at not hearing from me at all, and I thought it would be better to wait until I could write myself. As a matter of fact I only wrote one letter while I was in Bradmore and that was in reply to my brother Sandy who was in hospital in England with rheumatic fever and who had seen my name in the lists. I found it impossible to write.
When the New Zealander appeared the next week following my conversation with Mrs Archer, the other patients were still page 175 ‘much about the same’ but A. McC. Baxter was ‘very much improved.’ There was now no doubt as to who was responsible for the reports. Fred Parsons brought me the paper in a great state of excitement. ‘How wonderful, and all in one week,’ I said, laughing. Fred was a little upset. He was inclined to believe the printed word and doubted me when I explained that I hadn't really improved any more than he had and that all anyone needed to do, was to put up a little sensible conversation.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘if that's it, don't do it again, or you'll be going off and leaving us, “much about the same”.’
Another time he brought me the publication, which sometimes had items of interest to New Zealanders. He showed me a heading. ‘Last member of notorious Baxter family sent to jail.’
‘Any relation of yours?’ he enquired.
‘Yes, that's my brother.’
He was amused.
We were told that the New Zealanders had been invited out to dinner by an estate owner in the neighbourhood. I refused to go. I gave the others as my reason that he wouldn't want me if he knew what I was and I didn't want to accept hospitality on false pretences. But my real reason, which I did not want to give, was that I did not want to be entertained as one of the Bradmore patients and all that that implied. The others went. They said, on their return, that I should have gone, that the host had taken them round and shown them his prize cattle, which I, being a farmer, would have been so much better able to appreciate. But I found out afterwards that most of them had not really enjoyed it, and for the same reason that had prevented me from going.
Not long after this an orderly whom I did not know—I think he was from some other part of the hospital—told me he was having a day off in London and was allowed to take anyone he liked with him.
‘And I've chosen you,’ he said.
I was a little surprised, as I had never, to my knowledge. page 176 seen him before. However, I said I would like to go, but that I had no money.
‘That doesn't matter,’ he said. ‘I'll see to it. It won't be much, anyway.’
‘But do you think I'll be allowed to go, just with you?’
‘That's all fixed up,’ he assured me.
So there was nothing more to bother about, and we went to London, taking a bus and then a train.
We went up and down escalators and travelled what seemed vast distances by tube. We had a cup of tea and a bun somewhere for twopence. I found the rush and roar of the traffic a positive nightmare. The speed of everything terrified me and I was at the point of breaking down.
Trying hard to keep my control, I said: ‘Let's go somewhere out of all this rush and noise.’
My companion was quite ready to. He took me to quieter back streets and to see second-hand shops which seemed to interest him. Afterwards he took me to the only sights he thought worth showing me—a monument to the Titanic, made out of wreckage, and a dog that had saved forty lives, but was now stuffed and used as a collecting-box. At frequent intervals he would say: ‘Wait for me a moment,’ and disappear. In a few minutes, he would reappear, sometimes from the opposite direction. These actions of his puzzled me a good deal. I now, of course, realize that the whole expedition was a rare instance of the use of tact on the part of the hospital management, and was taken with the sole object of noting my reactions to outside life. The disappearances of my escort were, of course, to ascertain how I would behave when left to myself. No doubt he had me spotted all the time and would have caught me at once if I had attempted to abscond. The scheme was entirely successful as far as I was concerned, for, strange to say, I never suspected it and remained to the end under the impression that the expedition was a spontaneous act of kindness on the part of the orderly. The visit to the neighbouring estate owner had been intended, of course, as a test of the same kind.
Not long after this, a New Zealand Colonel walked in one day while we were out on exercise. The New Zealanders were page 177 all collected up on the lawn, and he told us we were being sent back to New Zealand. I felt dull and apathetic and took very little notice. It all seemed dim and vague and far away. The others, I know, felt the same, for there was no sign of excitement or enthusiasm. This may seem strange; but for a long time we had been so utterly crushed that our feelings had become deadened. Just as, if half-a-dozen men were drawn at random from any of the clinks or compounds I was in, it would be found that the average of intellect would be much higher than in the same number drawn from the army at large, so the men I was with at Bradmore were, almost without exception, of particularly fine temperament.
To my surprise the Colonel called me out.
He shook me warmly by the hand and, turning aside with me, he said: ‘I want to speak to you for a moment. I know all about your history and I am surprised to find you so well. I know you have had objections to war and I know something of what you have suffered. I don't want to ask any questions. I only want to assure you that you have my very best wishes. I hope you soon get back to your own people and make a speedy recovery.’
I stood there speechless.
Perhaps I murmured: ‘Thanks.’
I was completely bowled over and couldn't trust myself to say anything. It takes time to get used to being treated as a human being, just as it takes time to become accustomed to harsh treatment.