Thursday, January 03, 2008

New Year's Day 1915 - In Furnes, Belgium.

Sarah Macnaughtan had a very different New Year's Day 1915 to anything she could have imagined before the war.

This extract from her amazing story ‘MY WAR EXPERIENCES INTWO CONTINENTS’ .

"31 December, 1914.—The last day of this bad old year. I feel quite thankful for the summer I had at the Grange. It has been something to look back upon all the time I have been here; the pergolas of pink roses, the sleepy fields, the dear people who used to come and stay with me, and all the fun and pleasure of it, help one a good deal now.

Yesterday was a fine day in the middle of weeks of rain. When I came down to breakfast in the Joos' little kitchen I remarked, of course, on the beautyof the weather. "What a day for Taubes!" said Monsieur Max, looking up at the clear blue sky. Before I had left home there was a shell in a street close by, and one heard that already these horrible birds of prey had been at work, and had thrown two bombs, which destroyed two houses in the Rue des Trèfles. The pigeons that circle round the old buildings in Furnes always seem to see the Taubes first, as if they knew by sight their hateful brothers. They flutter disturbed from roof and turret, and then, with a flash of white wings, they fly far away. I often wish I had wings when I see them.

I went to the station, and then to the hospital for slippers for some wounded men. Five aeroplanes were overhead—Allies' and German—and there was a good deal of firing. I was struck by the fact that the night before I had seen exactly this scene in a dream. Second sight always gives me much to think about. The inevitableness of things seems much accentuated by it. In my dream I stood by the other people in the yard looking at the war in the air, and watching the circling aeroplanes and the bursts of smoke.

At the station there was a nasty feeling that something was going to happen. The Taubes wheeled about and hovered in the blue. I went to the hospital for lunch, and afterwards I asked Mr. Bevan to come to the station to look at some wounded whose dressings had not been touched for too long. He said he would come in half an hour, so I said I wouldn't wait, as he knew exactly where to find the men, and I came back to the Villa for my rest. As I walked home I heard that the station had been shelled, and I met one of the Belgian Sisters and told her not to go on duty till after dark, but I had no idea till evening came of what had happened. Ten shells burst in or round the station. Men, women, and children were killed. They tell me that limbs were flying, and a French chauffeur, who came on here, picked up a man's leg in the street. Mr. Bevan sent up word to say none of us was to go to the station for the present.

At Dunkirk seven Taubes flew overhead and dropped bombs, killing twenty-eight people. At Pervyse shells are coming in every day. I can't help wondering when we shall clear out of this. If the bridges are destroyed it will be difficult to get away. The weather has turned very wet again this evening. We have only had two or three fine days in as many months. The wind howls day and night, and the place is so well known for it that "vent de Furnes" is a byword. No doubt the floods protect us, so one mustn't grumble at a sore throat.

1 January, 1915—The station was shelled again to-day. Three houses were destroyed, and there was one person killed and a good many more were wounded. A rumour got about that the Germans had promised 500 shells in Furnes on New Year's Day.

In the evening I went down to the station, and I was evidently not expected. Not a thing was ready for the wounded. The man in charge had let all three fires out, and he and about seven soldiers (mostly drunk) were making merry in the kitchen. None of them would budge, and I was glad I had young Mr. Findlay with me, as he was in uniform, and helped to get things straight. But these French seem to have very little discipline, and even when the military doctors came in the men did nothing but argue with them. It was amazing to hear them. One night a soldier, who is always drunk, was lying on a brancard in the doctor's own room, and no one seemed to mind.

3 January, Sunday.—I have had my usual rest and hot bath. I find I never want a holiday if I may have my Sundays. I spent a lazy afternoon in Miss Scott's room, she being ill, then went to Mr. Streatfield's service, dinner, and the station. A new officer was on duty there, and was introduced to the kitchen. He said, "Les anglais, of course. No one else ever does anything for anybody."

I believe this is very nearly the case. God knows, we are full of faults, but the superiority of the British race to any other that I know is a matter of deep conviction with me, and it is founded, I think, on wide experience.

6 January.—I went to Adinkerke two days ago to establish a soup-kitchen there, as they say that Furnes station is too dangerous. We have been given a nice little waiting-room and a stove. We heard to-day that the station-master at Furnes has been signaling to the enemy, so that is why we have been shelled so punctually. His daughter is engaged to a German. Two of our hospital people noticed that before each bombardment a blue light appeared to flash on the sky. They reported the matter, with the result that the signals were discovered.

There has been a lot of shelling again to-day, and several houses are destroyed. A child of two years is in our hospital with one leg blown off and the other broken. One only hears people spoken of as, "the man with the abdominal trouble," or "the one shot through the lungs."
Children know the different aeroplanes by sight, and one little girl, when I ask her for news, gives me a list of the "obus" that have arrived, and which have "s'éclaté," and which have not. One can see that she despises those which "ne s'éclatent pas." One says "Bon soir, pas des obus," as in English one says, "Good-night, sleep well."

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