Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton.

The living present : the work of French women in war time online

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and have an occupation in the sad life which remains
to them, and I assure you, chere madame, that so many
useful things to be done leave very few leisure hours.
If a little weariness has in spite of everything slipped
into our hearts, a visit to the hospitals, to the am-
bulances at the Front, the sight of suffering so bravely,
I will even say so cheerfully, supported by our soldiers,
very quickly revives our courage, and brings us back
our strength and enthusiasm. . . ."

The Countess de Roussy de Sales (an American
brought up in Paris) was one of the first of the in-
firmieres to be mobilized by Madame d'Haussonville
on the declaration of war. She went to Rheims with
the troops, standing most of the time, but too much
enthralled by the spirit of the men to notice fatigue.
She told me that although they were very sober, even
grim, she heard not a word of complaint, but con-
stantly the ejaculation : "It is for France and our
children. What if we die, so long as our children
may live in peace?"

At Rheims, so impossible had it been to make ade-
quate preparations with the Socialists holding up every


projected budget, there were no installations in the
hospitals but beds. The nurses and doctors were
obliged to forage in the town for operating tables and
the hundred and one other furnishings without which
no hospital can be conducted. And they had little
time. The wounded came pouring in at once.
Madame de Roussy de Sales said they were so busy
it was some time before it dawned on them, in spite of
the guns, that the enemy was approaching. But
when women and children and old people began to
hurry through the streets in a constant procession they
knew it was only a matter of time before they were
ordered out. They had no time to think, however;
much less to fear.

Finally the order came to evacuate the hospitals and
leave the town, which at that time was in imminent
danger of capture. There was little notice. The last
train leaves at three o'clock. Be there. Madame de
Roussy de Sales and several other nurses begged to
go with those of their wounded impossible to transfer
by trains, to the civilian hospitals and make them com-
fortable before leaving them in the hands of the local
nurses ; and obtained permission. The result was that
when they reached the station they saw the train re-
treating in the distance. But they had received orders
to report at a hospital in another town that same after-
noon. No vehicles were to be had. There was noth-
ing to do but walk. They walked. The distance was
twenty-three kilometres. As they had barely sat
down since their arrival in Rheims it may be imagined


they would have been glad to rest when they reached
their destination. But this hospital too was crowded
with wounded. They went on duty at once. C'est
la guerre! I never heard any one complain.


THE Marquise d'Andigne, who was Madeline
Goddard of Providence, R. L, is President of
Le Bien-tre du Blesse, an oeuvre formed -by Madame
d'Haussonville at the request of the Ministere de la
Guerre in May, 1915. She owes this position as
president of one of the most important war relief or-
ganizations (perhaps after the Red Cross the most im-
portant) to the energy, conscientiousness, and brilliant
executive abilities she had demonstrated while at the
Front in charge of more than one hospital. She is an
infirmiere major and was decorated twice for cool
courage and resource under fire.

The object of Le Bien-fitre du Blesse is to provide
delicacies for the dietary kitchens of the hospitals in
the War Zone, as many officers and soldiers had died
because unable to eat eggs, or drink milk, the only two
articles furnished by the rigid military system of the
most conservative country in the world. The articles
supplied by Le Bien-fitre du Blesse are very simple:
condensed milk, sugar, cocoa, Franco- American soups,
chocolate, sweet biscuits, jams, preserves, prunes, tea.
Thousands of lives have been saved by Bien-fitre dur-
ing the past year; for men who are past caring, or



wish only for the release of death, have been coaxed
back to life by a bit of jam on the tip of a biscuit, or
a teaspoonful of chicken soup.

Some day I shall write the full and somewhat com-
plicated history of Le Bien-Etre du Blesse, quoting
from many of Madame d'Andigne's delightful letters.
But there is no space here and I will merely mention
that my own part as the American President of Le
Bien-Etre du Blesse is to provide the major part of
the funds with which it is run, lest any of my readers
should be tempted to help me out.* Donations from
ten cents to ten thousand are welcome, and $5 keeps
a wounded man for his entire time in one of those
dreary hospitals in that devastated region known as
"Le Zone des Armees," where relatives nor friends
ever come to visit, and there is practically no sound
but the thunder of guns without and groans within.
Not that the French do groan much. I went through
many of these hospitals and never heard a demonstra-
tion. But I am told they do sometimes.

To Madame d'Andigne belongs all the credit of
building up Le Bien-Etre du Blesse from almost noth-
ing (for we were nearly two years behind the other
great war-relief organizations in starting). Although
many give her temporary assistance no one will take
charge of any one department and she runs every side
and phase of the work. Last winter she was cold,
and hungry, and always anxious about her husband,

* All donations in money are sent to the bankers, Messers John Munroe
& Co., Eighth Floor, 360 Madison Avenue, New York.


but she was never absent from the office for a day
except when she could not get coal to warm it; and
then she conducted the business of the ceuvre in her
own apartment, where one room was warmed with
wood she had sawed herself.

To-day Le Bien-fitre du Blesse is not only one of
the most famous of all the war-relief organizations
of the fighting powers but it has been run with such
systematic and increasing success that the War Office
has installed Bien-fitre kitchens in the hospitals (be-
fore, the nurses had to cook our donations over their
own spirit lamp) and delegated special cooks to relieve
the hard-worked infirmieres of a very considerable
tax on their energies. This is a tremendous bit of
radicalism on the part of the Military Department of
France, and one that hardly can be appreciated by
citizens of a land always in a state of flux. There is
even talk of making these Bien-fltre kitchens a part
of the regular military system after the war is over,
and if they do commit themselves to so revolutionary
an act no doubt the name of the young American
Marquise will go down to posterity as it deserves to
do, in any case.


MADAME LYON committed on my behalf what
for her was a tremendous breach of the pro-
prieties : she called upon me without the formality of
a letter of introduction. No American can appreciate
what such a violation of the formalities of all the
ages must have meant to a pillar of the French
Bourgeoisie. But she set her teeth and did it. Her
excuse was that she had read all my books, and that
she was a friend of Mile. Thompson, at whose ficole
Hoteliere I was lodging.

I was so impressed at the unusualness of this pro-
ceeding that, being out when she first called, and un-
able to receive her explanations, I was filled with dark
suspicion and sought an explanation of Mile. Jacquier.
Madame Lyon? Was she a newspaper woman? A
secret service agent? Between the police round the
corner and Mile. Jacquier, under whose eagle eye I
conformed to all the laws of France in war time, I
felt in no further need of supervision.

Mile. Jacquier was very much amused. Madame
Lyon was a very important person. Her husband had
been associated with the Government for fourteen
years until he had died, leaving a fortune behind him,



a year before; and Madame Lyon was not only on
intimate terms with the Government but made herself
useful in every way possible to them. She was one
of the two ladies asked to cooperate with the Govern-
ment in their great enterprise to wage war on tuber-
culosis Le Comite Central d'Assistance aux Mili-
taires Tuberculeux; and was to open ateliers to teach
the men how to learn new trades by which they might
sit at home in comfort and support themselves.

And she had her own ouvroir "L'Aide Immediate"
for providing things for the permissionnaires, who
came to the door and asked for them. She ran, with
a committee of other ladies, a cafe in Paris, where
the permissionnaires or the reformes could go and
have their afternoon coffee and smoke all the cigar-
ettes that their devoted patrons provided. One hun-
dred poilus came here a day, and her ouvroir had al-
ready assisted eighteen thousand. And

But by this time I was more interested to meet
Madame Lyon than any one in Paris. As I have said
before, a letter or two will open the doors of the
noblesse or the "Intellectuals" to any stranger who
knows how to behave himself and is no bore, but to
get a letter to a member of the bourgeoisie I hadn't
even made the attempt, knowing how futile it would
be. If one of them was doing a great work, like
Mile. Javal, I could meet her quite easily through some
member of her committee; but when Frenchwomen
of this class, which in its almost terrified exclusive-
ness reminds me only of our own social groups balanc-


ing on the very tip of the pyramid and clutching one
another lest some intruder topple them off, or cast
the faintest shadow on their hard-won prestige, are
working in small groups composed of their own
friends, I could not meet one of them if I pitched my
tent under her windows.

Madame Lyon gave me a naive explanation of her
audacity when we finally did meet. "I am a Jewess,"
she said, "and therefore not so bound down by con-
ventions. You see, we of the Jewish race were sup-
pressed so long that now we have our freedom re-
action makes us almost adventurous."

Besides hastening to tell me of her race she
promptly, as if it were a matter of honor, informed
me that she was sixty years old! She looked about
forty, her complexion was white and smooth, her nose
little and straight, her eyes brilliant. She dressed in
the smartest possible mourning, and with that white
ruff across her placid brow Oh la la!

She has one son, who was wounded so terribly in
the first year of the war, and was so long getting to a
hospital where he could receive proper attention, that
he was gangrened. In consequence his recovery was
very slow, and he was not permitted to go again to
the trenches, but was, after his recovery, sent up north
to act as interpreter between the British and French
troops. He stood this for a few months, and Madame
Lyon breathed freely, but there came a time when
M. Lyon, although a lawyer in times of peace, could
not stand the tame life of interpreter. He might be


still delicate, but, he argued, there were officers at the
front who had only one arm. At the present moment
he is in the stiffest fighting on the Somme.

I saw a great deal of Madame Lyon and enjoyed
no one more, she was so independent, so lively of
mind, and so ready for anything. She went with me
on two of my trips in the War Zone, being only too
glad of mental distraction; for like all the mothers
of France she dreads the ring of the door-bell. She
told me that several times the ladies who worked in
her ouvroir would come down with beaming faces and
read extracts from letters just received from their sons
at the Front, then go home and find a telegram an-
nouncing death or shattered limbs.

Madame Lyon has a hotel on the Boulevard Berthier
and before her husband's death was famous for her
political breakfasts, which were also graced by men
and women distinguishing themselves in the arts.
These breakfasts have not been renewed, but I met at
tea there a number of the political women. One of
these was Madame Ribot, wife of the present Premier.
She is a very tall, thin, fashionable looking woman,
and before she had finished the formalities with her
hostess (and these formalities do take so long!) I
knew her to be an American. She spoke French as
fluently as Madame Lyon, but the accent, however
faint or was it a mere intonation, was unmistak-
able. She told me afterward that she had come to
France as a child and had not been in the United
States for fifty-two years!


One day Madame Lyon took me to see the ateliers
of Madame Viviani in other words, the workshops
where the convalescents who must become reformes
are learning new trades and industries under the pa-
tronage of the wife of the cabinet minister now best
known to us. Madame Viviani has something like ten
or twelve of these ateliers, but after I had seen one or
two of the same sort of anything in Paris, and listened
to long conscientious explanations, and walked miles
in those enormous hospitals (originally, for the most
part, Lycees) I felt that duplication could not enhance
my knowledge, and might, indeed, have the sad effect
of blunting it.

Madame Lyon said to me more than once: "Ma
chere, you are without exception, the most impatient
woman I have ever seen in my life. You no sooner
enter a place than you want to leave it." She was re-
ferring at the moment to the hospitals in the War
Zone, where she would lean on the foot of every bed
and have a long gossip with the delighted inmate,
extract the history of his wound, and relate the tale
of similar wounds, healed by surgery, time and
patience while I, having made the tour of the cots,
either opened and shut the door significantly, or
walked up and down impatiently, occasionally mutter-
ing in her ear.

The truth of the matter was that I had long since
cultivated the habit of registering definite impressions
in a flash, and after a tour of the cots, which took
about seven minutes, could have told her the nature


of every wound. Moreover, I knew the men did not
want to talk to me, and I felt impertinent hanging

But all this was incomprehensible to a French-
woman, to whom time is nothing, and who knows how
the French in any conditions love to talk.

However, to return to Madame Viviani.

After one futile attempt, when I got lost, I met
Madame Lyon and her distinguished but patient friend
out in one of the purlieus of Paris where the Lycee of
Arts and Crafts has been turned into a hospital for

Under the direction of a doctor each convalescent
was working at what his affected muscles most needed
or could stand. Those that ran sewing-machines ex-
ercised their legs. Those that made toys and cut
wood with the electric machines got a certain amount
of arm exercise. The sewing-machine experts had
already made fifty thousand sacks for sand fortifica-
tions and breastworks.

From this enormous Lycee (which cost, I was told,
five million francs) we drove to the Salpetriere, which
in the remote ages before the war, was an old people's
home. Its extent, comprising, as it does, court after
court, gardens, masses of buildings which loom be-
yond and yet beyond, not only inspired awed reflections
of the number of old that must need charity in Paris
but made one wonder where they were at the present
moment, now that the Salpetriere had been turned into


a hospital. Perhaps, being very old, they had con-
veniently died.

Here the men made wooden shoes with leather tops
for the trenches, cigarette packages, ingenious toys
the airships and motor ambulances were the most
striking; baskets, chairs, lace.

The rooms I visited were in charge of an English
infirmiere and were fairly well aired. Some of the
men would soon be well enough to go back to the
Front and were merely given occupation during their
convalescence. But in the main the object is to prepare
the unfortunates known as re formes for the future.

Since the righting on the Somme began Madame
Lyon has gone several times a month to the recaptured
towns, in charge of train-loads of installations for the
looted homes of the wretched people. In one entire
village the Germans had left just one saucepan. Noth-
ing else whatever.



THE Duchesse d'Uzes (jeune) was not only one
of the reigning beauties of Paris before the war
but one of its best-dressed women; nor had she ever
been avoided for too serious tendencies. She went to
work the day war began and she has never ceased to
work since. She has started something like seventeen
hospitals both at the French front and in Saloniki, and
her tireless brain has to its credit several notable in-
ventions for moving field hospitals.

Near Amiens is the most beautiful of the due's
castles, Lucheux, built in the eleventh century. This .
she turned into a hospital during the first battle of
the Somme in 1915, and as it could only accommodate
a limited number she had hospital tents erected in
the park. Seven hundred were cared for there.
Lucheux is now a hospital for officers.

She herself is an infirmiere major and not only goes
back and forth constantly to the hospitals in which she
is interested, particularly Lucheux, but sometimes
nurses day and night.

I was very anxious to see Lucheux, as well as Arras,



which is not far from Amiens, and, a vast ruin, is
said to be by moonlight the most beautiful sight on
earth. We both besieged the War Office. But in vain.
The great Battle of the Somme had just begun. They
are so polite at the Ministere de la Guerre! If I had
only thought of it a month earlier. Or if I could re-
main in France a month or two. longer ? But helas !
They could not take the responsibility of letting an
American woman go so close to the big guns. And
so forth. It was sad enough that the duchess risked
her life, took it in her hand, in fact, every time she
visited the chateau, but as a Frenchwoman, whose
work was of such value to France, it was their duty
to assist her in the fulfillment of her own duty to her
country. Naturally her suggestion to take me on her
passport as an infirmiere was received with a smile.
So I must see Arras with a million other tourists after
the war.

The duchess prefers for reasons of her own to
work, not with the noblesse division of the Red Cross,
but with the Union des Femmes de France. As she
is extremely independent, impatient, and enterprising,
with a haughty disdain of red tape, the reasons for
this uncommon secession may be left to the reader.

And if she is to-day one of the most valued of the
Ministere de la Guerre's cooperators, she has on the
other hand reason to be grateful for the incessant de-
mands upon her mind, for her anxieties have been
great no doubt are still. Not only is the due at the
front, but one of two young nephews who lived with


her was killed last summer, and the other, a young
aviator, who was just recovering from typhoid when I
was there, was ill-concealing his impatience to return
to the Front. Her son, a boy of seventeen a volun-
teer of course in the sudden and secret transfers the
army authorities are always making, sometimes could
not communicate with her for a fortnight at a time, and
meanwhile she did not know whether he was alive or
"missing." Since then he has suffered one of those
cruel misfortunes which, in this war, seem to be re-
served for the young and gallant. She writes of it
in that manner both poignant and matter-of-fact that
is so characteristic of the French mother these days :

"I have just gone through a great deal of anguish
on account of my oldest son, who, as I told you, left
the cavalry to enter the chasseurs a pied at his request.

"The poor boy was fighting in the splendid (illegi-
ble) affair, and he was buried twice, then caught by
the stifling gases, his mask having been torn off. He
insisted upon remaining at his post, in spite of the
fact that he was spitting blood. Fortunately a lieu-
tenant passed by and saw him. He gave orders to
have him carried away. As soon as he reached the
ambulance he fainted and could only be brought to
himself with the greatest difficulty. His lungs are bet-
ter, thank God, but his heart is very weak, and even
his limbs are affected by the poison. Many weeks
will be required to cure him. I don't know yet where
he will be sent to be attended to, but of course I shall
accompany him. . . . The due is always in the Somme,


where the bombardment is something dreadful. He
sleeps in a hut infested with rats. Really it is a beau-
tiful thing to see so much courage and patience among
men of all ages in this country."

In the same letter she writes : "I am just about to
finish my new Front hospital according to the de-
siderata expressed by our President of the Hygiene
Commission. I hope it will be accepted as a type of
the surgical movable ambulances."

Before it was generally known that Roumania was
"coming in" she had doctors and nurses for several
months in France in the summer of 1916 studying all
the latest devices developed by the French throughout
this most demanding of all wars. The officials sent
with them adopted several of the Duchesse d'Uzes' in-
ventions for the movable field hospital.

She has never sent me the many specific details of
her work that she promised me, or this article would
be longer. But, no wonder! What time have those
women to sit down and write? I often wonder they
gave me as much time as they did when I was on
the spot.


Before the war society used to dance once a week
in the red and gold salon of the historic "hotel" of
the Rohans' in the Faubourg St. Germain, just behind
the Hotel des Invalides. Here the duchess enter-
tained when she took up her residence there as a bride ;


and, as her love of "the world" never waned, she
danced on with the inevitable pauses for birth and
mourning, until her daughters grew up and brought
to the salon a new generation. But the duchess and
her own friends continued to dance on a night set
apart for themselves, and in time all of her daughters,
but one, married and entertained in their own hotels.
Her son, who, in due course, became the Due de
Rohan, also married ; but mothers are not dispossessed
in France, and the duchess still remained the center
of attraction at the Hotel de Rohan.

Until August second, 1914.

The duchess immediately turned the hotel into a
hospital. When I arrived last summer it looked as if it
had been a hospital for ever. All the furniture of the
first floor had been stored and the immense dining-
room, the red and gold salon, the reception rooms, all
the rooms large and small on this floor, in fact, were
lined with cots. The pictures and tapestries have been
covered with white linen, four bathrooms have been
installed, and a large operating and surgical-dressing
room built as an annex. The hall has been turned into
a "bureau," with a row of offices presided over by
Maurice Rostand.

Behind the hotel is the usual beautiful garden, very
large and shaded with splendid trees. During fine
weather there are cots or long chairs under every tree,
out in the sun, on the veranda; and, after the War
Zone, these men seemed to me very fortunate. The
duchess takes in any one sent to her, the Government


paying her one-franc-fifty a day for each. The greater
part of her own fortune was invested in Brussels.

She and her daughters and a few of her friends do
all of the nursing, even the most menial. They wait
on the table, because it cheers the poilus who, by the
way, all beg, as soon as they have been there a few
days, to be put in the red and gold salon. It keeps
up their spirits ! Her friends and their friends, if they
have any in Paris, call constantly and bring them
cigarettes. Fortunately I was given the hint by the
Marquise de Talleyrand, who took me the first time,
and armed myself with one of those long boxes that
may be carried most conveniently under the arm.
Otherwise, I should have felt like a superfluous in-
truder, standing about those big rooms looking at the
men. In the War Zone where there were often no
cigarettes, or anything else, to be bought, it was differ-
ent. The men were only too glad to see a new face.

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Online LibraryGertrude Franklin Horn AthertonThe living present : the work of French women in war time → online text (page 10 of 19)