Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton.

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

. (page 9 of 19)
Online LibraryGertrude Franklin Horn AthertonThe living present : the work of French women in war time → online text (page 9 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

little slit at the top. As I have myself seen people
slipping in coppers and, no doubt, receiving the credit
from other passengers of donating francs, I suggested
that these young cadets of the Red Cross would add
heavily to their day's toll if they passed round open
plates. Certainly no one would dare contribute copper
under the sharp eyes of his fellows. This, I was told,


was against the law, but that it might be found prac-
ticable to use glass boxes.

In any case the gains are enough to run these can-
tines. The girls are almost always good looking and
well bred, and they look very serious in their white
uniform with the red cross on the sleeves; and the
psychotherapeutic influence is too strong for any one
to resist.

Madame Waddington had brought a large box of
chocolates and she passed a piece over the shoulder
of each soldier, who interrupted the more serious busi-
ness of the moment to be polite. Other people bring
them flowers, or cigarettes, and certainly there is no
one in the world so satisfactory to put one's self to
any effort for as a poilu. On her manners alone
France should win her war.



VILLE, it is generally conceded, is not only
the greatest lady in France but stands at the very head
of all women working for the public welfare in her
country. That is saying a great deal, particularly at
this moment.

Madame d'Haussonville is President of the first, or
noblesse, division of the Red Cross, which, like the
two others, has a title as distinct as the social status
of the ladies who command, with diminishing degrees
of pomp and power.

Societe Franchise de Secours aux Blesses Militaires
is the name of the crack regiment.

The second division, presided over by Madame
Carnot, leader of the grande bourgeoisie, calls itself
Association des Dames Frangaises, and embraces all

* Naturally this should have been the first chapter, both on
account of the importance of the work and the position of
Madame d'Haussonville among the women of France, but
unfortunately the necessary details did not come until the
book was almost ready for press.



the charitably disposed of that haughty and powerful

The third, operated by Madame Perouse, and com-
posed of able and useful women whom fate has planted
in a somewhat inferior social sphere in many social
spheres, for that matter has been named (note the
significance of the differentiating noun) Union des
Femmes de France.

Between these three useful and admirable organiza-
tions there is no love lost whatever. That is to say,
in reasonably normal conditions. No doubt in that
terrible region just behind the lines they sink all dif-
ferences and pull together for the common purpose.

The Red Cross was too old and too taken- for-
granted an organization, and too like our own, for all
I knew to the contrary, to tempt me to give it any of
the limited time at my disposal in France; so, as it
happened, of these three distinguished chiefs the only
one I met was Madame d'Haussonville.

She interested me intensely, not only because she
stood at the head of the greatest relief organization in
the world, but because she is one of the very few
women, of her age, at least, who not only is a great
lady but looks the role.

European women tend to coarseness, not to say
commonness, as they advance in age, no matter what
their rank; their cheeks sag and broaden, and their
stomachs contract a fatal and permanent entente with
their busts. Too busy or too indifferent to charge
spiteful nature with the daily counter-attacks of art,


they put on a red-brown wig (generally sideways) and
let it go at that. Sometimes they smudge their eye-
brows with a pomade which gives that extinct member
the look of being neither hair, skin, nor art, but they
contemptuously reject rouge or even powder. When
they have not altogether discarded the follies or the
ennui of dress, but patronize their modiste conscien-
tiously, they have that "built up look" peculiar to those
uncompromisingly respectable women of the first so-
ciety in our own land, who frown upon the merely

It is only the young women of fashion in France
who make up lips, brows, and cheeks, as well as hair
and earlobes, who often look like young clowns, and
whose years give them no excuse for making up be-
yond subservience to the mode of the hour.

It is even sadder when they are emulated by ambi-
tious ladies in the provinces. I went one day to a
great concert given for charity, of course in a
town not far from Paris. The Mayor presided
and his wife was with him. As I had been taken
out from Paris by one of the Patrons I sat in the box
with this very well-dressed and important young
woman, and she fascinated me so that I should have
feared to appear rude if she had not been far too
taken up with the titled women from Paris, whom she
was meeting for the first time in her life, to pay any
attention to a mere American.

She may have been twenty-eight, certainly not over
thirty, but she had only one front tooth. It was a


very large tooth and it stuck straight out Her lips
were painted an energetic vermillion. Her mouth too
was large, and it spread across her dead white (and
homely) face like a malignant sore. She smiled con-
stantly it was her role to be gracious to all these
duchesses and ambassadresses and that solitary tooth
darted forward like a sentinel on a bridge in the War
Zone. But I envied her. She was so happy. So im-
portant. I never met anybody who made me feel so


Madame d'Haussonville naturally suggests to the
chronicler the sharpest sort of contrasts.

I am told that she devoted herself to the world until
the age of fifty, and she wielded a power and received
a measure of adulation from both sexes that made her
the most formidable social power in France. But the
De Broglies are a serious family, as their record in
history proves. Madame d'Haussonville, without re-
nouncing her place in the world of fashion, devoted
herself more and more to good works, her superior
brain and executive abilities forcing her from year to
year into positions of heavier responsibility.

I was told that she was now seventy; but she is a
woman whose personality is so compelling that she
rouses none of the usual vulgar curiosity as to the
number of years she may have lingered on this planet.
You see Madame d'Haussonville as she is and take


not the least interest in what she may have been dur-
ing the years before you happened to meet her.

Very tall and slender and round and straight, her
figure could hardly haVe been more perfect at the age
of thirty. The poise of her head is very haughty and
the nostril of her fine French nose is arched and thin.
She wears no make-up whatever, and, however plainly
she may feel it her duty to dress in these days, her
clothes are cut by a master and an excessively modern
one at that; there is none of the Victorian built-up
effect, to which our own grandes dames cling as to
the rock of ages, about Madame d'Haussonville. Her
waist line is in its proper place she does not go to
the opposite extreme and drag it down to her knees
and one feels reasonably sure that it will be there at
the age of ninety presupposing that the unthinkable
amount of hard work she accomplishes daily during
this period of her country's crucifixion shall not have
devoured the last of her energies long before she is
able to enter the peaceful haven of old age.

She is in her offices at the Red Cross headquarters
in the Rue Francois i er early and late, leaving them
only to visit hospitals or sit on some one of the in-
numerable committees where her advice is imperative,
during the organizing period at least.

Some time ago I wrote to Madame d'Haussonville,
asking her if she would dictate a few notes about her
work in the Red Cross, and as she wrote a very full
letter in reply, I cannot do better than quote it, par-


ticularly as it gives a far more comprehensive idea of
her personality than any words of mine.

"PARIS, March 28th, 1917.

"I am very much touched by your gracious letter
and very happy if I can serve you.

"Here are some notes about our work, and about
what I have seen since August, 1914. All our
thoughts and all our strength are in the great task,
that of all French women, to aid the wounded, the
ill, those who remain invalids, the refugees of the
invaded districts, all the sufferings actually due to
these cruel days.

"Some weeks before the war, I was called to the
ministry, where they asked me to have two hundred
infirmaries ready for all possible happenings. We had
already established a great number, of which many
had gone to Morocco and into the Colonies. To-day
there are fifteen or sixteen thousand volunteer nurses
to whom are added about eleven thousand auxiliaries
used in accessory service (kitchen, bandages, steriliza-
tion, etc.) and also assisting in the wards of the ill
and the wounded.

"To the hospitals there have been added since the
month of August, 1914, the infirmaries and station
cantines where our soldiers receive the nourishment
and hot drinks which are necessary for their long

"At Amiens, for instance, the cantine, an annex of


the station infirmary began with the distribution of
slices of bread and drinks made by our women as the
trains arrived. Then a big room used for baggage
was given to us. A dormitory was made of it for
tired soldiers, also a reading-room. At any hour
French, English or Belgians may receive a good meal
soup, one kind of meat and vegetables, coffee or
tea. Civil refugees are received there and constantly
aided and fed.

"Our nurses attend to all wants, and above every-
thing they believe in putting their hearts into their
work administering to those who suffer with the
tenderness of a mother. In the hospital wards noth-
ing touched me more than to see the thousand little
kindnesses which they gave to the wounded, the dis-
tractions which they sought to procure for them
each day.

"In our great work of organization at the Bureau
on Rue Frangois i er , I have met the most beautiful
devotion. Our nurses do not hesitate at contagion,
nor at bombardments, and I know some of your com-
patriots (that I can never admire enough), who ex-
pose themselves to the same dangers with hearts full
of courage.

"I have visited the hospitals nearest the Front, Dun-
kerque, so cruelly shelled. I have been to Alsace, to
Lorraine, then to Verdun from where I brought back
the most beautiful impression of calm courage.

"Here are some details which may interest your
compatriots :


"June 1916. My first stop was at Chalons, where
with Mme. Terneaux-Compans our devoted senior
nurse, I visited the hospital Corbineau, former quar-
ters for the cavalry, very well reconstructed by the
Service de Sante, for sick soldiers; our nurses are
doing service there; generous gifts have enabled us to
procure a small motor which carries water to the three
stories, and we have been able to install baths for the
typhoid patients.

"At the hospital Forgeot (for the officers) I ad-
mired the ingeniousness with which our nurses have
arranged for their wounded a quite charming assem-
bly-room with a piano, some growing plants and sev-
eral games.

"I also visited our auxiliary hospital at Sainte-
Croix. It would be impossible to find a more beau-
tiful location, a better organization. I have not had,
to my great regret, the time to visit the other hos-
pitals, which, however, I already know. That will be,
I hope, for another time.

"The same day I went to Revigny. Oh, never shall
I forget the impressions that I received there. First,
the passage through that poor village in ruins, then
the visit to the hospital situated near the station
through which most of the wounded from Verdun

"What was, several months ago, a field at the edge
of the road, has become one big hospital of more than
a thousand beds, divided into baraques. We have
twenty-five nurses there. Since the beginning of the


battle they have been subjected to frightful work;
every one has to care for a number of critically
wounded those who have need of operations and
who are not able to travel further. What moved me
above everything was to find our nurses so simple
and so modest in their courage. Not a single com-
plaint about their terrible fatigue their one desire
is to hold out to the end. When I expressed my ad-
miration, one of them answered: 'We have only one
regret : it is that we have too much work to give
special attention to each of the wounded, and then
above all it is terrible to see so many die.'

"I visited some of the baraques, and I observed that,
in spite of the excessive work, they were not only
clean but well cared for, and flowers everywhere! I
also saw a tent where there were about ten Germans ;
one of our nurses who spoke their language was in
charge; they seemed to me very well taken care of
'well,' because they were wounded, not 'too well' be-
cause we cannot forget.

"I tore myself away from Revigny, where I should
have liked to remain longer, and I arrived that night
at Jeans d'Heurs, which seemed to me a small paradise.
The wounded were admirably cared for in beautiful
rooms, with windows opening on a ravishing park;
the nurses housed with the greatest care.

"The next day I was at Bar-le-Duc, first at the
Central, which is an immense hospital of three thou-
sand beds. Before the war it was a caserne (barrack).
They reconstructed the buildings and in the courts they


put up sheds; our nurses are at work there among
them the beloved President of our Association the
Mutual Association of Nurses. All these buildings
seemed to me perfect. I visited specially the splendidly
conducted surgical pavilion and the typhoid pavilion.

"The white-washed walls have been decorated by
direction of the nurses with great friezes of color,
producing a charming effect which ought to please the
eyes of our beloved sick.

"I visited also the laboratory where they showed
me the chart of the typhoid patients the loss so high
in 1914 so low in 1915. I noted down some figures
which I give here for those who are interested in the
question of anti-typhoid vaccine: In November 1914,
379 deaths. In November 1915, 22! What a new
and wonderful victory for French science! I must
add that three of our nurses have contracted typhoid
fever; none of them was inoculated; twenty who
were inoculated caught nothing.

"While we were making this visit, we heard the
whistle which announced the arrival of taubes we
wanted very much to remain outside to see, but we
were ordered to go in; I observed that our nurses
obeyed the order because of discipline, not on account
of fear. 'We can only die once!' one of them said to
me, shrugging her shoulders. Their chief concern is
for the poor wounded. Many of them now that they
are in bed, powerless to defend themselves, become
nervous at the approach of danger. They have to be


reassured. If the shelling becomes too heavy, they
carry them down into the cellars.

"These taubes having gone back this time without
causing any damage, we set off for Savonnieres, a
field hospital of about three hundred beds, established
in a little park. It is charming in summer, it may be
a little damp in winter, but the nurses do not com-
plain; the nurses never complain!

"Saturday was the most interesting day of my trip.
I saw two field hospitals between Bar-le-Duc and
Verdun. Oh! those who have not been in the War
Zone cannot imagine the impression that I received
on the route which leads 'out there,' toward the place
where the greatest, the most atrocious struggle that
has ever been is going on. All those trucks by hun-
dreds going and coming from Verdun; those poor
men breaking stones, ceaselessly repairing the roads,
the aeroplane bases, the depots of munitions, above all
the villages filled with troops, all those dear little
soldiers, some of them fresh and clean, going, the
others yellow with mud returning all this spectacle
grips and thrills you.

"We breakfasted at Chaumont-sur-Aire ; I cannot
say how happy I was to share, if only for an hour,
the life of our dear nurses! Life here is hard. They
are lodged among the natives more or less well. They
live in a little peasant's room near a stable; they eat
the food of the wounded, not very varied 'boule'
every two weeks. How they welcomed the good fresh
bread that I brought !


"Their work is not easy, scattered over a wide
field; tents, and barns here and there, and then they
have been deprived of an 'autocher,' which had to
leave for some other destination.

"Many of the wounded from Verdun come there;
and what wounded ! Never shall I forget the fright-
ful plight of one unfortunate, upon whom they were
going to operate without much chance of success alas.
He had remained nearly four days without aid, and
gangrene had done its work.

"I had tears in my eyes watching the sleep of our
heroes who had arrived that morning overcome and
wornout, all covered with dust; I would have liked
to put them in good beds, all white with soft pillows
under their heads. Alas in these hospitals at the front,
one cannot give them the comfort of our hospitals in
the rear.

"After having assisted at the great spectacle of a
procession of taubes going toward Bar-le-Duc, I was
obliged to leave Chaumont to go to Vadelaincourt,
which is thirteen kilometres from Verdun, the nearest
point of our infirmaries. I was there in March at the
beginning of the battle.

"What wonderful work has been accomplished ! It
is not for me to judge the Service de Sante, but I
cannot help observing that a hospital like that of
Vadelaincourt does honor to the head doctor who or-
ganized it in full battle in the midst of a thousand
difficulties. It is very simple, very practical, very
complete. I found nurses there who for the most


part have not been out of the region of Verdun since
the beginning of the war. Their task is especially
hard. How many wounded have passed through their
hands ; how have they been able to overcome all their
weariness? It is a pleasure to find them always alert
and watchful; I admired and envied them.

"It was not without regret that I turned my back
on this region whose close proximity to the Front
makes one thrill with emotion; I went to calmer
places, I saw less thrilling things, but nevertheless,
interesting: the charming layout at Void, that at
Sorcy, in process of organizing, the grand hospital
of Toul which was shelled by taubes. I was able to
see the enormous hole dug by the bomb which fell
very near the building that sheltered our nurses, who
had but one idea, to run to their wounded and re-
assure them.

"I visited at Nancy a very beautiful hospital, the
Malgrange, which is almost unique ; it is the Red Cross
which houses the military hospital. At the instant of
bombardment, most of the hospitals were vacated;
ours, situated outside of the city, gathered in the
wounded and all the personnel of the military hos-
pital, and it goes very well.

"I finished my journey with the Vosges, fipinal,
Bel fort, Gerardmer, Bussang, Morvillars; all these
hospitals which were filled for a long time with the
wounded from the battles of the Vosges (especially
our brave Alpines) are quiet now.

"If I congratulated the nurses of the region of


Verdun upon their endurance, I do not congratulate
less those of the Vosges upon their constancy; Ge-
rardmer has had very full days days when one could
not take a thought to one's self. There is something
painful, in a way, in seeing great happenings receding
from you. We do not hear the cannon any longer,
the wounded arrive more rarely, we have no longer
enough to do, we are easily discouraged, we should
like to be elsewhere and yet one must remain there
at his post ready in case of need, which may come
perhaps when it is least expected.

"I shall have many things still to tell you, but I am
going to resume my impressions of this little trip in
a few words.

"I have been filled with admiration. The word has,
I believe, fallen many times from my pen, and it will
fall again and again. I have admired our dear
wounded, so courageous in their suffering, so gracious
to all those who visit them; I have admired the doc-
tors who are making and have made every day, such
great efforts to organize and to better conditions ; and
our nurses I have never ceased to admire. When I
see them I find them just as I hoped, very courageous
and also very simple. They speak very little of them-
selves, and a great deal of their wounded; they com-
plain very little of their fatigue, sometimes of not
having enough to do. They always meet cheerfully
the material difficulties of their existence as they do
almost always the moral difficulties which are even
more difficult. Self-abnegation, attention to their


duty, seem to them so natural that one scarcely dares
to praise them.

"There is one thing that I must praise them for
particularly that they always seem to keep the beau-
tiful charming coquetry that belongs to every woman.
I often arrived without warning. I never saw hair
disarranged or dress neglected. This exterior perfec-
tion is, I may say, a distinctive mark of our nurses.

"And then I like the care with which they decorate
and beautify their hospital. Everywhere flowers, pic-
tures, bits of stuff to drape their rooms. At Revigny
in one of the baraques I saw flowers, simple flowers
gathered in the neighboring field, so prettily arranged,
portraits of our generals framed in green. When I
complimented a nurse, she answered: 'Ah, no; it is
not well done; but I hadn't the time to do better.'

"At Vadelaincourt, a little room was set aside for
dressings, all done in white with curtains of white
and two little vases of flowers. What a smiling wel-
come for the poor wounded who come there! 'The
arrangement of a room has. a great deal of influence
on the morale of the wounded,' a doctor said to me.
All this delights me !

"I have finished, but I shall think for a long time of
this journey which has left in my memory unfor-
gettable sights and in my heart very tender im-

"In the Somme, also, our nurses have worked with
indefatigable ardor, and they go on without relaxa-
tion. The poor refugees, which the Germans return


to us often sick and destitute of everything, are re-
ceived and comforted by our women of the Red Cross.

"The three societies of the Red Cross our Society
for the Relief of the Military Wounded, the Union of
the Women of France, and the Association of the
Ladies of France work side by side under the di-
rection of the Service de Sante.

"Our Society for the Relief of the Military
Wounded has actually about seven hundred hospitals,
which represent sixty thousand beds, where many
nurses are occupied from morning until night, and
many of them serve also at the military hospital at the
Front, and in the Orient (three to four thousand

"Every day new needs make us create new ceuvres,
which we organize quickly.

"The making of bandages and compresses has al-
ways been an important work with us. Yards of
underclothing and linen are continually asked of us
by our nurses for their sick. The workshops which
we have opened since the beginning of the war assist
with work a great number of women who have been
left by the mobilization of their men without resources.

"The clubs for soldiers, in Paris especially, give to
the convalescents and to the men on leave wholesome
amusement and compensate somewhat for their absent

"Just now we are trying to establish an anti-tubercu-
losis organization to save those of our soldiers who
have been infected or are menaced. Many hospitals


are already opened for them. At Mentom, on the
Mediterranean, for the blind tubercular; at Haute-
ville, in the Department of the Aisne, for the officers
and soldiers; at La Rochelle, for bone-tuberculosis;
but the task is enormous.

"We seek also, and the work is under way, to edu-
cate intelligently the mutilated, so that they may work

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryGertrude Franklin Horn AthertonThe living present : the work of French women in war time → online text (page 9 of 19)