7.55 A.M. Tuesday, 9 November, ’15.
Your letter came — to use the novelist’s expression — at the psychological moment (only they spell it differently). Anyhow, it was the one thing needed and, if you promise not to laugh, I’ll tell you — I slept with it in my hand (till it fell out). You’ll be surprised, of course, but this is being written in Bed 1, Ward 15, No. 2 General Hospital, Chelsea, London.
Don’t get excited. I was never better in my life — never. I feel just great; I’ve just had my temperature taken and all is well. On the sheet above my cot, it says I am suffering from rheumatic cold (whatever that is) and generally run down. Anyhow, as I said, I feel fine, and your letter has done me worlds of good. I’ll tell you all about the hospital, if you like. . . .
It’s an English hospital; it used to be a college, St. Mark’s. Luckily I struck the Australian ward. There are only two English in it: one in the opposite corner as I write — he’s screened off — cashing in.
The other is a sixteen-year-old boy of the “cissie” class — a real sport. The rest are Australians and New Zealanders and me — Canuck. Only three can get up. Every day, ladies call in autos and taxis to take out those who can go; they take ’em everywhere, shows and everything. I had no idea that the women of the country were so eager to help. It’s splendid.
The place of course is spotless — lots of flowers and a canary bird. It’s peaceful, and I guess it’s doing me no end of good.
It’s peaceful, dear. But — at night — well — most stories have two sides.
The man in the corner dies very slowly.
All the others are wounded — and I guess their wounds hurt more at night.
There is another thing. I guess I’ve made up my mind I’m going to France alright. But —
It’s a very different thing, this volunteering to go now, to volunteering in Ottawa. The brass band accompaniment has all gone. The glamour has worn off. I want to go home. I’d give the world to go home....
Yet, I feel somehow I ought to go.
Before I go to bed, I want to give you an account of the concert I went to tonight. To begin with, I want to tell you that every other night the greatest concerts you could get are given here. A large number of the best theatrical people live in Chelsea, and on their way to the theatre, they make up parties of their friends and arrange a quick concert in this hospital. It’s just great of them, I think.
When I got in the hall, I fairly gasped. If only you could have been there! Imagine the large hall of the college, huge, high, magnificent. Ranged all up and down round the walls, in rows, cots with wounded in them. Between the beds, little benches full of men in blue suits, and Red Cross nurses here, there and everywhere. Round, above, a balcony, also packed with blue-suited men with nurses, and where there was not room on the benches, men sat on the beds — men from all the ends of the earth, of all classes, yet all pals, bound together for one purpose, one end. The air was blue with smoke. At one end was a stage with a lot of the ward screens — folding ones — on it, and an electric lamp or two. I think it was the most impressive sight I’ve ever seen. Wheeled chairs everywhere, men in every state of bandaged injury, and the men lying in bed, some in dressing gowns, men in silk pyjamas, men in college blazers, and even men in Canadian sweaters.
I shall never forget it, never.
One thing that impressed me was in leaving. You know how a usual crowd of men rush out of a show. Well, this show did not rush — each man dared not touch his neighbour. He did not know where he was hurt.