21 July, ’16.
Well — comprey the date of this — I read your letters, between carrying stretchers. Sat on a stretcher in the road opposite the Receiving Room. My life now (I couldn’t tell you before) is just one long stretcher carrying. Night and day are just the same; there is no break; the hum of the ambulance is with you all the time. Try to imagine the scene — remember the early articles we read together in 1914, of the wounded in the hospitals anywhere — everywhere — how you step over them — how they put them just any place. This big hospital is not a general hospital now, but a Clearing Station. Get that? The recreation hall is full of beds. Every place is full of beds, and the “walkers” — Lord, they’re everywhere! There is a difference though, in 1916. In 1914 we were retreating. And now we are advancing. Then the hospitals were not prepared; now everything moves like clockwork. Nothing is missing, the whole thing is a marvel of efficiency. Hundreds of times a day I wish you could see it. . . .
I guess I didn’t ought to continue this letter just now, as I am about all in, and still have twelve hours ahead. All afternoon we have “received” and “evacuated” — sometimes in some wards both at the same time, till you are in danger of picking up a stretcher which has just come and sending him to Blighty by mistake. (He would worry — not!)
These are the days when Fritz is trying to regain the trenches he lost to the British. In one case, fellows have told me that three whole divisions came up to recapture one line of trenches held by one division of British. Imagine it — not battalions — divisions. They got ’em, too, in this instance, though even as I write, I guess, we have taken them again. It’s all too stupendous for me to describe. — corpses three deep — one can’t realize it even when the stories are told by men with their wounds running blood.
One thing impressed me: though this rush is something hardly to be believed if not seen, so perfect is the organization that I noticed each man got his extras — his oranges, his cigarettes, just the same. Another thing; those I have carried — Lord knows how many even in these months — I have never heard one complain. Indeed all are cheery even, and always endeavour to crawl off the stretcher on to the bed, when you reach the ward — with the inevitable cigarette.
As usual the “Walkers” look the worst.
Do you remember my once telling you about the pale mud on them all — generally from head to foot — how I noticed it much more in the winter and how it was missing in the summer? Well, I noticed it again today, and it appears that when this division were defending the captured German trenches, Fritz by some means flooded through with water three deep.
One other thing: during the winter and before the “push”, all the patients came down fairly neatly bandaged and washed. Now the blood stays where it is — except on the wound — and mud and blood are congealed together all over a man. If we’re busy, what about the Dressing Stations who send to all the hospitals?