21-27 December 1915: Christmas at the 3rd London General Hospital

The December edition of the 3rd London General Hospital Gazette was produced with some Christmas cheer in mind, as it includes a poem “For a War Christmas” and a Timetable of the 25th.  A full report of Christmas at the hospital does not appear until February, as both the December and January editions were sent to the printers before Christmas.

The February edition even carries an explanation of why the January one did not have an account of Christmas

…a cautious scribe is shy of effervescing over events which, at the moment of writing, have not yet taken place… It would have been sae enough to compose an “intelligent anticipation” in the past tense, asserting that Yuletide had been a stunning success – and the risk of fire, earthquake, or Zep bombs preventing the consummation of the prophecy was one which would have deterred no modern journalist from so congenial an exercise of smartness.

It also has a write up from the Matron, describing Christmas at the hospital. On Christmas Eve, all the nurses went round all the wards with Chinese lanterns, singing Christmas carols.  The Ladies’ Committee of the hospital had spent the weeks beforehand gathering presents to make Christmas stockings for all the men, which the nurses put on the ends of their beds for the morning and had what the Matron describes as “the greatest joy at Christmas… watching the men wake up and find them in the morning.”  Buttonholes were given out on Christmas day by Matron and Mrs Bruce Porter, the Australian men got wattle (better known as acacia) in theirs.  Dinner was served in each ward, with turkey, plum pudding and crackers.  Queen Amelie of Portugal, who was a nurse, came in specially to have dinner with her patients – even getting a special cheer at the concert party which was given later.  HRH Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, attended the afternoon tea part of the day with a special message from the King to the men – conveying his pride in them and wishes for a speedy recovery.  Afternoon tea also included a cinema showing, as it had been recently gifted by a Mr Nichols, an American who was a friend of the Commanding Officer.  It was all very different from the timetable of the 25th in a German Military Hospital which appeared in December’s Gazette, written up in sarcastic fashion by a returned Prisoner of War.Timetable of the 25th POW Hospital

The other reference to Christmas in December’s Gazette was a poem by H M Nightingale, “For a War Christmas”. Helen Nightingale appears to have been a nurse at the hospital, she frequently wrote poetry which appeared in the Gazette referring to nursing and caring for the men, as well as on the war in general:

For a War Christmas poem 1915

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28 September-5 October 1915: Edward Thomas at Camp

Edward Thomas often did not date his letters, other than writing the day of the week at the top of the page.  He is far from the only person to have done this, the Wandsworth archive collections are full of correspondence which is not well dated and for which other information has to be used to establish when it were written.  For two letters written to Eleanor Farjeon in late September/early October 1915, one has a postmark which dates it to this week and the other has no clue at all – the envelope has been lost and all that Edward Thomas wrote on it by way of date was “Wednesday”.

ET Oct 1915The letter with the postmark was postmarked Loughton, 9.30pm, 30 September 1915.  Thomas gives no address, but the later letter was written from Hut 23, Harehall Camp, Gidea Park. Romford South, so it seems reasonable to assume that the earlier letter was as well.  Thomas had joined the Artists’ Rifles, more information about them in Harehall Camp can be found here and here, and Havering Museum have photographs of the Camp and local area here.

Thomas’s opinion of the camp was that: “It is not so bad, but now that the rain has come it is worse.  There is no comfort after wking + it is dark.  The canteen is the only place, noisy, draughty and ugly.  Everything is badly arranged, ugly and dirty.  But one has an appetite and can satisfy it, and the country is beautiful, and for a week the weather was perfect.”

He was writing in response to a letter from Eleanor, which presumably asked after his own reading or writing:

“No.  Books are all off except a 6d one on Company Training, which I must learn by heart…I find I can learn some things yet, and I am just curious what I shall be able to do with a pen if and when I take to it again”

His other letter from this period, undated, but place in the sequence of letters as if written the following week,  also refers to writing: “We are having too easy a time, so that again I have reverted and written some verses, I am afraid they aren’t finished.  I never have any time really to myself and have continually to be putting my paper away..I will copy out the verses as they exist now + if you like them will you make a copy or two of them?”

The verses in question are a draft of the poem, There’s Nothing Like the Sun:

There’s nothing like the sun as the year dies

Kind as it can be, this world being so,

To stones and men and beasts and beer and flies,

To all things that it tricks except snow

Whether on mountainside or street of town

The south wall warms me.  November has begun.

Yet never shone the sun as fair as now

While the sweet last-left damsons from the bough

With spangles of the morning’s storm drop down

Because the starling shakes it whistling what

Once swallows sang.  Yet I can forget not

That there is nothing, too, like March’s sun,

Like April’s, or July’s, or June’s, or May’s,

Or January’s, or February’s, great days:

August, September, October and December

Have equal days, all different from November.

No day of any month but I have said –

Or if I could live long enough should say –

There’s nothing like the sun shining today –

There’s nothing like the sun till a man’s dead.

ET October 1915 2

Edward Thomas letters to Eleanor Farjeon, 123 &124, ref: D112/1/3