‘Rich gift of anger’ is roused

Calderon awoke this morning, Saturday 17 October 1914, ‘in a large comfortable double-bedded room, looking through tall windows into a big town square.’ He had breakfast in bed and ‘stayed there till eleven’. This afternoon he wrote to Kittie from the hotel:

Our military hospital system is the laughing stock of Europe. Hundreds of motorists offered their cars; wounded men and sick men could be whisked straight away to good hospitals, but some old fool-devil at the War Office refused all their offers and insisted on the refill jolting system, which would destroy even a healthy man. Get Bruce Richmond [Editor of the TLS] and Theodore Cook [Editor of The Field] to collect all the evidence and destroy the man at the War office and all his filthy ways; let him be wounded and jolted in a motor lorry and hanged on a high gallows in Whitehall. […] Bye the bye, I should have thought it was the job of the local military staff to stop trains going by undesirable lines themselves, instead of leaving me and the doctor to enquire whether the train was to go or not.

During the morning, ‘a nice doctor from the nunnery tracked us [Calderon and Captain Fitzgerald] down to our bedroom’. The doctor was amazed that no attempt had yet been made to diagnose George’s blood in the urine. He probably asked George about his medical history, and this prompted him to diagnose ‘gravel from gout’. But Dr Tebb’s original diagnosis of gout back in Hampstead around 1903 might not stand scrutiny today. Nor does George tell Kittie what his other symptoms are (apart from ‘a cold’). The most significant one was probably that it was painful for him to sit in the saddle.

However, this Belgian doctor prescribed ‘Contrexéville and some drugs, and thought I should be all right again in a few days.  I feel better this afternoon’. Whilst writing the letter, George was interrupted by the stationmaster, who asked him to go with him to the station to interpret for him to the military Commander of ‘the train’. It is not clear whether they stayed a second night in the hotel at Ypres; most likely they did.

When George came back and finished the letter, which he was going to try to get ‘censored’ by military staff also staying in the hotel, he added two postscripts:

A Corporal of our Brigade appears to have been murdered by Germans yesterday. He was seen captured unwounded. Then 3 shots rang out, and his identification label was sent across later into our lines.

The Canadians were forced by officials to leave behind them 40 beautiful ambulances that they were bringing. Regiments have no ambulance; stretcher bearers have no stretchers. One wounded officer with us was brought in in a farm cart.

One can well imagine that if he had been back in England he would immediately have started a campaign to sort out the military ambulance system, with Kittie’s help.

(For ‘rich gift of anger’ see my post of 25 September)

Next entry: Under distinguished protection

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About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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