First World War Poetry Digital Archive

Speech on closure of the Croydon Auxiliary Hospital

LADIES OF THE STAFF, DR. ALLAN AND FRIENDS, There are many things I would fain say tonight, but cannot. Some things, however, I must say – if only to try to express ever so feebly the gratitude I owe you, one and all, for what you have done in making Wallacefield Auxiliary Hospital – which has been my chief bit of war-work – so complete a success.

I want to thank you, my dear May, for having first suggested the idea, and for having done so much, as Hon. Secretary and Quartermaster, to bring it to fruition. You have lived up to your old school motto – Finis coronat opus”

I want to thank Miss Link for having organised our earliest efforts. I want to thank you, my dear wife, for having qualified yourself to take charge of the Hospital as Lady Superintendent; and, in spite of frequent weariness of the flesh, for having brought it to so good a finish.

I want to thank you Dr Allan, you, Mrs Rushton, and other professional helpers, who have given so freely of your expert knowledge and skill in the relief of suffering.

I want to thank the Rev. Mr. Reeve, the Rev. Mr. Reid and other ministers, whose Sunday evening services did not a little to keep the tone of the Hospital on a high level.

I want to thank those very numerous and very unselfish friends who came to entertain the men by songs and music, thereby beguiling them into better health.

I want to thank those many benefactors who, by kindly words and acceptable gifts, greatly encouraged us in well-doing.

But most of all I want to thank the ladies of the staff, you splendid women with the volunteer spirit, who needed no conscription to bring you into the ranks of England’s war workers, for you came so promptly and worked so loyally during all these years. Without you we could not have carried on for a single day, and to you belong the chief honour and credit due for such measure of success as has been attained.

That success has been real and that it is appreciated by the Military Authorities, is shewn by letters recently received from the War Office, from the 4th London General Hospital and from the County Director – each of which contains a special reference to the work of the staff. (Copies of these will be found at the end.)

I want also to offer you my specially hearty thanks for the beautiful address on vellum to Mrs Goodsir and me on Christmas morning. I do not know whether to admire most the kindliness of the idea, the grace and courtesy of the wording, or the dainty finish of the printing and illumination by Miss Lock. Nothing more acceptable could have been given to me, and I shall treasure it amongst my most valued possessions. I have visions of a glass case in which it and other mementos of these tragic times will “rest in peace” – passing down the years of family heirlooms, because they bear the imprints of the greatest war in history

So you can understand why my mind is full of gratitude tonight.

Tomorrow, when the Red Cross flag is lowered, we shall have been open for just as long as the war lasted. Throughout these 1560 days I have been more or less of an onlooker. I have watched the work with keen interest and admiration, and have written cheques from time to time, but you have done the real service.

Nevertheless, or perhaps because of my detached position, I can recall many things that were doubtless of only passing interest to you who were immersed in serious day-to-day duties.

May I be reminiscent for a few minutes? Let me recall the time when the place was equipped to the last button, and the embryo staff was quivering with excitement in anticipation of an immediate arrival of interesting patients. For my part I was daily worrying all my friends for introductions to Hospital Governors, Army Doctors and others, so that I might induce them to send patients forthwith to Wallacefield. I was in mortal terror lest the staff would resort to desertion en masse, or to hysterics, unless the one thing needful were found quickly. Finally, I was informed, gently, but firmly, that authorities were not prepared to arrange for good soldiers getting wounded, merely in order that they might be sent to a convalescent home! I may add that that decision was not received by the staff at all cordially!

However, the long-prayed-for wounded soldiers at last arrived – 15 Belgians from Antwerp, via Aberdeen! They were beaten by a short head by two Englishmen, Fielding and Prior, who arrived on 23rd October 1914, and who, for 24 hours, luxuriated in the possession of a private house, with a large staff of lady nurses and helpers all to themselves.

From that time forward the staff was pretty fully employed day and night. You quickly won, and have all along enjoyed, I believe, the confidence and appreciation of the boys in blue.

Some of you may not have heard how one of them, comparing notes with another boy from a neighbouring hospital, who boasted that he had, “real ladies to wait on him”, clinched the argument by boldly asserting that “even the kitchen maids at Wallacefield drove up in their own cars”! That was in the good old days when petrol was an article of commerce – not a curiosity!

Another patient quite recently insisted that he would rather sleep on the floor here than in the best bed in the “4th General”, because he was so well treated by the staff!

In a hundred little ways and by many pretty speeches the men have, I think, shewn their genuine appreciation of all that you have done to ease their pain, to make them comfortable and to get them well.

Do you remember the two Belgian boys – Leon and Jose – from that same little village in Flanders, who found themselves, after long separation, placed in adjoining beds in G ward (now D) ?; how patiently they bore their sufferings in a strange land and how they essayed to read to us on Christmas Day, 1914, “Madame, will you walk with me,” before they knew many words of English, with results so amusing that they were encored three times?

Do you remember that other Belgian – I forget his name – who made a pretty speech in Belgian-French, translated by Miss Link, about having lost his home, his friends and all his possessions except his uniform, but, out of gratitude for his treatment here, would present Mrs Goodsir with two buttons from his tunic> (this at a time when collecting soldiers’ buttons was all the rage). How Mrs Goodsir had the buttons gilded and made into a brooch, which was worn in triumph until she discovered that the donor had cut them from the tunic of another man of the same regiment whilst he lay helplessly ill in Ward F., and also that the generous (?) Belgian was an old jailbird with no reputation worth preserving?

I can never forget the five Christmas Days on which we have tried to bring to the boys some touch of home life away from home and friends; nor the great kindness and self-sacrifice of Mr Leslie Smith and his talented musical friends, in coming here on four successive Christmas nights to

I pay tribute to the splendid spirit of these men, so patient and uncomplaining in pain or weakness, so appreciative, so amenable to discipline (reasonable discipline, not army discipline!) N.C.O.’s and privates alike have maintained the best traditions of the British Army, with only very few real disappointments amongst them – one or two “drunks”, one burglar, and our only V.C. who was no V.C. after all!

Our Roll of Honour bears 1,152 names, most of which alas bring me no special memories; but some stand out clearly in my mind, and doubtless in yours, for example:-

LEON and JOSE The Belgian twins PARRY The winsome but ill-starred Welsh “bard,” who won the hearts of Miss Link and most of the then staff MASON The merry highlander, who was afterwards killed in France. WILSON The Fijian, son of a local chief, who also fell in France, after having been nursed back to health here. MAGUIRE The Irish pianist. McAFFERTY The Scottish optimist. CUNNINGHAM The big Drum-Major BATTY The dandy Australian. CAMPBELL The last New Zealander. HUMBLE The handsome “kiltie”, who wanted to leave us the first evening he was here, but remained for many months. MARSHALL-WILLIAMS The brilliant pianist TYLER and HESTER The inseparable friends SHACKLEFORD The tennis champion(?) MILLER “Wee Jock” JONES The Negro ANDREWS, McLAREN, WHITEHORN, WRIGHT, HEATH “the five loonies” WARREN The flying corporal and dramatist. KNIPE The nerve-wreck, who finally decided against suicide. SEYMOUR The carpenter, who inaugurated the Lord Roberts’ Memorial Sale SMART The footsore, once so quiet and shy FRAME The last of the Jocks.

There are many others whose faces are recorded in one or other of the numerous groups photographed by Foladori, but time fails me to recall more of them tonight; but they were a splendid lot of men, and “Take them for all in all, we shall not look upon their like again”.

That is the pathos of our position tonight, and explains why not a few of us feel disposed to think, rather than to speak, of what is practically nothing more now than a rich memory.

But what of coming days?

Are we to part tonight and write off the friendships begotten of common service in a good cause, or the memories which cling to them as of no further account?

Impossible!

On Sunday evening last, Rev. Mr. Reeve appealed to the Members of Staff then present to maintain and extend into other channels that spirit of self- sacrifice which had prompted and ennobled all their work here. Very naturally he sought to interest them in practical Church work, which in the future will be bigger and wider in its scope than it has been hitherto.

Let me appeal to you on behalf of civic work also. It, too, may surely be done in Christ’s name. As true and honest “citizens of no mean city”, keep an open mind to the calls for help that will come to you from the homes of hundreds of men and women “broken in the war.” The State can do much for them, but not all, and in especial cannot supply the personal touch which enhances so greatly the value of any help offered to sufferers through either sickness or poverty.

Last night’s bells seemed to me to ring as if they meant to say

“Ring out the thousand wars of old; Ring in the thousand years of peace.”

This morning I awoke into a world flooded with pink and golden light, and took it as a symbol of the glorious new age on which I believe we are entering, when comradeship will be closer, and when life itself will be esteemed chiefly for its opportunities of service amongst those who are less fortunate, or less happy than ourselves.

If any fresh ideal for practical service should at any time present itself to any of you, and you think that something might be gained by talking it over together, I shall be only too glad if you ask me to call a meeting of the old staff. So I do not say “goodbye” to you, but only “au revoir”, hoping often to meet you again in other spheres of voluntary work in Croydon, or elsewhere in this dear land of ours.

CROYDON, 2nd January 1919

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