Whiz-Bangs Krumps and Coalboxes

6th May 1917 Sunday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

“In the early hours of the morning of Tuesday, 6th May, we were shunted into a siding at Etaples. Here I managed to get some bacon and eggs and toast, at a Y.M.C.A. Hut, and was very glad of it. At Calais we stopped for half-an-hour, and were served with tea and cakes by some very excellent Y.M.C.A. ladies. I take off my hat to these ladies who did wonderful service in cheering up depressed and tired officers and men on their way ‘Up the Line’. Here we had a wash at a pump, but in the midst of our ablutions off went the train, as usual without any warning. We had great fun scrambling back to the train. At St Omer we saw a lot of newly-captured Huns, and threw them a lot of cigarettes. Poor devils! How they scrambled for them.

Hazebrouck was reached at 2pm and we dined at the ‘Aux trois Chevaux, then we left Hazebrouck at 4.40pm, and eventually got to Poperinghe about six o’clock, after a most tedious two days, and more in the train! A motor ambulance was waiting at the station for me, and very soon I was with the old crowd again – 130th Field Ambulance. I got a great reception from all. A great artillery duel went on all night at Ypres. I was too tired to sleep.”

More evidence that Douglas got somebody to type up the diary from his notes, not forgetting he was a doctor and therefore had a birthright of sometimes unintelligible handwriting. Tuesday was in fact Sunday.

A Pathe News movie of Motor Ambulances can be seen here.

YMCA Poster Gt. War Centenary 1914 - 1918 Fb Page

There is some more information about the invaluable service so many British ladies provided to the troops in France, plus some useful links at http://inspirationalwomenofww1.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/the-ymca-in-ww1-fascinating-facts-of.html

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

5th May 1917 Saturday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

“I left the Gare Maritime (station) at 2am on May 5th for the Front once more. I got a great send-off from the hospital staff, and the Commanding Officer and Padre came down to the station to see me off. This train crawled into Rouen at 6am. I had a wash and breakfast at the Officers’ Club and reported to the D.A.D.R.T (Deputy Assistant Director of Railway Transport), who reconsigned me for Hazebrouck, the train leaving at 3pm, so I had lunch at the club, and a look around the old town. The Cathedral was a wonderful building. Lots of Hun prisoners were working about the place.

The train left at 4pm and there were five of us in a stuffy carriage – 2 Irishmen, a South African, 1 Englishman and myself!” 

Life at the seaside town of Le Havre, both as a patient and a working doctor now came to an end and the tedious train journey into the unknown began again.

Map of Le Havre

http://www.searlecanada.org/volturno/volturno84.htm

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German prisoners of war wait at the quayside in Rouen to unload an incoming ship.

A postcard of Rouen and Cathedral in 1917

A postcard of Rouen and Cathedral in 1917

Rouen

 

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

4th May 1917 Friday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

The Order sending Douglas back to the Front Line where he was to re-join his old unit the 130th (St John) Field Ambulance. Having left as Lieutenant Page he returned as Temporary Captain Page. The ‘Temporary’ tag before captain denotes that the role of captain was not of an established nature, therefore pay was not the same as a fully-fledged captain. It was at this stage in the diary that I realised that Douglas hadn’t bothered to let us know about his promotion. As we go to press, The Gazette which is the official government record has not produced the date we are looking for, though we will continue to search.

Order 4th May

 

“On May 4th, sixty cases of gas-poisoning were admitted to my wards, but only two of them were really bad, and had to be treated with oxygen. The others, however, were bad enough, and it was very distressing to hear them all coughing away without stopping.”

The use of gas as a weapon in The Great War first occurred in what became Poland during early 1915. On the 31st January Germany attacked Russian troops at Bolimow near Warsaw with what was essentially nothing more than teargas. It was not a great success. Approximately 18,000 shells were unleashed on the unsuspecting Russians, but the effects were not as expected. The very cold conditions reduced the effectiveness of the gas. The Daily Mail reacted with its usual lack of restraint, chastising the Germans for “the cold-blooded deployment of every device of modern science”. By April 1915 at the 2nd Battle of Ypres the Germans this time released great clouds of the green mist of chlorine gas causing panic among its victims. Indeed the effects of fear of the gas in many cases caused more problems than the gas itself. The British Commander-in-chief Sir John French, despite being reviled by the German’s use of chemicals resorted to it himself by using it at the Battle of Loos towards the end of September, again with limited success. Some of the 140,000kgs of chlorine used blew back on the British troops causing mayhem and panic. Unable to see through the misted up eye pieces of their masks some soldiers removed them to see and subsequently suffered from their own weapon.

Gassed

 

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

26th April 1917 Thursday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

“I started work again on the 26th April under Major Louden at the casino on the sea-front which was connected with a huge hospital. I was put in charge of two wards, with over 40 patients in one, and about half that number in the other. Most of the cases were suffering from rheumatism and trench fever. All were medical cases. Four days later, I got 60 new cases into my wards. I was kept busy all morning, but was able to get the rest of the day mostly to myself, except when I was orderly officer. 

Tea at ‘Topsy’s’ was the favourite afternoon jaunt, and at night dinner at the Hotel Normandie followed by a visit to the ‘Follies Bergeres’ was quite the thing to do!

The ‘Maison Blanch’ outside Havre was another good spot for dinner, and a Dr Simey and I used to walk out there often in the evening, and have a bite of food.”

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

25th April 1917 Wednesday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

“I wasn’t fit again until 26th April as I had a sharp attack and developed a nasty nasal catarrh afterwards which kept me back. I was extremely comfortable in hospital – well-fed and well cared for. I was allowed out of bed at the end of a week when my temperature settled. I had walks every day into town, and along the promenade with some of the other hospital patients. The weather was generally warm and sunny, so that we enjoyed these walks very much.

A favourite walk was down to the harbour where we watched the French aeroplanes leaving for, and arriving back from their patrols. Another good walk was along the top of the cliffs where one got a grand view of the open sea.”

Today in the 21st century it is the young, elderly and weak who are most at risk from dying from flu. In 1918 the year after Douglas contracted influenza a particularly aggressive strain of the disease was killing healthy young people. This outbreak became known as Spanish flu due to wartime censorship which neutral Spain wasn’t affected by. Their newspapers were free to report the reality giving the false impression that Spain was more severely affected than other regions particularly because of the severe illness contracted by the king Alfonso XIII. The Spanish called it the Naples Soldier. We should also remember that the disease that killed more people between 1918 and 1920 than the whole of World War One in modern times would have been largely controlled by cheap and widely available medicines such as paracetamol.

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

17th April 1917 Tuesday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

“The hospital ship “Lanfranc” was torpedoed off Havre on the 17th April. She had 400 German prisoners on board.  Next day some of her lifeboats and the bodies of several nurses were washed ashore at Havre.”

Douglas’s figure of 400 German prisoners seems to be inaccurate as reports following the sinking at 8pm on the 17th April speak of 167 wounded German prisoners, 234 wounded British soldiers, 52 medical staff and 123 crew.  The discrepancy in casualties is probably official propaganda. It would have been normal to exaggerate the figures of casualties to whip up anti-German sympathies.

Of the 576 persons onboard that evening only 34 lost their lives, 14 British wounded, 15 German wounded and 5 crew, the ship sank in just over 1 hour.

HMHS Lanfranc would have been flying the Red Cross flag and sporting green, red and white livery with a red cross on its sides as stipulated by the Hague Convention which was brought into effect in 1907. Hospital ships were required to pick up casualties of all nationalities and were supposed to be immune from attack. The fact that the ship was hit by a torpedo means that its sinking was intentional. In January 1917 the German Government had accused the Allies of using hospital ships to transport troops and medical supplies, adding that no Allied hospital ships would be tolerated within certain areas.

A pamphlet entitled “The War on Hospital Ships” published in 1917 from eyewitness accounts has more information about these terrible incidents including much about HMHS Lanfranc and SS Donegal which was lost on the same day.

An eyewitness account of the sinking from one of the British officers on board (page 13 on the above link) was published in the Daily Telegraph on 23 April 1917. That edition of the Telegraph will be available to view on the following link on 23 April 2017. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/ww1-archive/

Lanfrancs

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

26th March 1917 Monday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

After immediately signing on again for another tour of duty, this time in Egypt, Douglas’s sojourn in Scotland came to an end. However, Egypt in the sun became an unfulfilled fantasy. The sun was swapped for more mud and rain as orders came to report back to the Western Front.

“On the 26th I was relieved by a Capt. MacDonald, and proceeded to France via London, Southampton and Havre. Whilst awaiting in the rest camp at Havre to be sent up to the Front, I developed influenza, and was carted off to the Officers’ Hospital in Havre. It was a most comfortable hospital in a large mansionhouse. Col Babington D.S.O., was in charge, and I was put into a nice sunny ward. Next bed to me was a Mr Merrylees – a Y.M.C.A. worker – from Paisley. He had a bad dose of bronchitis, and was glad to lie in bed, being an elderly man.”

X indicates my ward in the Officeers Hospital

X indicates my ward in the Officers’ Hospital

Seafront of Havre 1917

Showing the New Casino which was used as a hospital. X indicates the Officers’ Hospital where I was a patient

At the time, large hotels and buildings like schools and casinos were an obvious choice for wartime hospitals with their large rooms and large bright windows.

Today’s Le Havre leaves no trace of the Casino or the Officers’ hospital, the modern esplanade of Boulevard Albert has been totally modernised.

Havre1

http://lehavrephoto.canalblog.com/archives/2006/03/16/1532797.html

http://lehavrephoto.canalblog.com/archives/2006/03/16/1532797.html

http://lehavrephoto.canalblog.com/archives/2006/03/16/1532797.html

Havre3

http://lehavrephoto.canalblog.com/archives/2006/03/16/1532797.html

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

13th March 1917 Tuesday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

After being given a month’s leave to recuperate from the non-stop traumas and massive workloads encountered on the Western Front, Douglas of course was kept busy with lighter duties, but no time off. He was examined by General Culling (could this be Surgeon-General John Chislet Culling M.R.C.S., A.M.S., who as recently as January 5th 1917 had been made a Knight of Grace in the Order of St John of Jerusalem in England?) and a Captain Wilson.

“On March 13th I had another Medical Board at Edinburgh Castle, and was passed fit for general service (after my month’s rest!).  General Culling and Major Wilson boarded me.”

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

March 1917

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

“I was then sent out to Glencorse Barracks where I relieved Captain Millar DSO MC. There I had to look after the Depot sick, and the small hospital for Veneral Diseases, as well as help with the medical examination of recruits. I lived and messed in the Depot. The mess room was a cosy place, and the regular officers dined at night in their full regimentals – Royal Scots, of course.  Capt. the Honourable R Balfour, was one of the Depot officers at that time, and Colonel Wemyss was C.O. I wasn’t overworked and got into Edinburgh by bus a good deal. Here are one or two notes I made about four of the Depot Officers:

Capt. Salmond: A great old chap – uncertain age. Very quiet, but gets very frisky when the Colonel isn’t about. Very conscientious and kind-hearted. A great punster, and fond of a joke.

Lieut. Darragh: a thin poor specimen. Age about 30. Talks about 30 to the dozen and without much sense. Smokes endless cigarettes, is a moral wreck, as well as a physical one.

Lieut. MacDougall: a heavy-weight with about ten double-chins. Said to possess about £12,000 per year. Brays a lot about his knowledge of Court gossip, but is quite harmless. Eats and drinks a lot. His chief hobby is ‘talking’ and he has a wonderful ‘gift of the gab’. 

Lieut. Col. Wemyss: a little stout man with a face like a par-boiled lobster. Very fond of a  whisky and soda.  An old soldier. Not married but fond of the girls. A moody man, and likes to pull one’s leg.”

Douglas was posted to Glencorse Barracks. He tells us of fairly light duties and takes time to describe some of the incumbents there.

Known at the time as Greenlaw Military Prison, Glencorse Barracks at Penicuik were built in 1803. Expanded in 1813 to accommodate up to 6000 French Prisoners of War and the guards to mind them, but following the success of Wellington at Waterloo in 1815, effectively ending the war, the prisoners were returned to France. So the place was largely underused for the next sixty years. In 1875 it was converted to an infantry barracks at the enormous cost of about £30,000.

Over the years it has accumulated something of a dark history. In 1807 Ensign Hugh Maxwell was convicted of the culpable homicide of prisoner Charles Cottier and was given a nine month prison sentence. Much later in 1985, the horrific triple murder of three soldiers based at the barracks was carried out by a corporal following a wage robbery. Corporal Andrew Walker was convicted and given a life sentence with a recommendation he serve a minimum of 30 years reduced on appeal to 27 years. http://murderpedia.org/male.W/w/walker-andrew.htm

Walker suffered a stroke in 2009 and was released in 2011 about a year early on compassionate grounds.

Then in October 2016 Lance Corporal Trimaan Dhillon based at Glencorse was charged with the murder of Alice Ruggles at a flat in Gateshead. http://www.bbcmundo.com/news/uk-england-tyne-37666404

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

27th February 1917 Tuesday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

“I was on duty at the Castle until 27th February, sitting on Medical Boards there, visiting sick soldiers home on leave, or going to such places as Jedburgh, Newcastleton, Winchburgh, etc., to board pensioners.”

This period of the war was a quiet time for Douglas. He was based at home at 22 Alba Street which was within 20 minutes’ walk of the Castle. Douglas refers a few times to “boarding”. This is a reference to what was clearly a military term for medical examinations or appearing before a medical board. The towns that he mentions travelling to were all reachable by train which is the most likely mode of transport that he would have used and he would have been granted an Army railway warrant for travel. It is interesting to note that in 2017 not all these journeys are possible by train because of the Beeching cuts. However there are currently plans for some of these routes to be reinstated.

Douglas refers to boarding pensioners. He doesn’t make this clear but we feel that what he is referring to is examining former service personnel or their dependants who had suffered injury or disability during service and were in receipt of a state pension and not necessarily those older people that were in receipt of an Old Age Pension which was introduced in 1909.

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here