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Finding Themselves The Letters of an American Amy Chief Nurse in the British Hospital in France

Finding Themselves
The Letters of an American Amy Chief Nurse in the British
Hospital in France
Title: Finding Themselves The Letters of an American Amy Chief Nurse in the British Hospital in France
Release Date: 2019-01-13
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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MACMILLAN & CO., Limited




JULIA C. STIMSONFrom the photograph for her passport, May, 1917.
From the photograph for her passport, May, 1917.


The Letters of an American Army
Chief Nurse in a British
Hospital in France


Chief Nurse, No. 12 (St. Louis, U. S. A.)
General Hospital, B. E. F.

“Now God be thanked who has matched us with His hour
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping.”
Rupert Brooke.

New York
All rights reserved

Copyright, 1918,

Set up and electrotyped. Published September, 1918.
Norwood Press
J. S. Cushing Co.—Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.



These letters were written as the daily record of the work of a Unit ofRed Cross nurses who were sent to France in May, 1917, in response tothe request of the British authorities. The Unit, almost immediatelyafter its arrival in England, was sent across the Channel to take over aBritish Base Hospital established on a race course, where they havecared continuously for a stream of from eight hundred to two thousandwounded “Tommies” at a time.

The original sixty-five American nurses were assisted for several monthsby English Volunteer Aids, and when these were withdrawn, they werereënforced with some thirty American nurses.

Though written with no thought of publication, as the war lengthens out,these letters have become of especial value as the record of firstimpressions and experiences which for those concerned were startlinglynew. Since then much has been happening of tremendous significance bothto the participants and to the world, but the events recorded here havenot lost their interest,{viii} nor has their graphic character been blunted,by recent occurrences. Hence, though the initial purpose of printingthese letters was to furnish this group of women with a permanent storyof their devoted service, it has been suggested that the letters have amuch wider interest, and they have therefore been given for publicationby Miss Stimson’s family.

Henry A. Stimson
Pastor emeritus, Manhattan
Congregational Church

New York, June, 1918.{ix}





St. Louis, May 4, 1917.

Dearest Mother and Dad:—

As you have probably seen by the papers, we all are in the midst ofalarms. We have had less than a week’s notice to get ready formobilization for service in France, and so it has been a rushing week.Last Saturday afternoon we received word we were likely to be called outsoon—in two or three weeks—but on Tuesday night I received word tohave the nurses ready by Saturday. It is now Friday evening and most ofthe nurses are ready, but it is quite certain we won’t be leaving forseveral days as the doctors’ uniforms, for instance, won’t be ready tillnext Wednesday. I am glad indeed for the extra time. The nurses can takea very small steamer trunk and a suitcase. As we apparently are to besent abroad “for the duration of the war” it is rather a puzzle to knowwhat to take.

Of course this order for foreign service is playing havoc with thepersonnel of the Unit, so few expected to be called for duty abroad. Infact no one expected a call of this sort at all. I have{2} been quitedisgusted with the quitters who, for one reason or another, have beggedto be excused. I have had about ten drop out, but I am findingsubstitutes who I think will be much more desirable than such weak-kneedindividuals. But every substitution means a great deal of work and muchtelegraphing; for each name has to be approved at Washington, and afterphysical examinations are made here they also have again to be approvedat Washington. I have had a number sent back for more complete details.I am to have a detachment of Kansas City nurses attached to my corps.Ten, and maybe more, for there are to be sixty-five, and I had onlyfifty in my original order and some of these have been dropped or havehad to fall out. Two whose names I submitted I have had to drop byorders from Washington because they were born in Germany. So there ismuch to do, you see.

It is now Sunday, and we are going down to hear Joffre speak if we canget into the Coliseum. He and his staff are coming out to review theUnit at the [Barnes] hospital to-morrow. I do hope that by this timenext Sunday we shall be on our way, for waiting around after one isready is very trying, particularly when people of all sorts are weepingfarewells over you all the time. Well, anyway, here is loads of love toyou all. We know it is the biggest opportunity of our lives.{3}

People are being wonderful and are rallying around us splendidly. We areoffered more help than we can possibly use. It has been pretty fatiguingbut I am beginning to realize that I can take things more slowly now.Naturally I wanted to be as nearly ready with all my force by Saturdayas I possibly could be. You can imagine the number of questions I havehad to make up answers for, that come to me every hour of the day andnight, not to mention all the details I have to impress upon manypeople, those who go, and those who stay.

But it is all wonderful beyond belief. I just wish I had the words toexpress what I think about this opportunity. Aside from what we thinkabout the causes and principles involved, and the tremendoussatisfaction of having a chance to help work them out, to be in thefront ranks in this most dramatic event that ever was staged, and to bein the first group of women ever called out for duty with the UnitedStates Army, and in the first part of the army ever sent off on anexpeditionary affair of this sort, is all too much good fortune for anyone person like me. The responsibility of my big job of whipping intoshape a band of heterogeneously trained nurses and of competing forloyalty and spirit with groups of nurses from the East, and mostly allfrom one school, seems almost an overwhelming job, but{4} naturally I amgoing to do my very best. I have some splendid women to help me in theexecutive line, and although we do not know each other’s ways at all wewill do what we can. As for the men, we could not have a more splendidgroup to work with. I shall have every possible help from them.Personally I am feeling fine and oh, so keyed up. I cannot ever beworthy of all the honor and opportunities that have come to me, not tomention all the happiness. It seems as if my life has just overflowedwith good things and that I can never live long enough to put back intothe world all that has been given to me.

My little nurses[1] are being so fine. The present Senior class ofthirty-two would have been my first real class, the first I have takenall through, and they are weeping around that I am not going to be hereto graduate them. But to-morrow night after chapel I am to have aheart-to-heart talk with them and I believe I can make them feel better.

May 7th, Marshal Joffre presented the American colors to the St. LouisUnit (U. S. Base Hospital) No. 21 of Washington University at the BarnesHospital.{5}

May 16th, These colors were consecrated at the Cathedral in a specialservice for the Unit.

May 17th, The Unit left St. Louis and sailed from New York on Saturdaythe 19th.


On board ship.
May 21, Monday.

Dearest Family:—

If only all you dear people at home could know how comfortable and happywe all are, you would not worry the slightest bit about us. Of coursethe danger is still here even if we don’t notice it, but everything isso serene it seems as though it couldn’t possibly touch us. The onlytime that one can even imagine any danger is at night when on the decksnot a single particle of light can be seen, except a dark purple glow ateach companion-way. All the portholes are fastened shut and all thewindows of the dining-saloon are shut and shaded as soon as it begins toget dark. The main hall, or whatever the place is called, in the centerof the boat where the main stairways are, is also entirely dark, so thatwhen the doors to the deck are opened no light will shine out. We aretold that we are one of a group of boats going out together although outof sight of each other, and that when we get nearer the other side weare to be convoyed by battleships. We are getting wireless directionsfrom cruisers now,{6} but are not sending out any messages. We hadlifeboat drill this morning, with lifebelts on and each person knows toexactly what boat he or she is to go. At times like those drills thereis nothing but the greatest jolliness and cheerfulness. In fact, all thetime there seems to be nothing but cheerfulness and eagerness to get towork. I haven’t even heard of any apprehensiveness on the part of asingle person. As one of my nurses said in her slow drawly way: “Thereisn’t any use worrying about the submarines. If the Germans are going tokill us, worrying isn’t going to prevent it. If the Germans do kill me,I’m going to come back and haunt the whole German army.”

Everything has gone so very smoothly from the very beginning, I reallydon’t see how arrangements could have been improved upon. Even the onetrunk that got left behind reached the steamer in time, and the twonurses who were to join us in New York turned up exactly as scheduledand all the missing documents from the War Department came before weleft and as far as I could tell, everybody had everything that she oughtto have. When the gangplank was pulled up and I realized that not one ofmy group could get lost for at least ten days, and there were no moredocuments to expect by mail and no more telegrams giving moreinstructions,{7} it seemed as if a great load dropped off my shoulders. Itwas a glorious day and the sail down the harbor was wonderful. All kindsof boats tooted and blew their whistles at us and people on ferry boatswaved and cheered us. Soon after lunch, the few necessary roomadjustments were made and trunks were carried to the proper rooms.Nurses had been assigned to rooms alphabetically, but a few changesseemed to make everybody happy. Some of the nurses are three in a room,but quite a lot of them are only two in a room. With the portholesscrewed down there is no difference between the inside and the outsiderooms. The whole Pennsylvania Unit, Base Hospital No. 10, is with us,going no one knows where, any more than we do. They seem very nicepeople, and the Chief Nurse is the Miss Dunlop with whom I had beencorresponding about work at the American Ambulance. Miss Dunlop was incharge of the nursing at the Ambulance for some time and can give melots of pointers about foreign service.

When we reached the St. Paul that Friday evening about 6, goingdirectly from the train to a ferry and from the ferry to the pier, wefound the other Unit on board. A committee from the

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