Armistice Day at the Queen Alexandra Hospital

On Monday 11 Nov 1918 Nurse Molly Evans was at work in the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Dunkirk, a hospital run by the Friends’ Ambulance Unit. Here are her diary entries for the days leading up to the Armistice.

Molly Evans’s Diary, 11-16 Nov 1918

Molly Evans’s Diary, 11-16 Nov 1918

9 November 1918
Saturday

1st frost. Glorious day. Up early. Very cold. Took Hays breakfast. Great scramble to get dressings ready. Much scrubbing, cleaning and sterilizing. Real butter from Mme Dewoevre! Off at 10, joined Molloy. Col. Oakley’s car gave us a lift. Lovely sunny cold run into Malo. Met French soldiers, fine uniforms, white horses, poor battered Dunkirk. Picked up by R.A.F. lorrie outside Furnes gate to Hosp. Bought grapes from cottage, ate them in garden. Duty 12. Preparation for dressing for N.C. [Non Combatant] sailor caught by German boobytrap. Terrible wounds, very weak, whimpered & held my hand. Half his right arm & hand blown away. Fresh orderly. 3 ward operations, 3 cliniks under anaesthetic, terrific rapid preparations. Doctors very good to me. Beds, temps, meds, new admissions. Very busy alone all afternoon and evening. Abdication of the Kaiser read out to us as official in mess room while at supper. N.C. Stretcher. M.O. round. Report. Bed 9.30.

10 November 1918
Sunday

Cold, grey. Off in morning. New orderly Mr Bower, explaining duties to him. Usual routine getting dressings ready. Feeding English prisoners who’d come to me. Dentists. Off at 10 out with Molloy, damp muddy fields, desolate aerodrome. Cleared out our fire & lit it. Wrote letters. On duty 12. Big numbers of evacuations & making up fresh beds, slacker afternoon. No accidents in, actually wrote short letter with many interruptions to mother. Many visitors in. Made all the beds, gave meds, did dressings & helpless washings. Row with matron [as to] who got a joy ride to Bruges. Sister back at 6.30 when I went off duty. Called in H [Ward] & found an impromptu concert in progress. Delightful Canada songs. Dance by Naval Doctor. Recitation by Sir F. Benson. Friends, Romans, etc. – charming man. Good stories, saluting uniform, drilling. Hearts full. National songs. Not been privileged to face so much as we women. Charming. Canada’s reply. Auld Lang Syne. Grey dressing gown […] Bed

French patient’s father died here from “flu” also patient himself leaving us to deal with the mother.

11 November 1918
Monday
ARMISTICE SIGNED

Wet. Got up early & did laundry. Rumours of an armistice being signed by French women. Sister in bed, sceptic finger. Took up breakfast to her. Office man Mr Stackhouse in at 9-10 talking about the armistice. Putting a helpless patient into a shirt ready for evacuation when clang, clang went the office bell ringing furiously. Fire! I thought, then suddenly realised it meant Peace!! Not shelling or a fire or a raid. Tremendous feeling of awe. The patients cheered weakly & I felt unreal & tried to carry on as tho’ I was not moved in the least. Couldn’t leave my ward as I was alone. Appearance of people with flags run up everywhere. Great handshaking. Wine dealt out. Caught ambulance into Dunkirk. Wonderful scenes, nationalities, flags, rain, drunkenness, strings of soldiers & sailors of all nations.  Back for […] tea. Duty man shot through mouth. N.C. dressing up. P.M.O. [Dr Nockolds] in many new cases. Nightmare supper. Fancy dress. Sta[…] man died. Bed early. Went to sleep to cheers & shrieks of laughter. Hay ill. I went to Sick Bay & Auld Lang Syne. Feel sad & weary after man’s death.

In the following days the hospital clearly started a process of winding down. This freed up some more time for the hard pressed staff. On 11 Dec 1918 Molly, in the company of Laurence Cadbury and Dr Nockolds ventured out into the stillness of the battlefields of ‘No man’s land’. Here again Molly mentions her ‘awe’ at the enormity of the destruction and loss which she witnessed. She describes this in an eloquent piece in her scrapbook.

Notes

  • The aerodrome was next door to the hospital at Petite Synthe, some 2km SW of Dunkirk
  • Ward ‘H’ was the casualty ward
  • Molly kept Sir Frank Benson’s autograph on a calling card of Wilfred James Pardo Jenner from R.F.C. in her scrapbook. Both were her former patients. Benson, “Poilu” as he put on the card, worked as an ambulance driver for the French Red Cross. Jenner, Canadian pilot, was shot performing a low bombing raid for which was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (gazetted on 3 Dec 1918)