Plymouth has been having war excitement to the full this week. On Wednesday the populace was aroused from the splendid English complacency by the unexpected arrival in this port of the Canadian Troops. At the last moment we were hurried in here instead of proceeding to Southampton, because of the presence of three German submarines in the vicinity of that port.
On the same day there was also given a grim reminder of the awful realities of war when 800 Belgian wounded arrived here. The poor fellows had been driven from pillar to post as the fortunes of war kept pushing their army back toward the North Sea. After the fall of Antwerp they had no place of refuge, in their beloved country, so were rushed across to this country.
The Naval hospital in which we saw them is 170 years old, and could tell many a thrilling tale but none, we venture to say, more pathetic than the arrival of these eight hundred hungry, haunted and wounded warriors.
We, two Canadian Army Medical officers and the writer, enter the ward with the surgeon. Every man who could get out of bed, struggles to his feet or crutches and stands at attention. A kindly wave of the hand and they are seated.
Our first impression was verified. These are the pick of the Belgian peasantry. Fine stalwart fellows. There are many with marvelous escapes to record. Here is one who was hit in the abdomen by an expended unexploded shell. Another is blinded by the flashlight from a shell that exploded in his face, no portion of which hit him. Here is one who was struck on the left jaw close to the ear. The ball passed down his cheek across his upper lip and out at his other cheek.
Scores of them have been shot clean through the body other scores have been riddled with shrapnel in the back while lying in the trenches and still others were wrecked with rheumatism contracted in the water-filled trenches.
One other fellow though, the wonder and admiration of all, will be able to 'show the goods,' when he tells his children how we crushed Germany. He is the sole survivor of his company and was left on the field for dead. It was after one of the fierce bayonet charges so dreaded by every soldier. He killed his assailant but was wounded in eight places. Two bayonet thrusts went clean through his body from below the left shoulder to the right breast. A third went through his neck from below the left ear to the right cheek. The other thrusts left bad body and head flesh wounds. He is doing well and stood up to show us his scars. He was wounded September 5th and will probably be able to take the field again by the New Year.
The gratitude of these poor victims of Kaiserism to the English for their safe retreat and tender care is touching. Here is a young man whose arm was blown to pieces and had to be amputated above the elbow. He did not understand English, but all the world understands the language of the sympathetic look and the kindly pat on the back. His silent moist-eyes' reply was eloquent.
Another, the nurse is apologizing for a two-hours delay in serving a meal and in broken English comes 'No, no, madam, we fife day non eat, ha, ha. Two hour is nodlings.'
Our last visit was to the ward where lay a lonely German prisoner terribly wounded. He may die. An enemy, it is true, but with characteristic Christian virtue English nurses and doctors will care for him and give him a chance. When brought in his entire clothing consisted of his tunic and oversock.