The Isolation Hospital
Swindon, Wilts, England
Dear Mother and Aunt Mattie,
Don’t yell or do anything crazy when you read the address from which this letter is written, because as a matter of face I am feeling top hole and only wish I could stay here three months instead of three weeks. I am supposed to be laid up with German measles (you see the enemy has found a new method of carrying on the war which is going sadly against him now) but the only day I was really sick was the day before I was sent to the hospital.
Tuesday night we moved into tents, as I told them in my last letter to B. Brae (By the way I got your address this morning in your post card no X – it is splendid the way you have been writing to me, mother, I hope you won’t hurt your eyes. And a letter from the indefatigable Haddow who certainly deserves first prize as champion letter writer, especially as he doesn’t receive any answers. However, now that I shall have nothing to do but read and write for the next fortnight, I shall write him a real epistle. Here I am running away from the subject of my paragraph which was to be – “Events leading up to segregation in the Hospital.” But I don’t think a certain inconsequentiality spoils a letter – do you? While I am speaking of letters, I got a copy of the “Westminster” this morning which was very apropos seeing that I am in need of reading matter. The dear nurses are exceedingly kind and bring me lots of books by Gene Stratton Porter and other well intentional ladies. I started one, but found that it made me dreadfully melancholy so stopped and went back to Engenie Groulet which I brought with me in my haversack. I am going to get Dorland to mail me a couple from the town so I shall have plenty to keep me going. But this is digressing to too great a length.
Wednesday morning we went back to our old lines for break fast and worked there all morning, cleaning out the huts which we had evacuated (our happy homes – how sorry we were to leave them! This is not intended to be ironical but quite serious), loading the stores from the Q.M.S’s hut, and carrying and piling our bed boards in the cookhouse. In the afternoon we were occupied with digging trenches around our tents and between the lines, until we had completed a system of drainage for the camp.
There has to be another break here, because about half past four Nurse Collins brought me my tea and a few minutes later Nurse Jones brought me about five bundles of papers from home. How kind of you to send them Mother and how funny that they should arrive just at this time! I also got an interesting letter from Will in which he told me about a bicycle trip which he took in Kent. It is now six o’clock and I may have to break off suddenly as the letters are fumigated tomorrow and this may be taken away from me at any time. I shall just write as much as I have time for and send it.
Once more I take up the thread of my story. Well, it was a hot afternoon Wednesday and I was feeling tired and a little below par as I went without my tea. That night I didn’t sleep well and was feverish. We were packed nine of us in a small tent with our feet towards the pole all piled on top of each other. There was only room, practically, for our blankets and we had to tuck our kit bags, haversacks, and all the rest of our paraphernalia around our heads, near the door and wherever we could manage to stow anything away. I was sleeping at the end and, as the ground slanted downwards my feet were higher than my head, so it was not altogether surprising that my sleep was broken. Feeling decidedly under the weather next morning I paraded sick which was quite a business. At seven o’clock under the charge of the Orderly Corporals, all the sick in the camp are paraded over to the Medical inspection hut. There were only three or four Canadians that morning but a lot of Angacs and “Tommies” and the Cans. came last of the lot. Finally, after about an hour’s wait, I saw the doctor. I told him I had a bad cold in my head with a little fever. He took temperature, which was only 99.6 – I am sure it had been higher in the night – ordered the medical attendant to give me a drink of some kind of bitter dope, told me to come back for a dose at two and five o’clock and sent me back to the camp. He put me down for ‘light duty’ which may mean practically anything, but, as I was really too sick to do anything I just spread out my ground sheet and blanket and lay down in the tent. It was a beastly day, pouring rain, and as there were no parade and the fellows were occupied intermittently in wheeling away mud I had no difficulty in keeping out of work. I lay in the tent all day and ate only an orange a banana and a few biscuits. We were in a delightful situation by evening. With the ground all mud outside and no room in the tent, a pig sty would have been more comfortable, but we didn’t seem to care a rap. Indeed things were so bad that we regarded them with a kind of humorous satisfaction. Somebody suggested that they might at least treat us as hogs and give us some dry straw to lie on. It continued raining that night and my kit bag which was lying near the door got soaked – but I should worry! There is lots of underwear in Swindon. In the morning I felt decidedly better and made up my mind not to parade sick. But as I was standing in line at roll call I noticed a slight rash on my wrists. Besides this I felt weak and slightly sick at my stomach. So I changed my mind. The doctor looked at my rash and told me to strip. There was a little on my knees too. Then he asked if I had ever had Scarlet F. I told him that I had never had it and he gave me a big dose of Castor Oil and told me to come back at two. Just as I was going away he called me back. There was another doc. There and I stripped again. “That looks suspicious doesn’t it,” said the first. “Oh it’s more than suspicious” said the other gravely. So back I went to the camp to wait for the attendant to take me to the hospital. I was feeling highly elated because I knew that the worst of my sickness was over and I thought how lucky I am to get a light touch of Scarletina that will quarantine me for six or seven weeks and then likely I shall get another week’s sick leave!
At ten o’clock or before I was taken over to the Camp hospital. The first thing they did when they saw ‘Scarlet’ on my sick report was to shove me into a lavatory and keep me there for about an hour At the end of that time, the Lieut. Col. Doc in command of the hospital came in. He was a testy old beggar who called me ‘boy’, told me to hurry up, that he couldn’t wait all day and made you feel that he was doing you a great favour to bother with you at all. He said I didn’t have much of a rash and went out. Later in came to young Canadian doctors, awfully nice and looked so clean and smart that they made me wish I had been a medical student and got a commission in the R.A.M.C. Well they examined me, said it was not German measles and at length decided to send me to town to the Swindon isolation hospital as a suspicious case.
I arrived here about noon on Friday then, and was put in the Scarlet ward. There were four or five other soldiers recuperating and one little boy – for thank Heaven this is not a military hospital! I am tickled to death to get away from the camp for even a short time, and I’m glad they thought it was Scarlet and not measles as otherwise they would probably have kept me at the camp hospital. When the doctor looked at me here he immediately said it was German measles and ordered me to be put in a side ward.
So that is the story of how I came to be comfortably ensconced in an iron bed all by myself in a little room with a high ceiling and green and black Kalsonined walls. It has double doors, which are kept standing open most of the time, looking out on to a quad with a close clipped lawn and a wide gravel path running around the outside. Across the quad is another wing with red brick wall and grey slated roof with a scarlet trim affair running along the ridge. The nurses are very nice. There are three whom I see at different times and a sister who is fully qualified and about twice the age of the nurses. She is quite an interesting woman and I have had one or two interesting tales with her about England. The young ones are Nurse Collins, Nurse Jones and Nurse Rothwell. The former two are only nineteen years old, but would you believe it I thought Nurse Jones was about thirty! She is rather good looking and is not lined with care but she has such a dignified old fashioned manner that I really fell out of bed when she calmly told me she was nineteen! Neither of the young ones have been to London – Nurse Collins is from Shropshire and Nurse Jones from Devon, but I was not so horrified at their never having been to town as they were at me when I confessed that I had never seen Niagara Falls!
Well Mother and Aunt Mat I hope you are enjoying yourselves at Balsam Lake as much as I am here. I am going to have a real good loaf for the next fortnight and let the fortune take care of itself. Perhaps the war will be over by that time. Everybody is filled with hope that these days and unless unforeseen events occur the fighting out to be finished his year. God grant that it may!
By the way I thought that letter of Peter McArthur’s in the Globe very good. I have often seen the walls of which he speaks, with mortar laid along the top of which are embedded pieces of broken glass to lacerate the hands of would be senders. Personally I think it a rather bright idea, but Dorland describes it as ungodly. I am very comfortable here and only wish I could stay for months - in spite of the fact that it is a little lonely at times. Perhaps conditions in camp will be better when I get back.
With much love and hoping that you will have a happy summer and wont worry about either of us I am as ever,
Your affectionate son,
By the way my address is still the same.