In January 1917 the St. Andrew’s, Oxshott parish magazine contained an appeal for more women workers, on behalf of the Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild, Oxshott Depot, War Work Room. It was reported that, ‘until the present time the small number of regular workers (had) sent 3,200 garments, surgical bandages, etc. to the Central Depot, which (had) to supply between 50,000 and 70,000 a week to all the Fronts’.
Rather than the usual letter of thanks from the Central Depot, and to ensure that the parishioners could be in no doubt as to the grave conditions being experienced at the front, or the importance of this appeal, the following unattributed letter from France, received at Cavendish Square dated 18 November 1916, was published:
I thought I would send would you a line to let you know what becomes of all your well-spent days of toil in Cavendish Square.
Imagine the scene. It is 2a.m. Hour after hour cases have been steadily arriving straight from the battlefield, bespattered with mud and blood and filth. They have been dressed once – but we apply the second dressing, cutting off all the former ones, for there is no time for unwrapping the bandage. We wash as much of the wound as will ensure safety, apply the fresh dressings, and send them on a stretcher to a ward. No nice aseptic, round-cornered anti-dust walled room, but a dimly-lit marquee – on a damp night, dreary indeed and dismal but for the courage of that vast majority who bear the most shocking wounds in silence. Stretcher after stretcher is lying on the tarpaulin covering the man underneath, cold and cheerless. Twenty or more awaiting immediate operation – some dying, or even dead, before aid can reach them, as the surgeons, in relays, have been at it continuously already for thirty-six hours on cases that have come in the previous day. Here they lie – oh, in such uncomplaining patience, most awaiting amputation or abdominal operations. A sister was going round to each in turn administering to their wants, and two orderlies, in turn, all night similarly helped, pending the time of operation. Never in my life have I seen more the need for hot water bottles or appreciated more their value. And the comfort of those long four-feet woollen stockings, you can only imagine there in London, but we see it here; as after perhaps a quarter of an hour’s struggling (to avoid pain) the boots and socks, sodden from days in the trenches, are finally cut off, and these long woollen stockings are put on – double thickness. And to hear them say “Thank you, sister,” or “Thank you, sir,” that is nice, and they turn over so grateful you’d never think they have the wounds they have got. For the time being their pain seems abated in their gratitude.
I am writing this from partly an outsider’s point of view; as you know I am in the X Ray lorry, but where life and death are the only immediate concern, X Rays become a luxury, so we turn our hand to helping in their dressing tents. Dressings, thanks to your good people, seem to be in limitless supply, and I have seen no waste.
With many thanks on behalf of the poor lads who are too bad to wonder even where all their comforts come from.
I am, yours sincerely,
St Mary’s, Stoke D’Abernon, Parish Magazines, December 1914 to December 1918, SHC Ref. 8909/8/1/4.
‘History’, QMCG, accessed 12 January 2017, http://qmcg.org.uk/history/.