Son publishes his mother’s wartime hospital diaries

PUBLISHED: 10:30 02 February 2015

The book produced by Grace's son

The book produced by Grace's son


The diaries of a nurse in the First World War are published to support the British Red Cross

Grace PulvertaftGrace Pulvertaft

Grace Brunsdon from Littlehempston was an enthusiastic WI member, a regular exhibitor at the annual flower show and wife of the Totnes Rural District Council chairman Fred.

But 100 years ago her life was transformed as she joined up to care for injured soldiers as a V.A.D (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse.

The young Grace Pulvertaft, as she was then, kept a diary of her years in the wartime hospitals, right up until the Armistice. She wrote late at night, before going to sleep, about life on the wards and the wounded men in her care.

Alongside her diary entries she attached cartoons, photographs, poems and letters contributed by many of her patients.

Now her son John Brunsdon, 85, has published some of the material in a book, aimed at raising money for the British Red Cross.

Here are some extracts.

One of the hospital wards where Grace workedOne of the hospital wards where Grace worked

February 1916: It is 7pm on a chilly February evening and those unfortunate beings known as the night nurses are beginning to stir in their cubicles. The dormitory door opened suddenly and a voice is heard: “A convoy is due to arrive tonight at 8 o’clock.”

Beds are prepared and near 11pm the tramp of many feet is heard – the orderlies are marching to the station. “Lights Out!” is heard across the square but little attention is paid to the same call and 15 minutes later the ambulances rumble to the door. Kings is our ward and we are to have the stretcher cases. In they come!

Here is a haemorrhage case necessitating immediate operation, here is an injured head, there a shattered limb. Still they come and one by one the other patients blink their eyes, awakened by strange sounds. One man is heard to remark: “When will it all end? And all because of one man.”

“When indeed?” is the query on the entire ward. Just after midnight everything is again quiet. The wounded (shell fire) having left France in the hospital ship Cambia are now safe in Dyke Road Hospital, Brighton and washed, warmed and fed. We leave them to enjoy this well earned rest.

A cartoon drawn in Grace's diary by a wounded soldierA cartoon drawn in Grace's diary by a wounded soldier

March 1916: The sights seen in this hospital are terrible at times. Not long ago Nurse Clarke called me down to see her patient. I went cheerfully into Gordon to find a man on the floor spinning round and round on his face, waving his arms in all directions and shrieking: “Kill him! Kill Him! Call up the communication. That’s done for another.”

The men were quite nervous, for he was really violent and had to be moved into a side ward with orderlies in attendance. A bullet through his spine was the cause.

March 1916: Sgt Vardy of the Wiltshire Regiment was one of my patients while on night duty.

Vardy never would get up in the mornings and being a Sgt he evidently expected this to be overlooked. I fear I was most severe and one morning he went without his breakfast! Before he left however he was first out of bed and in the kitchen cooking the breakfast for the entire ward.

A WW1 trenchA WW1 trench

June 1916: Eight days holiday! I went to Ilfracombe, Devon

July 1916: “You are in the same regiment as my brother?” said Capt Hutchinson to a Scottie who had just arrived from France. “Do you know Major Hutchinson?”

“Yes Sir” replied the man. “How is he getting on?” was the MO’s query

“I saw him shot down on Saturday last – he’s dead sir” was the reply.

Such is war.

July 1916: Terrible things must be happening in France. One told me that no mention is made of the huge losses in this advance. Three divisions to his left were almost wiped out and they themselves only advanced 100 yards instead of 4,500.

July 1916: Tonight the men were going through their experiences at The Front. Sgt Cook who probably goes convalescent on Monday said: “If I go convalescent I’ll probably return to France in a month or so and I dread going back. Out there we do not live, we merely exist.”

July 1916: My candle has gone out and it is after 10, so I write in darkness. This is only a line on my 21st birthday. I slept three hours at home this afternoon. When will the war be over?

Dec 7 1917: Before closing I might mention that tonight I was informed by Captain Roberts that my chief duty in life should be the practice of smiling on lonely officers. He personally was “very lonely.”

November 2 1918: Tonight a new flu came in with a temperature of close on 106. He was on leave from France. His recording thermometer so startled the new sister that a glass of hot milk was needed to revive her ladyship!

November 11 1918: Never shall I forget this day! News reached the hospital early in the morning that hostilities would cease at 11am. As the maroons sounded Blasson and myself solemnly shook hands mid hectic confusion on the corridor where we were nursing sick sisters.

That same afternoon Fenner, Blasson and I made for town – an Australian Tommy hoisted us onto a crowded tram car with these words: “If it weren’t for you girls we shouldn’t have own this war today!”

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