Tag Archives: Sarah Macnaughtan

Christmas in Belgium during the Great War: 1915

British Red Cross Nurse, First World War, 1915

British Red Cross Nurse, First World War, 1915

25 December. My Christmas Day began at midnight, when I walked homehrough the moonlit empty streets of Furnes. At 2 a.m. the guns began to roar, and roared all night. They say the Allies are making an attack.

I got up early and went to church in the untidy school-room at the hospital, which is called the nurses’ sitting-room. Mr. Streatfield had arranged a little altar, which was quite nice, and had set some chairs in an orderly row. As much as in him lay—from the altar linen to the white artificial flowers in the vases—all was as decent as could be and there were candles and a cross. We were quite a small congregation, but another service had been held earlier, and the wounded heard Mass in their ward at 6 a.m. The priests put up an altar there, and I believe the singing was excellent. Inside we prayed for peace, and outside the guns went on firing. Prince Alexander of Teck came to our service—a big soldierly figure in the bare room.

After breakfast I went to the soup-kitchen at the station, as usual, then home—i.e. to the hospital to lunch. At 3.15 came a sort of evensong with hymns, and then we went to the civil hospital, where there was a Christmas-tree for all the Belgian refugee children. Anything more touching I never saw, and to be with them made one blind with tears. One tiny mite, with her head in bandages, and a little black shawl on, was introduced to me as “une blessée, madame.” Another little boy in the hospital is always spoken of gravely as “the civilian.”

Every man, woman, and child got a treat or a present or a good dinner. The wounded had turkey, and all they could eat, and the children got toys and sweets off the tree. I suppose these children are not much accustomed to presents, for their delight was almost too much for them. I have never seen such excitement! Poor mites! without homes or money, and with their relations often lost–yet little boys were gibbering over their toys, and little girls clung to big parcels, and squeaked dolls or blew trumpets. The bigger children had rather good voices, and all sang our National Anthem in English. “God save our nobbler King”—the accent was quaint, but the children sang lustily.

We had finished, and were waiting for our own Christmas dinner when shells began to fly. One came whizzing past Mr. Streatfield’s store-room as I stood there with him. The next minute a little child in floods of tears came in, grasping her mother’s bag, to say “Maman” had had her arm blown off. The child herself was covered with dust and dirt, and in the streets people were sheltering in doorways, and taking little runs for safety as soon as a shell had finished bursting. The bombardment lasted about an hour, and we all waited in the kitchen and listened to it. At such times, when everyone is rather strung up, someone always and continually lets things fall. A nun clattered down a pail, and Maurice the cook seemed to fling saucepan-lids on the floor.

About 8.15 the bombardment ceased, and we went in to a cheery dinner—soup, turkey, and plum-pudding, with crackers and speeches. I believe no one would have guessed we had been a bit “on the stretch.”

At 9.30 I went to the station. It was very melancholy. No one was there but myself. The fires were out, or smoking badly. Everyone had been scared to death by the shells, and talked of nothing else, whereas shells should be forgotten directly. I got things in order as soon as I could and the wounded in the train got their hot soup and coffee as usual, which was a satisfaction. Then I came home alone at midnight—keeping as near the houses as I could because of possible shells—and so to bed, very cold, and rather too inclined to think about home.

My War Experiences in Two Continents, Sarah Macnaughtan, 1919

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Prince Alexander of Teck, brother to Queen Mary,  renounced his German title in 1917, just as the British Royal family ceased to be the Saxe-Coburg and Gothas and became the Windsors.  He was seeing active duty with his regiment, the 2nd Life Guards in France and Flanders, and was head of the British Mission to the Belgian Army.

Miss Macnaughtan was a first-aid worker and journalist. She volunteered to go to Belgium to help nurse the wounded and stayed when given a chance to go back to England. You can read more about her bravery in the face of battle here.  As a Red Cross worker and writer, she spent most of her adult life abroad. She became very ill on an expedition to Persia and returned to England in May of 1916, dying in July of that year.

Here are some stereo-opticon images of the field hospital at Furnes and information about its history and staffing.

Mrs Daffodil would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.