May 24, 1917. The three surgeons played baccarat. I sat on the edge of a plank and watched the game. We had an acetylene light. The shells fell all around, shaking the place and repeatedly putting out the light. The noise was remarkable. The air was filled with screams, hisses, and loud reports, followed by the slide of masses of earth. Many shells were so close that a strong push of hot gas was felt. At 6 o’clock the Moroccans took the ridge by storm. At midnight the bombardment slackened but did not cease.
With the dawn the wounded came in a stream, and were laid in the upper room. The wounds were of all sorts. The worst was a completely crushed jaw, in a man with a dozen slighter wounds. One man had a hole through the temple into the brain—a hole two inches long and half an inch wide. Another had a smashed leg, a bad head, and in the thigh a wound the size of a small orange.
I watched the blood pressure carefully. Imagine a cellar with a plank floor covered with clay an eighth of an inch deep. A horrible tub full of bloody dressings. Two stretchers on the floor. Ten men in a space 10 by 12 feet, shoulder to shoulder. Two candles. Sandbag walls. The roof so low that I am always hitting my helmet against the beams. The air thick with the smell of blood, sweat, alcohol, iodine, vomit …
May 25. Today two or three rather elderly soldiers came in, with the plea that they were sick. The doctor, who has a soft full beard, large brown eyes, and a very gentle manner, said, “You are not sick. You are only tired. But all the world is tired here” …
May 26. Just before daybreak there was drum-fire—continuous roars from all the batteries. This lasted two hours. I got up and crawled into the upper cave, but was at once driven down again. After the fire slackened, I went out—about two feet out—and Gérard prepared my toilet—a shave and face-wash. I have not had any of my clothes off during the last three days and nights. After shaving, I went out to brush my teeth. The air was clear and brisk, and the sun not fully risen. To stand on the open slope of the hill, in the keen wind of dawn, under fire, and use a tooth-brush, was really exhilarating. It was the first time I have ever enjoyed brushing my teeth.
Originally titled "The Clue"
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.