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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Anne Schneider, R.N. Part II: "About the Yard Were Numerous Patients Lying on Litters, As They Came From the Field of Battle"

This post continues the previous post about Oregon Base Hospital 46 nurse Anne Schneider's reminiscences of her service in France in World War I with Mobile Surgical Team #77 in the summer of 1918 from Record Group 112 at the National Archives in College Park.

In this second section of her reminiscence Schneider described points on her journey to work with Field Hospital #12 and her temporary service there. Schneider contrasted the beauty of the landscape with the violence of war. And she wrote in vivid detail of her closeness to the battle and to its dangers and of her purposeful work helping the wounded.

The group reached Lizy and found it "closed and deserted." After breakfast they took a step that emphasized their proximity to the fighting: "we next stopped at a nearby supply house and each was fitted to a helmet and gas mask (now being in the danger zone). Out in the fields we could see the trenches and masses of entangled barb wire."

Near the town of Crépy Schneider described the destruction she observed: "Hardly a house was left in this ancient city; its churches and public buildings lay scattered about its streets in heaps of ruins; its inhabitants had long since fled to places of safety; a few of its streets were kept open to the traffic of war." The scenes of war had a direct impact on Schneider. She wrote: "While waiting we saw ambulance after ambulance carrying their precious load of wounded to the rear. Here we realized that we were really needed which made us impatient to be on our way."

Their first duty post was with Field Hospital #12 at Pierrefonds. Schneider described the imposing chateau that anchored the city. It was a structure made for defense, connecting medieval warfare with her own conflict: towers, a moat, parapets, battlements that had been used to drop "hot oil, stones and burning tar upon the enemies who attempted to approach the castle." This image of Pierrefonds today gives us some sense of her awe.
"Besides the walls of this castle, we set up our surgery in a tent just two weeks after our departure from the U.S.A." Schneider wrote. "Several teams had preceded us and were busy in an adjoining building. All about the yard were numerous patients lying on litters, as they came from the field of battle, and awaiting their turn to be taken to the X-Ray and Surgery. If we were tired and sleepy from our long journey, it was forgotten through the night, as we labored and listened to the tales of these heroes."

Later that night Schneider was reassigned to take charge of a post operative ward the next morning and left the surgery for a brief rest.

"Leaving the surgery my pathway [led] in and out among a hundred litters, stopping a moment here and there to light a cigarette or tuck into the corner of a blanket just so, I soon found myself at the entrance of my billet. Hesitating a moment as I looked about, I heard the dim sound of a distant motor. I saw great numbers of Scottish troops going in to relieve the First Division. The moon was with us again, only brighter, and more wonderful than ever. Above me stood this magnificent chateau, about it the trees of a century, just below a pretty lake reflecting it all. Then my thoughts went back to those litters and reluctantly, I climbed the stairway, entering my room. I threw off my coat and stood beside the window as I unfastened my watch and reached to lay it upon the table -- Bang, the earth trembled and re-echoed with an awful roar; the glass in that window lay broken at my feet. The tiled roofing in a mad scramble forever parted from its ancient supports; my watch never reached the table, but I knew my heart must have dropped to the basement and with it every bit of human intelligence I may have possessed."

Schneider recalled feeling "paralyzed as if glued to the spot," as she connected the explosion with the German planes she heard overhead. (She referred to the Germans as "Fritz" here and in other parts of the memoir.) Someone called her to the wine cellar for safety to wait out the bombing. "After a time things quieted and we ventured back to bed."

Anne E. Schneider, "Answering the Call of the Wounded: Bazoilles-sur-Meus to Soisson,"pp. 2-3, Box 9, Base Hospitals, World War I, Historical Records of the Army Nurses Corps Historical Data File, 1898-1947, Entry 10, Record Group 112, Records of the Office of Surgeon General [Army], National Archives, College Park, Maryland.

The third and final section of Anne Schneider's Base Hospital 46 reminiscence will be in the next post.