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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Anne Schneider, R.N., Part III: "It Was Much Easier to Be Busily Engaged With One's Mind on One's Patient Than To Lie Quietly in Bed Trying to Figure Our Just Where The Next Bomb Was Going to Land"

This post highlights the third section of Anne Schneider's reminiscence of her service with Mobile Surgical Team #77, part of her work as a nurse with Oregon's Base Hospital 46 in France in the First World War. Mobile surgical teams provided skilled medical personnel to battlefield hospitals and rear areas for triage and emergency operations. Staff traveled where needed, often staying a day or two in each area. Team #77 went to the area of Chateau Thierry, where Allied offensives raged throughout the summer and her time there from July 19 to August 19, 1918.

In the first two sections of her memoir, Schneider contrasted the beauty of the French countryside and the chateau at Pierrefonds with the destruction of war and described a bombing raid.

In this third section Schneider provided more detail about her nursing work with her specialty in anesthesia. The morning after the bombing raid she was the only nurse on duty and had charge of a post operative ward. "This was one of two such wards where patients were kept until out of anesthetic and then sent on to evacuation or base hospitals." Scottish soldiers were there, she noted, wounded the night before in the German bombing she had described.

En route to their next assignment, Schneider and the surgical team tried to find a hotel with a bath, but found that baths were only possible on the weekends. "We were simply out of luck," she recalled. "But we did enjoy a wonderful sleep in the best bed that was ever made."

Schneider and her colleagues worked at Verdelot with Field Hospital 27 and then drove to a deserted chateau near Chateau Thierry, the scene of tremendous destruction from a battle on July 18, 1918, just weeks before Schneider's arrival.

"July 29 found us again on the move, this time in the direction of Chateau Thierry, where we made our home in a deserted chateau with spacious grounds. Team 77 to which I belonged was placed on night work for which I will always be grateful, for our stay was destined to be a lively one. Early in the game I discovered that it was much easier to be busily engaged with one's mind on one's patient than to lie quietly in bed trying to figure out just where the next bomb was going to land."

The nurses became adept at getting to basement shelters, a far cry from Schneider's first experience with a bombing raid where she felt paralyzed and "glued to the spot." "The nurses sleeping quarters were on the attic floor of this chateau," she wrote, "and the way we came down the long winding stairway at the call 'to the basement' beat any crack player I have ever seen putting over the deciding run in the last half of the ninth inning for speed."

Schneider described the Chateau Thierry area in the aftermath of the horrible days of battle. "Here, during our leisure hours we explored the surrounding country, vising the dugouts so recently occupied by the enemy, made comfortable by the looting of the homes of Chateau Thierry. Crossing the river on the pontoon bridges thrown across by our brave engineers in the bitter struggle across the Marne, climbing Hill No. 204 with its countless shell holes, stopping by the way to examine a broken plane resting by [the] grave of its fallen hero, viewing from its heights the beautiful valley of the Marne, at its base, the utter destruction and ruin of a once thriving city. Through Belleau Wood where hardly a tree remains unscarred, through many a valley where no stone remained unturned and back through the poppy fields of France in all glory of their brilliant hues."

Following the war the United States constructed this monument at Hill 204 to commemorate the battle, near the American cemetery at Belleau Wood.
 Anne E. Schneider, Base Hospital 46, Reserve Nurse, "Answering the Call of the Wounded: Bazoilles-sur-Meus to Soisson,"pp. 3-4, 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.

Schneider's voice adds much to our understanding of the experience of Oregon women with Base Hospital 46 in France during World War I. Fortunately, the Base Hospital collection holds other treasures that I'll share across the next posts here.

I've posted the complete text of Anne Schneider's "Answering the Call of the Wounded" on the page on this blog "The Women of Base Hospital 46 in the First World War"