Stretchers - The Story of a Hospital Unit on the Western Front

Discussion in 'Books and Films' started by liverpool annie, Apr 11, 2009.

  1. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Frederick A. Pottle was an orderly with Evacuation Hospital No. 8, which was one of the first units of its kind to arrive in France, and the first of all to go into action (at Juilly) behind a section of the front where American troops were suffering heavy casualties (Belleau Wood and Chateau Thierry). In late August of 1918, the hospital moved from Juilly to an abandoned French field hospital near Maujouy Ferme, some kilometers from Ancemont, where, until the war’s end, they would receive wounded from the battles of St. Mihiel and the Argonne. During the move to the hospital’s new location, the hospital staff, including Pottle, camped within sight of Domremy, the birthplace of Jeanne d’Arc. The following passage is from one of Pottle’s letters:

    "We pitched our little tents in the stubble of a wheatfield, near an orchard of large plum trees, and set up our field kitchens on the bank by the roadside. The officers pitched their tents under the plum trees. The moon is at full now. As I lay in my tent in the cool evening, this is what I saw: on the right, a great mysterious, flat-topped hill, covered with evergreen trees. On the left, another hill, crowned by a grand chateau with round towers whittled off into extinguisher peaks. Nearer, another hillside with a tall slender church spire overlooking the meadow below, where the lazy little river wanders in the mist. That church (La Basilique du Bois Chenu)~ it is more a monument~ stands on one of the most sacred and romantic spots in France, on the site where, according to tradition, Joan of Arc tended her flock, and received her visions. And straight down the broad white road, lined with poplars and sycamores, lies a little village (Domremy) which I had rather have seen than any spot in France outside of Paris.

    As I lay there, and looked at the splendid slender spire, clear and solemn in the moonlight, and thought of the things for which it stands, the glamor of the moonlight and splendor of the vision I had evoked blended and mingled with the thoughts of home and peace and love that always come to us at times like this when we have a moment to think. That night they were calm and sweet, purged of all selfishness. Such moments come but seldom, but when they do they touch one more profoundly than a sermon. Indeed, this is a spot of visions....

    ...How can I hope to put into words even a part of it? How we woke in the night in the wheat field to see the great round moon flooding with tender radiance the actual slopes which the feet of the child of Domremy, France’s warrior saint, pressed, as she wandered rapt in her visions of crowned angels calling her to save her country? How we toiled in the blistering sun, hot and dusty, and stood outside the one little cafe in Coussey waiting for it to open at five o’clock, and how we drank beer there? How we swam in the Meuse? How we stole the chaplain’s cookies? How we wandred reverently through the luminous halls of the great basilica and stared in wonder at the paintings, or even more reverently paused in the dingy old house and church at Domremy? How we ate wonderful repasts in low, dark, one-room French cottages, where everything was cooked in long-legged dishes over the coals of the great fire-place? There are memories connected with Sionne which are better forgotten. But how sad if other memories grow dim! Did all the members of the company lie all afternoon under the trees on the hilltop above the town, talking theology with a Baptist, a Congregationalist, a Presbyterian, and a Morman? No, but while I did they were doing something equally memorable. And as we all gazed out on the west until it clothed itself in the regal panoply of the sunset, perhaps the mantling clouds suddenly turned themselves into the sweeping battalions of an armored host, following the Maid:

    Along these very hills once strayed
    The warrior-saint, Domremy’s Maid:
    Five Centures since her glorious deed,
    Far-called by France’s bitter need,
    We see where, in the sunset sky,
    Her pennoned hosts sweep flaming by:
    The battle-cry swells clear ~ oh, hark!
    "Jehanne d’Arc! Jehanne d’Arc!"

    In later life, Frederick Pottle became a leading Boswell scholar. His war memoirs, Stretchers, from which the above passages were excerpted, were published in 1929 by Yale University Press.

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