Erotica author, aka Elspeth Potter, on Writing from the Inside

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Excerpt from A War Nurse's Diary: The General

The following is an excerpt from A War Nurse's Diary: Sketches from a Belgian Field Hospital, published 1918 by Macmillan and now in the public domain. This sort of first-person account is sometimes more useful than anything else when researching for fiction.


This history will not be complete without telling you about my General. I call him mine, because I had the honour of being his special-nurse on day-duty. He was the General of the Premier Belgian Division, therefore a personage of great importance. He was also a great friend of the King Albert, who sent him his own bed and mattress because he found ours hard! One evening he came in on a stretcher, and was placed on a bed in the Officers' Ward. He was a man of about sixty-five years of age, seriously wounded in the lower part of the back, his hip bones being badly shot away and the flesh laid open down to the spine. All the officers were quickly moved into a hut, grumbling and protesting at being turned out of their own little corner and leaving their own attendants, while the now large empty room was transformed into a pleasant living-room. We sent over to Furnes for the old priest's best carpet and some upholstered chairs, and arranged gay screens around. Madame Curie fixed up for the General an electric-bell worked from her dynamo, and a telephone communicating with Headquarters by his bedside. Her Majesty sent quantities of lovely flowers, and we made that room like a first-class nursing-home apartment. Not that the dear old General wanted it, he was a regular Spartan, a born soldier, and used to the simplest mode of living. So long as his orders were obeyed promptly and to the letter and his bell answered on the moment, all went well; he asked nothing more. To me he showed an old-world courtesy, never allowing me to do anything he considered infradig, but insisting on my calling the orderly. His morning dressing was a solemn ceremony, needing about an hour's preparation. The Major, Lieutenants and British surgeons were all summoned to be present at the function, while the Major performed it.

There were other ceremonies which took place in the General's room. General Joffre arrived one day and decorated him with the Legion of Honour. After Joffre had pinned the medal on his breast and kissed him on both cheeks he came over and talked to me for a few minutes about the General's progress. Another day King Albert arrived and gave him a medal, one only given to high officers, ---the Order of the Cross. A certain great man, a member of the British Royal Family, was also deputed to be the bearer of the Victoria Cross from our King. Many great statesmen of Belgium and famous warriors of the Allies visited my General at one time or another.

It was autumn now. Sometimes in the afternoon we wandered across the fields, picking blackberries which I made into pies or stewed for my illustrious patient. I spent a good part of my time trying to concoct little dainties for him, and bothering the chauffeur, who bought our stores each day in Dunkerque, to search the shops for some new delicacy. In those rambles we strolled along the banks of little brooks where forget-me-nots fringed the edges, passed through farmyards where nuns in their quaint costumes sat on three-legged stools milking cows, and soldiers leaned over the gates laughing and chatting. By-and-by the sun sank, a ball of fire, while mist rose like a veil from the low flat country. In the glow of the glorious sunset airplanes chased each other overhead, little puffs of smoke dotted the clear blue sky, whilst the bark of guns and the reports of explosions overhead all played a weird part in the rural evening scene. Birds chirped in the hedges where we gathered blackberries, while on the horizon the roar of artillery formed the bass of the orchestra. The General progressed rapidly. In a month he was able to dispense with my services. Soon the morning came when I entered his room to bid him farewell. Handing me an immense bouquet, he kissed me on both cheeks in approved French fashion. Then we climbed the car and were off to Calais, en route for England, waving regretful good-byes to white-capped groups of nurses and our dear Belgian friends.


More from her diary.

Related Post: Synergy in Writing and Research.


  1. I've found a ton of diaries written during WWI in the public domain. It's sad that WWI is neglected (and seen as "unnecessary" since Hitler needed to be taken down in WWII), but I'm glad you chose to set your book in such a fascinating time!

  2. I just found this one recently and am working my way through it, even though the book is done. I might post more later.