REPORT ON EMBARKATION DUTIES
CROWN COPYRIGHT: THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES WO222/2134
CROWN COPYRIGHT: THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES WO222/2134
1. LACK OF ORGANISATION
The difficulties in connection with what are now the well-defined duties of the Embarkation Sister, at the beginning of the War were almost overwhelming.
It had not been anticipated that members of the Nursing Service would be required in such large numbers, neither had it been anticipated that the conditions would be such that it would not be possible for each member to make her own arrangements on arrival in the country. Consequently the necessity for an Embarkation Staff, as now existing, had not been considered either by the Medical or Transport Services. However, immediately on arrival in France, it became very obvious that it was necessary to make arrangements for the transport of new arrivals, for the transport of their heavy kit, and for their billeting and accommodation.
As regards accommodation, arrangements were made with different hotels, particularly with the Hotel du Louvre at Boulogne. With few exceptions the reinforcements have always disembarked at Boulogne. The Directors of the Hotel du Louvre were exceedingly kind and helpful in this matter. Largely on account of the Sisters, they opened an annexe to the Hotel. Until this time it very often happened that parties of Nurses arriving were scattered in several different hotels at a considerable distance from each other. This was very inconvenient.
One of the greatest difficulties in connection with this matter of accommodation, was that no notification of the arrival of reinforcements at Boulogne was received till sometimes a few hours, and even half an hour, before the arrival of the boat, and sometimes not till many hours and a few days after they had arrived. In later years this difficulty was more easily overcome by the establishment of Hostels for the use of the Nursing Staff only. In the earlier years, and in 1914 and 1915 especially, when accommodation was insufficient even for the number of officers stationed in the town, and for those passing through on duty or on leave, this lack of notice created an extremely serious difficulty, and was the cause of much overcrowding, which though generally speaking, was only for one night, could have been avoided with sufficient notice.
3a. PARTICULARS OF REINFORCEMENTS
As reinforcements arriving brought no written particulars of any kind with them, it was found necessary to obtain these from the Nurses themselves on disembarkation, chiefly in order that they might be posted to the greatest advantage. No office or suitable room was available for this purpose, and here again the Directors of the Louvre Hotel were most kind. They opened for public use quite a large dining-room which was reserved for the use of the Sisters when parties were arriving. This was of the greatest assistance as the Nurses could be seen all together, and their particulars taken, and orders given without inconveniencing others.
For transport, the Sister, Miss Barbier, QAIMNSR, who assisted me in this department, was dependent solely on the goodwill of the drivers of ambulances and motor lorries, and at times it was late at night before one could be found who would undertake to take the luggage of the Sisters from the Quai at Boulogne to the Louvre Hotel, where those passing through were usually accommodated. When possible, the Commanding Officer and Matron of No. 13, Stationary Hospital, which was on the Quai itself, would lend a certain number of orderlies to assist in lifting the luggage. At other times French porters were made use of.
As regards the transport from the Hotel to the Stations, the Hotel handcart was used to convey it to the Gare Centrale, and cabs conveyed the Sisters and luggage to the Tintilleries Station.
In the course of time the good offices of the Embarkation Medical Officer were enlisted, and the help he rendered in this department was invaluable. He undertook, when notified by the embarkation sister of the arrival of reinforcements, to provide a small group of Permanent Base men to assist her with the luggage, and he arranged that, with notification, ambulances would be placed at her disposal to convey the Sisters to their destinations, if these were local, and if otherwise to the station or the hotel. The R.T.O. also gave considerable assistance and facilitated matters with regard to warrants.
4. STORAGE OF KITS
With regard to the storage room for the Sisters’ luggage, again with the kind permission of the Proprietors of the Louvre Hotel, their large motor garage was freely made use of and the baggage of those travelling to other Bases was collected and sorted out there. No charge was made for the storage of this kit. When it is considered that a party of 50 members meant 150 pieces of kit apart from hand luggage, it will be realised what a very great boon this garage proved to be. It was not very long before it was found possible to store overnight a certain amount of kit in a small hut, belonging to the V.A.D. Rest Station on the platform, close to the Waggon Office of the O.C. Ambulance Trains. This was a very great convenience for those leaving Boulogne by early morning trains. One difficulty remained, and that was the responsibility for the heavy luggage left behind by the Sisters on duty on Ambulance Trains and at C.C.S.’s. It was usual to leave it in the garage of the Louvre Hotel, but this garage was an open one, and though up to that time no luggage left there had been missed, this was not felt to be a satisfactory system.
5. PROVISION FOR LONG JOURNEYS
It was customary for parties of Nurses travelling long distances to Rouen and Le Havre, to be provided with food for the journey. This was arranged with the Matron of No. 7 Stationary Hospital, who supplied the necessary rations.
6. EMBARKATION SISTER – A SPECIAL APPOINTMENT
In January 1915, it was considered advisable to appoint a Sister whose sole duties would be those of an Embarkation Officer, and accordingly Miss M. S. Barwell, R.R.C., QAIMNSR, was detailed for this post which she assumed on January 27th. She was accommodated at the Hotel du Louvre, in order that she might be in as central a position as possible, to enable her to carry out her duties. The difficulties in connection with the first steps of this now well established department have been particularly emphasised, as it is considered very desirable that in any revision of War Establishments which may take place it would be well that the need for this department should be recognised and provision made for its requirements. Its gradual development, and the work it has accomplished throughout the War are ample proofs of its necessity.
7. DUTIES OF AN EMBARKATION SISTER
The following were the duties assigned to the Embarkation Sister:-
A. In connection with reinforcements arriving from the United Kingdom
1. To meet them at the boat.
2. To arrange for their accommodation and Messing at the Hotel.
3. To arrange transport to units, to the Hotel, and on the following day to the different stations.
4. To have all kit sorted for the different parties.
5. To notify the Matron-in-Chief of all arrivals as soon as possible, and in accordance with her instructions to detail the prescribed numbers to units stated.
6. To obtain movements orders and "Ordres de Transport".
7. To obtain all particulars of previous service, etc. from each member.
8. To notify all areas by wire of the members arriving and the day of their arrival.
9. To prepare detailed Nominal Rolls, and forward them as soon as possible to the Matron-in-Chief’s Office.
10. To check all irregularities in uniform.
11. To assist in every way possible, all new members arriving.
As at first, Nurses would arrive with no money at all, it not infrequently happened that she had to pay their Hotel expenses for them at the time.
B. In connection with Sisters travelling through on duty and on leave
i. Sisters passing though Boulogne to other Areas, reported to the Embarkation Sister at the Louvre Hotel. She ascertained the times of the trains and the detraining stations, and gave them all necessary information for the journey, notifying their departure by wire.
ii. Sisters returning from leave reported at the Louvre Hotel to the Embarkation Sister who ascertained from the Matron-in-Chief’s office whether there were any change of orders for them.
8. DIFFICULTIES WITH REGARD TO STORAGE
Early in 1915, the Proprietors of the Louvre Hotel had converted the large garage into a lounge, so that the luggage could no longer be stored there. The Embarkation Sister obtained from the French Customs Officials the permission to use a hut at the very extreme edge of the landing quai, and the luggage was stored there, and later in a room at the Custom House. These officials were most courteous and helpful, as were also those of the Central Station who on one occasion, when there were 129 pieces of baggage, and not sufficient storage room, at very short notice, shunted a wagon into the station in which the luggage was safely stored for the night.
As regards the storage of the kit of Ambulance Train Sisters, the D.A.D.M.S., Ambulance Trains, procured a loft, in the department of the A.M.F.O. in a street just beyond the station, and this loft was made use of for this purpose.
9. RAILWAY ACCOMMODATION
One of the difficulties, due to the lack of notice of the arrival of reinforcements, was the providing of suitable and sufficient railway accommodation. If large parties travelled by the usual passenger trains, the French Railway Authorities requested 24 hours notice, in order to put on special carriages. As this was not always possible, there was consequent discomfort which might have been avoided. In 1914, the Nurses were allowed to travel on Troop Trains, and occasionally in early 1915, these trains had been found most convenient for those travelling to the Casualty Clearing Stations in response to urgent calls. This practice was, however, discontinued on account of various inconveniences.
10. TRANSPORT OF EMBARKATION SISTER
The Embarkation Sister, in the fulfilling of her duties was forced to walk many miles in the day, for the most part over the well known cobblestones, and also over a long distance of railway lines.
1915 – 1919
11. DUTIES OF EMBARKATION SISTER
On July 15, 1915, the duties of Embarkation Sister were taken over by Miss I. C. Woodford, M.B.E., R.R.C., TFNS, who has continued to fulfil those duties to the present day.
With the arrival of large numbers of reinforcements, and the Nursing personnel of overseas units, together with the granting of regular leave for the Nursing Staff, the work in connection with this department rapidly increased, and the existing arrangements became insufficient.
As it is felt that too much emphasis cannot be laid upon the importance of this branch of work, it is proposed to make a brief survey of its development as regards:
1. The duties of the Embarkation Sister.
2. The necessity for a regular staff to assist her.
3. The provision of adequate storage room for Sisters’ kit.
4. The necessity of suitable transport arrangements.
5. The provision of accommodation for reinforcements etc.
1. The duties of the Embarkation Sister have already been enumerated, but with the course of time her duties increased, or rather they became rather more exacting. She was required to meet all incoming boats, so as to insure not only that all new arrivals were met, but those coming back from ordinary leave or from sick leave, should not return direct to their previous station. She was also required, as far as possible, to keep the Acting Principal Matron informed of the arrival of Hospital Ships and of Ambulance Trains, and when the Ambulance Train arrived unexpectedly, it was an assistance for the Sisters to be able to report to the Embarkation Sister when necessary, and for some time she looked after their personal laundry for them, until the V.A.D. Rest Station very kindly undertook to take over this responsibility.
In addition to the work in connection with the Imperial Nursing Services, the Embarkation Sister met and arranged accommodation and transport for all the Overseas and American Nursing Services, who arrived at Boulogne for duty with the B.E.F. and provided them with the necessary instructions for their journey. Further in 1917, large numbers of Nursing Sisters and V.A.D. Members arrived at Boulogne en route for the East, and special arrangements had to be made for them. The first party to arrive numbered 200. A special train was arranged to run straight through to Marseilles without a change. Luncheon was arranged at the Hotel du Louvre and the Hotel Dervaux – the party being divided into two groups of 100 each. They were given food for the journey as far as Paris, and for the rest of the journey lunch and tea baskets were to be given them at various points. All succeeding parties numbered 30 or under, and a special coach was reserved for their use on the ordinary passenger train leaving Boulogne at 9.5.p.m. During 1917, also, many members of the U.S.A.N.C. passed through Boulogne for duty with the French Armies, or with the American Expeditionary Force. As there were no United States representatives at Boulogne at this time the arrangements for their land journey were made by the British and French Authorities, who were assisted by the Embarkation Sister.
Finally, mention must be made of the work in connection with the lost property which meant a good deal of correspondence. In this matter, considerable assistance was given to this department by the A.M.F.O., Boulogne. On the whole, taking into consideration the prevailing conditions, extremely little luggage was irrevocably lost, and the bulk of that was due to enemy action.
2. The necessity for a regular staff to assist the Embarkation Sister in the fulfilment of her duties was felt in 1915, when it was found that the services of Base Detail men could not be depended upon, and shortly after Miss Woodford took over the duties of Embarkation Sister, 2 orderlies were deputed to assist her, when required, in the meeting of reinforcements and sorting of luggage etc. In August 1916, and N.C.O. was permanently attached to the department, and he was made responsible for the kit store. In March, 1918, a 2nd man was attached to the permanent staff.
In November 1916, two V.A.D. Members were appointed for duty in the Office of the Acting Principal Matron, Boulogne, to which the Embarkation Sister was attached, one of them assisted in the clerical duties in connection with the embarkation work, and in times of stress assisted in the meeting and despatching of Sisters. Later, in 1918, by which time the staff of the Acting Principal Matron’s Office had been considerably increased, a V.A.D. Member was employed solely in this department.
From March to June 1919, a Sister was detailed for temporary duty with the Embarkation Sister, to enable her to cope with the increased work due to demobilization, and in order that the enormous amount of luggage might be satisfactorily dealt with the male staff was permanently increased from 2 to 4.
3. The provision of adequate storage room for Sisters’ kit had from the first been a difficult question to settle satisfactorily. The early arrangements have already been described, and it has been seen that a certain amount of accommodation had been obtained in the A.M.F.O.’s Office, near the Gare Centrale. On August 15th, 1915, the A.M.F.O.’s office moved to the Bassin Loubet, and no room was available as a store for the luggage. The 6 or 8 pieces then in store were temporarily transferred to the garage of the Hotel du Louvre.
The amount of luggage to be stored rapidly increased, and the two main causes were:
1. The increased number of ambulance trains on which the Sisters were not permitted to take their heavy luggage.
2. The rule that it was found necessary to make that all Sisters proceeding on leave from C.C.S.’s should bring all their luggage to the Base with them.
After considerable difficulty, storage room was found in the rue de la Gare, in the building in which the Principal Chaplain had his office. It was at this time that an N.C.O. was appointed to assist the Embarkation Sister. He was responsible to her for the safe custody of the luggage placed in the store. Every piece of baggage received was numbered and entered in a book against the name of the owner who was also given a reference number. During the Retreat in March 1918, all the luggage found waiting to be claimed was despatched to Boulogne and orders were sent to all C.C.S.’s to the effect that all surplus kit was to be immediately despatched to the Base. This necessitated the finding of more storage room which was ultimately obtained in the Rue Damboise. Meantime, as many as 300 trunks had been stored in a shed in the Bassin Loubet, but this was too far from the station and unsatisfactory in other respects. There were now between 900 and 1000 pieces of baggage in store, and it was at this time that a 2nd man was appointed for permanent duty in this department.
When demobilization began, with the permission of the D.A.D.R.T., a cage inside the station which had originally been erected for the custody of Officers’ kit, was used for the storing of Sisters’ luggage overnight and for short periods; but the amount was so great and accumulated so rapidly that further arrangements had to be made, and a corner of the outside platform was secured and luggage deposited there. Two men were now added permanently to the staff, and one remained on guard all night, to watch over the luggage, and to meet, assist and direct any Sisters who might be arriving by late trains.
In May, the store in the Rue Damboise was closed. Some pieces remain in the old store behind the station, and the cage inside the station is now sufficient for the storage of the kit of those members of the staff passing through Boulogne on demobilization.
4. The necessity for suitable Transport arrangements to enable the Embarkation Sister to fulfil her many duties, particularly in times of stress, is evident. In the autumn of 1916, about September or October, the British Red Cross authorities very kindly placed a heavy ambulance entirely at her disposal. This proved a very great boon. It enabled her to work more independently. She was able to deal with emergencies more easily. Sisters posted to local units could be conveyed there without ordering further transport, and when possible it was used to convey hand kit to and from the various hostels to the trains and boats. Very often during active operations no other transport was available, and at such times the car would be in constant use from 6.30. a.m. to 10.30. p.m. and sometimes later.
5. The question of the provision of suitable accommodation for reinforcements arriving in Boulogne was taken up in 1916, but the first Sister’s Hostel was not opened until July 1917, when a house was taken in the Rue du Pot d’Etain, No. 6, which could accommodate 20. Mrs Robertson Eustace’s Club was situated quite close to this hostel, and she had kindly arranged to accommodate at first 6 and then 12 Nurses passing through Boulogne. The accommodation thus available was most useful. It now became possible to ensure beds and comfort to those arriving late from Bases and Armies, and just passing through for leave.
On April 1st, 1918, the Hotel du Nord was opened as a hostel under the auspices of the Canadian Red Cross Society. There was accommodation for 50 and in an emergency 55 could be housed. Two rooms, a bedroom and an office were set aside for the Embarkation Sister. This thoughtfulness on the part of the Canadian Red Cross Society was much appreciated, particularly so, as up to this time, it had not been possible to make provision for an Office for the Embarkation Sister who had been obliged to carry out her work under difficulties at the Hotel du Louvre.
Miss Woodford remained at the Hotel du Nord until its close at the end of May 1919, when she was accommodated at the Hotel Marine, the Demobilization Hostel.
12. REINFORCEMENTS FOR RHINE ARMY
The first parties of Sisters to proceed to the Rhine Army were obliged to travel by Ambulance Train. As the journey took several days they were provided with rations. This means of conveyance was used between 17.12.18 and 23.3.19. From this time arrangements were made for the Sisters to travel by the Cologne Express. This train leaves Boulogne daily at 10pm. but the Sisters are only authorised to travel by it on Sundays. The journey takes a night and a day in this way. There are sleeping bunks and meals are provided.
The Embarkation Officer is responsible for the booking of berths, and all who travel by this train are seen off by her.
13. EMBARKATION DUTIES AT HAVRE
Owing to the military situation, in the spring of 1918, all reinforcements of Nurses, both for the East and for the American Expeditionary Force, disembarked at Havre. Up to this time, the work in connection with the embarkation duties did not necessitate a special appointment. The Office of the Acting Principal Matron was at the Gare Maritime in that section of No. 2 General Hospital, so that it was quite easy for her to deal with Nurses passing through.
However, in March 1918, it became impossible to carry on the work in this manner, and an Embarkation Sister was therefore attached to the Acting Principal Matron’s Office. Sister H. Swain, A.N.S.R. was appointed, and was assisted by A/Sister J. Cummings, QAIMNSR. Some idea of the work accomplished can be estimated by the following figures showing the Nursing Staff who passed through Havre during 1918, apart from the usual number proceeding to and from leave.
To Eastern Theatres of War 1121
From Eastern Theatres of War 2039
American Nurses for A.E.F. 2717
American Nurses for B.E.F. 65
All were met; food and accommodation provided when necessary, and they were directed and seen off on their onward journey.
On the departure of Sister Swain on 26.2.19., as the work had considerably decreased, it was considered that Sister Cumming, who was most successful in this special work, could perform these duties without further assistance, and on her demobilization on 2.4.19., the appointment of Embarkation Sister at Havre lapsed.
This Report will suffice, it is thought, to show the necessity and importance of the post of Embarkation Sister. It has been well appreciated, not only by members of all the Nursing Services, but also by the Administrative Medical Authorities, who were by this appointment relieved of much work and responsibility in connection with the Nursing Branch. An incident which will serve to illustrate this was occasioned by the blocking of the Port of Boulogne in December 1916. A vessel was sunk in the port which was blocked for about a month. All reinforcements etc., during this period, disembarked at Calais, and it was found necessary to transfer the Embarkation Sister, Miss Woodford, from Boulogne to Calais. There is no doubt that the Authorities concerned were most grateful that this was done. The A.D.M.S. kindly permitted the E.M.O.’s hut to be placed at her disposal, and the N.C.O. who accompanied her was accommodated in a blanket store close by. Transport for local work was provided by the F.A.N.Y. Convoy. Ambulances brought passengers from Boulogne to catch the morning boat, and waited to take back to Boulogne those arriving at Calais.
It is much regretted that owing to the destruction of Base Headquarters, Boulogne, on August 1st, 1918, it is impossible to quote statistics which would help those who have not had the personal experience, to realise more fully how important has been this branch of the work in connection with the Nursing Services.
Should it be considered advisable to make provision for such a post in War Establishments, it is thought that in order to avoid many little difficulties, it would be well that a recognised badge should be authorised for the Embarkation Sister whom experience has proved should be a senior Trained Nurse.
That the work of this department was carried out so smoothly, was due to the kindly and active co-operation of the Administrative Authorities, who recognising the value of the work done, gave much assistance to the Embarkation sister to enable her to fulfil her duties satisfactorily. She was permitted to sign movement orders for the D.D.M.S., and other facilities afforded her in connection with the provision of Railway and Road Transport have been very much appreciated.
[Signed by] E. M. McCarthy
Headquarters, British Troops in France & Flanders