Letters from Oregon Boys in France
Compiled by Mrs. Frank Wilmot 1918
Private Henry A. Ladd
July 30th, 1918.
Well, at last, mother dear, I am writing. It has been a long period of silence for me - almost two weeks without a real letter. My explanation of such rustic behavior will slowly evolve as I write of my work and doings. To start, as an introduction, I might say that night before last I managed to get in a few minutes for a bath between 8:30 and 9:00 P.M. And last night I gave what little time I had to a hair cut just before dark. These two days have honestly been the only two in which I have had over ten minutes to myself, at least ten minutes when I was not too exhausted to do anything but roll into blankets and sleep. Tonight, then, I am writing, though I do not expect to finish this tonight, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps it must wait two more days - who knows, for I do not wish to simply say well and happy in a [blue envelope]. The "blue envelope" is that in which you find this enclosed. It is issued weekly from now on to us and is not censored by our own officers, but by censor at another base. I can not give any more information to you of a military nature than in my regular letters; but if there are personal matters which a man might not wish his own officers to read, this furnishes him with the opportunity of expressing same.
Shortly after I wrote my last letter [days and dates mean nothing to me now - I had to ask three boys the date before I found it] we moved our hospital site to another near by, which, I believe, is more desirable - near the little village and will be slightly more protected from winter winds. In less than three days, long before we were really settled, came orders to receive patients. From then on my heart has increased in vigor. I have been a different boy, indeed. I have put all I had each day into work and the work has taken all I had, but has given me, oh, so much satisfaction! For about three or four days I work in a supply building, handling boxes and checking, checking, checking supplies of one nature or another from 7:00 in the morning until often 9:30 or later at night. That work was hard, but very important just then. Soon a larger convoy of patents came and I was put in a ward. Late hours continued. My patients were mostly gassed. The first night I spent up all night with one nurse. We worked incessantly. I had sleep the next day, that is, some, and then I was on regular day duty. After a couple of days I was shifted to a surgical ward just being filled by patients of which I have had charge as ward master ever since. The nurse over me is a woman of about 34 or 35, and the ward surgeon, Lieutenant McCown, is a corker. He is a man I like and am egar to assist at dressing though my duties give me little time for the latter. But here I must pause, the call to quarters has blown and I am at the Red Cross building. Good night, more tomorrow.
Here is the second night on this letter. I have had quite a confining day with seemingly lots to do and little to show for the doing. Besides one of the men who has been mending rapidly, has tonight taken a turn for the worse and I have a sort of depressed feeling over his condition, for he is one of the most lovable boys in the ward. My hours end at 7:00 P.M. but tonight, as usual, I didn't finish until a few minutes ago [about 8:00 o'clock], so I just sat down here in the ward kitchen to write.
It has been a lovely day and I should have liked to have had it alone in some woody region. The evenings grow rather chilly after the sun sets, but the atmosphere is wonderfully clear and delightfully fresh this evening.
Well, last night I believe I was talking about changing wards, and being put here under Lieutenant McCown, and a fine head nurse, when I had to stop. I suppose that means little to you, but you see that a ward masters job can be made "hell", or "pleasant hell", by the gods directly in charge of said personage, and just now I'm having a very interesting bit of "pleasant hell", as it were. Furthermore, the boy who happened to be assigned here with me as chore man, is a mighty good chap. I had not known him before, but I have grown to like him more and more as we work together.
And now my work again. Besides my regular duties of tending to the care of the ward, etc; I have been able to see most of the more serious dressings, and of course have tended to the patients somewhat. I honestly enjoy all the work and I try to get into all the surgical bits of it that I can, for experience in assistance there means, of course, a chance for a surgical team and for the front - sometimes - which is quite my present aspiration, but the realization of which I fear is somewhat in the distant future. It is marvelous, mother, how some of the boys pull through and what wonders nature does of its own accord with good nursing.
In a couple of days I expect to leave this ward for what I believe is to be my permanent assignment; at least permanent for awhile, for of course nothing is exactly permanent in this game with its ever changing exigencies. This new assignment will be in the nose and throat clinic, under Lieutenant Bouby, the work you remember I enjoyed in Camp Lewis. There is, or will be, much more of it than I expected here and so I shall be happy, I know. I shall likely be able to slip in on a lot of the operations in the major surgery as well. Lieutenant Bouby is excellent and I anticipate working under him, though I hate to leave my present superior, greatly. However, on the whole, I feel that I shall be able to get more real active experience in the future place. And now it is time again to close and I feel as if I had scarcely said anything. Ah, me! the evening passes so quickly; but I must not stay up too late as my work demands rest, and that at present holds the scepter of command of my actions. So good night, mother dear, and dad and all of you, and a heart of love is yours from a boy who is happy to be alive and having this experience.
The third day of this letter is now at a close. I'll post it in the morning. Have had a hard but exciting day. I assisted at two major operations which Lieutenant McCown and Captain Skene performed. I say assisted, to be honest, I watched; but what a privilege! Then I had charge of the patients with the nurse in the ward afterward. Just here the lights went out. Now it is morning again, and a pretty busy one, but does not promise to be as hard a day. I can't realize that this is August. How time capers along. Our patients are quite cheerful today for it is sunny - and so am I. A heart of love again.
Would that I might give you many, many details which I know you are keen to know, but censorship will not permit them and you can easily see why. Enough that we are very well taken care of by Uncle Sam and that our officers and men are on the job. The work - that is, certain parts of it, facinates me; the rest I have no particular aversion to and one may obtain unending interest it seems to me from dealing with and handling patients, especially if one is interested in personalities as well as the technical details of the profession. I have been working under a man whom I certainly admire for his skill and his conscientiouness even to small things, and most of all for his honest interest and freshness in his work. He has worked tremendously hard and still keeps the same keen spirit day after day. Such a person is an inspiration in many ways. Who knows but by the time I'm through with this experience, I may be hitting out for the profession myself in Bill's footsteps, though I still rather doubt it.
Naturally I see a good deal of the Red Cross and the YMCA and their work in the hospital among patitents and personnel. It is fine and certainly commands the admiration of all, which, I believe, it possesses to almost a man.
Another four days have passed since I have written home and more than that since I wrote you. Work continues to be vigorous and absorbing. However, it has been in many ways most enjoyable, at least some of it.
The last few days have been rainy and chilly in the mornings - quite depressing weather. The summer is slipping by so fast and we are having so many rainy days that I begin to wonder when real summer weather is to come. But some days I scarcely have time to realize what it is doing outside.
I have had two more chances in the surgery which were both exciting, and in some ways, interesting. I believe I picked up quite a lot, and certainly enjoyed it. But now I have at last started at my job which I have been so long awaiting. We moved into the clinic this morning, and after a hasty scrubbing out and setting up of necessities, the Lieutenant was able to work all afternoon. I shall like the work I know very much; and getting things into shape is like setting up a new home; it certainly is fun.
Dear Mother: This is the most glorious evening; and I would that I had pep enough to wander off from the hospital for a short walk; but a hard day makes me seek a chair and an idle hour in which to dispatch you a few words.
The past week has been an industrious one, but a week of enjoyable work. I am quite settled at my new job now and it is indeed facinating. The hours will likely not be as long as in the ward, though when working, one works at top notch every minute, and that is the way I like to work. This past week, and for a few days yet, I shall probably work a large part of the evenings at fixing up odds and ends that must be done before we are really settled. The Lieutenant is ambitious to have a real crack clinic out of this, and as far as I can see he is well on the way toward having the same already. It is quite remarkable the amount of work there is to be done in that line. There are, of course, a large percentage of bad eyes among the gassed patients; but besides this, tonsils and various [muscosities] seems to flurish.
At last I have found a typewriter; and although my fingers haven't touched one hardly since I left college, they feel rather at home. It is evening of a most beautiful day, warm and really of the character of August, one of the very few that we have had. A lazy cloud or two on the horizon and the rest of the sky quite clear. This morning there was not a breath of wind stirring; and a dim blue haze hung over the weedy strip of meadow not far off. But I had not much time for a look at summers mood on the earth as it were; I was very, very busy and commensurately warm. It has been a hard day but the work has been most interesting in a number of ways. Yesterday and the day before, in the afternoon we had some operations, but today the patients kept us going until it was too late for the Lieutenant to start on any sort of ectomy. I am just beginning to get my records, in shape of cases, etc; down to more or less of a system, for you know that every case that goes through a clinic must have complete records; and, frankly speaking, it is a devil of a job to keep up with all of them and to keep them up to the Lieutenant, and he is a rapid and intense worker. In fact, at present I really should be at my knock up desk sorting misc., cases; for during the day I have little time for that work. However, the spell of the evening got hold of my mind and I became inaccurate and wandering; so I relegated my papers to their respective cigar boxes and came to this machine to try my wits and fingers in a letter to you.
And now I feel as though I should like to discuss the war with you and tell you really how little I know about the big things of the world just at present. But if I should start, it would all be past an antique by the time it reached you; and then, too, I should likely say some things that would be out of the censorship restrictions; and so taking it all in all I should consider it the best policy to dismiss the subject.
Written by Private Henry A. Ladd