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A Surgeon in Belgium   By: (1875-1964)

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by H. S. Souttar, F.R.C.S. Assistant Surgeon, West London Hospital Late Surgeon in Chief, Belgian Field Hospital


To write the true story of three months' work in a hospital is a task before which the boldest man might quail. Let my very dear friends of the Belgian Field Hospital breathe again, for I have attempted nothing of the sort. I would sooner throw aside my last claim to self respect, and write my autobiography. It would at least be safer. But there were events which happened around us, there was an atmosphere in which we lived, so different from those of our lives at home that one felt compelled to try to picture them before they merged into the shadowy memories of the past. And this is all that I have attempted. To all who worked with me through those months I owe a deep debt of gratitude. That they would do everything in their power to make the hospital a success went without saying, but it was quite another matter that they should all have conspired to make the time for me one of the happiest upon which I shall ever look back. Where all have been so kind, it is almost invidious to mention names, and yet there are two which must stand by themselves. To the genius and the invincible resource of Madame Sindici the hospital owes an incalculable debt. Her friendship is one of my most delightful memories. The sterling powers of Dr. Beavis brought us safely many a time through deep water, and but for his enterprise the hospital would have come to an abrupt conclusion with Antwerp. There could have been no more delightful colleague, and without his aid much of this book would never have been written.

For the Belgian Field Hospital I can wish nothing better than that its star may continue to shine in the future as it has always done in the past, and that a sensible British public may generously support the most enterprising hospital in the war.

H. S. S.


To Antwerp The Hospital The Day's Work Antwerp Termonde The Chateau Malines Lierre A Pause The Siege Contich The Bombardment Night The Bombardment Day The Night Journey Furnes Poperinghe Furnes Again Work At Furnes Furnes The Town A Journey The Ambulance Corps Pervyse The Trenches Ypres Some Conclusions


I. To Antwerp

When, one Saturday afternoon in September, we stepped on board the boat for Ostend, it was with a thrill of expectation. For weeks we had read and spoken of one thing only the War and now we were to see it for ourselves, we were even in some way to be a part of it. The curtain was rising for us upon the greatest drama in all the lurid history of strife. We should see the armies as they went out to fight, and we should care for the wounded when their work was done. We might hear the roar of the guns and the scream of the shells. To us, that was War.

And, indeed, we have seen more of war in these few weeks than has fallen to the lot of many an old campaigner. We have been through the siege of Antwerp, we have lived and worked always close to the firing line, and I have seen a great cruiser roll over and sink, the victim of a submarine. But these are not the things which will live in our minds. These things are the mere framing of the grim picture. The cruiser has been blotted out by the weary faces of an endless stream of fugitives, and the scream of the shells has been drowned by the cry of a child. For, though the soldiers may fight, it is the people who suffer, and the toll of war is not the life which it takes, but the life which it destroys.

I suppose, and I hope, that there is not a man amongst us who has not in his heart wished to go to the front, and to do what he could. The thought may have been only transitory, and may soon have been blotted out by self interest; and there is many a strong man who has thrust it from him because he knew that his duty lay at home. But to everyone the wish must have come, though only to a few can come the opportunity. We all want to do our share, but it is only human that we should at the same time long to be there in the great business of the hour, to see war as it really is, to feel the thrill of its supreme moments, perhaps in our heart of hearts to make quite certain that we are not cowards... Continue reading book >>

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