Engineers began to make frequent trips to camp to choose a suitable site for the huts we were to have to replace our tents.
My jobs on the little lorry were many and varied; getting the weekly beer for the Sergeants’ Mess being one of the least important. I drew rations for several hospitals as well as bringing up the petrol and tyres for the Convoy, rationing the Officers’ Mess, etc.; and regularly at one o’clock just as we were sitting at Mess, Sergeant Brown would appear (though we never saw more of him than his legs) at the aperture that served as our door, and would call out diffidently in his high squeaky voice: “Isolation, when you’re ready, Miss,” and as regularly the whole Mess would go off into fits! This formula when translated meant that he was ready for me to take the rations to the Isolation hospital up the canal. Hastily grabbing some cheese I would crank up the little lorry and depart.
The little lorry did really score when an early evacuation took place, at any hour from 4 a.m. onwards, when the men had to be taken from the hospitals to the ships bound for England. How lovely to lie in bed and hear other people cranking up their cars!
Barges came regularly down the canals with cases too seriously wounded to stand the jolting in ambulance trains. One day we were all having tea, and some friends had dropped in, when a voice was heard calling “Barges, Barges.” Without more ado the whole Mess rose, a form was overturned, and off they scampered as fast as they could to get their cars and go off immediately. The men left sitting there gazed blankly at each other and finally turned to me for an explanation—(being a lorry, I was not required). “Barges,” I said; “they all have to hurry off as quickly as possible to unload the cases.” They thought it rather a humorous way of speeding the parting guest, but I assured them work always came before (or generally during) tea in our Convoy! Major S.P. never forgot that episode, and the next time he came, heralded his arrival by calling out at the top of his voice, “Barges, Barges!” with the result that half the Convoy turned out en masse. He assured his friends it was the one method of getting a royal welcome.
I shall never forget with what fear and trepidation I drove my first lot of wounded. I was on evening duty when the message came up about seven that there were eight bad cases, too bad to stay on the barge till next morning, which were to be removed to hospital immediately. Renny and I set off, each driving a Napier ambulance. We backed into position on the sloping shingly ground near the side of the canal, and waited for the barge to come in.
Presently we espied it slipping silently along under the bridge. The cases were placed on lifts and slung gently up from the inside of the barge, which was beautifully fitted up like a hospital ward.