The Fontinettes ambulance train was a special one that was usually reported to arrive at 8 p.m., but never put in an appearance till 10, or, on some occasions, one o’clock. The battle of the Somme was now in progress; and, besides barges and day trains, three of these arrived each week. The whole Convoy turned out for this; and one by one the twenty-five odd cars would set off, keeping an equal distance apart, forming an imposing looking column down from the camp, across the bridge and through the town to the railway siding. The odd makes had been weeded out and the whole lot were now Napiers. The French inhabitants would turn out en masse to see us pass, and were rather proud of us on the whole, I think. Arrived at the big railway siding, we all formed up into a straight line to await the train. After many false alarms, and answering groans from the waiting F.A.N.Y.s, it would come slowly creaking along and draw up. The ambulances were then reversed right up to the doors, and the stretcher bearers soon filled them up with four lying cases. At the exit stood Boss and the E.M.O., directing each ambulance which hospital the cases were to go to. Those journeys back were perfect nightmares. Try as one would, it was impossible not to bump a certain amount over those appalling roads full of holes and cobbles. It was pathetic when a voice from the interior could be heard asking, “Is it much farther, Sister?” and knowing how far it was, my heart ached for them. After all they had been through, one felt they should be spared every extra bit of pain that was possible. When I in my turn was in an ambulance, I knew just what it felt like. Sometimes the cases were so bad we feared they would not even last the journey, and there we were all alone, and not able to hurry to hospital owing to the other three on board.
The journey which in the ordinary way, when empty, took fifteen minutes, under these circumstances lasted anything from three-quarters of an hour to an hour. “Susan” luckily was an extremely steady ’bus, and in 3rd. gear on a smooth road there was practically no movement at all. I remember once on getting to the Casino I called out, “I hope you weren’t bumped too much in there?” and was very cheered when a voice replied, “It was splendid, Sister, you should have seen us up the line, jolting all over the place.” “Sister,” another one called, “will you drive us when we leave for Blighty?” I said it was a matter of chance, but whoever did so would be just as careful. “No,” said the voice decidedly, “there couldn’t be two like you.” (I think he must have been in an Irish Regiment.)
The relief after the strain of this journey was tremendous; and the joy of dashing back through the evening air made one feel as if weights had been taken off and one were flying. It was rather a temptation to test the speed of one’s ’bus against another on these occasions; and “Susan” seemed positively to take a human interest in the impromptu race, all the more so as it was forbidden. The return journey was by a different route from that taken by the laden ambulances so that there was no danger of a collision.