We were a never-failing source of wonderment to the French inhabitants of the town. Our manly Yeomanry uniform filled them with awe and admiration. I overheard a chemist saying to one of his clients as we were passing out of his shop, “Truly, until one hears their voices, one would say they were men.”
“There’s a compliment for us,” said I, to Struttie. “I didn’t know we had manly faces until this moment.”
After some time when work was not at such a high pressure, two of us went out riding in turns on the sands with one of the Commandants. Belgian military saddles took some getting used to with the peak in front and the still higher one behind, not to mention the excessive slipperiness of the surface. His favourite pastime on the return ride was to play follow my leader up and down the sand dunes, and it was his great delight to go streaking up the very highest, with the sand crumbling and slipping behind him, and we perforce had to follow and lie almost flat on the horse’s backs as we descended the “precipice” the other side. We felt English honour was at stake and with our hearts in our mouths (at least mine was!) followed at all costs.
If we were off duty in the evening we hurried back to the “shop window” buying eggs en route and anything else we fancied for supper; then we undressed hastily and thoroughly enjoyed our picnic meal instead of having it in the hospital kitchen, with the sanded floor and the medley of Belgian cooks in the background and the banging of saucepans as an accompaniment. Two of the girls kept their billet off the Grand Place as a permanency. It was in a funny old-fashioned house in a dark street known universally as “the dug-out”—Madame was fat and capable, with a large heart. The French people at first were rather at a loss to place the English “Mees” socially and one day two of us looked in to ask Madame’s advice on how to cook something. She turned to us in astonishment. “How now, you know not how to cook a thing simple as that? Who then makes the ‘cuisine’ for you at home? Surely not Madame your mother when there are young girls such as you in the house?” We gazed at her dumbly while she sniffed in disgust. “Such a thing is unheard of in my country,” she continued wrathfully. “I wonder you have not shame at your age to confess such ignorance”—“What would she say,” said my friend to me when she had gone, “if I told her we have two cooks at home?”
This house of Madame’s was built in such a way that some of the bedrooms jutted out over the shops in the narrow little streets. Thompson and Struttie who had a room there were over a Cafe Chantant known as the “Bijou”—a high class place of entertainment! Sunday night was a gala performance and I was often asked to a “scrambled-egg” supper during which, with forks suspended in mid air, we listened breathlessly to the sounds of revelry beneath. Some of the performers had extremely good voices and we could almost, but not quite, hear the words (perhaps it was just as well). What ripping tunes they had! I can remember one especially when, during the chorus, all the audience beat time with their feet and joined in. We were evolving wild schemes of disguising ourselves as poilus and going in a body to witness the show, but unfortunately it was one of those things that is “not done” in the best circles!