THE JOURNEY UP TO THE FRONT
Soon my turn came to go up to the trenches. The day had at last arrived! We were not due to go actually into the trenches till after dark in case of drawing fire, but we set off early, as we had some distance to go and stores to deliver at dressing stations. Two of the trained nurses, Sister Lampen and Joynson, were of the party, and two F.A.N.Y.’s; the rest of the good old “Mors” ambulance was filled with sacks of shirts, mufflers, and socks, together with the indispensable first-aid chests and packets of extra dressings in case of need.
Our first visit was made to the Belgian Headquarters in the town for our laisser passers, without which we would not be allowed to pass the sentries at the barriers. We were also given the mots du jour or pass-words for the day, the latter of which came into operation only when we were in the zone of fire. I will describe what happened in detail, as it was a very fair sample of the average day up at the front. The road along which we travelled was, of course, lined with the ubiquitous poplar tree, placed at regular intervals as far as the eye could see. The country was flat to a degree, with cleverly hidden entrenchments at intervals, for this was the famous main road to Calais along which the Kaiser so ardently longed to march.
Barriers occurred frequently placed slantwise across the roads, where sentries stood with fixed bayonets, and through which no one could pass unless the laisser passer was produced. Some of those barriers were quite tricky affairs to drive through in a big ambulance, and reminded me of a gymkhana! It was quite usual in those days to be stopped by a soldier waiting on the road, who, with a gallant bow and salute, asked your permission to “mount behind” and have a lift to so and so. In fact, if you were on foot and wanted to get anywhere quickly it was always safe to rely on a military car or ambulance coming along, and then simply wave frantically and ask for a lift. Very much a case of share and share alike.
We passed many regiments riding along, and very gay they looked with their small cocked caps and tassels that dangled jauntily over one eye (this was before they got into khaki). The regiments were either French or Belgian, for no British were in that sector at this time. Soon we arrived at the picturesque entry into Dunkirk, with its drawbridge and mediaeval towers and grey city wall; here our passes were again examined, and there was a long queue of cars waiting to get through as we drew up. Once “across the Rubicon” we sped through the town and in time came to Furnes with its quaint old market place. Already the place was showing signs of wear and tear. Shell holes in some of the roofs and a good many broken panes, together with the general air of desertion, all combined to make us feel we were near the actual