Do not pity the wounded soldier because he is quartered in a “hut.” The word sounds unattractive. But if it is the right kind of hut, he is in the soundest and most sanitary type of temporary hospital that the mind of man has yet devised. The rain-drops may rattle a shade noisily on the roof, the asbestos lining may be devoid of ornamentation, but as he lies in bed and contemplates that unadorned ceiling he is a deal better off than if he were gazing at the elaborate (and dust-harbouring) cornices of the So-and-So Club’s grandiose smoking-lounge in Pall Mall.
FROM THE “D” BLOCK WARDS
If you walk up the corridor at half-past four on certain afternoons of the week you will meet a mob of patients trooping from their wards to the concert-room. Being built of wood and corrugated iron, the corridor is an echoing cave of noises. It echoes the tramp of feet—and army-pattern boots were not soled for silence. It echoes the thud-thud of crutches. It echoes the slurred rumble of wheeled chairs and stretcher-trollies. But, above all, at half-past four on concert days it echoes happy talk and chaff and boisterous laughter.
As often as not, the loudest talk, the cheeriest chaff, the most spontaneous laughter, emanate from the blue-clad stalwarts who have mustered from the “D” Block wards.
“D” Block contains the wards for eye-wound cases.
Here they come, a string of them, mostly with bandages round their heads. The leading man owns one good eye—a twinkling eye—an eye of mischief—an eye (you would guess at once) for the girls. (But the eye’s owner probably calls them the “pushers.” Such is our language now.) Behind him, in single file, and in step with him, march a gang of patients each with his hand on the shoulder of the man in front. Tramp, tramp! Their tread is purposely thunderous on the bare boards of the corridor. They sing as they advance. It is a ragtime chorus whose most memorable line runs, “You never seem to kiss me in the same place twice.” A jaunty lilt, to be sure, both in tune and in rhythm. Tramp, tramp! The one-eyed leader swerves round a corner, roaring the refrain. His followers swerve too. Suddenly the Matron is encountered, emerging from her room. “Fine afternoon, Matron!” The leader interrupts his chant to utter this hearty greeting. And, with one voice, “Fine afternoon, Matron!” exclaim his followers. But they do not turn their heads. Each with his hand resting on the shoulder of the man in front they go steadily on, towards the concert-room, with an odd intentness, glancing neither to one side nor the other. For though, at their leader’s cue, they have hailed the Matron, they have not seen her. They are blind.
The spectacle of men—particularly young men—who have given their sight for their country is, to most observers, a moving one. Melancholy are the reflections of the visitor who meets, for the first time, a promenading party of our blind patients. It is the plain truth, nevertheless, that the blind men themselves are far from melancholy. One of the rowdiest characters we ever had in the hospital was totally blind. The blind men’s wards are notoriously amongst the least sedate. I offer no explanation. I simply state the fact. I will fortify it by an anecdote.