We orderlies meet each convoy at the front door of the hospital. The walking-cases are the first to arrive—men who are either not ill enough, or not badly enough wounded, to need to be put on stretchers in ambulances. They come from the station in motor-cars supplied by that indefatigable body, the London Ambulance Column. The walking-case alights from his car, is conducted into the receiving hall, and ten minutes later is in the bathroom. For the ritual of the bath must on no account be omitted—although now not so obviously imperative as in the early period of the war. Few patients reach us who have not first sojourned, either for a day or two or for weeks, in hospitals in France. They are therefore merely travel-stained, as you or I might be travel-stained after coming over from Dublin to Euston. The bath is thus a pleasure more than a necessity. Whereas there was an era, when our guests came straight from only too populous trenches....
“O.C. Baths,” as the bathroom orderly was nicknamed, had to be circumspect in the performance of his job.
The few minutes which the walking-case spends in the receiving hall are occupied (1) in drinking a cup of cocoa, and (2) in “having his particulars taken.”
Poor soul!—he is weary of giving his “particulars.” He has had to give them half-a-dozen times at least, perhaps more, since he left the front. At the field dressing-station they wanted his particulars, at the clearing-station, on the train, at the base hospital, on another train, on the steamer, on the next train, and now in this English hospital. As he sits and comforts himself with cocoa, a “V.A.D.” hovers at his elbow, intent on a printed sheet, the details of which she is rapidly filling-in with a pencil. For this is a card-index war, a colossal business of files and classifications and ledgers and statistics and registrations, an undertaking on a scale beside which Harrod’s and Whiteley’s and Selfridge’s and Wanamaker’s and the Magazin du Louvre, all rolled into one, would be a fleabite of simplicity. Ere the morrow shall have dawned, our patient’s military biography will be recounted, by various clerks, in I don’t know how many different entries. If you are curious, refer to one of our volumes of the Admission and Discharge Book: Field Service Army Book 27a. Open it at any of its closely-written pages and see the host of ruled columns which the orderly in charge of it must inscroll with reference to each of the many thousands of patients who pass through our hospital per annum. The columns ask for his Regiment; Squadron, Battery or Company; Number; Rank; Surname; Christian Name; Age; Length of Service; Completed Months with Field Force; Diseases (wounds and injuries are expressed by a number indicating their nature and whereabouts); Date of Admission; Date of Discharge or Transfer; Number of Days under Treatment; Number of Ward; Religion; and “Observations”—a space usually occupied by the name of the hospital ship upon which our friend crossed the Channel, and the name of the convalescent home to which he went on bidding us adieu.