A WORD ABOUT “SLACKERS IN KHAKI”
When the ambulances containing a new batch of wounded begin to roll up to the entrance of the hospital they are received by a squad of orderlies. To a spectator who happened to pass at that moment it might appear that these orderlies had nothing else to do but lift stretchers out of ambulances and carry them indoors. The squad of orderlies have an air of always being ready on duty waiting to pounce out on any patient who may arrive at any hour of the day or night and promptly transfer him to his bed. I have known of a visitor, witnessing this incident, who commented on it in a manner which showed that he imagined he had seen our unit performing its sole function; he pictured us existing purely and simply for one end—the carrying of stretchers up the front steps into the building. He was kind enough to praise the rapidity with which the job was done—but he held it to be a job which hardly justified the enlistment of so considerable a company of able-bodied males. What, exactly, we did with ourselves during the long hours when ambulances were not arriving, he failed to understand. I suppose he pictured us twiddling our thumbs in some kind of cosy club-room situated in the neighbourhood of the front door, from whence we could be summoned as soon as another convoy hove in sight.
The truth of the matter is quite otherwise. Arrivals of wounded, even when they occur several times a day (I have known six hundred patients enter the hospital in forty-eight hours), are far from being our chief preoccupation. Admittedly they take precedence of other duties. The message, “Convoy coming! Every man wanted in the main hall!” is the signal for each member of the unit who is not engaged in certain exempted sections to drop his work, whatever it is, and proceed smartly to report to the sergeant-in-charge. The telephone has notified us of the hour at which the ambulances may be expected; the hospital’s internal telephone system has passed on the tidings to the various officials concerned; and, five minutes before the patients are due, all the orderlies likely to be required must “down tools,” so to speak, and line-up at the door. They come streaming from every corner of the hospital and of its grounds.