A grateful country has presented me with one pair of excellent marching-boots. But a hospital ward is no place in which to go clumping about in footgear designed to stand hard wear and tear on the high-roads; and my army boots, after two years, have not yet needed re-soling. I wore them, it is true, during my period of service with the Chain Gang, as a squad of outdoor orderlies, engaged in road-making, was locally called. And I wear them when we have a “C.O.’s Parade”—an occasion on which naught but officially-provided attire is allowable. It would take a century of C.O.’s parades, however, to damage boots put on five minutes before the event and taken off five minutes after: the parade itself necessitating no sturdier pedestrianism than is involved in walking less than a hundred yards to the ground and there standing stock-still at attention.
I do not say that hospital orderlies never go for a march: only that marching bulks relatively so small in our programme that any special equipment for the purpose sounds a little ironical. The issue of ward-shoes, now, was a real boon. Not that all the pairs with which our unit was suddenly flooded by the authorities proved as silent as they were intended to be. Some of them squeaked; and the peregrinations of the orderly thus afflicted were perhaps more vexatious to the ear of a nervous patient at night than even the clatter of honest hobnails. And the soles were thin. A pair of ward-shoes lasted me on the average one month. If only worn within the ward they might have lasted longer—though not so very much longer. According to regulations, you were not allowed to wear ward-shoes except within the confines of the ward. No doubt it was expected that every time you were sent on an errand outside the ward you would solemnly take off your ward-shoes and put on your marching-boots—then, on the return, take off your marching-boots and put on your ward-shoes—but life as a nursing orderly is too short for such elaborations of etiquette. It was nothing unusual, when one was working in a ward which lay at a distance of quarter of a mile from the hospital’s main building, to be sent to the said main building a dozen times in a single morning. This incessant message-bearing had to be done, if not at the double, at any rate at nothing slower than five miles per hour in the morning (the busy time); in the afternoon a speed of four miles per hour might sometimes be permissible. At all events, running-shoes, as I told the shopman, would not have been inappropriate during certain periods of crisis.
From time to time our tasks were interrupted by the notes of a bugle—or the shrilling of the Sergeant-Major’s whistle—demanding our presence for an intake of new patients. A party of orderlies was wanted to go to the railway-station to help to remove stretcher-cases from the ambulance train. The station lies at a distance of a mile from the hospital, and this small pilgrimage, achieved a few score times, is practically all I know of the veritable employment of marching-boots.