Le Dixième Sanitaire - Eric Mason


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Le Dixième Sanitaire


T'was November Eighth when we manned our train,
Our comrades to succour & ease from pain.
They had left their homes in the dear homeland,
To unite with France 'gainst an alien band.
Bravely they fought like the true knights of yore,
Dyeing the fields with their bright ruddy gore.
Some gave their ALL for the weal of our cause,
Some rallied a little and made DEATH pause.
Their duty done; t'was ours to lend a hand,
To ease the throbbing pain of swelling gland,
A limb to set or cruel thirst to appease,
And attentions often to give them ease.
Their gratitude they showed with painful smile
"Fine – thanks – Ord'ly" suppressing groans the while
And thus they repaid our every care,
Manfully striving their anguish to bear.
Our mem'ries are mixt of pleasure and pain,
Of days of hard tasks in sunshine and rain.
Moments of freedom to wander at will,
Through ripening cornfields over the hill,
Then comes a vision of frolic and fun
Cricket & Football in spite of the sun
Times of excitement when shelled at Bé — ne
Bombs near to Ber — just about noon.
Droning of aeroplanes crossing the sky,
Firing on Fokker or alien spy
Attempts to speak French with accent correct
Bartering for eggs or salad select.
Such is our record on board number ten.
Filled with the spirit of true Englishmen
Working undaunted we still carry on
Hoping at length that our task will be done
Then to the homeland we'll gladly repair
More of life's lesson to learn over there.
E. C. N.
(Eric Mason).



[ My great-uncle wrote this poem during World War I. He was a medical orderly with the British Army. I assume that he was with No. 10 Ambulance Train, which he here calls "Le Dixième Sanitaire". The No. 10 Ambulance Train was presumably first put into action in November 1914 (Ambulance Trains - Scarlet Finders (opens new window)). Eric mentions "November Eighth" in the poem, so it is likely that he joined the train at that time.

Two town or village names are disguised, presumably to satisfy the censor. The first, "Bé — ne", is presumably Béthune. The second, "Ber —", might be Berles, short for Berles-au-Bois. Both are in the Pas-de-Calais region of France.

On 28 January 1915:

"1 CCS [Casualty Clearing Station] at Bethune had been shelled and everyone hurriedly had to retreat to Chocques. All patients were conveyed away in 10 Ambulance Train under fire." War Diary 1915 - Scarlet Finders (opens new window)

If this is the shelling referred to in Eric's poem, perhaps the poem was written in 1915. I have not yet been able to find a reference to bombing near Berles.

The poem is written on fine heavy paper with no visible watermark. There is a water stain blurring the title and the first two lines. I have not adjusted the inconsistent punctuation. The original disguised signature is E. C. N. The parenthesized signature Eric Mason, which may have been added later, is in the same hand and ink. The explanatory underlining of the letters E, c, and n appears slightly different and may have been done later still. ]




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