Reasearch by Frances Laver
REVIEW OF WAR IN FRANCE AND SERBIA
By Margaret Johnston (gr. Aunt of Frances Fox Laver)
In France I was with what was known as the Evacuation Hospital. Men soldiers had come through first aid station and field hospital to evacuation hospital located at the nearest railroads. You can imagine what it meant when these cold, tired, hungry, wet, wounded men who came in, found themselves in bed, clothed in the nicest warm pajamas and bed socks, wounds dressed from that marvelous box of dressings folded by loving hands at home. Then when these men who had lost all, found a little soft, comfy bag by his bedside containing many necessities—soap, toothpaste and brushes, washcloths and sometimes even a razor, great was their joy. Then, when ready to by up, they were given a wool sweater and wool socks supplemented through quartermasters. That great army at home contributed so much.
After the war was ended, the Red Cross was ready to send us all home when suddenly from somewhere, rumour was afloat that the Red Cross was about to distribute what remained of their supplies to States. So a Commission was founded and organized to go to North and South Serbia (Monti the Balkan). Our group was assigned to South Serbia.
You see, the Balkans had not recovered from the war of 1912 when the Turk lost his power after holding power for 500 years. Two other girls and I (I’d met these girls on the boat) decided to offer a service for what proved to be a real adventure.
We left France just ahead of the Wilson Presidential party en route to Rome. Being Red Cross, we travelled as civilians, got passports and visas from some seven countries. We awakened in Turin on the border between France and Italy, one New Year’s Eve, to be told we had to wait over for a day for other train accommodations and we learned the Presidential party got ours. However we arrived in Rome in time to see the parade of President Wilson and it was most spectacular. I remember most distinctly the use of gold carriages the Senators rode in. There was a great tenseness in Italy just then but while everyone was alert, nothing occurred.
Our itinerary to Serbia led us from Rome to Torrento over a perfectly glorious mountain road on the East Coast of Italy, across the sea to Itea on the Gulf of Corinth. We expected to cross over Greece to east Coast but several weeks before, the railroad bridge had been destroyed so we were sent to Athens to sail for Pireau to Salonika, Greece. Talk about cosmopolitan—it was a very cosmopolitan group of soldiers from all over the world. Minerettes everywhere, the Turkish flag much in evidence, old Mt. Olympus, a good American Red Cross house and then out trip on the train from Salonika to Uskub lasted all night and four hours. Left at noon and arrived next morning, leaky, creaky train with no lights, no heat, dirty compartments containing four girls and two men.
Bulgarians had invaded Serbia and signed a separate peace treaty about September 11, before the other warring partners did. Part of this agreement was that all refugees were to be allowed to return at once. What a sight! Old men and women and then children who had been driven out of their homes and their homes destroyed, came trailing back on foot, on donkeys, not warmly clothed, shoed such as they were. Lost, sick and cold no home to go to. We were told to give material relief only, which we did. Our wagons contained clothing, shoes, food, flour, bacon, lard, canned beans, sugar, canned milk, & blankets. This we proceeded to distribute. Talk about mobs! We often had to close up and wait for the next day.
There was so much sickness, a doctor there asked for hospital equipment and as a British hospital was in this town, and we were sent on inland to Gostivar. Everything that came by train had to be met by armed gendarmes. I can’t tell you all about our experiences but I would like to tell you just a few things.
These refugees developed typhus. An old Turkish bath house was commandeered and the doctor, nurses and attendants wore rubber boots, long white gowns and heads covered, as disease was contracted by bits of body vermin. When this emergency was over, we proceeded to open up a hospital. Many of our patients were children wounded by old bombs exploding when uprooted, as children will do in play, and ground had not been made safe.
We operated on everything from an intestinal obstruction to a mastoid and had marvelous results. Our outdoor clinics were just a wonder. People came from as far as three days journey. Quinine was the drug we dispensed most freely. All have malaria except the rich who dispensed most freely. All have malaria except the rich who can afford quinine. We had this in huge cans.
It was not all work. The people were very grateful and in the spring we had many interesting muleback rides through beautiful, most beautiful, mountainous country. We were like the people in the Orient. We had servants galore. One persuaded our chief to take us to old hometown of Durf for a demonstration and distribution of our supplies. We went, always accompanied by the Prefect’s own gendarmes and others. On this trip we waited for showers to pass in a bandit’s cave. As we drew near to our destination we suddenly were alarmed by a report of many guns. We soon realized the people from the other town were out to meet us. Children sang and gave us garlands of weird olives and flowers. When it was time to eat, we were amazed to behold the table set with even our own dishes transported by our own faithful Misha.
We visited several patients and did what we could for them.
Another interesting evening, we happened into a Serbian church while a wedding was solemnized. The bride’s dresses are very much like that rug, in fact, that is like the cloth they use for men’s trousers, always white, and women’s skirts with most elaborate embroidery. They all wear an apron like piece in front that signifies the town they are from. The bride and groom join hands, the hands are covered with a towel and the friends lay their wedding gifts in their arms. The bride wears enough chains and bangles to hinder her with their weight. They never miss an opportunity to give tribute to the Red Cross work even from the evacuation hospitals of France.
Armistice—all to go home.
Understand their wars when you realize that these countries are no larger than some of our smaller states. Each one has a different language, different religion, and different traditions. It is any wonder they have trouble.