Letter to his mother from Heneage in Montenegro where he was treating the Balkan War wounded in 1912.
As far as I can see this expedition is one of the most dismal posts in existence. I think I made a fair effort to discover what the prospects were, and everybody said in some way or another you will have a very hard time, but you will get lots to do and will be received with open arms. Both these were completely wrong. As you gathered from my last letter I had a fairly good journey so far as Spoleto, I was rather rough that day and the following night. At Cattaro I had some difficulty with the customs, and the motor bus to Cettinge was all booked up (by doctors) so I had to hire a coach, which took a good 7 1/2 hours. The drive, I should think, is absolutely unparalleled in the world; it is a marvel of wild scenery, and the people and everything were picturesque to a degree. My fancy was fired, and I arrived at about 6 PM in the best of spirits. I first went to see the British Chargé d’Affaires and then drove to the Grand Hotel, changed, and went to see Miss Danbernay. Everything in this delightful town is most wonderfully homely and unsophisticated. The Crown Princess Palace is a villa rather smaller than the Glade and against the gate leaned an aged and ragged sentry and his wife. He had a long conversation with the hotel porter who accompanied me, and then shuffled across to the door and kicked up a tremendous shindy with his hands on the grill; this produced a footman, and in due course I was ushered in to the drawing room, a most ordinary room, where Miss Danbernay was sitting. She is a girl of about 25 or 30. I had a talk with her and she promised to do her best; apparently Joyce had left for the front the day before to try and find something.
Well things are quite at loggerheads here. To begin with there are swarms of Doctors of all sorts here. The day I arrived a consignment of 15 Czechs from Bohemia arrived, men of the most revolting and repulsive features, each offending the sense in some different way; they seem to be here on a sort of picknick; they are of all stages of experience, and with them are two explosive girls; lord knows what they came for. But there is swarms of work to be done, only the people are absolute mules.
The only doctor here is a man Matanovitch, a Montenegrin who has studied at Vienna; he is a very able man, and at the beginning of the war he had to run all the wounded as best he could with only amateur help. Now there is help, his idea seems to be to keep everything in his hands at any price. I gathered from Miss Danbernay that there are loggerheads all round. The English Red Cross who came out at the very beginning of the war, are absolutely fed up, they have been put out of the way and have only had 11 cases. The Swiss red cross people who were on the boat with me, were not assisted in any way; the doctor was here last night and had an awful job to get any clear information as to what to do. He asked me to come along and help, which I would gladly have done, but I asked Matanovitch, and he said he wanted me here. I believe that was all rot. And yet there is an immense amount to be done, only they are trying to prevent people doing it; the wounded are nearly all brought here, and arrive after 5 days jolting. The bed decided the fatal issue in a large proportion of cases, and yet there is plenty of accommodation and plenty of people on the spot, so that the more serious cases might be looked after without being moved far. Then many of the cases are badly dressed or hardly dressed at all, and their wounds are septic when they get there. Matanovitch told Miss Danbernay he would find me a job. Well I went up there to the hospital at mid-day yesterday, and all afternoon I watched the wounded arrive and be dressed, but did nothing. It was in the evening that the Swiss asked me to come along. I expected, from what Matanovitch said that I might get something to do today; but not a bit of it. I have been at the hospital all day just watching dressings being done. They are not nearly so well done as at Guy’s I assure you. It is of course extremely interesting seeing the wounds, a thing I should otherwise never get a chance of, but its not what I came for, moreover there is all my money going at the Grand Hotel. My shoes are on their last legs, I only have one clean shirt and two collars; hardly can you imagine dining and feeding every meal alone in a crowd of jabbering Czechs, Jews, Russians and Germans; in the evening there is no peace but in my bedroom.
Of course this is only the second day. I am not going to mark time; I am hoping to hear from the Swiss, and if he wants me I shall join him, if not I shall go on to Antivari which is nearer the front and see if I can find anything there, or get in touch with Joyce. Of course I see they want out, for they have nothing to do themselves. Miss Danbernay I know has her hands full but I’m afraid there is very little chance of going there now. No one here seems to know really where she is; she is right ahead in the firing line, where they won’t let any foreigners or any red cross people go. If I fail there I might go to Medua and try and join those chaps with the Turks.
The hospital here is a rum place. It is only just built, so is in some ways very modern. The air of it is just the reverse however. The beds are packed very tight in the wards, and the nurses are for the most part peasant women with no knowledge pressed into the service, superintended by some Russian sisters. The personal touch prevails everywhere. The wounded usually arrive in the afternoon early. They are in stretchers placed across cabs, and in an old motor bus. They have generally been about 4 days in transport and have been through several stages, boats or the lake of Scutari, and road from thence onwards. Crowds of peasants assemble outside the hospital to see them arrive, and not only outside. They crowd into the room where the stretchers are laid with exclamations of pity, horror or encouragement, and peer through the window when they are being dressed. This room is also generally full of people, dressers, nurses, and as many soldiers as will fit, every one of them lends a hand at exhorting, sympathizing with, or cursing the patient. Jokes are bandied about, prospects of cases freely discussed. Of course all the women who are nursing are unaccustomed to the sight of injuries at all, and certainly not to the frightful ones that sometimes arrive and are often more a nuisance than a half. One old fellow with a slight wound had captured a sword from a Turkish officer, and was bursting with pride over it. It was passed from hand to hand, admired and commented on, while all the time wounded or dying men were being dressed there too. The room was only about the size of our schoolroom.
The men are all wonderfully brave. The wounds are often very roughly treated without any anaesthetic except curses; those who are at all fit, are frightfully keen to get back and fight.
The town is almost deserted except for women and old men. I shan’t write any more. I hope when I do, I may have better news, if not I suppose I shall be back soon.
There is a peak above the town where I have climbed twice. Miles below you can see the whole lake of Scutari, with the hills of Tarabosh. They say that on a really clear day you can see the shells bursting, and when the air is still you can hear the guns. It has been hazy up till now.
With best love,
Ever your loving son,