The news – that I was indeed going – made a man of me again. It put bones into my legs ; it flushed my veins with red blood. I got up and dressed. I couldn’t have run a race, but a stick and I did quite a creditable hobble around that old hospice that had once belonged to a German sisterhood, and that now decidedly did not. I found old friends ; I made new ones.
It was a most up-to-date establishment, this ex-German hospital. The operating-theatre was sumptuous – marble- lined, glass, silver, everything perfect. One poor Irish wag, who went into it with two legs and came out with one, looked into it a month afterwards and began to warble, ‘I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls’. The whole place did the Germans great credit. It shone with their thoroughness.
On peeping into one of the cubicles I noticed a poor fellow with both legs and both arms swung in supports from the ceiling. He was absolutely helpless, of course. But two charming V.A.D.’s were giving him tea, and making much of him, and he seemed as happy as a well-fed baby. He was an Australian, and he had forty-eight wounds. Not badly played, for a single day’s engagement. However, he was getting on famously, and said he’d be back soon. He was chatting and joking and chuckling while he took his tea, and as I hobbled down the corridor I heard a ringing shout of laughter – his.
Again I was on board in the harbour of Alexandria. It was a glorious day. From four till after six I lay on deck and watched the old city of which I had once dreamed so much. And again I was thinking of it but little now. Nor were my thoughts of home. My thoughts were in the trenches of Gallipoli.
We steamed away at seven.
It was an uneventful voyage, and none the worse for that, we thought. ‘Rest and routine’ describes our life aboard. And my routine consisted chiefly of bed. Almost every one of us grew better rapidly. There is no other panacea half so sure, half so quick, as a sea-voyage is, if it’s a smooth one. Ours hadn’t a ripple.
Two of our battalion officers were on board – Lieutenants Geddes and Sutherland. We clung together rather pathetically. The subaltern who had been shot through the head had the swinging-cot next to mine. I had seen him in our Alexandrian hospital. I fancy his recovery will go down the medical ages as a miracle. The doctors never tired of watching him, in Egypt or at sea. I was particularly glad that he was going back with me, for I had promised his wife that I would bring him safe home to her. Well, I was bringing him back, and not so much the worse for that hole some Turk had made in his head.
We lay off Malta for a day, and I wheedled a few hours’ leave out of the doctor, and drove up to the town. I dismissed my gharri, and took a quiet saunter along the Rue de Valetta. But I, felt rather sad, recalling the merry party we ‘d been here on our way out. Most of my companions then I ‘d never see again.
A figure coming toward me, one arm in a sling, looked familiar. And it was, for it turned out to be the general of my brigade. He had been wounded, so he told me, on the day of my collapse – the 4th of June. He had been at Malta ever since, but now he was going home in our boat.
We sailed again that night.
Prowling about (my inveterate habit always reasserts itself) in the afternoon, I found my old orderly, the chap who, after living a charmed life in the thickest of the danger for weeks, had at last been shot while sitting resting at my dug-out. I was especially glad to find him, for until now I had been unable to learn where he was or how he had fared.
We were gradually drawing towards home. Our last night out ever one in the officers ward was able to be up – not very martial looking, some of us, I fear, but getting well – and going home!
We landed the next day, and Lieutenant Sutherland and I went up to London.
Do you care to know what we thought, what we felt, with the Old Country before our hungry sight, the old sod under our war-sick feet? You must try your hand at guessing, then. I’ve not a word to tell it in. Every blade of English grass looked a jewel. The country – we ate it with our eyes. And the blue above the green was heaven indeed.
It was afternoon when we reached town, and made for a hotel. We had tea in the lounge! Oh, that wonderful tea! I suspect the maid that brought it to us thought we were both mad, and I believe we were – for a time.
The next day we left for Scotland and home.