DIARY OF RESERVE NURSE LAURA HUCKLEBERRY, MAY 17-JUNE 13, 1917

 

DIARY OF RESERVE NURSE LAURA HUCKLEBERRY, MAY 17-JUNE 13, 1917

 

May 17, 1917

Thu, May 17 1917
May 17, 1917 12:15 am On our way at last. A big crowd to see us off--Star Spangled Banner etc. Felt rather like a corpse, but am still able to tell the tale. Frances, Mac and Bess are all in my car, also Miss Cleveland. Edith is ahead with Daisy and Ella & Emma are in the rear car. Our train is a special c only officers (MDs) and a few wives and the nurses. PM 5-17-17 Up in time to stand on the bridge as we ferried across the Detroit River. Our meals are served table-des-hote and we pay 75 cents and are refunded it in NY. The meals are only fair. At 1 o’clock we passed thru St. Thomas Ontario. A big crowd was down to the station to greet us. They brot us tiny Canadian & English flags, bananas, oranges, ice cream cones. So many asked us to look out for their sons and brothers. They have a population of 19000 and have sent 2000 men to the front.

May 19, 1917

Sat, May 19 1917
May 19 Forgot to write yesterday. We were breakfasted at the terminal on Hoboken Docks yesterday by the Red Cross and it surely was a failure as a breakfast. Then we went to the Red Cross quarters in the Waldorf. There were fitted out c hats soft, velour and other navy blue serge dresses, red cross capes, brassards & caps. I like the brassards caps & capes very much. The latter are navy blue & lined c bright red flannel & a red cross on the front--nifty. We had lunch at the Waldorf & finally escaped & took a bus ride up town. Saw Central Park, Riverside Drive, etc. Was able to recognize a few points from pictures, etc. We went to dinner on the St. Louis. That is another boat that is taking Unit 10 from Philadelphia. Then we were assigned our rooms on the Mongolia. I am with Miss Hostman and Miss Hoffman--neither is very interesting, but I can stand them a while at any rate. Frances is in the next state room and Bess in the next. Emma and Mac are the only two of our bunch together. This morning we were not allowed to go off the boat at all except over to breakfast on the St. Louis. The meal was fair but the service was rotten as most of the waiters were suffering from channell fever. This boat is an old one and has been used as a freight but is fixed up now as a transport. They’re afraid to risk the good boats. This is the boat that sunk a submarine not long ago. I understand that we are to be convoyed across but of course do not know. We don’t even know where we’ll land but our destination is supposed to be France. Later We left the docks at 3 o’clock were towed down the channel & stopped just inside the harbor. The gunners were practicing loading their guns & overheard them say that it was $600 to the man that got a submarine. Also that the Germans were offering 1500 to the man that got us. The boys who had signed in as privates were all shooed off the upper decks & we all so hated to see them go. They are such nice boys & so willing to do anything. While we were at dinner the boat started again and at 8:30 passed the Ambrose Channel Light out into open sea. All the port holes are closed and no lights are allowed anyplace, even in the saloon nor corridors later. We walked in the wind & listened to the boys playing their ukuleles & singing. They are much gayer down below than we are above. The two meals we have had on board have been very good.

May 20, 1917

Sun, May 20 1917
5-20-17 Awakened to find the air so nice & fresh and cool. Went up on deck before breakfast. Was the first lady to breakfast. Pawly and I walked out on foreward deck & talked to the officer who was left behind yesterday & came after us in a tug. He told us several interesting things. Among them is that the gun on the stern is the Teddy Roosevelt and it was the first American gun fired in this war. The guns on the bow are called Martha and George Washington. It is very quiet today--only a few white caps. We’ll be sure to have rough weather before we reach England--so everyone says anyway. 6:30 pm At 2 pm we had target practice. We watched them throw off the target & then the boat turned around. We watched them load and fire & then Emma said “Somebody’s shot!” I turned and saw 2 girls on the deck & blood all around. One was Helen Wood from Evanston. The other was Edith Ayres. Emma had a flesh wound in the hip & one in the arm. Edith was shot in the temple and Miss Wood in the heart. Something was wrong with the gun. We might all have been killed but evidently our time has not yet come. I can’t bear to think of Edith’s people. They have turned the boat & we are headed back for New York.

May 22, 1917

Tue, May 22 1917
5-22-17 Yesterday morning we anchored and a tug met us & took Emma, Dr. Besley and Pawly & Miss Powers ashore. Emma smiled and waved to us. Her wounds will not be serious unless something unexpected developes. Later we were towed up channel & anchored in the middle of the Hudson & no one is allowed shore leave--I suppose to guard against desertions. But I don’t believe there is a nurse or doctor or rookie who would turn back if they could. However, there was some trouble in securing a crew and I suppose the company doesn’t want to risk getting another. The bodies were put in caskets, draped in flags & put on deck for a short service by the chaplin & then lowered over the side to a government tug & taken ashore. Bess and Miss Poole of Evanston were to go along but at the last no one was allowed to accompany them. Polly got back about 5 o’clock. They were brot in the Admiral’s launch. They left Emma in the Naval hospital. The X Ray showed nothing but of course the wound is necrotic. She has been so brave about it all. Everyone speaks of her grit. And we are all so glad that the wounds are no more serious. Today is gray & chilly but we’ve been out on deck most of the time anyway. We’ve walked & talked & watched a bunch play shuffleboard. Then we all wrote letters to Emma. Poor girl, I know she hates to be left behind.

May 23, 1917

Wed, May 23 1917
5-23-17 Last night we had a party--singing, reading and dancing & flirting. Some were very gay. I drew a mushy one but then it couldn’t be helped. We started at 5 this morning but had to anchor just outside the harbor till the fog cleared. They have heard that a German raider is about & also that a submarine was sighted off the Maine coast. So the guns are trained upon every vessel they see. The raider is supposed to be a boat disguised as a tramp and to look much like the Mongolia. This PM at 4:30 we all put on our life belts & were assigned to the boats. Six women were in ours #3 Miss Cohen, Miss Hoffman, Miss Alexander, Bess, Frances & I. Mac and Pawly are together in 11. We are glad we aren’t all separated any way. There are about 3 men to every woman, besides the crew in the boats. It was quite interesting. Tonight after dinner Pawly and I went up and walked the decks again. One of the sailor lads came & walked & talked & talked. He does enjoy telling us a lot of things but of course we don’t know how true they are. Sailor yarns I suppose. I certainly never thought that I’d be on a tramp steamer running a blockade. It sounds like some story rather than stupid every day life that I’ve usually had. But I certainly cannot complain that the last year has been stupid. It has been full of a little of many things and much of a few ????? But naturally I’ll take what comes and be glad it’s no worse.

May 24, 1917

Thu, May 24 1917
5-24-17 Today has been very quiet. I’ve walked & read a book & watched the water and listened to the waves swishing against the ship’s side. This afternoon the boys boxed & we watched them & then they all came up on the deck & had potato races.

May 25, 1917

Fri, May 25 1917
5-25-17 Today has been beautifully clear and quiet. Nothing happened except a card party this P.M. This evening I watched the sunset and then the moonlight on the water. It is like a beautiful dream.

May 26, 1917

Sat, May 26 1917
5-26-17 Today the sun shone on the white caps but the horizon was misty. I sat and read and dreamed as usual. The sailor lads told me we passed an ice berg last night and also that they found a small fire down in the lower regions of the ship and the fog was so thick they could not see their way about on deck. This evening we are again in fog and the waves are running the highest I’ve seen them. The spray reaches to the top deck and the ship rolls quite a lot. The sailors prefer the fog as it is much safer as far as submarines are concerned and they don’t have to watch so closely.

May 27, 1917

Sun, May 27 1917
5-27-17 Sunday I’m certainly getting lazy. We’ve nothing to do but sleep, eat & walk. Some of the girls have quite a time flirting, but I had a set back and have reformed. Went out in the bow this morning and talked to the sailors. They are on watch all the time even tho we are not yet in the danger zone. We do not enter that till about Wednesday. We had very nice church services at 10:30 A.M. Some of the privates sing well and one plays the violin very well indeed. It is misty in the distance and the sun shines only occasionally. We are certainly having a fine voyage.

May 28, 1917

Mon, May 28 1917
5-28-17 A nice lazy day--foggy but not so that the sun can not get thru. The only event I can remember is washing handkerchiefs & sewing buttons on my coat. Last night Elizabeth Cleveland & I went on the top deck to watch the moonlight on the water. The sailor lad Choice came up to talk to us. He is a funny boy and so perfectly good natured.

May 29, 1917

Tue, May 29 1917
5-29-17 Another long, lazy, lazy day. We are to have our pictures taken the PM. We are to wear our Brassards with our uniforms. We passed two ships this morning but they looked like only a column of smoke on the horizon.

May 30, 1917

Wed, May 30 1917
5-30-17 It began to rain at 11 o’clock so we all had to come down to the lounge or to the hurricane deck. I staid out almost all day and watched the waves and the rain. At noon we passed a British freighter. It was the first ship we had really seen since the day we left New York. We enter the danger zone some time tonight. I do hope it is warmer and not so rough if we have to take to the life boats. Miss Cleveland and I were nearly drowned by the spray from one big wave.

May 31, 1917

Thu, May 31 1917
5-31-17 We’ve been one whole 24 hours in the war zone and so far have sighted nothing more than a tramp steamer, away off on the horizon. The waves have been quite high and as we zig zag every 10 minutes we roll about quite a lot. The water is beautifully blue and tonight the moon is glorious even tho dangerous to us. Elizabeth Cleveland & I went up on deck wrapped up in blankets and just looked and looked. Frances, Mac, Pawly & Bess are out parading with the boys on lower deck. Last night the sailors put up cots out on deck beside their guns. And some special precautions were taken to prevent lights showing when the doors are opened. I’m getting into the card habit again but it is a social thing to do and goodness knows I haven’t many social accomplishments. Last night, Ellen Thomsen, E. Cleveland, Bess & I played 3 games of 500. Bess and I were beaten but it was very close. Later- Have been out on deck watching the waves. We’ve been in war zone since 9 P.M. but there is practically no danger as the waves are too high.

June 1, 1917

Fri, Jun 1 1917

6-1-17 It was midday on the 1st of June On the deep blue ocean That the five blasts then the three Set us all in motion. Tis Ship Line No. 9 cried Howe In his quiet manner I’ll get my life belt Just in time to see her when they land her Port side watch sub ahoy Cried the Lookout Forward Man your guns Damn those Huns Starboard Lifeboat lower A belted fair one wrapped in cork Remarks “We’ve got a whale! But since it must be that He die I hope it is a male!” Then in his wrath the Captain bold Proclaimed aloud “Oh, Pish! I’ll sail no more the war zone sea If that blamed thing is a fish!” However it may seem to you We all agree to this That whether whale or submarine It was, alas, a miss. Now, doctors all, you will admit That in the point of thrills Bagging a school of submarines Is better than peddling pills. --Dr. Marbury About 12:20 pm, I was standing under the bridge watching the rain & clouds when I heard the man on the bridge shout “Port side abeam” and the sailors went tumbling to their guns around. I was so anxious to see that Submarine but just couldn’t see it & then the danger whistle blew and one of the officers grabbed me by the arm & said “Life belts” and we ran down the steps & I didn’t see anything. We all got our belts & came back into the lounge and waited. Not many were frightened but some were excited. The guns went off and we all waited until the mate came in and said “It’s gone and there’s our convoy.” But after the British gun boat had come up, she--the sub--came up again and was fired at. Her torpedoe went astern about 50 yards probably because of the zig zag course we were taking and also because of the rain. But it was a close call. We fired 5 shots but don’t know if any were effective. The British convoy staid with us then racing back and forth across the bow like a puppy.

June 2, 1917

Sat, Jun 2 1917

6-2 -17 My but everyone was excited and kept watching all afternoon & evening and no one went to bed till terribly late and many not at all. Miss C. and I sat on top deck after the Dr’s entertainment & watched the moonlight & talked. We got to bed about 1 and then had the watch call us at 3:30 to see the sun rise. It was very beautiful. And we could see the British boats coming out--counted eight against the horizon. We reached the harbor at Falmouth at 6:30. The hills are beautiful. Just like patchwork quilts--the green fields with hedges and then the shrubbery and the little houses nestling down among the trees. Pembroke castle was very plain from the mouth of the harbor. It is high on the hill above the village. Afterwards we were towed around a headland and anchored outside Falmouth. We’re now waiting to be inspected and taken ashore. We hear that two boats were torpedoed or mined last night--one in front and one behind us. Evidently we have work to do or we wouldn’t have escaped. Evening, 10 o’clock. At noon we watched the boys go on the launch & take their departure for Black Pool. Then at 2:30 the officers and nurses went ashore. We are put up at 3 different hotels. Ours is the smallest and is a delightful place. It is so clean and white & wholesome. About 5 we walked up to Castle Pendennis & looked it over. It was built in 1542 and was quite interesting even tho it has some modern additions. Soldiers are quartered there now and it really is a fort. The privilege of seeing it was an honor. It has not been open to visitors since the war began. The walk up was beautiful and so sweet from the Hawthorne. Many wild flowers are everywhere but they aren’t much like ours. After dinner we drove through the better part of town & out into the country. The hedges and the walls and the narrow lanes and the wild flowers & ivy and everything is certainly a treat. It is like a dream rather than reality. The houses are very picturesque and exclusive--mostly walled in--but their cottages or flats or whatever they call them are hideous. But we’re all just wild about the place.

June 4, 1917

Mon, Jun 4 1917
6-4-17 We came up to London by train yesterday. We left at 11:30 and were about 8 1/2 hours coming the 140 miles. The English country is beautiful but before we reached London I began to wish I could see something besides hedges and tiny fields and stone houses. We saw Windsor Castle at a distance. It was quite imposing. We were sent up to the Hotel York in big busses. We have heard that there was more than one submarine after us and what we had taken for whales were really torpedoes. We evidently were just fortunate, as everything ahead and behind us was torpedoed & sunk. This morning Elizabeth & I came over to the other part of the hotel for a shampoo. We first made the mistake of going to the “hair dresser” and found it to be a barber shop. We aren’t at all delighted with London so far but I think it’s because we are tired. I was all in but my shoestrings last night. We hear that the King and Queen have been receiving the various American units very informally and we hope that we also will see them. Everyone has been delightfully friendly and we think English people are not all snobbish. Their accent is so funny but they seem to have more difficulty in understanding us than we them.

June 5, 1917

Tue, Jun 5 1917
6-5-17 Yesterday PM we saw Madam Bassard’s Wax figures and the Tower. I was very enthusiastic about the Tower. It was so full of historic interest. But I do think London is an ugly place. We went to the American Embassy to sign up for passports and to have our pictures taken this morning. This afternoon we will go to the House of Parliament. We have just learned that the Mongolia was reported sunk a week ago or more so our people have probably been notified. It is a mystery how such a thing was started.

June 6, 1917

Wed, Jun 6 1917
6-6-17 We did not get into the House of Parliament as no one is admitted while they are in session except men, so we went across the way to West Minster Abbey & I surely did enjoy that. In the evening we went to Queen’s Theater to the Third Floor Back--admitted free on our uniforms. Didn’t care especially for it. This morning we saw the armed guard change at Whitehall — Knights of Pythias Parade -– had pay day at 12 and this afternoon went to St. Paul’s and to Kensington Gardens.

June 9, 1917

Sat, Jun 9 1917
6-9-17 For three days I’ve had no time to write so I haven’t. Day before yesterday we took our London guides in hand and went exploring. We saw lots of little things, such as the statue of Queen Elizabeth that used to be over the old Ludgate, the Old Curiosity Shop (not authentic), a house where David Garrick had lived, the Savoy Chapel (very interesting) and the law courts, The Temple with its interesting banqueting hall and funny old round church with the crusaders tombs. Then we found the old inn where Benjamin Johnson used to go, “The Cheshire Cheese.” It is on one of those queer little courts off the Strand. Then we went across London Bridge and saw the old inn where Charles Dickens used to stop. It is “Ye George’s Inn.” We visited the site of the old Tabard Inn and the old Southwark Church. Then we came home by the Tube which I loathe and had dinner and went to see Aida at Drury Lane. Yesterday, nine of us went out to Ipswich to Stoke Park, Lady Henneker Heaton’s country home, or rather, one of her homes. It was delightful. Lady Heaton was very pleasant and not at all snobbish. Seemed just a real person. In the evening we went to His Majesty’s Theater to “Chu Chin Chow.” It was very beautifully staged. Today we went shopping and to the House of Parliament and also to West Minster Abbey. Did I say before that the most precious things, such as the tombs of Queen Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scots, and Edward the Confessor and Henry VII are protected from bombs by bags of sand. And the real coronation chair has been removed. Tonight we are all tired and a trifle homesick. We are so sick of English cooking.

June 10, 1917

Sun, Jun 10 1917
6-10-17 This morning we took a ride out to Richmond and back. This P.M. we went out to Sir Thos. Lipton’s in four busses. We surely had a good time. Red, white & blue bouquets, American flags, lemonade, ice cream, speeches, music, readings, moving pictures & a box of candy each for the girls & cigarettes for the men. He certainly knows how to entertain. Tomorrow we start to France.

June 11, 1917

Mon, Jun 11 1917
June 11, 1917 11 P.M. We took the train at 3:15 pm and arrived at Folkstone at 5:15 went right onto the boat and crossed the Channel. We all had to wear life belts and we with a troop ship and a hospital ship were convoyed by a torpedoe boat and air ship, a “blimp.” We were put into big automobile busses and brot out to our happy home. We got here at 9 or 9:30 and were half starved. The nurses fed us bully beef, bread, butter and coffee and then showed us our “huts.” They are very nice but of course very bare. We have board beds with straw on top.

June 13, 1917

Wed, Jun 13 1917
6-13-17 Yesterday we were assigned our wards. I drew one that usually has minor cases. Miss Behler is my assistant. Our ward is practically empty tonight. I understand that we are to get no convoys till the hospital is almost empty. Then the English will depart and leave us in peace. War is a dreadful thing. I only hope that it will not last long. I can’t bear to think of our boys being mixed up in such frightfulness. The English nurses are not keen about us and we are equally not so about most of their methods.

Diary Note

 

This was Laura’s final diary entry. We don’t know why she didn’t keep it up afterwards--perhaps just too busy nursing. But it is significant that she saved it for the rest of her life and, here, even into her afterlife. Ninety-odd years later we can wonder whether, upon discovering the terrible carnage of the battlefield, she had not wondered just how she got there.