The Red Rose of Romance and War

The Red Rose of Romance and War

by John a. Yates


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781452524511
Publisher: Balboa Press Australia
Publication date: 09/15/2014
Pages: 390
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.87(d)

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The Red Rose of Romance & War

By John A. Yates

Balboa Press

Copyright © 2014 John A. Yates
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4525-2451-1


As the stretcher bearers were loading Wilf into the horse-drawn ambulance, Lt. Joe Maxwell stopped by, gripped him on the shoulder, and said, "Hurry up and get back onto your feet, mate. We need every bloke available to keep this unit viable. We've already lost too many good soldiers to this dreaded trench foot, plus other wounds and worse."

"I'll do my best, Lieutenant, but you make sure and look after the rest of the lads while I'm gone. I want to see them all here when I return."

As the stretcher bearers gave Wilf's stretcher the last push into the holding rails on the carriage, the sound of a new shell attack caused the usual commotion, and men scattered back to the security of the trenches.

The calm voice of Maxwell could be heard yelling, "Take cover, men."

The ambulance driver was anxious to get the horses moving out of harm's way, although where that happened to be was anybody's guess. As the horses were driven along what appeared to be an old track, it seemed that the Huns (Germans) were observing their movements and redirecting their fire close by. That was not the case at all because shells were falling over a wide area of this once fertile farming land.

Wilf, being flat on his back, could not see the devastation around him. He had been living in this environment for what to him seemed like years; he knew what it looked like.

The inescapable stench of the dead horses and donkeys along both sides of the track penetrated inside the canvas walls of the ambulance, overpowering any smell coming from Wilf's trench-foot infection. Under normal conditions, the pungent smell of trench foot was bad enough, but the smell of the dead animals was worse.

There were three other soldiers with Wilf, all with the same disease of the feet.

Eventually, he knew they were moving further out of range of the enemy artillery fire. They soon arrived at a Regimental Aid Post, where they were transferred into a motorised ambulance; this vehicle held eight soldiers in various stages of pain.

Wilf couldn't tell what was wrong with all of the men, but two of them had lost legs, and another was heavily bandaged around the head; only his nostrils and one eye were showing. A caring nurse had been assigned the difficult job of keeping him alive for the first leg of the journey to Blighty (England).

The ambulance was again underway at last, but the journey was hardly smoother. The roads were much better, enabling the driver to travel faster. However, the vehicle swayed about more noticeably, making the nurse's task even more difficult.

Wilf wondered what prompted a young girl to willingly give up a life of relative safety at home and come to this hellhole called the Somme. The nurses had to put up with such trying conditions in order to offer life-saving care to men from all around the world. He thought about the marvellous job they all did.

The constant swaying kept up for nearly an hour before they arrived at a railway siding. There were a lot of instructions being shouted by marshals to a rabble of ambulance drivers as they arrived.

The drivers were anxious to discharge their precious cargoes into the care of orderlies and nurses. It was their job to load these men onto the waiting railway carriages for further travel to the harbour. There would be a different lot of nurses waiting there to load their new charges onto the waiting vessel for the journey across the English Channel to hospitals scattered around London and beyond.

Wilf found it impossible to sleep during the ambulance journeys, mainly because of the bumpy, swaying ride. Once on the train, it was certainly smoother, but now the extreme pain from his feet was enough to keep him awake. He felt like he was an imposter in such company when he considered his condition, compared to the terrible plight of most other wounded soldiers around him.

Once the wounded and sick men were loaded onto the boat, the mood of the men changed dramatically. To them, it seemed like they were nearly home and out of harm's way. Most did not realise the danger of the many German submarines lurking in the channel, waiting for a chance to sink Allied vessels travelling in either direction.

If soldiers were in any condition to sing a song whilst being shipped across the channel for hospital treatment, the song was always "Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty." The words of this song must have added at least an extra 15 per cent chance to the soldiers' recovery rate, even before they arrived at a hospital.


The military ambulance arrived at the King's College Hospital at two in the morning. Wilf was carried by stretcher into the ward to be greeted by Nurse Davis. Wilf was sound asleep and unaware of his surroundings as the orderly handed Wilf's record card to Nurse Davis, which she immediately read: Wilfred George Yates, number 6414, Lewis Gunner of the Eighteenth Infantry Battalion, Second Division of the Australian Imperial Force. He was twenty-five years old, five feet ten with brown hair and blue eyes. His occupation was described as a Teamster (Bullock driver). He enlisted in Sydney and sailed for England on the Suevic in 1916.

After arriving in England, he did extensive training on the Salisbury plains, served in France and Belgium, and was deployed in the trenches around the town of Ypres in Belgium. He was suffering with trench foot and had been withdrawn from the front line and shipped off to England for recovery.

Nurse Davis helped transfer Wilf into a regular bed and noticed from his appearance that he was a wiry, outdoor worker whose body was extremely fit and strong, even for an Australian Digger. Ann had already cared for a number of Diggers in this hospital but was unaware of where the name Digger came from.

She was a nurse with considerable experience looking after injured and sick soldiers from the Western Front. She was five feet four and of slender build, with high cheekbones and blonde hair that was always pulled back and covered under her nurse's cap whilst on duty.

Nurse Davis proceeded to record Wilf's details in the ward register, at the same time making sure he was comfortable. She leaned over the bed and said, "Wilf, can you hear me?" to which he nodded. "I know it's very late, but would you like something to eat or drink?"

"No, I just want to sleep," he replied weakly. He was worn out from the long journey.

Wilf slept well during the night until woken by the day-shift nurse who came to attend to his feet. She also brought him some nourishment, after which he went back to sleep again. Just after dark, he was awakened by the night-shift nurse, Nurse Davis.

"Wakey wakey," she said. "I need to take care of your feet. I'll be back in a few minutes, so you can think about having something to eat." She went away to get the implements needed.

Wilf stirred, and by the time Nurse Davis came back, he was feeling somewhat aware of his surroundings and said, "Yes, I would like something to eat—and a drink also, please."

"How about I arrange a sandwich and a cup of tea for when I have finished bathing and massaging your feet."

"It sounds good to me, thank you."

She caught the eye of the tea lady on the other side of the ward and made arrangements for a sandwich and tea in about half an hour's time.

Nurse Davis proceeded to put in place a large bowl and a jug of hot water and said, "Are you feeling well enough to sit up?"

"Yes, I think so. I'm feeling pretty good after that great sleep. How long was I asleep?"

"You've had about eighteen hours all told since you arrived."

"Have I really? I must have been tired. That ride in the ambulance was a nightmare, although I did sleep a little on the boat."

"Tell me about yourself. Where do you come from, and what made you come over here to this horrible war?"

"Well, I'm from Australia, as you probably already know. I've always been a bullock driver, and I joined up to see the world."

The conversation continued while the nurse first bathed his feet and then massaged them for some time.

During his time in the hospital, Wilf's stay was made not only more tolerable but also exciting because of the daily contact he had with Nurse Davis. Her hands were so gentle, massaging and bandaging his feet daily. Her gentle touch would even linger and caress his body, bringing soothing balm, or so he imagined.

Wilf was smitten very early during his four-week stay in the hospital by this gorgeous, blonde-haired nurse who asked Wilf to call her Ann. Ann's skin was so soft and fair, unlike most Aussie girls whose skin was browned by the strong Australian sun.

As soon as Wilf was able to sit up and write, he asked Ann to find some paper and pencil so he could write to his mother. Wilf was very close to his mum and wrote:

Dear Mother,

Your most recent letters have not caught up with me yet, as I have been shipped back to England with trench foot and am currently in the King's College Hospital at Denmark Hill, London. I am being very well cared-for by some wonderful nurses.

You will be glad to hear that trench foot is not an injury caused by bullets or shrapnel. Trench foot comes about because a lot of our time is spent in ankle- to knee-deep, putrid water, sometimes twenty-four hours a day, sometimes for weeks on end.

The condition is first noticed as blackened feet with white, spongy, swollen flesh similar to frostbite. It is believed to be caused by germs bred in the filthy water of the trenches. The germs enter under the toenails, causing the feet to become discoloured and giving off a terrible odour of putrid flesh. Amputations are necessary for bad cases. Mine are not that bad.

Each soldier whilst in the trenches is required to rub his feet twice daily with whale oil, on issue. It is a pitiful sight to see men screaming with pain, struggling back along the duckboards in the freezing cold with their feet wrapped in sandbags. Swollen feet do not fit into boots very well.

I know it sounds terrible, but they shipped me out before my feet became too bad. They tell me that I could be over here for five or six weeks; you will be pleased about that, I am sure.

Please give my love to the rest of the family. I will write again soon.

Love you, Mother. Wilf

Ann took every opportunity available to call by his bed. One of her colleagues told Ann that the other nurses on her shift deliberately did nothing for this Aussie patient in bed number 32, to allow Nurse Davis to have the extra time with him. Ann was such a real honey that other nurses and the doctors treated her as a special and dedicated nurse. Her special exuberance and sparkle did not go unnoticed and was appreciated by those around her.

After four weeks in the King's, Ann came to Wilf one afternoon as he sat out on the veranda enjoying the sunshine on his feet. She said, "I have some good news and bad news for you."

Wilf said, "You had better give me the good news first."

"I have just spoken with the doctor, and you are to be discharged from the hospital in two days' time. That will be Saturday, and you will be discharged for two weeks of rest and recovery."

"That sounds marvellous to me. So what's the bad news?"

"Well, you mightn't think it's bad news, but I'm going to miss you when you're gone."

"Well, I'm going to miss you too, so that part is bad news for me too. However, can't we see each other away from here?"

"That would be great. I'm off for two days, this Saturday and Sunday."

"Well how about we go for a picnic this Saturday to celebrate my discharge from hospital?"

"Lovely, that couldn't have worked out better. I would've been very disappointed if you hadn't asked me."

"I was trying to pluck up the courage to ask you sometime, but this has worked out just wonderful. How about I arrange for a picnic basket to be ready when you're discharged at about ten o'clock? Your discharge time would normally be nine o'clock, but they're never on time."

"Where will we meet?"

"Right over there outside the main entrance," she said, pointing to the large doors on the other wing.

Just then, another nurse called for Ann's assistance, so Wilf was left on his own to ponder his good fortune.

Wilf had already learned that Ann was twenty-three years old, born February 29, 1894, a leap-year baby. She had studied hard during training, throwing herself into her job as a nurse so seriously that dating was something she had not had time for.


Wilf was discharged at nine fifteen with plenty of time to sweat and pace, waiting for the appointed meeting time. Completing the necessary paperwork prior to the release of a patient had not been the problem that Ann had suggested it might be. He had never known forty-five minutes to take so long. Even a three- or four-hour artillery bombardment was not as painfully long as this wait.

At ten o'clock, Wilf was waiting out in front of the main entrance as arranged. He felt a great sense of excitement as he leaned upon the walking cane that had been supplied by the hospital. His feet felt quite good, but the cane was there just in case.

He watched with anticipation as Ann came out of the double glass doors and walked in his direction. This was the first time he had seen Ann's hair down. It was shoulder length and bounced as she walked towards him. She was carrying her hat and a small picnic basket. As she came closer, he could detect the sparkle in her eyes. Her face beamed like sunlight filtering through the foliage of trees in a rainforest canopy back home in the bush.

Wilf could tell that Ann was a reserved person. This suited him. The attraction they had for each other was nearly enough to cause them to fall into each other's arms as their hands touched in a more formal manner.

Neither spoke for a little while until Ann offered a quiet hello to break the ice. Wilf was so stunned at the sight of this wonderful creature offering her hands to him that he could manage little more than a gasp. Hello and Ann were two words that just wouldn't come out.

Wilf had his kitbag to shoulder, which was going to be a real pain to take on a picnic, but there was no alternative.

"I have no plans of coming back to the hospital today, so let's see how we go." As she put on her hat and tied the ribbon under her chin, Ann said, "Let's head in this direction towards the river." They headed off along Denmark Hill Road towards Camberwell Green.

This eagerly and longed-for event for both of them was too sacred and special to spoil with words. Wilf savoured this moment of time in silence. He had been dreaming about this event for the last two days and sensed that Ann was feeling the same way.

Ann broke the silence saying, "You must remember that the doctor has released you into my care ahead of normal time, so this is why we're taking our time."

"I'm thoroughly enjoying the experience," he said as Ann guided him onto Camberwell New Road, past Kensington Park and The Oval, heading towards Vauxhall.

"Wilf, I think if you're a cricket fan, you would have heard of The Oval. That's it right there."

"I have indeed; I've read of The Oval a number of times. This is where our boys gave your boys a real thrashing once."

"I think you're right. I shouldn't have pointed it out to you."

Wilf allowed his free hand to touch the back of Ann's hand ever so gently at different times as they walked. Each touch sent a wonderful sensation up his arm; he was not an experienced man in these delicate ways.

They stopped to let a group of excited young boys pass. Wilf said, "I think they must be going to The Oval. It's Saturday, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is. What would you normally do on a Saturday?"

"Well, as you already know, I'm a timber cutter and bullock driver, and I work six days a week with my father in the bush. The only time I ever get to talk with girls is when we go to church on Sundays. That's a three-hour ride each way in the sulky."

"This must be a huge change for you to be so far away."

"It certainly is; it's a much bigger change than I could possibly have believed when I made the decision to enlist."

"We've talked a lot about that change in little snippets at the bedside, but when we get a chance to sit down, I want to hear a lot more."

"I don't think there's much to tell—"

Ann interrupted him to say, "Look, there's a Hansom cab coming this way, and it's empty. I'll hail him because I don't want you do doing too much walking."


Excerpted from The Red Rose of Romance & War by John A. Yates. Copyright © 2014 John A. Yates. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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