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Monday, 24 August 2015 10:32

The diary of Soldier Hannen - Part 4

Written by
A. Turnbull Collection - NZ Military Hospital A. Turnbull Collection - NZ Military Hospital National Library of NZ

French students have imagined the diary of Steve Hannen, a soldier from Nelson (NZ) buried in Rouen (France). They based their production on different archive documents. Over the next few weeks, Soldier Hannen's story, will unravel. This is Part Two, as he is fighting in the horrors of the Battle of Gallipoli. Read Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

From the moment Soldier Hannen came to the hospital after being gassed...

I don't remember well the latter days. All I have is a blend of blurred memories, nights and days of bed rest, and pain. It took a long time to get my memory back, being gassed in the cold month of September had completely frozen my brains. What I remember most is the nurse who saved me, Kate Nolan.
I don't even know how long it took to heal me and for me to recover, but she knows. She knows how hard I have been struggling for life these last weeks.
When I try hard to remember, I remember that horrible pain, everywhere.

When doctors pulled my clothes off to avoid contamination, my arms were itchy and full of blisters, causing so much pain I could barely move them. My eyes were burning, so swollen that I couldn't see properly. The worst were my lungs. I was suffocating in this hospital bed, trying hard to get some air. I suddenly passed out, I heard a nurse calling for help and then, it's total blackout.

When I woke up, I was breathing through a mask and a nurse was checking my cardiac rythm. My skin was so disrupted it was hard to find a place where she could check my pulse.

Then, this nurse, Kate Nolan, told me that I had to breathe calmly, in fact oxygen couldn't go itself into my lungs because of the poisoning gas. She said it would be fine, that I was not in danger anymore. I couldn't see much and I was panicked at the idea of becoming blind. The nurse examined my eyes and applied alkaline solution into them. That was quite irritative but she said it was normal, my eyes had to be cleaned. That was the same ritual everyday: checking my eyes, irrigating them with the solution, checking my burns, and being sure that I ate and slept enough.

My lungs were still painful, but oxygen was numbing this pain. Every three hours nurses came to check my oxygen bottle. I still had troubles to breathe, and soon enough, oxygen couldn't help me breathe anymore. That was scary, I felt dizzy and I was about to pass out again. Kate Nolan ran toward my bed and forced me to expectorate, giving me an awful mixture of camphor, menthol and oil of thyme. I coughed so much, that I could breathe again normally, my respiration was less labored. I had gotten rid of a great part of the inflammatory poison in my lungs. After this exhausting moment, Kate took care of my burns, cleaning my skin with an antiseptic solution, and dried it. Of course, she could not dry my wounds with a towel, it would have hurt too badly, with all the damages on my skin. She treated the most extensive burns with Vaseline gauze and repeated these steps every single day. There was no miracle thing to heal me, there was not much to do. I only had to be patient, I had to handle pain, and wait for my wounds to recover.

After the cure made by Kate, I was not totally ready to go back to the front. So they drove me to Codford’s camp, in England, to be able to fight again. Codford is a military camp where wounded soldiers train every day to recover their strength. I am very stressed to go there. Indeed, this camp is reputed to be very harsh with the wounded, moreover I heard that the training was very painful. The camp is constituted of many little houses which are able to welcome six people in all. The huts are very simple; the beds are made of wood plates with thin mattresses and some sheets. It is not very comfortable, but it is highly better than living conditions in trenches. I am greeted by James, a typical English man: tall, handsome, muscular, blond hair and blue eyes. He has a cast on his left arm and part of his face is blackened, burned. I guess that a shell probably exploded not far from him. He seems to be a very nice guy, and I’m quite sure that we will become good friends. 

‘ Hi ! I am James, your room-mate. So, we are in cottage 13 with nice guys. Well, people here are nice, they help us be able to fight again. Normally, I will go back to the front in three months!’ My five room-mates are James, Russel, Peter, Edmond and Winston. There are all English, except Edmond who is Australian. They told me all about their stories and how they all ended up here, and it’s now my turn to tell them all about me. ‘I enlisted two years ago, in Nelson. Now I am visually impaired, and have damaged lungs’, I said. It is highly difficult for me to talk about my wounds, I’m quite ashamed about being here actually. Before I could finish talking, a man who looks around fifty years old, came into the room.

‘I am Dr. Johnson, I have to talk with the soldier Hannen.’
‘I’m here Doctor’, I said.
‘Please, follow me to my consulting room.’

I took my identity card, and papers about my enlistment and went out. I was a little bit stressed out, I hoped that the doctor had good news... When I arrived, in the consultation room, Dr Johnson took my papers and then I made a test for my vision. After a different series of exercises, Dr Johnson said : ‘Your vision it is not really bad, after the cure, you will get back 100% of your vision. You have to come here three times during the week so that I can check your eyes,. And every night, for two months, you are going to put gauze compresses with a liquid medicine on your face to be more easily cured of your burns. For your lungs, you will make do endurance exercices every day. First, you will just walk to use yours lungs and then, you will do more difficult exercises. Any questions?’
‘I would like to know how long I will stay here’
‘Well, maybe 6 months. It will depend on your health, and each soldier is different. Perhaps you will stay 2 or 4 months or 1 year, I don’t know.’
 ‘Ok, thanks Doctor.’

Three months later:

My health has improved this last week. At the beginning, the training was very difficult for me. Indeed, every time that I tried to run a little bit, I felt like a huge burn into my breast. But, now I can run during 10 kilometers and my vision is quite optimal. Being able to see normally again is such a satisfaction for me! Dr Johnson said that I could join the front in a few months, he told me that I’m not already totally ready to fight again. I am so thrilled to leave this place! Well, I’m great here, but I came to fight, not to stay in a training camp.

Right now, I receive more ration of food thanks to my health progress, like ham or fruits. Apparently, not everyone is happy for me. I received a big ration of ham this morning, but it mysteriously disappeared. I suspect my roommate Russel who is very jealous of me and it is unsurprisingly that I found it hidden in his drawers. Well, I got back my ration, and I didn’t say a word about this story to anyone. Indeed, I don’t want any troubles, being able to recover is my only goal, I don’t have any time with this sort of childish things, and I’ll soon return on the battlefield, in the North of France…


Read 2720 times Last modified on Monday, 24 August 2015 10:55


French students have imagined the diary of Steve Hannen, a soldier from Nelson (NZ) buried in Rouen (France). They based their production on different archive documents. Over the next few weeks, Soldier Hannen's story, will unravel. This is Part Two, as he is fighting in the horrors of the Battle of Gallipoli. Read Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

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