Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Letter from Nurse Helen Fairchild

Nurse Helen Fairchild's Last Christmas Letter from the Front
contributed by Nelle Rote

[Editor's Comment:  We introduced our readers to Helen Fairchild, who died during her service on the Western Front, in our 9 September 2013 entry, which can be viewed by clicking here. We thought, though, our readers might also like to read her last Christmas letter home today.  Helen was already ill from her wounds when she wrote this letter and would pass away the following month. One of the saddest and most revealing details in the letter is that she was not able to attend the Christmas party on the ward.]

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LeTreport, France
Saturday morning, December 29, 1917 

Dearest Mother, 

Just received at long, long last, a letter from you, the first in three weeks, so you can just imagine how awful glad I was to get it. . . 

Well, must tell you about Xmas. Unfortunately most of the things we had counted on having didn't come in time (that's what usually happens), and among the things that didn't come in time was the turkey for the Xmas dinner, but we substituted chicken for the nurses and the quarter master succeeded in getting goose for the patients, but we were rather disappointed not to have turkey for the patients, as the nurses, officers and men had given the money to buy the turkey, and we wanted them to have it. 

The Christmas bags that had been packed in Phila. didn't come, but we managed to have a nice Xmas. It was a fairly nice day and we had a party for the whole unit on Xmas eve.

I did not go, but they said it was very nice and a choir of our nurses and some of the English men went all around the wards, and even came over to the officers and nurses mess and sang Xmas carols Xmas eve. Then the nurses got up at 5:30 a.m. Xmas morn and made rounds in all the wards, singing Xmas songs. Of course, all the wards were decorated and we managed to find some little thing for each one of the patients. Then Xmas p.m. the officers gave a tea for the nurses and had real ice cream, which wasn't exactly like home, but tasted mighty good even at that. 

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Patients and Nurses Celebrate Christmas on the Ward of a British Army Hospital

But I was a lucky girl. I hadn't touched either of the boxes Edna sent me so I had them to enjoy Xmas day, and there were such nice things in them. A pair of the warmest slippers, pale blue, and a pair of white silk stockings and a little electric candle that will be so useful here. Then in the other box she had a perfect fruit cake and a big tin of home made candy and salted peanuts. In spite of the fact that I had kept those things for over two months, they were just as soft and fresh as could be. Everybody raved about that candy. Part of the fruit cake I gave to Miss Dunlop and the rest I wrapped up in a dandy cloth and am going to keep it a while longer. Miss Dunlop and several of the girls each gave me very pretty handkerchiefs, Major Harte gave me fruit, and Wagner gave me perfume, so I had a very nice day. 

The remarks you made about ____ sounds just like her, but I admire the rest for their attitude because what the Red Cross and the Y.M.C.A. are doing for us over here means so much to us. Really, it would be awful to get along without the things they send us and most of the pleasure that the troops get are the ones provided for them by the Y.M.C.A., and if you could see what these boys have to go through sometimes I think even she might be willing to do without a banquet to help, as we share to give them any comfort possible. 

If the time ever comes when some of our own are sent over here I guess she would be glad to have them taken care of when they are wounded, and without the supplies sent by the Red Cross Society, we could not do half as much for them as we are. . . 

With heaps of love and thanks,
from your own Helen

All of Helen's letters home, her full story, and much information about the work of nurses on the Western Front have been gathered and commemorated by Helen's niece, Nelle Rote, in Nurse Helen Fairchild: WWI, 1917-1918.  It can be purchased at this website, and we highly recommend it:

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1 comment:

  1. I am tears rereading this letter. A letter I first read as a little girl, sitting alone in the attic with the big trunk with my grandfather's address on it: Mr. Ambrose Fairchild.
    The letters were in a black envelope-style purse, like one I saw later in a photo, carried by a military nurse.
    It is rewarding for me to know that I eventually got Helen's story and military documents in print, and recognized as having value by the editor of this wonderful newsletter, Mike Hanlon. Thank you.