August 31st, 1917

Today, when compassion had grown cold, and I began to feel as mechanical and metallic as the patched-up pump in our back yard an unexpected incident galvanized me once more into activity.

From out of a camion, closely packed with lightly wounded, a tall gaunt figure was led like a child into our shed. In spite of helplessness there was about him the indefinable air of a leader. The head was closely bandaged and the upper part of face concealed. On the field-card attached to his shoulder was written ‘Complete lesion of both eyes’. Of our little group, I alone was on duty, and therefore able to lead him to a relatively quiet corner of the shed; the one in which we keep our stores, and where we have one chair and a table. He asked for black coffee, soap (an unprecedented request) and later for a post card. He explained that he wished to write a few words to his wife himself, fearing that news written in a strange hand would alarm her. It is not often that one sees tragic misfortune borne with self-forgetfulness in the first hours of shock and pain, and my whole heart went out to him in compassion and wonder. Nor did his blindness dull the swift understanding and confidence that passed like a live wire between us and lasted all the hours he was in camp. In spite of pain and loss of sight, he insisted on writing something on the post card himself. What he wrote was indecipherable and without saying anything I was about to supplement a few words of my own so as to make the message intelligible, when a rough soldier blurted out, ‘No one can read that.’ These unlucky words broke down his self control.

—Viscountess d’Abernon

Sarah Gristwood, Recording Angels: The Secret World of Women’s Diaries (1988)


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