The Dorbuja retreat, 1918

Memoir extract for activity and source 6

Transcription of three pages from the memoir of Mary Milne, who worked with the Scottish Women's Hospitals on the Eastern Front. She describes part of the retreat from Dorbuja in 1916:

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Sunday the 22nd Oct[ober] broke clean and bright after a terrible night of rain, thunder & lightening. Those of us who had been up all night helping to pack and get the equipment off by train were glad of the unexpected rest. We had been told the evening before that everything must be packed and away and we ourselves ready to start by 5 o’c[loc]k in the morning as the enemy was close at hand. We hardly required to be told that the situation had become very dangerous; as all night long while we packed the tents and the mess and kitchen utencils [sic] out on the camping ground, the guns seemed to [get/come?] nearer and nearer. We could see the flashes of light from the big German cannons & there was a red glow on the sky line of burning villages. It was a wierd [sic] and rather sorry scene. 4 of us were in charge of packing the camp. We all had 3 hurricane lamps to do it by and as there was a very sharp thunder storm going on, it was made more difficult to see. The lamps refused to remain alight, we were drenched, and often waited for the flashes of lightening to show us where to find each other, but by dawn it was finished and the last cart load of stuff from hospital and camp had gone to the station. It was sad to think of our cosy little camp being broken up. The little group of white tents standing by themselves on the plain above the Town of Medjedia, a beautiful sight. We were surrounded by miles and miles of hill & dale, and those of us who worked out of doors during the 3 weeks of glorious autumn weather at our Serbian Kitchen will never forget the sunsetts [sic] and at the same time every evening the old shepherd at the head of his flock coming slowly out of the sunsett as it seemed, the tinkle of the sheep bells growing louder and louder then gradually dying away as they decended [sic] to a sheltered place in the valley. Sitting on the steps of the hospital watching some Roumanian Gipsies picking up a few odd things which we had overlook[ed] in the darkness, one could hardly believe that the day before all the tents had been there and life was going on as usual. We had not started at 5 o'c[loc]k as expected and

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we had no idea what our plan of action was to be as Dr Inglis was asleep. So we just waited and sat in the sunshine and I daresay anyone looking at us in a detached way might have thought we were really enjoying ourselves. Some were writing their diaries, some looking at films they had been developing, others were trying to make out the bits in the home newspapers which had been smeared over with black by the censor, but the most popular amusement, was listening to the war news from the Dobruja, as given in the home papers, also the newspaper cuttings about our noble selves, which had been enclosed in letters. The guns were louder than ever, and we remarked that the Bulgar must be practically in the garden by now, being British, of course no one could suspect what the other was feeling but colectively [sic] no one seemed to mind a scrap, even someone sugjested [sic] that one of the more daring of our number should go over to a hill, from where the battle could be watched with a glass and say with the compliments of the Scottish women would the Bulgar kindly make less noise, as Dr Inglis was sleeping. This peaceful scene was disturbed however by an enemy aeroplane coming in sight. There was nothing very new about that of course, as they had been daily visitors to the town, and we had got quite accustomed to bombs dropping on all sides of us, watching duels while we were cooking, and flying off to try to get a snapshot of a bomb dropping. There were times when the noise was nearly unbearable, then anti air gun batteries would start at the same time. That, added to the bombs dropping & often the shrapnel falling on top of our tents made life more lively than pleasant. But that morning’s visitor seemed more interested in us than usual, we watched it at first in a casual way, running across the road to get a better view, but in a very short time the first was joined by other two enemies, & we soon found that our hospital was their goal, so we went inside and for ten hideous minutes, which seemed like hours, the hospital was bombed, but fortunately no harm was done, and Roumanian and Russian aeroplanes drove the enemy away. This being so we all went out into the sunshine again. When an order came from head quarters

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that not later than 11.30 half of the staff must leave, as a sanitary train was leaving for Galatz and they were to go with it. We had 3 or 4 invalides. Matron Fox had been, & still was very ill, and we were glad to think that they were really being taken to safety. It was then after 11, so they had to start at once. We waved them off, wondering when and where we should meet again. 16 of us were now left. There was nothing to do but wait for orders which would affect ourselves. We cut up some black bread and cold meat, made tea on a Tommy cooker, & sat on our bundels [sic] to eat the last good meal we were to have for some time, so we thought. That over some of us lay down on a heap of straw in the big ward & went to sleep, being rather weary after our night's packing. I was one of the number who slept soundly, and was awakened by the door of the ward bursting open, & the Serbian Officer who had charge of us, Dr Costitsch, dashing up to Dr Inglis in terrible agitation, as if the enemy had been at his heels, calling out, 'In 5 minutes you must be out of here, come away, come away. Excuse, excuse' (and expression he used on all occasions). So in a very few minutes more than the 5, we, and all our belongings, were packed into a Motor Lorry, an Ambulance, & a run-a-bout. Dr Costitsch and a few of the Serbian soldiers attached to the hospital, were the last to leave. We were bound for a small place called Caramurat, which was said to be 2 hours from Medjedia, and a place of safety, where we were to start a dressing station. As we did not know the way, the Lorry, driven by a native, went in front. 7 of our girls were perched on the top of the equipment which was to form the dressing station. Then came the Run-a-bout, Onslow's car driven by herself. Dr Inglis, Sisters [ ] & Edwards and I inside, behind the Ambulance driven by Mrs Clibbon, with 5 others as passengers. I for one was not sorry to leave Mejedia that afternoon, it was a most deserted miserable looking place as we passed through the town, except for soldiers teaming in all directions, we seemed to be the only people left. The lorry went in front, & by some mischance we missed it, having stopped to pick up a stretcher which had fallen from it. We did not know the turning it had taken, so asked some soldiers, & they pointed to a road which seemed very likely, so on [we went].


Source and activity 6


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