Hew Greig wartime series: final instalment

SL248/1/3/12 Letter to Mrs Greig, 86 Grange Loan, Edinburgh, Scotland (Transcription below letter images)

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30th June 1915

My darling mother

I’m afraid I’m very naughty because I haven’t written for a fortnight. I got your letter of the 21st and am glad to see you are all well. I’ve been having quite a quiet time of it during the past fortnight although I had one or two warm times before that. Needless to say I got through safely. Just now I’m quite close to a section of anti-aircraft battery so we sometimes see them firing. It’s good sport! but if they shift suddenly, then I shift equally suddenly. I can’t find any more white hairs, that one must have been due to the Festubert fighting. Oh I got the parcel quite safely. It was a lovely one, just what is wanted out here. The cream was quite good and kept good until the second day after opening. The shrimps arrived in good condition and we soon polished off the lot at lunch. I haven’t used the stove as I’m waiting until I get into a corner where I can’t light a fire then I’ll use it. The Brigade Staff seem to be quite pleased with me so I’m alright so far. Everything goes along quite smoothly. Sometimes somebody gets snotty with me, but he usually finds I’m too hard a nut for him to crack. Of course I get equally snotty and the result is that nobody can get any change out of Yours Truely. I always get the best of the argument. At least I have done up till now.

Do you know I’m going to put in for leave and if I get it I’ll be in London on Friday afternoon about 3pm in Victoria Station. It will be Friday 9th July. I wonder if I can see Nancy on that day. How long were you going to stay in London if you went down on the 5th.

We’ve been having thunderstorms nearly every day this week.

Now that’s about all the news I’ve got so I’ll have to stop. With lots of love and kisses from your loving son Hew.

This is the last letter we have from Hew, but that does not mean that he did not survive the war…Hew did come home safe and sound, and went on to become an engineer.  He gained 3 wartime medals – the British War medal, the Victory medal and the 1914-15 Star medal. We are sure he married a Dora Edith in Surrey in 1948, and he lived to be aged 71, dying in November of 1963. Hew’s surviving letters have really brought to life what it was like for some soldiers on the Front Line, and for that we are incredibly thankful.

Annie Greig wartime series: letter No.3

SL248/1/1/4 Letter to brother Louis Grieg, 86 Grange Loan, Edinburgh, Scotland (Ecosse) (Transcription follows images)

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My dear wee Tinker

Here is a letter all for yourself to wish you a very happy birthday and many of them. I hope you will have a very jolly time. I hope you will get this letter in time, you ought to, but the post is so eratic that one never knows. There are rumours that one batch of our letters got put in the fire as someone was much too voluable in the one they sent.

I have just had a letter from Hew dated the 14th. He is very well, but has had some narrow showers, and has actually grown a small moustache. He found a grey hair and doesn’t at all like the idea of being grey-headed at 23.

How are you all at home? I hope Father is better and stronger now and Daisy also.

I am lying in bed writing as I have a day off. We have very few patients in the surgical wards and so we are taking turns. McCall and I are off today, we we[re] both in Calais so it’s rather nice we are off together this time. We had breakfast on my bed and are going a picnic by ourselves along beside the river. We are going to beg sandwiches from the kitchen and buy some cakes in Troyes on our way. We are taking our thermos flasks with tea, and so needn’t be in till supper. It will be quite a relief to get away from the place for a bit.

I’ve 14 patients in my ward and one has turned out to be typhoid. We really aren’t allowed to keep them, but he is too ill to be moved. Isn’t it funny how they seem to follow me up? I purposely asked for surgical work to get away from any chance of having them again, and here I am, given medical. I’d rather have medical here as the doctors are so nice, and the surgical sisters aren’t allowed to see their own operations as the theatre is too small. I wish you could have seen one lot of patients arrive. There were 11 of them and they arrived in the middle of the night (nothing much wrong with any of them, only tired and a little rheumatism) you never heard such a row. Mrs Harley and some of the other untrained people were flying about in their dressing-gowns with their hair down, shouting at each other and calling the doctors. It was pandemonium and they had the whole hospital awake, and there was really no need to make a sound. We watched the performance out of our windows and grinned to ourselves. We would have got into hot water in any hospital if we had made a quarter the row they did. And they think they are such splendid managers!!! We are lying low until we fill up and then, if we don’t get things as we want them, there will be a denee of a row. Almost every arrangement so far, has meant double work or waste of time for us, but we are just quietly getting our own way with little things, and the big things will follow when we get busy, or most of us will resign. I don’t believe they will be allow[ed] by Government to get out any more trained nurses in our places, so we have the whip hand, besides, the doctors side with us in most things. Mrs Harley is finding out we are not made of cottonwool like the lot at the Abbaye, and that we have our own ideas of how things ought to be done. She has been round telling the patients to salute her. They are all very much amused, because of course, soldiers never salute unless they have on their military cap. She does everything for show. Don’t be surprised if you see me marching home one of these days. I won’t be the only one.

I wonder how much longer the war will last. I wish it would finish soon.

Please ask Mother if she has had my money for May yet and also, if she has heard anything about my camera.

There is really no more news and I’ll have to be getting up soon, so I’ll have to stop.

Please give my love to all the Aunties and families and say I hope they are all well.

Lots of love and kisses to Mother and Father and Daisy, also to yourself and an extra special hug for your birthday from your loving sister


Hew Greig wartime series: letter No.11

SL248/1/3/11 Letter to Mrs Greig, 86 Grange Loan, Edinburgh, Scotland (transcription below letter images)

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14th June 1915

My dear Mother

Thanks very much for your letter and parcel. I got the letter a few days ago but got the parcel today. I couldn’t answer it because I was in the trenches for the last few days and got a hot time of it with shells for 4 hours yesterday morning. I did one or two brainy tricks to reduce the risk of casualties in my company. Luckily I got them all out safely and I was jolly thankfull.

The honey seems to have had a rough journey because it was broken and leaking but the rest was alright. Please send plain chocolate instead of the nut milk. I sickened myself of nut chocolate about 2 months ago through eating too much of it at one time. The cream was quite fresh and arrived safely. I’ve been eating the fruit all day today. There’s going to be another dust-up but we won’t be in the beginning of it if we are in it at all. Oh do you know what I discovered one or two absolutely white hairs in my head so I pulled them out just to make sure that they were really white. If I’m out here much longer I’ll be grey-headed by the time I’ve finished. None of us laugh now when we see a man who has lost his nerve. We have all found out what it means. I’ve been doing some work with the trench mortars lately. I blew up their trenches pretty badly and then they shelled me so I had to stop. In fact they kept a continuous stream of shrapnel going over my position for 2 hours. The beggars thought they had knocked my gun out once upon a time, but I soon woke them up again by letting drive at them again. The C.O. of the Royal Scots says I’m an awful beggar with the gun. He says I do the thing first and blow it up and then come round and tell him I’ve done it, where-as the other trench mortar officer comes round and asks or even begs to be allowed to do the same thing. The C.O. fairly laughed at me when he was telling me that. He says you are 200 yards away and my men are only 25 yards from your target and you quietly fire a shot where you know it is safe and then range back to your target. If I had known I wouldn’t have let you do it. Of course I said I was very careful not to drop short so he said Oh I saw you were very careful where you landed them when I saw you shooting and heard your orders. I only slept one night out of six this last time in the trenches. You can’t sleep in the trenches now-a-days like I used to at Fleurbaix. Things happen too suddenly now. I haven’t written to anybody for the last week so I’ve got a lot to do to get a letter off to various people. I’ll have to stop now. Hoping you all are well and that Father is improving. With lots of love and kisses from your loving son Hew.

By the by I picked up one for 10 Frs worth probably 50 Frs so I don’t mind your not sending it out. This is slightly smaller. [we are not sure exactly what Hew is talking about here as it relates to something his mother referred to in one of her letters to him!]

Check back in on the 21st June to hear again from Annie in her tented hospital…

Annie Greig wartime series: letter No.2

SL248/1/1/3 Letter to Mrs Grieg (transcription below images – images are poorer quality due to the paper the letter is written on)

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12th June [1915]

My dear Mother

Thank you very much for your letter and also please thank Father for his. I was beginning to be afraid something had happened to Father or Hew as I hadn’t heard since I arrived.

We have been here a fortnight now and I have no patients so far, there are only 3 in the whole hospital and they are medical cases. In spite of asking for surgical work I have been put in a medical tent, but I don’t mind much as I don’t think the surgical will be much catch. We are not to be allowed to see our operations or do the dressings so we will be more or less “pros”. They can’t play that game in a medical ward. Three out of 12 tents leak like fun when it rains. Fortunately, mine is dry except at one seam. I have no door to my tent as they have put up the wrong sides. The result is that I have a space about as long as a bed, uncovered, while another tent has a frill all round besides a tremendous door-flap. It is 3 days since the doctors spoke of having them changed, but it has not been done so far. As usual, things are talked about but never done. Once we get some patients we nurses will simply take the law into our own hands. They haven’t any idea of management and the place is hopelessly understaffed. Each sister has 16 patients and there is only 1 orderly to 2 tents (16 in a tent). Of course, they all say (the untrained people) that we won’t be having many bad cases. A fat lot they know about it.

The grounds round about are lovely, with long shady avenues and plenty of trees. It is very nice for coolness but the very dickens for mosquitoes and insects. Ants swarm everywhere. We are simply covered with bites and spend most of the day and night scratching and putting on lotion. It has been awfully hot, in fact, stiffling, but the breeze is cooler today. Calais was dull enough but this place is awful. We can’t even go into the town as it’s too far to walk in the heat. The sisters are never offered a ride in the cars though the orderlies use them frequently.

You see, we are only nurses, whereas the orderlies are ladies, and I don’t think!! I really don’t know how we will manage to get through the summer for we will have to work hard.

As it is so hot here, we are all taking to wearing gray shoes and stockings as they are cooler. Please send me out those 2 pairs of gray stockings and also the reel to darn them with. Send them 1 at a time in a letter as they will come quicker that way. You might also send me the 2 books of nighties etc. marked “Le Blane” and the patterns of designs. You will find them all in an envelope in my box. You could send the reels of “Moravian” if you send me a parcel, there is no hurry for them. I don’t need a parcel at all really, for we get quite decent food and usually have home-made scones or biscuits for tea every day. The only thing we don’t get is sweets.

Our number of patients has now increased to 5 and still my tent is empty. However, I will get the next medical ones, but I hope they will wait over Sunday.

I had a letter from Nancy yesterday, quite a long newsy one. She seems in high feather, I wonder how long she will be kept there alone now that Dr Romanes has enlisted.

The letter you sent to the Abbaye has not been sent on, but I am going to ask Mrs Harley to write about it.

I am very glad to hear Father is better and hope he won’t take any more faint turns. It really isn’t safe to allow him out anywhere alone. Please give him my love and tell him to take care of himself.

I’m glad to hear Auntie Edith is better. She will have to take things easy for a good long while now.

There is no news here at all, the only things of interest here are churches, and there are scores of them. So far I’ve only seen the outsides.

Please give my love to all the Aunties etc. and also please send me Hew’s address.

Lots of love to Father, the kids and yourself,

Your loving daughter


P.S. Have they sent my screw [wages] for May yet?

You should have seen the excitement our 1st patient caused. He was escorted by 2 sisters and followed by nearly all the doctors. Two people washed him while the 3rd fanned him, and he really wasn’t very ill. The rest of us nearly died with laughing. He was the only one for 3 days and didn’t we tease the sister about her one ewe lamb.

We hear next from Hew on Sunday…

Annie Greig wartime series: letter No.1

We have the first letter of Hew’s sister Annie now – over the next few weeks we will read 5 of her surviving letters back home during her time as a nurse with the Scottish Women’s Hopsital/French Red Cross. Like Hew’s letters, they are a brilliant insight into life for a female nurse on active duty during this terrible time.

SL248/1/1/2 Letter to Mrs Greig, 86 Grange Loan, Edinburgh, Scotland (Ecosse) (transcription below letter images)

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Château de Chanteloup

Troyes, Aube [France]

6th June [1915]

My dear mother,

Well we have arrived and have been hard at it for a week, but we have no patients yet. The telegram was all a farce and we were no more needed than the man in the moon. When we arrived there were only about 2 tents up and we had to set to work and put up all the beds etc. All that ought to have been done by the men before we arrived.  They have a funny way of doing things. When we ask for necessities we are told, with a shrug, that it is “war time”, yet they spend no end of money on pink bed-covers, not only money to buy them to wash them every time. Washing is very expensive here. Has anyone ever heard of pink bedcovers in a tent hospital? In most cases blankets and all have to go to the wash, and, as the blankets are gray, they will show the dirt less. They certainly look nicer and more businesslike than pink covers. It is abominably hot here and the tents are like ovens. We were cheerfully told by one of the workmen that this is nothing, it will be much hotter still.

I must stop now as we’re all on “show” this afternoon. I had to run down to tea so couldn’t finish this before. I’ll write again when something else turns up, at present we’re all hot and uncomfortable and wondering what on earth we’ll do when the cases arrive. We’ve shed every available garment already.

Lots of love to everyone. Hope Father, Daisy and the rest of you are all well

Your loving daughter


P.S. Have you heard any thing about my screw for May? (screw was an informal term meaning wages at this time)