The real Ritz
Casualty Clearing Station
As soon as I read this account, I knew it would be the model for "The Ritz" Clearing Station Hospital in Darcy's Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes. If it hadn't been a firsthand account, it would have seemed too bizarre and too juxtaposed to the carnage of war to be real. But indeed, war is absurd and truth is often stranger than fiction.
Tale of a Casualty Clearing Station
by Royal Field Leech
Full text of this public domain work can be found here.
Late 1914, near the French-Belgian border:
234- "The usual long, straight, poplar-lined avenue led to the front door. In the shadows, as we
passed, there stood a man and girl as indifferent to war's alarms... The British infantryman and
French maiden locked in a tender embrace were quite oblivious to our approach. The girl, her
head nestling upon the man's shoulder, was troubled by nothing. They spoke no word-probably
could not—but the language of love needed no dictionary. This little scene, in itself so trivial,
preached a veritable sermon of peace, which acted like a tonic.
238- A circular drive led up to the house. A pond exploited by swans lay in front. A couple of peacocks posed on the stone balustrade of the veradah. A salon on one side of the entrance opened into a conservatory. An old-world garden presenting remnants of a time worn ecclesiastical coat of arms on its walls, and antique fountain and artesian well, and acres of park, walled off from the outside world with the exclusiveness of the ancient regime, told its own tale.
'Is it any use to you?' asked the Commandant...turning to the Master....
'Twelve beds in the drawing-room; twelve in the dining-room; a pack store in the conservatory
....six on the landing... six along the passage. Ah! An excellent bathroom! Hot and cold water. Good!'
Pausing at the door of the best bedroom he smiled. 'Not at all a bad operating-theatre—good light—fireplace--electric light laid on. Four other bedrooms—two for Nursing sisters, two for some of us. Excellent! Let us see the top storey.'
'Ah!' cried Master, 'the usual French garrets. Two first-rate big rooms with alcoves. Twenty to twenty-five patients in each....'
'There is a first-rate kitchen, and the stables would store all your quartermaster's stuff,' volunteered the Commandant.
'Good!...We must have it. There are also enough small bedrooms for some officers, and I see a little room next the kitchen which will suit us splendidly for a mess.'
… And the Master's eye roamed across the park and calculated the value of the level meadows as standing for hospital tents in warmer weather, the value of the place was more apparent than ever. Within a short time the chateau verandah, compound, and stables were overflowing with cases and bales."
*Chateau and poplar-lined road: Wiki commons.
(Chateau photo is not the actual one described in account but is typical of the era).