Excerpt from A War Nurse’s Diary: The Tale of Ragtime

The following is an excerpt from A War Nurse’s Diary: Sketches from a Belgian Field Hospital, published 1918 and now in the public domain.

There’s a whole novel in this story.


That reminds me of “Ragtime.” I must tell you about him. His real name was de Rasquinet, but, when written hastily on a chart, it looked like ragtime, and was easier to pronounce. People who do not like medical details had better skip the next few lines, but I want people to understand how “Ragtime” suffered. He was twenty-three years old, and had wonderful brown eyes that spoke his gratitude when he was too ill to utter words. He came in with his arm broken in several places and bleeding; in his abdomen were two large wounds which had pierced the intestine in several places. He also had a great wound in the back which had smashed up one kidney. At first he was too collapsed to operate upon. Such was the nature of his wounds that his dressing and the whole of his bed had to be changed at least every two hours. Imagine rolling a man in that condition from side to side. We had very little wool, we had no mackintosh sheets, brown paper was all we had to put under him; we just had to manage with rags which the neighbours supplied.

“Ragtime” was operated on; they cut out several feet of pierced intestine, joined it together and closed up the two wounds in his abdomen. The wound in the back was untouched, as he could stand no more that day. He came back to us and we nursed him with special care, along with the other sixty-nine patients. When we dressed him he never moaned nor groaned, and always gave us his wonderful smile. Then an order came for all patients to go to the station. “Ragtime” went on a stretcher with the rest. After spending twelve hours without food or attention in that draughty place, some of them came back to us, but not “Ragtime.” The lady doctor and I, who attended him, searched every hospital and made every inquiry with no result.

After three days a pitiful little note came from “Ragtime,” saying he was in a huge military hospital, and begging me to visit him. Catholic Sisters were in charge, and the rules were strict; finally we saw him and others who had been dumped there. He cried and implored me not to leave him. He said his wounds had not been dressed for three days! Think of it! When we dressed him it was two-hourly, and it was most necessary. The reason for the neglect was that nuns were not allowed, so I was told, to attend to men-patients below the waist! The lady-doctor went round and pleaded with them to let us have him back, but no, they would not. So I was determined. Mademoiselle and I went round and asked for the General. He was in charge of this great hospital. 1 told him the history of the case, cried and protested with real Belgian emotion, and finally the dear old General began to think that here was real romance! He let me have “Ragtime.” The lady-doctor sent her car and we got him back.

Later on we left him in a hospital in Chent. Months afterwards we had an orderly, an ex-professor from a college. Wishing to join his family at Ghent he returned under the Germans. I sent by him a letter to “Ragtime.” After many weeks a letter was smuggled through to me in Flemish, telling how the orderly had traced him to a certain hospital and he was lying unconscious. This made me feel that he was dying. But after another long lapse of time another man turned up who said that “Ragtime” had just been operated on for his kidney, and had been under chloroform. A year later one of our medical students met his father in a London hospital, a wounded soldier! He said that “Ragtime” was at Liège, convalescent. After the war, I shall make it my task to trace “Ragtime” in Belgium, and find out if he is alive.


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About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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