Newspaper interview

Norman Derr- Visit home September 1916

 Miss Norman Derr, who as a member of the Military Hospital Service, has rank of Lieutenant, is now on a short visit home.

Miss Norman Derr, of Atlanta, is the only American women who is a member of the French military hospital service, and who for her distinguished service has the rank of Lieutenant in the French army, travelling with all the privileges accorded an officer of that rank in the army.  She is on a short visit home and is the guest of her father, Doctor Derr, a retired surgeon of the United States navy, at his home in East Lake. She is the sister of Dr John S Derr the well known specialist.

Miss Derr is the author of the recently published book “Mademoiselle Miss” which is a compilation of letters written by her to her beloved aunt, Miss Latham whose death called Miss Derr from her post of duty at a French hospital at Vitry-le -Francois.  The letters contain the daily experiences of Miss Derr following the time of her brilliant social experiences while studying art in Europe and including those that came later when she gave up her time and thought to serving the wounded soldiers in the French hospitals.  She is a member of the official staff in the French army service, but receives no pay, choosing to contribute her income and her services to the cause.

An interview with Miss Derr Friday at East Lake revealed the beautiful and dramatic spirit of a young women who inspired by the valour and bravery of the men and women of France in a crucial moment of their history, determined to render service to the country where she had gone to enjoy the beauties of art and cultivate her expression of it.

“I was in the midst of my work in one of the French hospitals, one about eight miles from the fighting line, when the message came calling me temporarily home. I came by way of England, arriving August the 19th, and return to my work in France in two weeks, she stated.

“It was the greatest surprise to me when I found that my letters written to my aunt, who was a foster mother to me, and dearest friend, had been published.

“But when I learned that the publishers of the book were to give the entire proceeds for French relief work I was happy to know that my letters, though many times written in the most personal vein, had been thought worthy for publication by my family.

” I was in Lucerne when the war started” explained Miss Derr ” and at that moment there was no place where the character of world people in stirring moment could be read.  There were as many as five thousand Americans in Lucerne at the time, and about two thousand English.  It was interesting to note the great difference between the two peoples- the English all calm and confident that they would be safe, and the Americans frenzied almost in their apprehension and fright.

I was pursuing my study of art, and had gone to Lucerne for the purpose of some special work.  but the knowledge of what France had done for civilization in art in every branch, in literature, painting and the drama, I became thrilled with her spirit of her nobility from the moment war was declared.  That heroism of her  first trials has con tinued, and a very few weeks after the war began I sought experience in a small hospital on the Riviera.  I then took a course in the French Red Cross and won my diploma, and went directly in the service of the French army, directed and supervised by the government.

I am subject to call from one hospital to another just as all government officials are, and I have felt blessed in the privileges which have enabled me to serve in those hospitals, where the brave men of rank and file have been brought mangled and dying, but every with the spirit of soldiers.

I have served in the government hospitals of several classes,those established near the battle fields for first aid, those a little farther on for the ‘petit blesses’ or ‘little wounded’ and then those where every wounded one must make a struggle; where the doctors can do sometimes but little, and to the nurses is confided the care and the consolation that can be given the brave ones separated from mothers, wives and sweethearts.

You have already read of the horrors of the wounded, how the present system of warfare literally tears out men’s hearts.  For days sometimes they lie before they are discovered, mangled, wounded and poisoned by disease before they are found and brought to the hospitals.  Here there comes the long days of suffering sometimes with little hope, only to wait for the call which brings release from the torture.

It is to serve these that the nurse finds her supreme compensation when to the faithful father she can be something of a solace, as he thinks of the wife and children he has left, when she takes from him a last message and sends it home, when she can make him easy after a long struggle, the passing moments of the young French boy who left his mother for the first time, to serve him country in this horrible war.  It is like a blessing to be called by all of them ‘ma seour’ ‘petite mere’ and I was sorry when they called me Mademoiselle.

Yes I have been in service in hospitals when they were bombarded and I have been in them when the bombs of the aeroplanes have been dropped upon them. Hospitals for a time seemed favourite targets.

The first- aid hospitals and those of the ‘little wounded’ call for easier work than the other ones, but when one gets into the work the spirit of heroism of then French makes every man or woman with a heart, who comes into contact with them feel that no sacrifice is too great to make in their aid.

Yes there is great need for relief supplies in the hospitals; do not let anyone give the impression to the contrary.  But there is not always discernment shown in the kind of supplies sent. In the French hospitals they are very exacting about the kind of hospital supplies they use.  They prefer for instance the materials out of which to make their pads and bandages rather than the bandages and certain hospital devices already made, which may be perfectly acceptable for use for instance in the American ambulances.  You can understand with the unceasing need for hospitals and more hospitals with little cessation in the numbers of the wounded, that the facilities for hospital work are needed continuously in great abundance.”

Miss Derr though in deep mourning for her aunt, consented to talk before a group of Atlanta women on the subject of French relief: this request made of her by Mrs C B Wilmer  a friend of her family, and Mrs Richard Johnston who was among the first southern women to inaugurate work for French relief.

While a student of art on going to France six years ago, Miss Derr might be mistaken for an artist’s model, for she is beautiful- not merely in the physical grace of a tall supple form, in the poise of her head but in the spirit of her inner beauty which shows through her shaded blue eyes, illuminates her countenance, and animates her earnest inspiring narration of the life in the French hospitals, to which she is giving her life at present.