The final letter to be posted (date unknown although as the letter was published in the Jun- Dec 1918 “Methodist Review” I assume the event took place earlier that year) was unusual as it was written by an American ambulance driver. He was nursed by Norman and described how she cared for him. He also offered a touching glimpse of the high esteem Norman was held in by those French soldiers she had nursed in the past.
The letter also reveals that over 40,000 copies of ‘Mademoiselle Miss’ had been sold in aid of the French Wounded Fund.
The Methodist Review
A PICTURE OF MADEMOISELLE MISS AT HER WORK*
* A private letter written from an army hospital in France, by Cyril.B.Smith, a Syracuse University student, in Ambulance Service at the front.
I am out of danger and on the road to recovery. My head still aches dreadfully and I have few good nights of sleep. But there is one joy that has entered my life here that I must tell you about. When I was brought to this hospital my cot was in a long wooden barracks. On every side there were men with high fevers, severe wounds, bronchitis, pneumonia, and other ills. The room was long and narrow, with a double row of cots. It was not as spick and span as one would expect a hospital to be. The cots had not clean sheets, the walls were not white as they were meant to be, but somber dingy gray, darkened by the smoke from the two coal stoves that heated the big room. The sick and wounded did not have clean night shirts; some had none, and slept in their clothes.
The second night I was there I had my vision. She was an infirmiere, an American nurse. She brought me malted milk and little refreshments to augment the scant rations accorded me by the hospital. She was a beautiful creature, between twenty-five and thirty years of age, although she tries to impress one with the idea that she is old enough to be one’s mother. Day after day she came to my cot always with the same radiant smile and the same gentle touch of her hand. She came after her own regular duties for the day were finished, usually around nine o’clock. So all day I would look forward to her coming; and when she came, her blue-gray eyes were brimming with kindness reflected right from her heart. I am telling you this to show how a touch of kindness is felt by a soldier who has left the joys of life behind him.
The fact that I was a compatriot caused her to tell me something of her work; and I learned a great deal more about it from her “enfants,” as she calls her patients. She is Miss Norman Derr, author of a book, Mademoiselle Miss, which has had the huge sale of forty thousand copies. It was prefaced by Dr. Richard C. Cabot. The profits from it are all turned over to French War Relief. She has been in France seven years, in the pursuit of art until war broke out, when she gave herself to her present humane work with an ardor and a courage that would do credit to the bravest of men, in nursing the wounded in hospitals at the front. Many times she has been under fire and bombardment. Her name has been mentioned for bravery time and again in military honors.
I wish I could tell you of the immensity of her work. Through her, the generosity of many Americans at home is being carried directly to the simple soldiers in the trenches. At Christmas time, in guise of Santa Claus, she gave Christmas stockings well filled to fifteen thousand soldiers in the front line. Later she carried beautiful comfort bags to the soldiers who had volunteered for a ‘coup de main.’ Never imagine there is any joy in making the attack called ‘coup de main’
Sometimes the attacking party consists of only a dozen men. They volunteer for the dangerous work, and go back behind the lines to practice for the attack. I have never seen any outbursts of joy among those fellows. Those of them who come back, and often there are very few who return, are awarded the Croix de Guerre. Miss Derr was asked by the general of the army to visit those heroic volunteers to brighten them up. She told me how hard it was to instil any cheer into the hearts of men facing such grim prospects and desperate chances. How successful she was only the few soldiers who came back can say. Do you wonder that the poilus to whom she ministers call her “Petite Mere”? One of the many soldiers whose lives she has saved came all the way from Marseilles to see her, taking the time from his brief leave of absence. He had to pay his fare from his government stipend of five cents a day.
She has been especially good to the “Joyeaux.” They are men who, before the war, were serving terms of imprisonment as desperate criminals. They were taken out of prison and put at the front to fight. They are used for attacking in desperate raids. (The name given them indicates French public opinion.) God knows their lot is a hard one. They are given the worst trenches and their work is always the most dangerous. In the hospital they are treated by many nurses on a par with the despised Boches. But with their “Petit Mere” everything is different. Their grateful letters would move on to tears. One fine looking fellow, who is undergoing, under her influence, a complete psychic change from the criminal condition and spirit into something nobler, adores her. Once after he had recovered in hospital and was back at the front, he had something on his mind that necessitated Miss Derr’s advice and consolation. So he left his company for a brief time when it was resting, and sought her in her hospital. For this breach of military discipline he was locked in the guardhouse; but he counted that all joy.
One letter written in the criminal trench, up to his hips in mud so he could not keep his letter clean, contained a little blue flower, which he had picked in ‘No Man’s Land.” Looking over the parapet he saw it. A desire to risk his life for his “Petit Mere” made him desire to pluck that flower out of the jaws of death, out of the mouth of hell, to send it to her; so he crept over and crawled across through mud under fire from the enemy, amid exploding shells, and got back with his blue flower which made his letter an homage to his benefactress. Such a spirit as that has been developed in a professional criminal!
The power a nurse can exercise over a man’s soul for good is as great as the power she can exercise over his body. And it is wonderful how much religion there is in a dying soldier, a good sound religion of Faith, Hope, and Love. It is a great joy to be in a hospital that has two hundred barracks, over two hundred doctors, twenty groups of operating barracks, a big hospital accommodating ten thousand sick and wounded, and to find in that tragic place of suffering and death, amid the bustle of medical and surgical activity, a soul that has made every sacrifice for her “enfants” – the soul of an American woman.
No copyright page found
Volume: Vol. 101, Ser. 5, Vol. 34, Pt. 2
Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Phillips & Hunt
Call number: 31833017365286
Digitizing sponsor: Internet Archive
Book contributor: Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center
Notes: No copyright page found. Page 838 missing from book.T his digital copy is from a photocopy of an original book
Full catalog record: MARCXML