At first light, the ambulances arrived and the stretcher bearers brought in the casualties to the clearing station. Adele had had hardly any time to draw a breath for the first half hour or so, the large tent was in chaos as the injured were sorted into those requiring immediate surgery and those that could afford to wait. All the other casualties were in another tent. Some could wait, others were already dead by the time of arrival or else on the brink.
Often Adele heard one or another of the men cry out with delirium, their limbs shivering, lips trembling. Shell shock, they called it. Some of the poor men would never be the same again. Fortunately, for some, with the right help, support and guidance, they became physically whole again, though they’d never forget the mental anguish, ever.
Worst of all were the firing squads—who on the command of a senior officer would shoot a deserting soldier, as they brought shame on the army and could prove a security risk if they fell into enemy hands. Adele often wondered if those poor men were just shell-shocked and refusing to take any more, their bodies shutting down, their need to escape, their only outlet from a hell on earth.
Life in the trenches was arduous. Often they were stuck in inches of wet muck with no means of washing, changing or drying their clothing. Although they were told to change into clean socks and dry their feet, it didn’t always happen that way and as a result, many soldiers developed something known as ‘trench foot’, a painful condition. The constant mud and rain had exacerbated the condition for many. Often the foot would crack and change colour, then swell up as blood vessels and nerves were damaged in the process. If untreated, then gangrene could set in resulting in amputation to save the soldier’s life. One soldier arrived at the clearing station and his toes fell away when his socks were removed, the stench being unbearable. Adele had to inform him that his limbs had to be removed as soon as possible…