W-MCP6-1.452 TO THOMAS BAKER MCQUESTEN from his friend Dr. Norman Leslie
Dec 21 1914
From: Boulogne Base
My Dear Tom,
Was very glad to get your letter though somewhat belated. It followed time as you expressed an intention of writing. Do so you will incur blessings. Like Ulysses, will sing of my wanderings.1 We lay or rather wallowed in Salisbury plain for some time taking route marches with the men of our hospital on fine days and trying to keep dry on bad days. The English weather is like the little girl. When she is good she [is] very very good but when she is bad she is horrid. A spanking would do good to J. Plurvius. So has kept in shape and in good spirits I felt very well indeed. the only thing was there was nothing to do. Friday after several rumours, a camp is a great place for rumours, along came an order to hold ourselves in readiness. Then about 2 days after we were ordered to move. This order gave the names of fifteen medical officers mostly from no. II General Hospital you may be sure there was joy in the camp. We could have [hunted?] many times if we had wanted to, we were objects of envy to our medical officers. So you must make a mental picture of 15 merry men departing in [state?] and in the rain on a motor transport. This vehicle is a large truck such as you see running about the streets of blessed Hamilton and is entirely innocent of springs. Following was our luggage with some of our bat-men (Angelic servant) also merry, I mean the men, not the luggage. It was somewhat dilapidated looking. At Salisbury after certain misadventures we embarked for Southampton where we arrived in good shape. Here we put up at a hotel taken up by the authorities for use of officers & officials. This was really a fine hotel but just now a gloomy place. I could not help thinking of the numbers of young man who had stayed there and who were dead all in a very short time However we made merry. Then we got bad news as we were not to take our servants. This was bad we did not know where we were going, had no [connection?] with any Drs unit & probably could get no more and besides you get much attached to your man. The men wailed aloud, however thanks to a vigorous commanding officer we got permission to take them. Cheers from the men. Then came information from the powers that be, that we could only take so much luggage, what you could carry & one piece besides. This was rather a hardship as the fellows living in England can leave their stuff at home but as our home is far away, we have to carry our possessions with us and we have no base in France or England just now and you gradually accumulate a good deal. However we started to repack. Now I am no hand at packing as my family will bear witness but it is astonishing how well I did. It was really amusing to see all the fellows struggling with their stuff. What we could not take we put in trunks & left it at the hotel where I trust we will find it. You see large bodies of troops going forward have a definite base and have a certain amount to carry so they are all right but we were all on our own. Then at midnight we boarded the packet & well named it is, a packet of monkey tricks. Then we went to bed. Some time during the early hours we pulled out. We did not know where we were going or what we were going to do. The powers that be are not very communicative but it is surprising how soon you become accustomed to going where you are sent without questions, in fact you get to like it. You do really. Well in due time I awoke. Shortly after I found that something I had eaten disagreed with me. This by a strange coincidence was the case with all the rest from the colonel down perhaps I should say up. I found however that by lying flat on my back I could control my tendency to risibility. Everyone apparently had a different posture which he thought was the best. We must have been a green looking lot. The only one who enjoyed it was Dr. Bethune. He had no pretensions to being a sailor and so had no position to keep up. He was deathly ill but between times enjoyed the discomfiture of us bold sailors. In a short time we arrived at Havre where we reported & enjoyed a good meal & a quiet bed. Havre is a fine place very military just now. In the morning we boarded a train and late in the day arrived at Rouen. It was dark so we could not see the fine cathedral but we went up town. All the cafes were lighted and every one out, it being Sunday. There every one apparently goes out on Sundays. They sit in the cafes men, women & children & have their little drinks all very decent & quiet. Here we again get a very good meal. You remember I gave you some views on English cooking. For us the French is as good though different, lighter and a great variety.
Their pastry is most delightful. I will become an experienced epicure or a dyspeptic one or the other, no in between. Well at 10 p.m. we got on the train again, slept there all night & early next day got to Boulogne. Here we put up at the Hotel Louise a fairly good place Boulogne is a stripping town not particularly interesting except in summer for it has a fine beach & much frequented for that, it and its suburbs. Just now the city is a huge hospital, all the big buildings are used for the wounded. They are treated here & shipped as soon as possible to England. A while ago it was literally jammed with patients but lately there are not so many though sooner or later they will come in again, poor fellows. The hospital trains are models of cleanliness & efficiency as are also the hospitals. There are lots of doctors & nurses and lots of material. The British Red Cross is doing splendid work there being lots of comforts, lots of cigarettes etc. However the supply will need to be kept up for this campaign is not over yet and there are lots more to come. The British soldier is a fine fellow worth any trouble, you can like for him. He is extraordinarily bright and cheerful quite like the man the stories make him out to be. Some of the wounds are terrible and yet the men, some of them maimed past repair, never whimper tho' God knows they have every excuse to. The orderlies, took my admiration. To see them carrying the men so gently and attending to them is quite remarkable they are so very careful not to hurt. To go on, in a few days we were all attached in twos and threes to various hospitals. Capt. Menzies from Toronto & myself are attached to no. 14 general British, a place in the outskirts of the city right on the sea shore. The two of us have more the run of one division in a separate building. They leave us pretty much to run it as we see fit. We have accommodation for 100 tho' during this lull we have not nearly that number. We are getting all kinds of cases a lot of medical which suits me well. We will get a good experience. We board in a very nice place near the hospital and altogether are enjoying ourselves. I am much interested in the men, a very much [?] lot they are when they first get here. They have some strange stories to tell. I have written a terrible lot & expect fruit. Run & give [Beasley] my love. Please remember me to your mother & sisters. [?] to write now & then. Please remember to me to your partners. I hear the [??] was a smash. How is that [?] [?] gossip, good but [?] Hamilton. [?] it over me that is the city of cities
1 Following is a list of some of the letters (in our archive) from Dr. Norman Leslie to his friend Thomas Baker McQuesten about his war service in WWI from 1914 to 1918. The letters begin on the ship going over to England and continue through his service there and as surgeon in France in the trenches, which he describes graphically. For the full chronological list see:
W-MCP7-1.099 This letter may be an indication that McQuesten was arranging for a job for Dr. Norman Leslie at Niagara, which was granted to him. See letters from Kauymeyer and Leslie's service on the Commission.