British Forces

Photo of the Day

Sidney Stanfield in 1918.

Sidney Stanfield in 1918. Photo: courtesy Susan Paris

Wounded,Conflict, Casualties and Care

How battlefield surgeons treated shellshock, shrapnel and gas

And poor Jim was laying there cuddled up in a heap as men die. Don?t forget we was all young, we didn?t die easy. You don?t die at once, you?re not shot and killed stone dead. You don?t die at once. We were all fit and highly trained and of course we didn?t die easy, you see. You were slow to die and you?d find them huddled up in a heap like kids gone to sleep, you know, cuddled up dead.

Sidney George Stanfield (Stan) was born in Tinui, near Masterton, in 1900. He worked as a farmhand before sailing for war in 1916 with the Wellington Infantry Battalion. He saw action in France and Belgium and at the end of the war was still nearly two years under the age limit for service overseas.

On being a stretcher-bearer at Passchendaele 12?14 October 1917

It rained and rained and bloody rained, and rained and rained, see. Just like here in the autumn time, when it comes to rain and it was cold. And we were picking them up from a gathering point as a regimental aid post. Well there were hundreds of men laying out, around. You couldn?t get them inside, it was an old German concrete emplacement and you couldn’t get them all inside, but the doctors were working inside. And they were just laying around where they?d been dumped by the stretcher-bearers from off the field and at one period I believe there were 600 stretcher cases laying round the place in the wet and cold, just dying there where they were dumped off. They weren?t even laying on stretchers, just laying on the ground with an oil sheet tied over them if anyone thought to do that, or if one of their mates could do it. Just laying there, because the stretchers were used for picking up other men, you see, there couldn?t be a stretcher for every stretcher case. We just carried till you couldn?t carry more. You just went until you couldn?t walk really, you just went until you couldn?t walk.

On how infantrymen saw themselves at Passchendaele

An ordinary infantryman at Passchendaele was a pretty dumb beast. That?s how he?s treated, you see. He was only gun fodder and when all is said, and that?s what I feel. We were pretty dumb beasts you see, or we wouldn?t have been slapped, thrown into that sort of warfare, because it was hopeless before you started. We all knew that.

There was one place at Passchendaele ? where we heard a man crying at night out in front and went out and we couldn?t find him and we heard him crying part of the next day. Calling, you know, calling, sort of crying, not screaming or anything, crying out. We just knew there was a wounded man lying down under something you see. We never found that man. That’s the only thing that’s stuck in my memory. The others, I?ve seen them lay gasping and panting and scratching up the dirt with their fingernails on their face and all crawling around semi-delirious and all sorts of things.

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Photo Of The Day

Photo: Unknown Source. Susan Travers in North Africa. Travers was an Englishwoman and the only woman to serve officially with the French Foreign Legion.

Photo: Unknown Source.
Susan Travers in North Africa. Travers was an Englishwoman and the only woman to serve officially with the French Foreign Legion.

‘I Think Actually They Thought I was a Man’

She was the Mistress of a French General; she led 4,000 troops to safety; and she was the only Woman to join the Foreign Legion.

As a well-bred Englishwoman educated in the nuances of understatement, Susan Travers seemed unimpressed that she was the only woman ever to join the French Foreign Legion.?She had spent World War II as a volunteer driver with Free French legionnaires who were fighting in North Africa and Europe. But in the summer of 1945, she faced demobilization and did not relish the prospect.

”I shall leave all my friends — I shall go back and live with my family, and it will be dull,” she recalled telling the legion’s recruiting officer, who happened to be a friend. He promptly invited her to sign up and passed her an application form. ”I didn’t say I was a woman,” she said, although her nickname was ”La Miss.” ”I didn’t have to pass a medical. I put down that I was a warrant officer in logistics. That was all.”

Indeed, it was pretty straightforward in comparison with her life leading up to that moment. It seemed far more unusual that a free-spirited young woman who spent the 1930’s playing tennis and partying around Europe should end up in the early 1940’s on the front line of the North African campaign carrying on a clandestine love affair with a married man who happened to be the top French military commander in the region.

For this, too, though, Ms. Travers had a simple explanation. ”My family was very dull,” she said of her reason for socializing in Europe. ”England was very dull.” As for becoming a military driver in combat zones, she said, ”I wanted adventure. I wanted more action.” And her romance with Gen. Marie-Pierre Koenig, a man who became such a war hero that a Paris square carries his name? ”It was a relationship between a man and a woman,” she said.

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