Emma Duffin

Emma Duffin

Emma Sylvia Duffin was born in Belfast on November 8th 1883.  Emma and her six sisters were educated at home until aged sixteen, when she left home to attend Cheltenham Ladies’ College in Gloucestershire, England. She stayed there until 1903 when she left to go to Churchill College, Shrewsbury. When she returned to Belfast she attended the Belfast Art College and developed a range of artistic skills. In 1911, she went to Germany as an au pair to develop her understanding of the German culture and language.

Following the outbreak of the war, Emma decided to enlist as a VAD nurse at aged 31. She was first sent to Alexandria in Egypt where many of the soldiers wounded at Gallipoli were sent. At the end of her six month service, she re-enlisted and from the spring of 1916 until the end of the war in November 1918 she was based in two hospitals in Northern France.

On her return to Belfast, Emma worked as an illustrator of cards and books, including children’s stories written by her sister Ruth. On the outbreak of the Second World War, she was invited to be Commandant of the VAD based at Stranmillis Military Hospital in south Belfast. 

Emma died on 31 January 1979, at age 95.

Her full diary, along with many other items can be viewed at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.

Emma's diary will be updated from September to January. 

Diary Tracker

Follow the stories of the Irishmen who fell at Gallipoli from a century ago via their personal stories, ephemera, archive material, census details, military archives and diaries.

  1. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    11 January

    Just before the evacuation of Gallipoli a lot of extra beds were put up in hospitals, though of course we were not told what for. The roofs were shedded in and any amount of beds put there and some of the tends which had been closed were reopened and I had a sister send me, and she and I worked hard getting the beds made up and everything in readiness. After we got the other tents fixed up we had nothing to do as only one tent was full and out of the twelve patients more than half were up and able to make their own beds.

  2. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    10 January

    We always drove down to the Khedivial in a mule ambulance and I used rather to envy the girls at Moharrem Bay who would reach home as soon as their duty time was up, for we had many a long weary wait in the ambulance before all the sisters had assembled. I used to sit in it in the evening watching a perfect deep blue sky with a moon like a fairyland moon and the brightest twinkling stars. 

  3. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    9 January

    After five days absence I returned to duty and was greeted by cheers from my patients while the orderly, Cook, stood at the salute and called, ‘Tention’. I had to stand a good deal of chaff from the patients on the subject of ‘cold feet’ and insinuations that I had been ‘swinging the lead’ because the weather was nasty. 

  4. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    6 January

    One night we were so cold that Sister Ainscombe insisted on getting into Sister Kell’s bed and warming her feet on her back, in spite of vociferous protests on her part. At least the little Australian sister took pity on us as we declared we were all getting frost-bitten feet and produced a most minute rubber hot water bottle we passed from bed to bed. ‘Of course we needn’t give it to Emma; she’s only a VAD’, Sister Ainscombe would say, with a twinkle in her eye. 

  5. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    5 January

    I spent my time making drawings of the others but could never manage to catch Sister Kelly’s expression, though she was very keen that I should do her for her fiancé. It was still bitterly cold and storms of rain beat against the windows and I must confess I snuggled down in bed with no regrets that I was not on duty, it was the first time I had been off duty since I arrived. 

  6. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    4 January

    Not long after she had gone I got a chill and entered the sick room for the first time. Unfortunately, the minute you reported sick you were transferred into the sick room, which was a source of great annoyance to most people. However, I was really rather glad as Aline’s bed was now occupied by a middle-aged old sister who though very kind was not exactly the stable companion I would have chosen. … I had always dreaded that one day I might be an inmate of the sick room but I had a pleasant surprise for, after the first day I had a violent headache and was offered nothing to eat but hot milk which I resolutely refused to drink, I quite enjoyed myself. 

  7. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    2 January

    Rhoda departed and I was left alone in charge of the other tent. I did not at all like it. There were only twelve patients, none very bad and I had not enough to do. To add to this the weather was very cold, with floods of rain, and I was very depressed. Aline Russell had gone home shortly after Christmas and I missed her very much as she and I had always gone about a lot together. 

  8. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    30 December

    We had one patient who had served in the Bulgarian army and had been through the Balkan war but had deserted and had been in South America on the outbreak of this war and had come from there to enlist. He was very well educated and could talk any amount of languages. 

  9. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    29 December

    The day of his departure he looked quite sad and worried and explained to me in his very broken English that Cook, the orderly, was ‘no good’. I asked him what Cook had done and discovered that he had sent Cook to the canteen to buy sweets which he intended as a present for me and he had brought him back what he considered too inferior a quality to offer me. The day he went away he tried to press a ten piaster piece on me to buy Miss Nichols a present and shook his head mournfully and unbelievingly when I refused and shook his head mournfully and unbelievingly when I refused and said she would much rather have a letter from him. 

  10. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    28 December

    A day or two afterwards I was startled by seeing a gorgeous native clad in blue and gold, with a curved scimitar, who looked as if he had stepped out of the Arabian Nights, apparently on duty outside my tent. And on entering I found the Russians consul. Or his representative, sitting on Tom’s bed and Tom was all smiles and beams. He left him a supply of Russian books and from that day Tom began to get better. The cure was completed when we discovered there was another Russian in the ward who was able to walk about and we sent for him to visit Tom. 

  11. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    27 December

    We got a great number of cases of frostbite, trench foot and rheumatism at this time and amongst them a Russian who, though he had served with the Australians for nearly a year, could hardly speak English at all. He was an enormous man, almost a giant and I got quite a shock when I first saw his foot. Poor fellow, he was terribly depressed and Rhoda and I were at our wits end how to cheer him up. In answer to our inquiries he always shook his head and said ‘No, sister.’ The other patients were very good to him and called him Tom, but his English was so limited that it made connected conversation almost impossible. 

  12. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    26 December

    The day after Christmas seemed rather flat and everybody’s tempers were a bit short but none of our patients were any the worse for the festivities which was something to be thankful for. We had our own Christmas dinner at the Khedivial that night. The manager of the hotel had supplied an orchestra and a Christmas tree with a present for each of us out of his own pocket. 

  13. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    25 December

    Christmas day was a very strenuous day for everybody. Capt. Delmaye who was very musical had trained a choir of orderlies and nurses and they went around to all the wards singing carols to the great delight of all the patients. Our patients were each given a lucky bag which we had prepared for them and the air resounded with tin hooters and squeakers and whistles of all sort. The men were like children, they were so delighted with everything. They all got a present from the Red X and one from the hospital so they really did very well and Wyatt, who was still on ‘no diet’ was given a present from the queen of a nice notebook.

    (Later…) We drove down to the Khedivial in a gharry, ate a hurried dinner and returned to hospital to an orderlies concert in the recreation room. The concert was quite good and Capt Delmay’s choir sang glees. We got home about twelve and tumbled into bed utterly exhausted. I thought of the only other Christmas I had ever spent away from home in Germany. We had visited a hospital there too and sung German carols outside the wards and I wondered if they had done it this year. It seemed impossible when one thought of all the dreadful things they had done but they had been very good to me then and I felt sorry that we could never meet on friendly terms again. 

  14. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    24 December

    On Xmas eve Rhoda and I decorated the tent with strings of flags and put paper lampshades on the electric lights and big bundles of roses about and it looked very gay. I went into C1D to help there as they were very busy with decorations. I found Sister Mauser and a corporal hanging wreaths round and over the beds while Sister Barnett and Capt Delmaye criticised from below. I and Miss Harrison, a very nice VAD who had come out with a 2nd batch about five weeks after us swept up the floor and some of the patients under my directions polished the knives and spoons till they looked like silver. 

  15. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    20 December

    Before Christmas everyone began to get very busy making arrangements for their wards. Rhoda and I were rather sad that our Australians had been removed as this left one of our huts empty and we were afraid new patients would not be well enough to enjoy Xmas festivities. As a matter of fact it remained empty and we had very few patients at all. We had great difficulty in planning anything as we could never both be off duty together and there was no private place where we could meet and consult. Mamma had raised a fund at home for my patients and it came in very useful at Christmas time.

    Aline and I had a great day down in Rue Ramleh where we discovered shops where all sorts of childish toys could be bought. Evidently others had been before for the men inquired with a grin it we wanted things ‘pour les soldats’ and immediately produced false noses, trumpets, mock cigarettes etc. We bought an endless supply of these, also two little Xmas trees and decorations for them. I ordered a sponge cake with chocolate icing and a ‘Happy Christmas 1915’ on it from Athenio’s and Aline ordered large masses of roses from a market garden. 

  16. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    14 December

    We had a set of Australians again in our tent. Enterics. Two very nice brothers in bed side by side who had come in the same day in exactly the same stage of enteric. Another very quiet man, strange for an Australian, and one called Lambe who nearly turned my hair white. He had been worse than any of the others and still had relapses owing no doubt to the fact that he was continually getting out of bed, eating anything he could lay his hands on and utterly refusing to eat the food he was allowed. In spite of it all I had an affection for him and I liked him much better than Wyatt, a rather stodgy Englishman who did everything he was told and was no trouble at all. Just before Christmas they were removed to the Australian Hospital at Cairo and I had letters from them full of regrets for 15 [the hospital] and assuring me they were not half so well fed or looked after and that Lambe was so cross that sisters were afraid of him. 

  17. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    16 November

    One night I was alone and was having the usual rush to get through when I heard the bugle call which meant convoy. I had three empty beds so I was afraid this meant more business for a few minutes later orderlies with patients on stretchers appeared. I got them into bed and ran across to report to Sister Perry, which I always did when Sister Scanell was off duty, I found Rhoda was off duty and Sister Perry had half-a-dozen new patients too and was very busy. I took her their temperatures, pulses etc. and she told me she would come and have a look at them as soon as she had a moment. In the meantime, I returned and was busy making Horlicks milk when Miss Steware, the Assistant Matron, appeared. ‘Have you any new patients. Are you busy or can you be spared?’, she said. I explained I was busy and she went away but returned in about ten minutes. ‘I’m afraid you’ll have to come. I’ve told Sister Perry she must manage your patients as well on her own as there is a big convoy. It was unexpected and we’ve had to full up an empty ward that had been closed for cleaning and there are no sisters on duty.’ She took me to the bottom floor of the north block… In every bed was a new patient, really groaning and crying out, poor fellows, with pain. I had never been in a surgical ward in my life and never seen a wound. Sister Lang told me hastily to start washing the men and was too busy to give any further instructions. I was terrified of hurting them. They had each a label on the buttons of their pyjamas attached on the hospital ship, which said what was wrong with them. And they all had had their wounds dressed on this ship, so it was not as bad as it might have been but it seemed pretty bad to me. 

  18. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    7 November

    I used to be shocked at how young some of the boys were, mere children and it was quite touching to see how good the older men were to them.

  19. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    6 November

    Poor fellows, they were all homesick. Many of them had been up at Gallipoli for months and had got no home letters. They would bring photographs of their wives and children, their sisters or their sweethearts out of their lockers and show them to you with pathetic pride, delighted that anyone should take an interest in hearing about their homes. We rarely got an old soldier and I used to be interested in finding out what they had been doing long before war. We had grocers, coachmen, miners, commercial travellers, farmers and gentlemen occasionally from the HAC, one and all bright and cheery and full of jokes and chaff. It would have been impossible to be gloomy or down in one’s luck and though they grumbled it was only at small discomforts, not at the big things and it was only occasionally, from a word or a hint that you could gather what an awful time they had come through. They preferred not to talk of it. ‘Wait til I get to ‘blighty’, they won’t catch me again in a hurry. I’ll never be such a fool again, sister’ they would say but I felt there was not one of them would not do not it again it he was wanted. Occasionally they would swear at the ‘blighters’ at home who hadn’t come out but as a rule they took a lenient view of it. ‘None of them realise it’, they would say almost apologetically, ‘the chaps at home can’t realise it and none of them know what we’ve come through. Nobody who wasn’t there could. We couldn’t have believed it if we hadn’t been there.’

  20. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    22 October

    I went off duty leaving one of our tents empty and having spent the morning house-cleaning it and returned to find every bed full. Twelve Australians, all enteric but as lively as if nothing was the matter with them. They were very jolly but they really were a handful. If sister and I left the tent for a moment we would find them on our return calmly walking up and down or sitting on each other’s beds. They were always hungry and were all either ‘no diet’ or at best ‘milk diet’. They chaffed me unmercifully but were never cheeky or familiar and always cheery and full of jokes. We only had had them a week when they were shipped off to England to make room for fresh patients who came in faster than we could find beds for them at that time. They were marked at once and were carried off on stretchers waving their hats and giving sisters and me handshakes that nearly cracked our bones. 

  21. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    19 October

    The day duty people had always impressed on us that the night people had an easy time compared to them and not nearly so much running about, but I had always been convinced that I would like day duty better and I was not disappointed. To begin with, things looked so much more cheery. The hospital assumed quite a different aspect in the sunshine. People were bustling about everywhere, orderlies whistling, gramophones going and a general feeling of cheeriness. To add to this, none of the patients in the wards were seriously ill and many were more of less convalescent, about to go about and help with the work. I recognised two of my former patients from C1D, one Hunter, a big New Zealander, as especial favourite of mine who greeted me as an old friend and was always ready to help me. 

  22. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    13 October

    There was no VAD in C1J and as they were pretty busy there and we were rather slacker, I was occasionally lent out, which I did not at all like. I washed and made beds in C1D from 4 till 6, then hot and perspiring fled to C1J to continue the process there. ‘The orderly in C1J tells me ye do all the work; ye have no call to kill yourself that way’ said Paddy, who like most of our countrymen had no intention of dying of over-work. 

  23. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    11 October

    The patients that were convalescent were always so sympathetic and helpful. One big good-looking New Zealander who was ‘boarded’ home and was waiting for a boat used to be very helpful and he was especially good to little Cairn Church and Billy Williams. Sometimes when we were very busy and poor Billy was particularly exasperating, my New Zealander would say cheerily, ‘leave him to me, sister’ and he would sit on the side of Billy’s bed, feeding cup in hand coaxing and persuading him to take some nourishment and often was successful when sister and I had failed. 

  24. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    6 October

    The ward was not always quite so busy and presently I did get time to slip out occasionally and rest in the corridor and even managed to persuade sister occasionally to do the same. But the nights were dreaded were when we came in to find there had been a convoy and the beds which had often only been vacated that afternoon were filled again with gaunt and burning-eyed patients some of them already delirious and trying to get out of bed. It was often hard enough if there were many such cases to prevent them from doing it. ‘You must try to keep covered up or you will catch cold. We will let you get out of bed very soon.’ I was saying having been just in time to catch one patient, a nice curly-haired boy who had not been ill long enough to get emaciated, from flinging himself out of bed. He looked at me with burning, unseeing eyes. ‘My two chums died, one at each side of me on the boat. Wouldn’t you want to get out and see your mother if you were dying?’ he said pathetically. ‘We are not going to let you die’, I said, confidently but alas he died the next night. While I was tucking him in the boy in the next bed, such a fine looking fellow, jumped from his bed and before I could catch him was in the middle of the ward and sister and Paddy had both difficulty in getting him into bed. He lived for three weeks only to die then and I used to think how lucky the other boy was not to have lingered long. 

  25. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    5 October

    I got more accustomed to the work and I began to realise more which were the bad patients, to know a little what to do for them and go gather from sister’s manner how to treat the irresponsible ones, for many were quite delirious at night, when to be firm and when to be sympathetic. No. 24, a little skeleton of an Irish boy called Cairn Church I soon learnt was Sister’s particular favourite and indeed the favourite of the ward. He had been in some time and was not expected to live. … ‘He would grind his teeth and clench his poor miserable hands in agony, often never closing his eyes all night yet when I asked him how he was when I came on duty I invariably got the same response, ‘I’m grand, thank you.’ …

    Then there was poor Billy Williams, one of the most pitiful. He was off his head and even through the pathos of it one had to laugh at his queer sayings. I had learnt by this time that poor Billy was like a naughty child and had to be treated as one occasionally. Sympathy was fatal. It only made him unmanageable. He was cured of dysentery but too weak to recover and he died in his sleep one night quite peacefully. ‘Do ye think’ said Paddy to me, ‘little Church seen him die? I doubt it would frighten him. I put the screen up and I don’t think he took notice but he niver let on. I’m after telling him he was transferred to another ward. He was sleep when the stretcher-bearers came.’ ‘I hope he didn’t’, I said, feeling a warmth in my heart for Paddy. … Paddy and I had become great friends and I soon saw why all the patients loved him. ‘What do you want?’ I asked one patient who was very ill and shouting out. ‘Nobody just Paddy, just Paddy.’ 

  26. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    1 October

    One night about the end of our first week I was told when I went on duty that I was to go to a new ward, C1D. That meant the first floor of the central block. I was conducted down and found myself in a big ward with 30 beds in it. There was a row of windows down each side of the ward but the air was stifling although they were all open. All the beds were occupied and even I could tell at a glance that there were much worse case than those I had left. I was handed over to the sister, a little dark bright thing with rosy cheeks. She seemed very busy and I soon learnt that night duty here was no sinecure. In the centre of the ward was a long narrow table with a bench at each side.

    The lights in the ward were all on but shaded by being muffled in red handkerchiefs. On the table was a bowl disinfectant. I was told that this was a bad dysentery ward and that I was to disinfect my hands before I touched a patient. To my unaccustomed eyes all the patients seemed dying and I was suddenly stuck by the terror of the whole thing. On the way out we had pictured ourselves nursing wounded only; we had never thought of illness somehow. Here was something the result of war, just as surely as any wounds and somehow it seemed ever more terrible. Some of the patients looked more skeletons as they sat up in bed in the dim light, rocking themselves backwards and forwards, groaning, grinding their teeth with agony. ‘My God, oh my God’ they would mutter. 

  27. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    28 September

    In the early morning it was wonderful to see the sun rise and to hear the priests from the different mosques chanting praises to Allah. Their voices seemed to carry for miles in the still air. Alexandria looked to me as if it was a temporary structure of cardboard. All the queer flat roofs and unevenly sized buildings gave that impression. In the distance I could see a fringe of palm trees against the sea line. 

  28. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    27 September

    The gong for went and with a sigh I braced myself for another night’s vigil. Each night seemed longer than the last and it seemed impossible to believe that we had not been a week on duty yet. There never seemed much to do except give the men drinks occasionally. The rest of the time we sat on deck chairs on the verandah and Sister Bailey talked incessantly with a whiney colonial accent. Occasionally she gave me the lantern and told me to go on the roof and see if all the patients were asleep. I rather liked that. It was cooler up there and the moon and stars were beautiful. The men slept on cane beds only about a foot high and I had to bend low and turn my lantern on each in turn to see if they were asleep which they nearly invariable were. 

  29. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    24 September

    We slept a little better the next day and our first week crawled to a close. I cannot honestly say that the prospect of a month’s night duty did not depress us for we got at most two or three hours sleep in the day time and felt too tired to go out much or see any of the interesting things to be seen. We were entirely cut off from the other girls who still lodged at the Moharrem Bay home and whom we only met as we came off or on duty. 

  30. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    22 September

    At a quarter to 8 the day sister came on. We departed in the mule ambulance for bed and breakfast. We all recounted our various experiences of the night and compared notes and then tumbled into bed but, alas, not to sleep. The room was of course in broad daylight. Even already it seemed to be stiflingly hot and all Egypt seemed to have assembled under our windows. I lay with closed eyes for a bit then, finding that useless, I gazed about the room, following the lines of the familiar sweet pea paper that reminded me of home. I wondered what they were doing there, thought how funny it was that I was really in Egypt, wished a little that I wasn’t, wondered if I would ever go to sleep and decided I never would.

    My second night on duty passed rather more quietly as I had provided myself with writing materials and a book but the hours seemed to drag, especially between two and four. Sister Rance came along and said Rhoda Whyte was ill and I was to take her to the Sister’s room and give her brandy. We, with difficulty, found our way to the Sister’s room where I administered brandy to her out of a cup and removed her stiff collar. It was our first experience of what we later got to know as ‘Gyppy Tummy’ and we soon learnt that very few people escaped it. We discovered that most of the sisters wore low collars and we abandoned our stiff high ones with a sigh of relief.

  31. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    21 September

    After breakfast the next morning we went to the hospitals in ambulance drawn by two mules. There were 200 sisters and VADs billeted at the Khedivial but they all went to different hospitals. When we reached the 15th we were put in a small room where we found a contingent of our friends who said they had been lodged at the sisters’ home at Moharrem Bay and they thought we would be moved up later.

    We found Matron, a middle-aged sandy-haired person with a very pleasant face and a slight Scottish accent. She spoke to us very nicely, said she was sorry to put us on night duty straightaway and if we did not sleep after the first day or two we were to let her know at once, also the minute we felt ill as we would be doing her and ourselves no kindness if we held on till we broke down. We were then dismissed and conducted back to the hotel where we were told we must go to bed till dinner at 7pm. We lay down but of course could not sleep after dinner we drove up in the ambulances and were conducted to our different wards. None of the patients seemed very bad and there was not much to do. I had brought no work with me; I thought the night would never end. Sister Bailey seemed quite to enjoy my company and I found she was a great talker. Poor thing, her favourite brother had been killed at the Dardanelles. All the sisters looked careworn and depressed. They more or less ignored us but there was general feeling in the atmosphere of disapproval which we did not fail to notice. 

  32. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    20 September

    As we drew up to the docks we all got so agitated as to whether we should be separated from our friends and be sent to Cairo or to Alexandria that we could hardly spare any interest for the sights. Small boats with big lug sails came swarming round, with men sitting cross-legged selling dates and fruits, and a lot of newspaper boys came aboard shouting ‘Ingleesh paaper’ and whistling ‘Tipperary’.

    We lined up on deck under a burning sun, laden with suitcases etc and at last trooped down the gangway where we found ambulances waiting to convey us. We climbed in and were rattled along through the streets and unloaded at The New Khedivial Palace Hotel, Rue de Rosette, which been taken over for nurses. At long last we were shown our rooms, Miss Russell and I being put together into a quite pleasant double-bedded room which, much to my amusement and rather delight had the same sweet pea paper as Ruth’s at home. After dinner we were told that breakfast was at 7 and we hurried into bed but could not sleep much as the population seemed to come to life and make all sorts of noises beneath our windows. 

  33. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    17 September

    The next three days were unhappy ones to put it mildly. There was no further mention of sports. Practically all of us were ill, some more and some less. The few who remained strong once more ministered to us but I personally could eat nothing except a few grapes which Miss McElderry procured for me, where from I don’t know, and was too sick to inquire, but I was just grateful for them. My little table steward was terribly agitated at my non-appearance at meals and told one of the girls I was eating nothing. Finally he came in search of me himself and asked if there was nothing more he could get me. 

  34. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    15 September

    The next morning I woke up to find the coats etc. hanging round my bed swaying at strange angles and various things banging about the ward and I realised with a shock that it had got stormy in the night. I dressed hurriedly as possible and made a dash for deck, leaving various people being violently ill in the ward. 

  35. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    14 September

    On Monday we moved a little further down the river but did not really start till Tuesday. A government tug came round and an officer shouted instructions to our captain through a megaphone what route we were to take and how far we were to keep out from the coast. There were a lot of steamers held up all round us, waiting for similar instructions. At night we were told we must keep our port hole covered as a Zeppelin raid was expected. We saw an English airship and an aeroplane pass right over us. One of the officers told us afterwards that it was a German one and had killed eight people but if it was it did not have the German Maltese cross on the wings; it had a red circle. … We passed close to the Cliffs of Dover and at last we were really off. … The boat rolled terribly and the next day we were a sorry crew. … I used to try and get up before the girl in the bed next me, for the minute she tried to get up she was sick and after that nothing could save me. 

  36. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    11 September

    Dressing the next morning was a lengthy performance. There was only one wash-hand basin and the bathrooms were messy and uninviting, though they were cleaned up later. Tooth tumblers were unheard of luxuries. I had by extraordinary good fortunate found an enamelled mug in my bed which I clung to, hiding it with great care every day as I had already discovered that, on active service, ‘finding was keeping’ and that any object of utility laid down for a moment was promptly annexed. The next morning was Sunday and we had a short service on deck and spent much time writing letters to go off by a tug which was waiting to remove the plumbers and painters who were still at work. 

  37. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    10 September

    The next morning we were packed into brakes at 10 o’clock. Olive waved me farewell and a little crowd gathered to give us a cheer. There were 3 or 4 brakes full and we drove all the way to the East India docks. It was rather interesting as we went down strange back streets, past Chinese and Japanese shops and boarding houses and at last reached the docks and saw the ship. The Grantully Castle was in the process of being painted white with a green band and a large red cross. A very charming transport officer stood on a box and yelled out our names and then told us to sing out as loud as a sergeant-major and then go on board. There were 200 of us altogether, 100 St John’s and 100 Red Cross. We hung over the side and watched our luggage being lifted by a big crane. Afterwards we discovered the paint on the boat was wet and we were all covered with it.

    No one knew what was going to happen next and there were all sorts of rumours going on as to when we would sail etc. The transport officer went round shouting that he would be leaving the ship in an hour and that he would post any letters for us, so we all hastily began to scribble letters and postcards. Presently, I discovered that we were to sleep in wards, not cabins and that the thing to do was rush down and secure a bunk. … There were 31 bunks in our ward, but in ward D, which was lower down, there were 60 and to make matters worse the paint there was wet and of course smelt dreadfully.

    The boat started at last but she stopped off at Gravesend and we were told she would not go off again till the next day. 

  38. Emma Duffin

    Emma Duffin

    9 September

    I came in at 1 o’clock to find a letter saying I was to report myself in London at St John’s Gate and start for Egypt on Saturday. I had had a wire a week before telling me I was to go and a letter to say I would start this week or next. I had to dash round getting things ready and wired Celia and Olive I was going. I crossed to Heysham that night. There were one or two other St John people on board. One spoke to me and I found she was a Miss Russell of Downpatrick. There was one from Stranorlar and another from Galway. Miss Russell and I travelled together. Fred Heyn was crossing, on his way back to drive a motor ambulance in France after a week’s leave. He sat beside me and talked for a long time.  He said most of his work was done by night but he had never been under fire yet. …. Miss R and I took a taxi to Hotel York, Berners Street, where we had been told to meet up. I found Olive waiting for me in the hall and we were able to arrange to get a double-bedded room together. There was also a wire from Celia to she say would be up.

    At lunch we met Florence Murphy and Miss Girvan who told us they had been very frightened by the Zeppelin raid the night before. After lunch we took a taxi to St John’s Gate. We went down through Holborn and saw where the Zeppelins had dropped bombs. Some of the houses were wrecked and windows were smashed for a long way off. … There were various women in nursing uniforms fussing round and a lot of girls waiting to be interviewed. A dark, short-sighted youth in an officer’s uniform gave us out passports. I had a mild inclination to giggle when he asked me the colour of my eyes and hair and whether I had any scars on my face or hands. He gave me my passport having stuck my photograph on it, also a Red Cross active service brassard and an identity disc. We returned to the hotel after getting various odds and ends I wanted and having tea at Evans’. Celia turned up after tea and stayed for dinner. By this time the hotel was swimming with St John’s girls and their relations. After tea we saw Celia off at Victoria and then turned in early as we were very tired.