When War Came to the Hospital – Part One

When War Came to the Hospital – Part One

by an MMM Sister                                Unknown Location                                          19.08.2023

One Sunday morning when we returned from Mass, we noticed a bus outside the hospital.  We had never seen a bus in the area before. We took a hurried breakfast and went on duty.  For the first time we witnessed the gruesome effects of war.  From now on subjects which to us had been the topic of a novel or film were to become stark, cruel reality.  There was no glamour, but plenty of challenge.  It was an experience which I now appreciate, and which proved most educative.  We were to witness to witness the horrors and widespread effects of treachery and betrayal side by side with stalwart patriotism, warm generosity, and courage. Noble, heroic deeds gave us courage and a new will to continue in the face of difficulties.

Most of the soldiers who were admitted to the hospital were Catholic. Most of them were excellent ones and took advantage of their visit to hospital to receive the Sacraments. Missionary priests who still lived in the area heard their confessions and attended to the dying at the battle front. Later, displaced indigenous priests and non-Catholic clergy were appointed army chaplains and this considerably relieved the burden of the overworked missionaries.

Our hospital was now indeed a military hospital. Only one ward was left for civilians. Extra beds were put up in the houses outside the hospital for battle casualties. New procedure had to be adopted. Instruction to our patients included: “Please unload your gun and check the barrel.” The most able-bodied of the patients were requested to deposit guns, rounds of ammunition, and hand grenades at the office before going to the wards. An officer collected the remainder.As well as dispensing medicine and looking after the patients’ physical and spiritual needs, we had to boost morale. Morale was of paramount importance. Although we experienced extreme suffering, life was not without its bright side. We received courage from each other and ‘supported one another in charity’. Once “the boys” got over their initial pain and fatigue, they were usually ready for a chat and a joke. We endeavoured to have a film twice a week for them, but they only appreciated war films from which they could learn tactics. Sometimes we played records and the more able-bodied danced. But the soldiers were never off duty. They were always alert for a strange sound, an enemy plane, or distant shooting.