20th March 1919

The snow was falling thickly and a keen wind blowing. I photographed two nice FANY girls – one a friend of [chauffeur] Mr Blow’s whom he had passed in London for French service a long time before, and the cars covered with snow looked quite pretty.

Edis 022

First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) drivers with their snow-covered motor ambulances at Commercy, © IWM (Q 8074)

They were busy taking provisions to isolated starved villages and carting families about in great ambulance wagons.

But if the day was cold, our reception at Toul was not. The Americans just gave us the warmest and most cordial welcome imaginable. [We were introduced to] Miss Coleman, the most delightful, attractive and kind of Canadians. She was grey-haired and wore enormous tortoiseshell glasses but her sweetness and charm of expression and her animation made her most attractive.

We waited on to photograph a meeting of head-nurses (they do not use our word Matron) at another hospital nearby… I did them all at their prettily-arranged tea table, Miss McGrath pouring out tea. They were rather amused when I told them that we aimed at working pictures. “Well, the English will say we occasionally do a bit of work, but at any rate we have our tea,” one of them remarked.

Toul

A group of five senior nurses taking tea at the American Evacuating Hospital at Toul © IWM (Q 8075)

I think “our charming Miss Coleman”, as Edis calls her, is the lady second from the left, in the hat and glasses.

Then followed a truly wonderful American tea – new in detail to me… The chocolate cake was solid with brown icing, and salted almonds completed the feast, with chunks of white soft candy which was not exactly “fudge” but something like it, with nuts embedded in it.

So far I haven’t included any details of the group’s meals, which Edis recounts almost daily in the journal, but I couldn’t leave out her first experience of nougat! From her detailed recollections, it sounds as though Ms Edis had a rather sweet tooth (a woman after my own heart). Anyone researching food provisions in the army camps and throughout France and Belgium in 1919 would be delighted with the information that she kept.

At Charmont she is especially thrilled to be served custard “with the white of egg whipped on the top as one had only dreamed of in war-time in England”, and notes that the Americans at Toul sent the group away with “eight hard boiled eggs and a packet of salt”. This might seem odd, but eggs were in short supply at home during WW1 as a result of a campaign called the National Egg Collection, which was launched in 1914 and continued until the end of March 1919. The National Egg Collection was proposed by the editor of Poulty World magazine (I’m not making this up, honest) and demanded that “every British hen should be on active service” providing fresh eggs to wounded soldiers in hospitals in France. Collection points were set up around the country, and children were encouraged to do their part by collecting the eggs and delivering them to the depot. By Easter 1915, the scheme was delivering over 200,000 eggs a week, and one heady week in August that year, over a million eggs were shipped out to French hospitals. People back home in England were discouraged from eating eggs, as it was deemed unpatriotic, with newspapers urging people to “do your duty by the wounded men. You cannot eat eggs and feel that the wounded are going without.” So you can imagine that Edis would be quite pleased to finally get to sample some of these lovely British eggs that were being shipped over the channel!

Many thanks to the University of Oxford’s WW1 blog for the information on the National Egg Collection. Read the full story (complete with a postcard image of an enlisted hen) here.

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2 thoughts on “20th March 1919

    • Thank you! It’s a lovely thought, isn’t it? I’ve read elsewhere that people were also encouraged to write messages of support on their eggs, or even their names and addresses so that soldiers could write back and thank them!

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