Diary of a WWI Canteen Worker

red-cross-canteen-worker-patch1

A RED CROSS GIRL
Her Diary Shows What These Noble Creatures Are Doing.

(To the Editor.)

Washington. — Here are a few extracts from a girl’s diary that take you right to the hospitals where our fellows are suffering so bravely. She is an American Red Cross canteen worker, and the story appeared in the Paris edition of the Red Cross Bulletin.

Monday — Worked at the canteen from seven until midnight, then went to the hospital. Heard wounded had been coming in all evening.

Tuesday — At the hospital at ?:20 in the morning. Doctor said there was nothing I could do since I am not a nurse. But I went into the wards. What did that doctor mean by “nothing to do?” The men were hungary — hadn’t eaten for days, some of them. Met the Red Cross chief. He rushed at me, handed me 2,000 ($400) and said, “go buy food and rolling chairs — there isn’t one here.” I bought 500 francs worth of eggs. Met some girls from the British Ambulance, and they offered to help. We hard-boiled the eggs, made 100 litres (quarts) of coffee, 100 of chocolate, and hundreds of sandwiches of eggs, jelly, ham. Two men cut ham and bread for twenty-four hours at a stretch.

Wednesday — Three men in front of hospital wounded. Helped was them — took all my nerve. Blood is ghastly and I know what blood sickness means. Edith slaved all night in operating room.

Thursday — Frightfully tired. Soldiers marvelously patient. Don’t understand how those girls stay night after night in operating room. German shells still whistle over, but haven’t hit this hospital yet. Must be an accident. Wrote ten letters for poor devils who may never dictate another. Wonder why I haven’t cried once.

Friday — Wrote some more letters and helped in operating room. Don’t know how I stood it. At night couldn’t stand up, hardly. Slept in a blanket just a few yards from a gun.

Saturday — Evacuating wounded, thank God. Feel hollow and haven’t strength of a fly. Feel at last as if I’d done something. Want to get back to the same work when I get rested enough.

Charles A. Bonfils

Charles A. Bonfils

Two air raids, a high explosive shell bombardment, a shrapnel storm which he through bareheaded, an attack of “three-day fever,” and a high probability that he is inhabited by cooties, all within his first week, made Charles Alden Bonfils, a Red Cross worker, feel that he’s “almost a veteran.” Mr. Bonfils had been rejected by every branch of the service because of color blindness, but when the Germans’ “big push” started he couldn’t stay out of the fight — said he “just had to get in somewhere.” So he signed up with the Red Cross “as stretcher bearer, casualty searcher, or anything, just so he got to help.”

Red Cross Verification from Passport Application

Red Cross Verification from Passport Application

He did.  This extract from a letter to a friend in the Central Division of the American Red Cross tells a bit of it:

“I came here a week ago today. Went to work in the hospital yard the moment I arrived, serving hot chocolate, cigarets and chocolate bars to the wounded as they came in, ambulance after ambulance of them. Worked from noon all night and till 10 next morning.

“Was sent at 10 at night to a place nearer the lines. Dozens of wounded lay or sat along the road. I had just reached the end of the line when a series of explosions began. I thought it was our own guns, about a hundred yards back of us, that had been splitting our ears, but a low cry of “shrapnel–schrapnel” went up from the wounded, and told me what it was. I had left my shrapnel helmet in the car. I tried for a moment to find it, but gave it up, and helped get the wounded into an old farm house.

“I worked all night. Next day, when I’d had two hours sleep, they packed us off to a place still nearer the front. The boche threw high explosives at us, trying to locate a battery not far away. They set fire to an ammunition dump, and for a quarter of an hour we were dodging exploding shells. That night they were afraid the Boche might bombard the hospital, so we were all sent back.

“Airplanes had been hovering over us, dropping ‘messages,’ and we had a hard rainstorm. Had the ‘three day fever’ but got out the second day. Think I have cooties, and begin to feel a vet? already.” — Red Cross.

—-Buy Bonds!   Buy Bonds!—-

The Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wisconsin) Oct 10, 1918

In case the link for “bosch”  goes dead again, here is the definition from wikipedia:

Bosch (derogatory)

Term used in World War I, often collectively (“the Bosch” meaning “the Germans”). From French slang alboche, from Allemand (“German”) and caboche (“head” or “cabbage”). Also spelled “Boche” or “Bosche”.


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Here is a later news article about Red Cross workers going to the front lines, and it mentions Charles Bonfils as well. By the way, all spellings are as they were in the original articles, so they are not my typos.

AMERICAN RED CROSS WITH RUMAN ARMY

PARIS, Aug. 8 — An American Red Cross unit accompanied the Rumanian troops in their advance on Budapest, according to advices received here today. The fighting was severe, the hospitals at Cradoa and Mara alone receiving 1200 wounded.

An American special train of fifteen cars went to the front from Bucharest loaded with surgical supplies. Another train of eleven cars has been sent to the Transylvania front and a third has been sent to Bessarabia. Major George Treadwell of Albany, N.Y., Major E.E. Hurd of Bound Brook, N.J., Major J.B. Bayne of Chicago, Captain Charles Bonfils of Denver and Lieutenant Homer Ingersoll have charge of these units.

Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada) Aug 9, 1919

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3 Responses to “Diary of a WWI Canteen Worker”

  1. Charles A. Bonfils, Husband of Winifred Black aka “Annie Laurie” « YesterYear Once More Says:

    […] Husband of Winifred Black aka “Annie Laurie” By mrstkdsd In my previous post, “Diary of a WWI Canteen Worker,” the author of the diary excerpts mentioned Charles A. […]

  2. From Soldier’s Mother to Canteen Worker « YesterYear Once More Says:

    […] Diary of a WWI Canteen Worker […]

  3. WWI: Snapshots and Snippets « YesterYear Once More Says:

    […] Diary of a WWI Canteen Worker […]

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