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Ch. 13: The Duchesse d'Uzes (jeune)

 

BRIEF ACCOUNTS OF GREAT WORK

THE DUCHESSE D'UZÈS

 

 

The Duchesse d'Uzès (jeune) was not only one of the reigning beauties of Paris before the war but one of its best-dressed women; nor had she ever been avoided for too serious tendencies. She went to work the day war began and she has never ceased to work since. She has started something like seventeen hospitals both at the French front and in Saloniki, and her tireless brain has to its credit several notable inventions for moving field hospitals.

Near Amiens is the most beautiful of the duc's castles, Lucheux, built in the eleventh century. This she turned into a hospital during the first battle of the Somme in 1915, and as it could only accommodate a limited number she had hospital tents erected in the park. Seven hundred were cared for there. Lucheux is now a hospital for officers.

She herself is an infirmière major and not only goes back and forth constantly to the hospitals in which she is interested, particularly Lucheux, but sometimes nurses day and night.

I was very anxious to see Lucheux, as well as Arras, which is not far from Amiens, and, a vast ruin, is said to be by moonlight the most beautiful sight on earth. We both besieged the War Office. But in vain. The great Battle of the Somme had just begun. They are so polite at the Ministère de la Guerre! If I had only thought of it a month earlier. Or if I could remain in France a month or two longer? But hélas! They could not take the responsibility of letting an American woman go so close to the big guns. And so forth. It was sad enough that the duchess risked her life, took it in her hand, in fact, every time she visited the château, but as a Frenchwoman, whose work was of such value to France, it was their duty to assist her in the fulfillment of her own duty to her country. Naturally her suggestion to take me on her passport as an infirmière was received with a smile. So I must see Arras with a million other tourists after the war.

The duchess prefers for reasons of her own to work, not with the noblesse division of the Red Cross, but with the Union des Femmes de France. As she is extremely independent, impatient, and enterprising, with a haughty disdain of red tape, the reasons for this uncommon secession may be left to the reader.

And if she is to-day one of the most valued of the Ministère de la Guerre's coöperators, she has on the other hand reason to be grateful for the incessant demands upon her mind, for her anxieties have been great--no doubt are still. Not only is the duc at the front, but one of two young nephews who lived with her was killed last summer, and the other, a young aviator, who was just recovering from typhoid when I was there, was ill-concealing his impatience to return to the Front. Her son, a boy of seventeen--a volunteer of course--in the sudden and secret transfers the army authorities are always making, sometimes could not communicate with her for a fortnight at a time, and meanwhile she did not know whether he was alive or "missing." Since then he has suffered one of those cruel misfortunes which, in this war, seem to be reserved for the young and gallant. She writes of it in that manner both poignant and matter-of-fact that is so characteristic of the French mother these days:

"I have just gone through a great deal of anguish on account of my oldest son, who, as I told you, left the cavalry to enter the chasseurs à pied at his request.

"The poor boy was fighting in the splendid (illegible) affair, and he was buried twice, then caught by the stifling gases, his mask having been torn off. He insisted upon remaining at his post, in spite of the fact that he was spitting blood. Fortunately a lieutenant passed by and saw him. He gave orders to have him carried away. As soon as he reached the ambulance he fainted and could only be brought to himself with the greatest difficulty. His lungs are better, thank God, but his heart is very weak, and even his limbs are affected by the poison. Many weeks will be required to cure him. I don't know yet where he will be sent to be attended to, but of course I shall accompany him.... The duc is always in the Somme, where the bombardment is something dreadful. He sleeps in a hut infested with rats. Really it is a beautiful thing to see so much courage and patience among men of all ages in this country."

In the same letter she writes: "I am just about to finish my new Front hospital according to the desiderata expressed by our President of the Hygiène Commission. I hope it will be accepted as a type of the surgical movable ambulances."

Before it was generally known that Roumania was "coming in" she had doctors and nurses for several months in France in the summer of 1916 studying all the latest devices developed by the French throughout this most demanding of all wars. The officials sent with them adopted several of the Duchesse d'Uzès' inventions for the movable field hospital.

She has never sent me the many specific details of her work that she promised me, or this article would be longer. But, no wonder! What time have those women to sit down and write? I often wonder they gave me as much time as they did when I was on the spot.

 

 

 

 

THE DUCHESSE DE ROHAN

 

 

Before the war society used to dance once a week in the red and gold salon of the historic "hôtel" of the Rohans' in the Faubourg St. Germain, just behind the Hôtel des Invalides. Here the duchess entertained when she took up her residence there as a bride; and, as her love of "the world" never waned, she danced on with the inevitable pauses for birth and mourning, until her daughters grew up and brought to the salon a new generation. But the duchess and her own friends continued to dance on a night set apart for themselves, and in time all of her daughters, but one, married and entertained in their own hôtels. Her son, who, in due course, became the Duc de Rohan, also married; but mothers are not dispossessed in France, and the duchess still remained the center of attraction at the Hôtel de Rohan.

Until August second, 1914.

The duchess immediately turned the hôtel into a hospital. When I arrived last summer it looked as if it had been a hospital for ever. All the furniture of the first floor had been stored and the immense dining-room, the red and gold salon, the reception rooms, all the rooms large and small on this floor, in fact, were lined with cots. The pictures and tapestries have been covered with white linen, four bathrooms have been installed, and a large operating and surgical-dressing room built as an annex. The hall has been turned into a "bureau," with a row of offices presided over by Maurice Rostand.

Behind the hôtel is the usual beautiful garden, very large and shaded with splendid trees. During fine weather there are cots or long chairs under every tree, out in the sun, on the veranda; and, after the War Zone, these men seemed to me very fortunate. The duchess takes in any one sent to her, the Government paying her one-franc-fifty a day for each. The greater part of her own fortune was invested in Brussels.

She and her daughters and a few of her friends do all of the nursing, even the most menial. They wait on the table, because it cheers the poilus--who, by the way, all beg, as soon as they have been there a few days, to be put in the red and gold salon. It keeps up their spirits! Her friends and their friends, if they have any in Paris, call constantly and bring them cigarettes. Fortunately I was given the hint by the Marquise de Talleyrand, who took me the first time, and armed myself with one of those long boxes that may be carried most conveniently under the arm. Otherwise, I should have felt like a superfluous intruder, standing about those big rooms looking at the men. In the War Zone where there were often no cigarettes, or anything else, to be bought, it was different. The men were only too glad to see a new face.

The duchess trots about indefatigably, assists at every operation, assumes personal charge of infectious cases, takes temperatures, waits on the table, and prays all night by the dying. Mr. Van Husen, a young American who was helping her at that time, told me that if a boy died in the hospital and was a devout Catholic, and friendless in Paris, she arranged to have a high mass for his funeral service at a church in the neighborhood.

The last time I saw her she was feeling very happy because her youngest son, who had been missing for several weeks, had suddenly appeared at the hôtel and spent a few days with her. A week later the Duc de Rohan, one of the most brilliant soldiers in France, was killed; and since my return I have heard of the death of her youngest. Such is life for the Mothers of France to-day.

 

 

 

 

COUNTESS GREFFULHE

 

 

The Countess Greffulhe (born Princesse de Chimay and consequently a Belgian, although no stretch of fancy could picture her as anything but a Parisian) offered her assistance at once to the Government and corresponded with hundreds of Mayors in the provinces in order to have deserted hotels made over into hospitals with as little delay as possible. She also established a dépôt to which women could come privately and sell their laces, jewels, bibelots, etc. Her next enterprise was to form a powerful committee which responsible men and women of the allied countries could ask to get up benefits when the need for money was pressing.

Upon one occasion when a British Committee made this appeal she induced Russia to send a ballet for a single performance; and she also persuaded the manager of the Opera House to open it for a gala performance for another organization. There is a romantic flavor about all the countess's work, and just how practical it was or how long it was pursued along any given line I was unable to learn.

 

 

 

 

MADAME PAQUIN

Madame Paquin, better known to Americans, I fancy, than any of the great dressmakers of Europe, offered her beautiful home in Neuilly to the Government to be used as a hospital, and it had accommodated up to the summer of 1916 eight thousand, nine hundred soldiers.

She also kept all her girls at work from the first. As no one ordered a gown for something like eighteen months they made garments for the soldiers, or badges for the numerous appeal days--we all decorated ourselves, within ten minutes after leaving the house, like heroes and heroines on the field, about three times a week--and upon one occasion this work involved a three months' correspondence with all the Mayors of France. It further involved the fastening of ribbons and pins (furnished by herself) upon fifteen million medallions. Madame Paquin is also on many important committees, including "L'Orphelinat des Armées," so well known to us.

 

 

 

 

MADAME PAUL DUPUY

 

 

Madame Dupuy was also an American girl, born in New York and now married to the owner of Le Petit Parisien and son of one of the wealthiest men in France. She opened in the first days of the war an organization which she called "Oeuvre du Soldat Blessé ou Malade," and from her offices in the Hôtel de Crillon and her baraque out at the Dépôt des Dons (where we all have warehouses), she supplies surgeons at the Front with wheeling-chairs, surgical dressings, bed garments, rubber for operating tables, instruments, slippers, pillows, blankets, and a hundred and one other things that harassed surgeons at the Front are always demanding. The oeuvre of the Marquise de Noailles, with which a daughter of Mrs. Henry Seligmen, Madame Henri van Heukelom, is closely associated, is run on similar lines.

I have alluded frequently in the course of these reminiscences to Madame Dupuy, who was of the greatest assistance to me, and more than kind and willing. I wish I could have returned it by collecting money for her oeuvre when I returned to New York, but I found that Le Bien-Être du Blessé was all I could manage. Moreover, it is impossible to get money these days without a powerful committee behind you. To go to one wealthy and generous person or another as during the first days of the war and ask for a donation for the president of an oeuvre unrepresented in this country is out of the question. It is no longer done, as the English say.

 

 

 

 

 

Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton