I remembered meeting a veteran of the 1st of July on the Somme, by the time 2016 comes around I will have forgotten. They were there on the day. The noise, the blood, the quick and the dead. I remembered them on the 4th August. but I had forgotten their name. The veteran was an important person on the 1st July, I had wondered who decided who would live and who would die. This veteran was one of those who decided. I remember the veteran telling me it was at times purely random. Picking soldiers out of a line. You would just point, him, him, maybe him, he is going to die, he will die, he will die. We would stop now and then for a coke for me, and a beer, bottled, and I had to get them. The veteran rationed both the coke, it might have been orange juice and the beer. I was reminded about them on the 4th of August because of the candles and the lights out nonsense, This veteran both lived in a house that had no electricity, no running water, no inside toilet, and owned and worked in a place that had no electricity, no running water, no inside toilet. This was in the mid sixties. We talked of the days that followed the 1st July 1916, the 2nd and the 3rd of July. I sat wide eyed and with my mouth open. I remember being told they were simply overwhelmed. The wounded and the dead were endless, as was the mud and the blood. How after being on duty for 48 hours they were told to clean up and get a kip. The veteran told me that because she left her cap on, she lost a days pay. Not for falling asleep in the bath, which she confessed to doing, not for missing or sleeping through her shift. Which she told me she didn’t do, but for wearing her nurses cap on her head while having a bath. And I had forgotten her name.
Today, in an eureka moment, or it would have been if I was in the bath, I remembered, or more correctly reminded in a totally unrelated way. Her name was Susan Ellis. A nurse on the Somme. One of her jobs was to go along the lines of the wounded lying on stretchers and pick out soldiers who might be treated and saved. Susan told me they were simply to many of them. More would have survived but they were not expecting the number of casualties there were, and they had to decided who stood the best chance. From when the first casualties arrived Susan said they worked forty eight hours without a break to save as many lives as they could. Then when told to clean up and have a sleep she lost a days pay. Susan Ellis was still a bit bitter about that until her dying day