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The Nurses. Chapter 15

A safe arrival but a disturbed, sleepless night for Katarina.

Amiens.June 9 th 1940

 

 

After the nightmare of the previous day's flight, Katarina was glad of having a day to get to know her surroundings.

 

She had been taken to the hospital from the airfield by a Luftwaffe truck, the same one that carried the body of the unfortunate pilot to the hospital mortuary.

 

On the rather uncomfortable journey, the driver had told her that her aeroplane had been attacked by a lone French fighter which had thought that they were just a single cargo plane. He had not been aware of the two Messerschmitt fighters which were accompanying them.

 

Not immediately spotted because of the bright sun he had made a second run, determined to destroy his prey but he did not stand a chance against the superior German machines and was shot to pieces by the escorting fighters.

 

Katarina realised then, as the driver recounted what he had been told, why the attack had stopped as abruptly as it had begun.

 

The Frenchman, though, had almost achieved his goal. He had killed the pilot, destroyed an engine and damaged the controls so badly that the Junkers had become almost impossible to fly.

 

This was as near to death as Katarina had ever been, although at the time, she had not known it and it gave her a cold shiver up her spine.

 

That was behind her now, though and today she was free to relax and get the horrific ordeal out of her system.

 

The truck had dropped her at the hospital where she had presented her documents to the Duty Medical Officer, who couldn't have been more pleased with being sent an experienced Matron.

 

Katarina had protested that she wasn't all that experienced a matron, but the reply had been terse, she was an experienced nurse, she was a matron, therefore, she fitted the bill.

 

“All right,” she said, taken aback, “If you put it like that.”

 

“Yes,” he had replied, more to himself than to Katarina, “I do. All they send us are inexperienced youngsters. I still need another Matron but will I get one? No, of course, I won't. I have a hospital full of sick and wounded and barely enough skilled staff to tend them. 'Send me experienced nurses', I tell them but do they? No!”

 

Katarina had stood patiently, mildly bemused by the DMO's outburst but she could sympathise. Conditions in Berlin were no better, but she held her tongue, not wishing to extend the doctors misery. Eventually, with an over exaggerated thump, he banged the rubber stamp down hard on the final document, handed it to Katarina and waved her away.

 

The Hospital itself was not a field hospital and had proper accommodation for the nurses and Katarina was given a room to herself as befitted her position.

 

She had not slept well. For the first couple of hours, she had lain staring up at the ceiling. She tried reading, but couldn't concentrate and she felt so alone.

 

When she did eventually succumb, she had been plagued by dreams and nightmares. Each time she had closed her eyes, she was either back in the aeroplane or at home except that it wasn't home, at least not as she remembered it. She dreamed that the SS had returned for her parents and each time they burst through the door, or the shells thudded through the aluminium wall of the aeroplane cabin, she awoke. So, when the sun rose into the early morning sky, she got up and dressed and determined that today was a day to put all those fears away and find out more about where she was going to spend the next, well, however long it would be.

 

One thing she did appreciate was that she was now in an occupied country and a war zone. She felt alone and a little afraid and so she felt it would be better to stay within the grounds of the hospital. She was sure that, as a nurse, she would not be attacked but nevertheless, at the back of her mind she couldn't be certain.

 

She had breakfast in the mess hall which had brought a few surprises for her.

 

Although she had a fairly good home, far better than many ordinary Berliners in that she never went hungry, she was acutely aware of the struggle that many had just to survive and find enough food to feed themselves and their families.

 

Throughout the harsh winters, the authorities made very little effort to supply the civilian population and yet, here there was abundance. She could eat as much as she wanted and no-one would bat an eyelid.

 

As it was, she was not particularly hungry and just had two slices of bread and a little cheese washed down with coffee.

 

“May I sit here, Matron?”

 

The unexpected request jolted her from her thoughts and she looked up to see another nurse standing the other side of the table, waiting expectantly for an answer.

 

“Oh yes, of course,” Katarina replied, smiling and somewhat glad of the company.

 

As she placed her tray on the table and sat down the young nurse asked;

 

“Have you just arrived?”

 

Katarina frowned.

 

“Yes, yesterday. Is it so obvious?”

 

The nurse smiled.

 

“Only because matrons usually eat with the officers...”

 

“Oh, I see,” Katarina paused for a moment, “I shouldn't be here then?”

 

The smile on the nurse's lips faded only to be replaced with a thoughtful frown.

 

“Oh, I don't really know. I, er, I never really thought about that...”

 

They sat silently for a few moments until Katarina's new companion put down her cup.

 

“What ward will you be on?” she asked, “Only I am on ward seven.”

 

“Do you know, I have absolutely no idea,” Katarina replied, “I arrived early and am to report to the Administration offices at eight tomorrow morning. I assume they will tell me then.”

 

The young nurse nodded, understanding until Katarina asked her how long she had been here.

 

“Oh, I came with the first group a week ago,” she replied.

 

“Only a week?” Katarina was surprised, “But I thought...” her words trailed away.

 

“Oh yes, the army only re-organised it just over a week ago.”

 

There was silence again as Katarina took in this piece of information.

 

Suddenly, she smiled.

 

“Oh, I'm sorry, I just had a thought...” she held out her hand, “I am Katarina Langsdorf.”

 

The young nurse looked around before replying in hushed tones.

 

“They are very big on protocol here,” she said quietly, “I will just call you 'Matron'.”

 

Katarina lowered her hand and her now subordinate companion continued.

 

“I am Nurse Brandt,” she said, aloud but continued in a whisper, “Madeleine.”

 

“Then I am pleased to meet you, Nurse Brandt,” Katarina replied, adding, “Madeleine,” in a much lower tone and giving a little wink to indicate that she understood.

 

“Where did you come here from?” Katarina asked.

 

“I am from Stuttgart,” Madeleine replied. “I hadn't even finished my training when I came here but I have learned more in the past week than I did in a year at home!”

 

Katarina remembered the words of the DMO and now they made sense. The hospitals in Germany could ill afford to lose their qualified staff and so they were sending those they could manage better without.

 

“How about you?”

 

“I am from Berlin,” she answered wistfully.

 

“How long have you been a nurse?”

 

“Seven years. Since I was fifteen.”

 

“Fifteen! No wonder you look so young for a Matron! All the Matrons I have met up to now have been at least twice my age.”

 

Madeleine's eyes were open wide now.

 

Katarina smiled.

 

“I have only been a Matron for a few days,” she said. “My surgeon arranged the promotion as I had been running his ward for a few weeks.”

 

“He must think very highly of you.”

 

She didn't reply. Suddenly she felt terribly homesick and just nodded sadly.

 

“How old are you, Madeleine?” she asked at length.

 

“Eighteen,” came the enthusiastic answer.

 

Katarina was about to comment that she was only four years younger than herself but the young girl placed her empty cup onto her tray and stood up.

 

“I must return now,” she said, “It was lovely to meet you, Matron. I hope you come to ward Seven.”

 

Once again, Katarina was alone and she looked across to the big clock, high on the mess-room wall and sighed. It was only nine-thirty.

 

She wondered what her mother and father were doing. Being a Sunday, she thought that they would both be at home, probably already had their breakfast.

 

She sighed and got to her feet, deciding to head back to her room and write a letter to let them know she had arrived safely.

 

She took her tray to the counter and left unhurriedly, ambling slowly along the road back to the accommodation building.

 

The hospital was busy, the roads full of military vehicles, many of them ambulances. As she passed soldiers, they would salute her and greet her with 'Good morning, Matron' and suchlike.

 

Before she had left home, she had been issued with the shoulder cape that indicated her status and which she now wore over her nurse's uniform.

 

She would smile and reply, 'Good Morning' but never returned the salute as she didn't know how or even if she was supposed to. She had never been in a military environment before and even more so, knew nothing of how a Matron was supposed to react.

 

Instead, she just raised her hand in a kind of static wave, hoping that would be, and indeed did seem to be, sufficient.

 

She assumed that a matron was equivalent to being an officer but, beyond that, she was clueless and determined that she would learn all that she needed to when she reported for duty the following morning.

 

Back in her room, she removed the cape and hung it carefully in the small closet before sitting at her desk and took out her writing paper, a pen and a small bottle of ink.

 

She dipped the nib into the blue liquid pulled the small lever on the side to fill the pen and began.

 

Dear Mama and Papa...

 

She stared at the words, the only words that would come into her mind.

 

Now she had started, what would she say?

 

Just a few words to let you know...

 

Let you know what she thought that I was almost killed? That my aeroplane was attacked?

 

that I arrived safely last night.

 

She watched as the ink soaked into the paper and slowly dried, her mind empty.

 

'...having a lovely time'?

 

Hardly. She was not exactly taking a holiday.

 

She moved the nib towards the paper but no words formed, just a slowly increasing blue blot.

 

Katarina sighed deeply, replaced the cap on the pen, took up the sheet and screwed it into a ball before throwing it into the waste bin.

 

Once again, she stared at the clean page. She didn't have a lot of paper so this time, she didn't write anything in case the same thing happened.

 

She thought and thought, but the only words that would form were the only ones she had already discarded.

 

In the end, she placed the pen on top of the empty pages and went to her suitcase where she had left her books.

 

A little reading would perhaps help her relax a little and then, maybe, she would be able to think more clearly.

 

The book she had chosen was called 'Long ago and far away', a collection of Fairytales which her Mother had bought for her when she was a little girl. She had read it so many times, but she still loved it.

 

Her favourite story was the first. A tale which had been written several centuries before, of a Scottish knight named Troylus, who rode in search of his long lost love, Zellandine.

 

It had a different title when it was first written as it was a part of a very long, French tale, Perceforest, but now, it was known simply as, The Sleeping Beauty.

 

Katarina was not one for escaping into fantasy worlds and dreams, but she enjoyed the stories for what they were, a little escapism from the trials of real life., a romantic look at times so long past.

 

She never imagined that one day, she would be swept off her feet by a knight on a white horse but she fully expected that one day she would meet a man with whom she would fall in love, marry, have children and spend the rest of her life but, for now, her nursing was her life and until she settled down to raise a family she would spend her days looking after and helping anyone who needed her, whomsoever they might be.

 

She sat back on her bed and began to read.

 

Suddenly, there was a sharp knock on the door.

 

She sat up with a start. Her book was on the floor beside her bed and she reached down to pick it up.

 

“One minute!” she called out.

 

Checking her watch she saw it was almost One O'clock! She must have fallen asleep! That would explain how her book came to be on the floor.

 

Walking quickly to the door, she opened it to find a young soldier standing there. He wore the grey uniform of the Wermacht but on his left arm he wore a white band with a red cross marked clearly upon it.

 

“Can I help you?” she asked politely.

 

“Matron Langsdorf?” the smart young medic asked, quickly saluting her.

 

“Yes,” she replied, curious as to what he could possibly want with her.

 

“The Duty Medical Officer asked me to find you. He would like to speak to you in his office if you would be so kind...”

 

“Oh, yes, alright,” Katarina replied, “I will just get my cape.”

 

She left the door open whilst she went to get it then put her book back in her suitcase, locked it and slid it back beneath the bedstead.

 

Finally, without another word, she closed the door behind her and followed as the soldier marched ahead of her.

 

It wasn't far to the DMO's office which was situated on the ground floor of the main building about ten minutes after leaving her room, and the soldier was knocking on his door.

 

“Come!” a stern voice called.

 

“Matron Langsdorf, Sir!” the young man announced, standing stiffly at attention and saluting smartly as he spoke.

 

“Ah, Matron. Thank you for coming.”

 

The Medical officer dismissed his messenger with a wave of his hand.

 

Katarina smiled and nodded to him.

 

“I am sorry to disturb you but we have a small problem here,” he began.

 

“And I can help you?” she queried.

 

“Yes, I hope so. “As I said yesterday when you arrived, we are very short of experienced staff here. Would you mind helping out on your ward today. I know you have not yet been inducted here but a number of casualties have just been brought in and they are struggling to cope without any leadership...”

 

“Oh, yes, oh course. I would be glad to. Which ward?”

 

“Ward Three. The orderly will take you.”

 

He shouted and within seconds the door opened and the same young soldier entered and saluted, standing stiffly at attention.

 

“Yes, Herr Leutnant?” he said loudly.

 

“Take Matron Langsdorf to Ward Three, please.”

 

“Yes, Herr Leutnant,” the soldier repeated, just as loudly.

 

As Katarina turned to leave, the DMO stopped her by saying,

 

“Thank you, Matron. I appreciate your help.”

 

She turned back to him and smiled.

 

“You are welcome. I am always willing to help where I can.”

 

The orderly led her through a maze of corridors until they came to Ward Three.

 

Passing through the double doors, she was greeted by a scene of chaos. A handful of nurses were trying to look after several wounded men who were groaning in pain and calling out to them for attention.

 

She could see that they were doing their best but without any organisation, they were being run ragged, so she went up to the nearest nurse and tapped her on the shoulder.

 

“Oh wait a minute, can't you see I'm busy!” she replied testily, without looking up from her patient.

 

“I am here to help you,” Katarina replied patiently.

 

“Oh, Matron! I am so sorry!” the nurse replied as she looked up for the first time. “I was...”

 

“Don't worry, it's all right,” she replied, “I can see how busy you are. Could you get the others together for a moment and we will sort out this mess.”

 

“Yes, of course,” the nurse replied and called out. “Girls, Girls, here quickly!”

 

Three other nurses joined the first and Katarina quickly introduced herself.

 

“I am Sister... ahem, Matron Katarina Langsdorf. I arrived last night and the officer in charge today had asked me to come straight here to help you.”

 

She paused to allow her words to sink in.

 

“I will learn your names as the day passes but first, let us get some organisation here.”

 

No-one spoke as she looked from one to the other of them.

 

“Who of you is fully qualified?” she asked, anticipating the answer.

 

Only one hand was raised,

 

“I am, Matron, I qualified one month ago.”

 

Katarina sighed.

 

“And the rest of you?”

 

The other three heads all shook slowly.

 

“Then it seems I have considerable work to do here.”

 

Katarina smiled benignly.

 

“Don't worry,” she went on, “We will sort this out as long as we all work at it. Yes?”

 

Without exception, all four of the young nurses before her smiled and in unison replied,

 

“Yes, Matron!”

 

“Good,” she replied, then turned to the one qualified nurse. “You come with me and we will start at the beginning so you can inform me of what is what. The rest of you,” she looked at the remaining three, “You carry on as you were whilst I get a feel for what we have here and I will speak to you as I work my way around, all right?”

 

She looked at each of them in turn as they once more replied,

 

“Yes, Matron.”

 

They didn't move immediately until Katarina shoo'd them away with a sweep of her hands.

 

“So,” she said to the one remaining, smiling, “You know my name...”

 

The young woman paused for a moment and then,

 

“Oh, oh yes, sorry. I am Nurse Richter.”

 

For a moment, there was silence until the nurse realised and added,

 

“Karin, Matron, Karin Richter.”

 

Katarina smiled.

 

“Good. Now then, Nurse Richter, why don't we start at the beginning. There is no hurry, no-one is going anywhere for a while so let us get our ward into some semblance of order, yes?”

 

The young woman also smiled and nodded. She was happy now and felt that she could relax a little now there was someone here who seemed to be so calm and experienced and, if her first impressions were correct, a nice person too.

 

One by one, bed by bed, Katarina listened carefully whilst Karin went through each patients notes.

 

By the time they reached the twentieth and final bed, she had a good picture in her mind as to who needed what and which patients were the most important in terms of urgency. All of the patients were German military, mostly army but there were also three Luftwaffe personnel.

 

Not all were wounded. Some were sick with a fever and, as was the case of the Airmen, injured in accidents.

 

As she worked her way around she also learned the names of the other four sisters.

 

They were all young and inexperienced and Katarina wondered how they had managed for even a week without any help.

 

The hours passed by and she realized that, although lacking experience they were all willing to learn and work hard. She felt that she had the beginnings of a good team.

 

Katarina didn't hear the door open or the quiet footsteps approaching whilst she helped one of her girls change the dressings of a soldier who had a bad would to his shoulder which was a little infected and she jumped when she heard a voice behind her.

 

“Good evening, Matron.”

 

She looked up to see another Matron standing beside the bed, somewhat older than herself.

 

“Good evening?” she queried as she tied off the bandage and stood upright then lifted her watch to check the time. “Good heavens, it is almost seven o'clock!”

 

The new arrival smiled.

 

“Yes, time for me to take over. You must be the new Matron. I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow.”

 

“No, I arrived early and the Medical Officer asked me to help out as these girls were struggling.”

 

“Well, you seem to have got them working very well,” she said, looking up and down the ward, “How long have you been a Matron?”

 

Katarina gave a wry smile.

 

“I suppose you could say that this is my first day.”

 

The older nurse raised her eyebrows in surprise.

 

“Good heavens and already you have done all this!”

 

Katarina blushed and smiled embarrassed, but said,

 

“Well, I have been helping run my ward at the Charité in Berlin for a little while...”

 

Having completed her handover, she realised that she had not eaten since breakfast, so she went to the canteen and had a small bite before returning to her room.

 

This time, as soon as she was in bed she fell asleep immediately, exhausted and slept soundly, all of her fears behind her.

 

 

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