Amiens. June 11 th 1940
Maria woke at Six.
As the DMO had promised, she had been given instructions to report for her induction course at Eight, so she had two hours to prepare herself and take some breakfast.
She had not had to share a bathroom before, and she was very self-conscious, washing herself under her night dress. She was pleased to note, however, that the other nurses did the same.
When they were ready, she accompanied the other nurses with whom she had travelled, to the mess hall.
Every table had a jug of fresh, black coffee and there was a wide choice of meat and cheeses, already sliced, along with freshly baked bread.
The eight new arrivals sat quietly. They had spent so much time together that there was very little left to say beyond general chatter, and very soon it was time to leave for their arrival brief.
In the briefing room, they were joined by four other young nurses who had come from other parts of Germany.
They all stood as the DMO entered, accompanied by another, considerably older Matron.
“Good morning, Ladies,” he said, indicating that they could sit then introduced the Matron.
“This is Senior Matron Eberhardt...”
The Matron smiled and nodded.
“She will advise you on the procedures pertaining to nursing once I have informed you of the military side of your time here.”
He paused as his eyes came to rest on Maria. Again that uncertain look as though he was trying to remember something about her but then moved on.
The morning passed quickly, and Maria learned all about attack warnings and evacuation procedures from the DMO and then the general nursing practices from Matron Eberhardt.
The session closed when the Duty Medical Officer assigned each nurse to a ward, checked against a list which had already been drawn up.
When he got to Maria, he said,
“Sister Kaufmann, Ward Seven... Ah, yes, of course!” his face suddenly lit up with recognition, “Sister, please come to my office when we have finished here.”
Maria looked at the nurses either side of her and shrugged, answering the unasked question.
When all the other nurses had been assigned, he thanked them,
“Go and get lunch and then report immediately to your respective ward matrons. They are expecting you. I appreciate that all of you, well most of you,” he paused momentarily as he glanced at Maria, “are inexperienced and, in some cases, barely qualified but I hope you will use your time here to learn and grow to the very best of your respective abilities.”
He opened the door for them to leave and then Indicated that Maria should follow him and Matron Eberhardt to his office.
Maria wanted to ask if something was wrong but didn't like to so she followed obediently along the corridor to his office.
Once inside Maria could not wait any longer and asked,
“Is something wrong Sir, Matron?”
“Oh, no. On the contrary,” the DMO replied. I am sorry I didn't tell you yesterday, but I was so busy I couldn't remember what it was that made your name familiar.”
She waited patiently whilst he opened a folder on the desk in front of him and took out a single sheet.
“I am in great need of experienced nurses here at all levels,” he began. “Ward Seven is particularly short of such skills... Do you speak French?”
The last bit added as an afterthought.
“No, I'm afraid not,” Maria replied, totally confused now.
“No matter,” the DMO replied. “It is just that Ward seven is allocated for the local population, but I am sure you will get by.”
There was a moment of silence until, with 'ahem' from the Matron, he continued.
“Oh, oh yes, anyway, the point is that I really need a supervisor in Ward Seven, and I have received papers from the Red Cross in Munich that you are to be promoted to Matron with immediate effect and, therefore, take charge of Ward Seven.”
Maria was stunned.
“I am to be a matron?” she gasped.
The DMO frowned,
“You do not think you are capable?” he said slowly.
“Oh yes, I am sure I am. It was just so unexpected. Thank you!”
The Senior Matron smiled.
“I have your records from Ludwig-Maximillian, and they speak very highly of you. If they are to be believed, then I don't think you will have a problem.”
Maria flushed with a mixture of embarrassment and pride.
“I, I don't know what to say...” she stammered.
“Then don't say anything,” the DMO answered and handed her a large paper parcel. “This is your cape and insignia. Get some lunch and then Matron Eberhardt will take you to Ward Seven to introduce you.”
Once again, Maria thanked them and shook their hands and turned to leave but paused as the DMO stopped her.
“One more thing,” he said, “As a matron you will have a room of your own in the Senior Nurses Quarters so when you have finished your shift tonight report to reception and an orderly will take you to your new accommodation.”
She didn't go directly to the mess hall but stopped off at the washroom and put on her cape and insignia where she could look in the mirror.
She was pleased with the reflection and thought about how proud Mama and Papa would be and resolved to write and tell them that very evening.
The excitement was so great that Maria didn't feel at all hungry but nibbled a little bread and took some coffee before returning to the DMO's office and thence to the ward.
There were just two nurses working when she arrived with Matron Eberhardt. She was introduced to them and brought up to date with the paperwork before being left alone to her own devices.
A few minutes after the Senior Matron had left, two further nurses returned from their lunch.
Maria was about to introduce herself, but the younger of the two spoke before she had a chance.
“Matron Langsdorf!” she exclaimed, “you did get my ward then. I thought you would have been here sooner, though. Have you been somewhere else first?”
Maria was stunned almost to silence as this was the second time someone had mistaken her for this 'Matron Langsdorf'.
“No, I'm sorry, Sister...?” she began and the young nurses expression changed to bemusement.
“Brandt, Matron, Madeleine Brandt. Have you forgotten?”
“I'm afraid, Madeleine, that you are confusing me with someone else. I am not this Matron Langsdorf, although you are not the first to make that mistake, oddly,” she continued, I am Sis... er, Matron Maria Kaufmann.”
“But, but I dined with you on Sunday... didn't I?”
“I only arrived yesterday, Madeleine.”
“Then you have a doppelgänger, Matron, you must have.”
“I am beginning to think so,” she replied.
Nurse Brandt looked at her for a moment.
“You know...” she continued slowly, “You do have a different accent, but you really do have a striking resemblance to Matron Langsdorf. Do you know her?”
Maria shook her head.
“No, I have never heard of her... at least, not until yesterday.”
She smiled a broad smile which was mirrored by the young Madeleine.
“Besides, I have only been a matron for about an hour. The DMO informed me just before lunch.”
“Oh, then congratulations are in order,” Madeleine said brightly.
“Oh, well, thank you,” she replied happily.
Without further ado, Maria began working. She helped the other nurses and before long she found she was fitting in well with them. They began to ask her opinion and for help when they needed it, but she noticed that their knowledge, generally was quite basic, and she resolved that now she was a matron, she would help them to learn just as all those people had taught and guided her when she was a young and inexperienced novice.
Ward Seven was a general ward and as such had a wide variety of ailments from sickness to accident injuries but, unlike her ward back in Munich, her patients spoke very little German and she had to gain the trust of those who could to help her communicate with those who could not.
She was beginning to find that this was not an easy task. Because France was now an occupied country once again, the patients distrusted them all.
The other nurses had tried hard to make them see that they were there to help them, but they were struggling to cope with that and all the work they needed to do which they were not so familiar with.
One patient, an elderly man who had fallen and broken his hip, was particularly belligerent and would not co-operate with anyone.
Maria saw two of her nurses trying to take his temperature and blood pressure, but he just kept pushing them away.
“Monsieur, S'il vous plait...” they kept saying, using all the French they knew.
She went over to them.
“Leave him for a minute,” she said to them, “Move on for now and I will go and see if I can find someone to help us speak to him.”
They nodded, and as they left for the next bed, Maria stood and looked directly at the old man. He glared back at her, his eyes filled with hatred.
On the bed end were his medical notes and Maria studied them for a moment.
His name was Michel Belleville, and his age was listed as 77 but with a question mark.
“You know, Michel,” she began, “We are not here to fight you, we are not soldiers. My nurses and I, we only wish to help you get well again...”
The old man still glared at her, the hatred still as strong, uncomprehending.
She sighed, partly because she did not speak French and he, seemingly, did not speak German and partly because she didn't want to be hated.
All her life Maria had always tried to be kind and helpful and now, for the first time, someone despised her because of her nationality.
She turned sadly away but determined that she would not give up. Her life had been dedicated to helping people, whoever they may be, and that would never change.
Minutes later, Maria was knocking on the frosted glass of the DMO's office.
“Come!” she heard.
As she closed the door behind her, the DMO looked up.
“Ah, Matron... erm, which one are you?” he said, the uncertainty showing on his face.
“Kaufmann, Sir,” she replied.
“Ah yes, Matron Kaufmann. How is your first day?”
“Fine, thank you, Sir,” Maria replied and before he had a chance to say anymore, she continued.
“There is something I would like to ask, though if I may.”
The older man waved is hand in a gesture of 'go ahead'.
“I was wondering why there are no French staff here.”
The officer took a deep breath and shrugged.
“I suppose most of them left when we invaded,” he said. “Why do you ask?”
“Because I think it would be better to have someone in my ward who speaks French and knows these people,” she replied. “Is there anyone?”
“Do none of your patients speak any German?” he questioned her, “After all, we are not so far from the border.”
“I don't know. None of them appear to, but if I had someone who could speak French, they would not be able to pretend they couldn't.”
“Hmm, all right,” he replied, “I will see who I can find.”
“Thank you, Sir. That would be a great help.”
Maria hurried back to the ward deep in thought. Somehow, she had to convince these people that they could trust her, that she would help them recover and, for now at least, without the aid of an interpreter.
As she turned to pass through the main door to her ward she passed another matron coming the direction of the Mess Hall. She smiled as she passed and, had she the time to notice, she may have seen the other stop as though to speak but Maria had too much to do and continued onto her ward.
Going directly to Michel Belleville she called Madeleine to join her.
“Monsieur,” she began slowly and gently, “You may not be able to understand my words, but surely you can see we will not hurt you?”
There was no change in his demeanour, he still sat perfectly still and glared at her, the ends of his mouth turned down and his eyes just slits.
He almost spat the word at her.
She frowned at him, knowing what he meant. The French had used the word during the last war. Although she did not know, it's exact translation she knew it was a contemptuous word for Germans, the enemy.
“Monsieur Belleville,” she persisted. “I am German, yes, but I am not your enemy, I promise you.”
Again, the old man's eyes narrowed as he stared at her.
“Pfff” he snarled, curling his top lip.
“Please let us help, Michel,” Maria tried again. He may not understand what she was saying, but she thought that if he could hear the compassion in her voice then just maybe she could make him realise that he needed their help.
She turned to her colleague and indicated that she should try again to take his blood pressure and temperature.
Madeleine took the inflatable cuff in one hand and with the other very gently took the old man's hand.
“Monsieur?” she said gently.
Without taking his eyes from Maria he slowly and grudgingly lifted his arm to allow her to place the cuff around his upper arm and when she offered the thermometer to his lips he opened them just enough to allow her to slip the thin glass mercury filled tube into his mouth.
At the same time, she noted the time on her fob watch.
Quickly and efficiently, Madeleine pumped the Sphygmomanometer, watched the pressure rise and, with her stethoscope pressed into the crook of his elbow listened carefully and watched the dial as she slowly released the pressure from the cuff.
Satisfied, Madeleine wrote the figures on his chart then checked her watch once again before removing the thermometer from his mouth, and making a note of the reading.
Throughout the process, Maria stood silently at the end of the bed, never once breaking eye contact with the old man and when all the tests were complete, Madeleine handed her the board, and she examined the results.
“Hmm,” she said, narrowing her eyes. “Your blood pressure is a little high, but I suspect that is due to your own belligerence.”
Was it her imagination or was there just the slightest hint of a smile in his eyes. No, probably not, she thought, just wishful thinking.
Some time later, when they had a moment, Madeleine came to her.
“How did you do that, Matron?” she asked.
“Do what?” Maria replied.
“Get the old man to co-operate,” she said, “That is the first time he was willing let anyone take his readings since he was brought here.”
“I didn't really do anything, but one thing you will learn is that nursing is as much about compassion as it is medicine. If your patients feel safe with you, then they will be far more co-operative.”
“How long have you been a nurse, Matron?” she asked.
“Seven years,” Maria replied, “I began training shortly after my fifteenth birthday.”
“Really?” Madeleine's eyes opened wide “How strange!”
“Strange? Why strange?” Maria asked in surprise. There are many women who began nursing straight after school.”
“Oh, no, it's not that,” she replied somewhat flustered.
Maria was confused.
“Then what is strange?” she asked.
“Well, on Sunday, in the mess hall, I asked Matron Langsdorf how long she had been nursing, and she said exactly the same thing.”
“And that is strange how?” Maria queried, “As I said, lots of nurses started young.”
“But she looks so much like you and you are about the same age.”
“Well, that is hardly cause for concern, Madeleine. If we are of similar same age, and she is a matron too then, it is not really surprising that we both entered nursing at the same age is it?”
Madeleine thought for a minute.
“Hmm, no, I suppose not,” she eventually conceded.
“Did you ask where she is from?”
“Yes, from Berlin,” came the reply.
“Well, there you are then,” Maria smiled, “Just a coincidence. I am from Munich.”
“I suppose so,” the young nurse agreed.
“So when did you begin nursing?” Maria asked.
The young nurse grinned widely and before she could speak Maria took a guess,
“Fifteen?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
Madeleine nodded and flushed a little.
“Yes, fifteen,” she agreed, a little sheepishly.
There was no need for anything; further, the point had been made and understood, and Maria simply turned away with a smile and said,
“Come on then; there is much to be done still.”
In no time at all it seemed, the night staff arrived, and Maria breathed a sigh, not of relief but of satisfaction that the first day of her new life had passed successfully.
The on-coming matron was about ten years older than herself, and she introduced herself to Maria as soon as she entered the Ward.
“Good evening, Matron,” she began, “I am Matron Braun, Hedda,” she added as she offered her hand to Maria.
“Good evening Matron,” Maria replied accepting her hand and gripping it gently. “I am Sist... sorry, Matron Kaufmann, Maria.”
“Pleased to meet you, at last, Maria,” the older woman said with a smile, “I gather from your slip that you have not been a matron long?”
Maria felt her face glow.
“No, not long,” she answered truthfully, “Since this morning in fact.”
“Oh? Well then, congratulations,” came the reply. “How has your first day been.”
“Very good, thank you, Hedda. They are good girls,” she added looking back into the ward where her nurses were chatting with their counterparts as they handed over their own duties.
Hedda cast her eyes around the ward.
“Well, I have to say I am impressed. They have been a little overwhelmed I think, but all looks pretty much under control.”
“Oh, pretty much,” Maria agreed. “I have spoken with the DMO about getting a French interpreter to help us.”
“And what did he say?” she asked slowly.
“That he would look into it.”
“I asked the same last week,” Matron Braun replied, “He said the same to me, but I am not going to hold my breath. The French hate us and our people don't care about the French.”
As she spoke, she glanced across at Michel Belleville where one of her nurses was about to take his blood pressure.
“That's odd,” she said suddenly.
Maria cocked her head,
“What is?” she asked.
“Belleville. He is allowing Renatte to take his pressure and temperature without trying to resist.”
“Oh yes, he was a little awkward at first, but I talked him round.”
“Well, You are good!” Hedda's eyebrows rose in surprise.
As they talked, Maria felt her stomach rumble.
“I heard that!” Hedda laughed.
“Ooh, yes, I hadn't even thought about dinner,” Maria chuckled.
“Well you go and eat,” Hedda replied. “I will see you in the morning.”
And so, Maria left the ward and returned to her dormitory to repack her case ready to move as the DMO had told her.
She was about to head towards reception when her stomach growled again. That prompted her to get something to eat before she moved her stuff so she picked up her case and headed towards the administrative offices where she left her case after the orderly had agreed he would take her over to her quarters once she was refreshed.
Five minutes later, she arrived at the mess hall and went straight to the servery.
She was pleased to see that there were her favourite Nuremburg sausages and hot sauerkraut cabbage, and she held out her plate whilst the cook behind the counter gave her a generous helping of each.
Turning away to find a table, she spotted a familiar figure sitting alone at a table and headed across.
“Sergeant Steiner!” she greeting him, “I didn't expect to see you here.”
The tall sergeant looked up. His jaw opened and immediately closed, his face twisted in confusion.
“Erm, you came back for more... erm...” he seemed at a loss for words.
“I'm sorry, for more?”
He stood up.
“I'm sorry,” he began, “I thought...”
“Oh, you don't remember me. From Liege? You arranged transport for us.”
“Well, erm, yes, I do remember. It's just that... Please, sit down, your food will get cold.”
“Oh, I get it,” Maria said as she sat opposite him, “You have met this Matron Langsdorf, who seems to resemble me somewhat.”
“Resemble you?” he exclaimed, “She is the mirror image of you!”
Maria half smiled as he continued.
“She was here just a moment ago. I am surprised you didn't pass her but... just a minute... you were not a matron when I met you on Sunday.”
“No, I only got promoted today.”
“Well that is going to make it even more difficult,” he grinned.
Now it was Maria's turn to frown.
“Because now it will be even harder to know which of you is which!”