Brittain, Vera - The German Ward
Type of Spiritual Experience
Late in September 1918, while gathering material for his World War I painting "Gassed" near Peronne, American war artist John S. Sargent was struck down with influenza and taken to a field hospital near Roisel. Here he spent a week in a hospital bed next to the war-wounded, which inspired this work, now in the collection of the Imperial War Museum. It shows the interior of a hospital tent with campbeds lining the side.
A description of the experience
The German Ward
When the years of strife are over and my recollection fades
Of the wards wherein I worked the weeks awaft
I shall still see as a vision rising through the wartime shades
The ward in France where German wounded lay.
I shall see the pallid faces and the half-suspicious eyes,
I shall hear the bitter groans and laboured breath,
And recall the loud complaining and the weary tedious cries,
And sights and smells of blood and wounds and death.
I shall see the convoy cases, blanket-covered on the floor,
And watch the heavy stretcher-work begin,
And the gleam of knives and bottles through the open theatre door,
And the operation patients carried in.
I shall see the Sister standing, with her form of youthful grace,
And the humour and the wisdom of her smile,
And the tale of three years'warfare on her thin expressive face -
The weariness of many a toil-filled while.
I shall think of how I worked for her with nerve and heart and mind,
And marvelled at her courage and her skill,
And how the dying enemy her tenderness would find
Beneath her scornful energy of will.
For I learnt that human mercy turns alike to friend or foe
When the darkest hour of all is creeping nigh,
And those who slew our dearest, when their lamps were burning low,
Found help and pity ere they came to die.
So though much will be forgotten when the sound of War's alarms
And the days of death and strife have passed away,
I shall always see the vision of Love working amidst arms
In the ward wherein the wounded prisoners lay.