Even in the face of the advancing Germans
in April 1918, there was time for more important work than refilling guns
or hastily retiring, although the constant ‘extraneous duties’ put
tremendous strain on Army Service Corps Mechanical and Horse Transport.
One of the
rarer ‘extraneous duties’ was on 16 April 1918 and is described in 11
Corps A&QMG diary. On that date, a 5th
Division subaltern was travelling along the Saint-Venant to Robecq road
(now the D937), which was designated as too close to the advancing Germans
to be used during the day. He came across three civilian women and asked
them what they were doing as the Maire of Saint-Venant had declared the
area completely clear of civilians.
They were a
nun and two female ‘lunatics’ from the female asylum on the outskirts of
Saint-Venant. The male asylum was in the centre of the town and had
already been evacuated by the Maire with the rest of the civilian
population. The nun explained they were in search of food as they had
taken refuge in the basement of the asylum and had no food. Their presence
and plight was reported to Divisional HQ who reported it to through the
Division’s French Mission to the XI Corps French Mission.
asked for help and it was agreed to evacuate them to Berguette station but
the French would have to provide the train from there. After a long delay,
the French Mission reported that they could do nothing about providing a
train. Maj GR Codrington, the XI Corps DAQMG spoke with the French Mission
at GHQ. He pointed out that he could evacuate the women overnight, which
brought the response that nobody could authorise the evacuation of a
civilian from their home except the Minister of the Interior. Codrington
emphasised that the general situation meant that nothing could be
guaranteed beyond then and the women may have to be abandoned to the
German advance. At 11.00pm the French agreed that a train would be
available and the evacuation could commence.
was thus that at midnight on the 16th
lorries began to evacuate the 950 inmates, 300 of which were described as
‘dangerous’ and the thirty nuns looking after them to Berguette station.
Here they were provided with soup and tea from Soyer Stoves by a Field
Ambulance until 6.00am when the French train arrived.
then handed over to the French and disappeared into the French
countryside. The lorries were then free to continue their normal duties as
though they had spent the night cosily in their beds.