My Dear Sister by Paul Angus Barber

Temple Newsam
Leeds
June 24th 1916

My dear sister,

I hope this long overdue letter finds you and your family healthy. In answer to your question, I was advised by Matron to inform you that there is nothing to worry about. She said ‘small children of baby Daniel’s age can often be woken at night with fits of screaming, for no apparent reason’. This, she assures me, will pass in time.

Things here at Temple Newsam are steady. We continue to receive more wounded soldiers from the front, in need of convalescence.

Lately I have found myself in low and questioning mood. Sister, I am finding it increasingly difficult to hold on to my faith when time after time we play host to yet more of the wounded from France. Some are left crippled by the actions of the enemy. When tending to the burned and disfigured, I am forced to remind myself that God is only the creator of man, not his controller. This helps me somewhat, but still I find myself asking where God is at this trying time. Yet, a simple glance out of the window at the grounds fixes certain chinks in my armour; they are simply breathtaking. On a clear day such as today, we insist the soldiers take the air. The fields of unbroken green awaken something in their eyes, and one would have to be blind to ignore the difference the views and quaintness of the grounds makes to their souls.

My experience so far, caring for those convalescing here, is an interesting one. I find it character-building yet extremely challenging. The class of care is not dissimilar to that which you and I bestowed upon our father during his final months.

I have become friendly with some of the soldiers, who have been here for some time.  Sometimes, it can be rather difficult not to get too emotionally attached to some of them. However, I cannot lie to you.  I have done just that; it is unprofessional of me to favour any of the soldiers but I fear I cannot help myself.

He cannot be more than seventeen years old, a boy. His name is Cain, his frame is only a slight one, but his spirit is strong and more structurally stable than the Great Hall. A third of his face and upper torso are burned rather badly and I am told they will leave lifelong scars.  I can safely say it is not his physical appearance that I am attracted to.

Whenever I am around him, sister, I find my limbs physically trembling with delight, and my heart flutters away in a complementary rhythm. I cannot help but smile whenever he speaks to me.  Three days ago he felt it crucial to let everyone within earshot know how happy he was with his weight loss, and then with a chuckle he reminded himself that this is probably because he no longer has the luxury of a left leg.

Cain is a great example of the frame of mind the majority of the men are in despite what they have seen and been through. Even with the loss of a limb his demeanour is gay. He wears his wounds with pride.

Today, he made me weep. After his wash, he smiled at me and took hold of my hand. Gently placing it on his stump, he proudly declared, ‘this is for my King and Country’.

Of course, I excused myself immediately. If it had got back to Matron that I was seen crying in front of a patient, I would have been in for a scolding. Morale must be kept up, especially on the wards.

Merely writing of his actions creates a warm flush that spreads itself across my body. Even as I write this letter, I can see his green eyes staring right through to my soul. Pray do tell, sister, what am I to do?

My bell is ringing; I must go.

Greatest affections,

Your sister Bessie