This month’s column continues the story of Alice Holmes and her wartime service as a volunteer Red Cross nurse. Her full account first appeared in the June 1917 issue of the St. Aloysius Academy publication Echoes.
After having arrived in Petrograd and getting settled into their quarters in the Palace of Catherine the Great, the nurses soon got down to the work which had brought them to Russia.
The next afternoon we were taken into that part of the palace which had been turned into a temporary hospital for the wounded soldiers returning from the front. There were twelve wards, each containing five beds—and two of these wards were given into our charge. Some of our patients were officers, and some just ordinary soldiers.
The Russian nurses are called “Sisters of War.” They wore a gray gathered uniform, a white apron with a red cross on the bib and an all white head dress. You might think by their dress that they were members of a religious Order but they were in reality the Russian princesses, countesses, and other ladies of high rank who had assumed the duties of caring for the wounded. Even the Empress assisted in the operating room of her own hospital and with her, were her daughters, the Grand Duchesses. All were very friendly to us, anxious to take care of us in every way and eager to teach us their customs. Many of them could talk English but preferred the French language and so I spent many a pleasant hour conversing with them in French.
From that time on, our life was the daily routine of the hospital We found the Russian soldier without exception, loyal to his country, bearing patiently his sufferings and only anxious to get back to the front again.
We did our utmost to alleviate in as far as possible their pain and suffering and they in turn were most grateful to us. Their deep appreciation of even the smallest of our services, must always remain with me as one of the finest recollections of our stay in Petrograd. We did our best also to enliven them and our efforts were greatly rewarded. They were quick to learn and Miss Murday taught one of her patients to sing several American songs such as “Tipperary” and “Old Black Joe.”
The three months of our service passed and the time came for us to return to America, so we bade farewell to the Imperial Palace of Catherine the Great, to the many friends we had made within it, and to our soldiers; we left Petrograd January 25, 1917.