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among the blue-gowned, white-capped peasant girls there. Soon the heads of the institution came to depend upon her for help such as the other students could not render, and her companions grew to love her very tenderly. A friend of Miss Nightingale's who visited Kaiserwerth years afterward found that the “English Fräulein” was still remembered and loved.
Miss Nightingale's body was by no means as strong as her spirit, and the training at Kaiserwerth told upon her, so that she was obliged to remain at Lea Hurst resting for some time after her return from Germany. The first patient she had after her months of resting was not a person, but an institution. The Harley Street Home for Sick Governesses in London, a most worthy charity, was, owing to mismanagement, in a very bad state. Miss Nightingale, whose organizing ability was of the highest order, undertook to place the institution on a better footing, and for months she scarcely left the Home or saw her friends, so arduous were her labors. In building up the shattered finances, she did not spare her own fortune, and when, at the end of some months, she gave up her patient as cured, the charity was one of which London could well be proud.
All that Miss Nightingale had done hitherto had been but a preparation for the great work which she was soon to be called upon to perform. This work was not of her own choosing; indeed, it was of no one's choosing.
In 1854 the Crimean War broke out between England and Russia, and it was not long before people in England were reading in The Times descriptions of the suffering caused the English soldiers by the defective hospital arrangements. There was a hospital at Scutari, a port of the Turkish capital; there was a general hospital and a collection of hut hospitals at Balaklava; and there was what might have been, with good management, a sufficiency of hospital supplies sent out by the British government. But for some reason, never fully understood, no comforts were provided for well soldiers and no effective help was given the sick and wounded.
W. H. Russell in The Times wrote: “It is now pouring rain, the skies are black as ink, the wind is howling over the staggering tents, the trenches are turned into dykes; in the tents the water is sometimes a foot deep; our men have not either warm or waterproof clothing; they are out for twelve hours at a time in the trenches; they are plunged into the inevitable miseries of a winter campaign, and not a soul seems to care for their comfort, or even for their lives. These are hard truths, but the people of England must hear them. They must know that the wretched beggar who wanders about the streets of London in the rain, leads the life of a prince compared with the British soldiers who are fighting out here for their country.”
And again the same correspondent wrote in the same paper: “The commonest accessories of a hospital are wanting; there is not the least attention paid to decency or clean linen; the stench is appalling; the fetid air can hardly struggle out to taint the atmosphere, save through the chinks in the walls and roofs; and for all I can observe, these men die without the least effort being made to save them. There they lie, just as they were let gently down on the ground by the poor fellows, their comrades, who brought them on their backs from the camp with the greatest tenderness, but who were not allowed to remain with them. The sick appear to be tended by the sick, and the dying by the dying.”
These facts had the effect which might have been expected. Letters, expostulations, supplies, offers of assistance began to pour in on the War Office in a flood. No offers of hospital supplies were refused, and before long vast quantities were on their way to the East. But it seemed as if everything were destined to go wrong; part of the supplies were lost, part were landed at Varna and were allowed to lie there and rot, far from the place where men were starving and freezing and dying for the lack of them.
Many nurses volunteered their services, but the head of the War Department, Mr. Sidney Herbert, felt that he could not accept their offers. They were, he knew, little better than the untrained orderlies who were waiting on the soldiers in the hospitals, and they were for the most part women of such character that he felt they would do more harm than good. Something must be done, and he felt that that something must be done by women. At last, with many misgivings, he wrote to his friend, Miss Nightingale, laying the situation fairly before her, and concluding with the statement that there was but one woman whom he knew of in England who was capable of bringing order out of such chaos—and that that woman was herself.
This letter was written on October 15, 1854, and on that same day, strangely enough, Miss Nightingale at Lea Hurst was writing to Mr. Herbert, offering just such service as he had asked of her. Plans were rapidly made, and within eight days Miss Nightingale was ready to start for Scutari with a band of thirty-eight nurses. The selection of these nurses was by no means an easy task, but both Miss Nightingale and Mr. Herbert were well satisfied with the fourteen sisters from the established church, the ten Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity and the fourteen hospital nurses who were finally chosen. Miss Nightingale had insisted, as of course it was her right to do, that she be given absolute control over this band of workers, and the War Department gave her official authority to proceed largely according to her own judgment in all matters connected with the hospital at Scutari.
Much criticism was heard in England of this sending out of women nurses to a military hospital. Many considered it improper; many objected because a part of the nurses were Catholic. The medical staff of the army were by no means unanimous in their approval; they felt that so many women could be nothing but an extra care, and that they would, besides, interfere with the strictness of military rule. But the Lady-in-chief, as she was called, paid no heed to criticism, but went on her way with her "angel band,” and arrived at Scutari November 5th.
Appalling indeed were the scenes that greeted her. The Barrack Hospital, as it was called, was a great building loaned to the British by the Turkish government. It was a quarter of a mile long on each side, and had a tower at each corner. Along the corridors of each floor were stretched the rows of sick and wounded soldiers, side by side on their filthy mattresses, which were placed end to end, and so close together that there was scarcely room for two people to pass each other in the space between. Thus there were actually miles of these soldiers, lying in a condition difficult to describe. “The men," wrote one historian of the war, “lay in their uniforms, stiff with gore and covered with filth to a degree and of a kind no one could write about.” And within a day or two, hundreds of new patients, the wounded of the Battle of Inkerman, were being borne into this crowded hospital. The poor fellows were often in a desperate condition when they arrived, for among all the awful and shameful things connected with this war, few things were worse than the manner in which the sick and wounded were treated on the transports which carried them from the “Front” to the hospital at Scutari. Even in the dead of winter they lay between decks without any bedding, and often without a blanket for covering. There was food on board, but it was of a character utterly unfit for invalids; and there was water, but it was often so buried under ammunition and baggage that it could not be got at. Men actually died on these transports of want of food and drink.
These conditions on shipboard Florence Nightingale could not touch, but with the hospital conditions she could and did deal. As there were thousands of sufferers, it was not possible that she should start out from bed to bed and nurse each one; her task was the much more difficult one of organization, of management; and it was for her genius for just such work that she had been selected. The first matter to be dealt with was that of cleanliness