Letter from Edward Revere Osler to his aunt, Susan Chapin [Transcript]
Revere reports that the No. 3 Canadian General Hospital recently ceased to function as a hospital and is now a "turbid
mud hole, rank with unrest and discontent." He delivers a seething report of how the authorities closed down the hospital,
sent the staff and patients to a temporary shelter, and proceeded to leave them there for 5 weeks living in tents and fighting
the elements. He describes the living conditions in great detail and writes of his companions Bill and Campbell Howard, Dr.
Russell, and Dr. Little. He managed to obtain a week's leave, during which he accepted a new position as quartermaster
in a Canadian field ambulance, much to his parents delight.
[Description courtesy of McGill University.]
About this transcript: Soon after Osler's death in 1919, Lady Osler asked their good friend Dr. Harvey Cushing to write
a biography. For this project, Cushing gathered a wide variety of material, including a substantial amount of Osler correspondence
and other memorabilia borrowed from Osler's family, friends, and colleagues. He employed three secretaries to transcribe
these documents, and later donated the transcripts (along with his other working materials) to the Osler Library. Because
many of the original documents were returned to the owners, the Cushing transcripts constitute the largest and most accessible
collection of Osler's correspondence.
Harvey Cushing's "Life of Sir William Osler" was published by Oxford University Press in 1925, and was awarded
a Pulitzer Prize in 1926.
Number of Image Pages:
2 (1,371,866 Bytes)
1915-12-05 (December 5, 1915)
Osler, Edward Revere
Transcriber: [Cushing, Harvey]
Original Repository: Osler Library of the History of Medicine, McGill University. Osler Library Archive Collections, P417: Harvey Cushing Fonds
This item is in the public domain. It may be used without permission.
Sir William: Regius Professor at Oxford, 1905-1919
[Revere Osler to Mrs. Chapin]
No. 3 Canadian General Hospital
[B. E. F. - Camiers]
Dec. 5, Sunday 
Dear Aunt Susie
Just a line to wish you a happy Christmas & in to let you know my prospects of the same. I am still with No 3 which nearly
a month ago ceased to be a hospital & which has since become a turbid mud hole, rank with unrest and discontent. The canvas
hospital proved, as everyone expected, a decided failure, & not only was our 3 months hard work undone when the winds
of a night but the ground from being an arid waste of grassless dust was changed in the course of the week to a sea of mud,
which was & still is, black, putrid & unwholesome, to sit, sleep or stand in. So after a good deal of hesitation &
a still greater deal of corresponding it was brought to the notice of some red hatted, brass buttoned, elegant gentleman that
No 3 Canadian Gen Hospital was undergoing a process of gradual enlizement & would very likely disappear altogether. Orders
came to evacuate all patients, which was done immediately, and to prepare to move at a moments notice. A suitable building
was found in Boulogne & it seemed evident that we were to make it our winter quarters. All this is now in the days long
ago & the red hatted authorities must have forgotten us. It would be an act of heroic kindness to remind them again of
our existence & to point out that 30 officers 250 men & 70 nurses have for 5 weeks set in cold & drafty tents
with the mud oozing through the floors & the rain dripping from the roof, without a thing to do but fight the wind &
the rain & stoke the smoking is taking braziers. It might also be well to point out to them, though far be it from anyone
to complain or insinuate that their ways are not in every way correct, that is hardly proper & worthy conduct to keep
seventy nurses intense during winter weather while they themselves live in a very nice comfortable house with servants to
keep them warm & Spruce and a convenient motorcar to take them to their work each morning at ten o'clock.
Campbell and I with great difficulty obtained a weeks leave on Nov. 7th. We started a day early & succeeded in defeating
the authorities in Boulogne & reached Oxford on the night of the 6th. We also came back a day late as the channel was
conveniently dirty with mines & needed sweeping. We had a good time & home never seemed so pleasant in spite of it
nearly burning down. Muz, Dad and I consulted about my transferring to combattant regiment & we came to know decision
until I saw Gen. Jones who is the Director of Medical Services for the Canadians. He was very much opposed to my leaving the
C. A. M. C. & Offered me the position of quartermaster in a Canadian field ambulance. I jumped at it immediately because
I knew it would satisfy Muz & Dad. I expect to go in a few days. It is a no. 3 field ambulance, with the first Canadian
division. Its headquarters are I think at Bailleul and I imagine that the work will be all along the Canadian lines. I feel
sure that I will prove most satisfactory & I will feel that I am seeing more real service and here the base.
I wish you could see us here. Some of the officers I think you must know. Bill & Campbell Howard of course & Dr. Russell
& Dr. Little whom you probably remember from Baltimore days. We are all assembled round in old oil can full of hot coak
which pours volumes of dismal smoke through a ventilator in the roof of the tent. There are several comfortable chairs &
three card tables which Muz sent from England. There are also two plane tables covered with blankets, a letterbox a noticeboard
and two pails. Over all, in my eyes at any rate a mist of impenetrable gloom seems to hang. In an adjacent tent are too long
board tables with chairs on either side. In this we eat 3 times a day. Behind is a shed, built by the Engineers, with a stove
& a sink. It makes a good kitchen and turns out daily at least one first-rate meal. We all sit round the oil can everyday.
Sometimes someone goes away for the day, sometimes someone writes a letter & usually two or three couples are playing
cards with a pile of sous in front of them. The strange thing is that no one complains. I have explored the country pretty
thoroughly & found a good deal of interest. There is little chance of talking French except on walks when one meets peasants
on the road, even then they speak a strange dialect of their own. I think there is a good chance of No 3 leading the same
life for several weeks more. The Boulogne expedition seems very distant & I am very glad to be getting away & trying
the excitement of proximity to our old friends the Germans. It is said that they have unheard of means of dispelling gloom.
I hope you all have the same Happy Christmas that we used to have at Canton & that you can forget the war for that one
day at least. My best love to all whom I know in Canton.
P. S. Do you not think you could stow yourself, Susan, Margaret & the uncles on board the Peace ship which your eminent
compatriot is about to launch upon the sea of blood. At any rate give them my love and split pea for the Dove. (May it choak