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Madeline Marion de Salis (nee Heath)

Born: in Malta in 1892 and died 1978.
Daughter of: Admiral Sir Herbert Leopold Heath (1861-1954) and Elizabeth Catherine Simson (?-1951).
Sister of:
Rosamond Heath (1893-1970).
Madeline married: Capt Rodolph de Salis (1890-1972).
Madeline and Rodolp did not have any children.

Madeline Marion de Salis: An Overview

We know about Madelaine from the following sources:

1. Entry in the book "Records of the Heath Family Vol 2" by George Heath, 1920.

The entry in Records of the Heath Family Vol 2, page 53, reads as follows:



I joined a Voluntary Aid Detachment in 1911, and was called up as a "Nursing Member" when my Detachment  (Hants 14) mobilised in Oct, 1914, to help the Staff on Auxiliary Hosp in Southsea. There I worked for a few hours daily till May, 1915, when I joined the W.O. scheme, and was posted to the 3rd Southern Gen. Hosp at Oxford, one of the first batch of twenty V.A.D.'s sent there. We all found real hospital work, real hospital discipline, and "first line" hospital cases a very different matter from convalescents and auxiliary methods, but the staff really wanted more hands, and by dint of trying hard, we settled in to be of some use by the end of our probationary month.

The main hospital was in the New Schools, and the great Examination Hall, with its panelling and stately portraits, now set off by long rows of iron bedsteads, made an impressive and remarkable picture; but I must confess that we did wish that examinations had required bath rooms, for like all improvised hospitals, our quarters were ill-provided with taps, sinks, etc.

We shall none of us forget our Hospital Christmas in 1916. The ward was decorated, the patients eagerly awaiting a real peace-time "spread," when the orderly rushed in shouting "There's a convoy in, Sister! You'll have to manage your dinner for your selves. I'm off to the station."

Too true! We had just distributed sixty helpings of turkey with some difficulty, when the plum-pudding arrived along with the stretcher cases. A bustling half-hour followed as we tried to feed our indignant old patients while we settled the new arrivals into bed. One of these, a particularly rosy-faced boy of about 17, nearly wept when Sister snatched from him with a cry of horror the huge helping of plum-pudding just handed to him by a fellow patient. She had seen his label, "Acute appendicitis!"

In Oct, 1916, I was posted to No.8 Stationary Hosp. Wimereux. There again, the work was quite different form that performed in an English hospital, sometimes we were very busy, at others very slack; in either case we generally had a convoy in every night, and an evacuation every day.

Instead of remaining in the ward for months, most of our patients moved on in a few days, and we always tried to get as many as possible sent to Blighty. The hope of getting home seemed to be the only thing that kept many of them going during the long dragging, painful journey to the base; and indeed at every stage of treatment that I saw the wounded always seemed to have a pathetic hope that they would miraculously get well as soon as they were moved to the next stage. We took in a heavy convoy just after the first use of mustard gas by Germany. The men walking along in groups of about ten, each with his hand on his neighbour's shoulder, following on in order. For the time being they were quite blind. Fortunately, all but the very worst cases recovered in a week or so.  Later on, the hospital treated some thousands of German prisoners. As a rule, they were good patients, almost aggressively humble and anxious to obey orders, but those who had been treated by German doctors almost always suffered both mentally and physically from the effect of large or frequent doses of morphia.

In Aug. 1917, I resigned from the Nursing service, and left Hospital No.8

In Oct, I was asked to join a party of six girls who were sent, as an experiment, to work in the Aero Engine Repair shop at Wormwood Scrubbs. For some weeks we cleaned parts of Gnome engines with paraffin and emery paper. Then we were promoted to the task of taking them to pieces under the supervision of a more than patient air-mechanic. A few more girls and "cleaner" women joined us, and finally we learnt to take a Gnome engine to pieces, clean it, replace worn parts by new, and re-assemble it for service; one skilled man supervising the work on four engines.

We had begun to feel that we really understood our job, and the R.N.A.S. authorities were about to extend the scheme and re-organise the shop (which employed about 200 men of fighting age), by diluting with women's labour, when the R.N.A.S. was merged into the R.A.F., which at once abolished the whole repair depot. Finding myself once more without a job, I learnt to drive a motor car, and joined the B.R.C.S. Motor Ambulance Convoy at Etaples in Oct. 1918.

The whole hospital was then working at high pressure to evacuate the wounded from the last push. This meant that after cleaning cars all the morning, and driving all the afternoon, we were generally aroused about 3 a.m. by a shrill summon from the Section leader, "Train at Etaples."

Then followed a wild scramble to dress and get out in three minutes, and join the stream of cars hurrying and sometimes racing down to the train. A never-ending crawl back to the hospital, trying hard to keep awake enough to dodge the pot-holes, and there was always a block at one of the level crossings. With luck we got back to bed before the dawn showed us how very dirty we really were.

After the Armistice the work tailed off till we were only running errands for the last few weeks before the Convoy was demobilised in April, 1919.


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