Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Palace in Wartime

Brand Whitlock gives a moving account of the early days of World War I in Brussels.  Here is a description of an audience with Queen Elisabeth and one of her ladies in the royal palace, transformed into a hospital for the wounded.  
We had to wait,  and talked for a long time-- about the war, of course, the Countess was very much moved, her eyes filling with tears every few minutes.  But after a while, accompanied by the good Doctor le Boeuf who had done so much for the Red Cross, we were conducted down the long red-carpeted corridor to the Queen's private apartments, and shown into the little blue drawing room.  And presently the Queen entered.  She wore a simple blue gown with transparent sleeves, and a white, low, girlish collar; not a jewel, only her wedding-ring on her hand, and her hair dressed in delicate simplicity.  She was calm, with a certain gravity, and her blue eyes were wistful in the little smile that hovered about her lips.  There was no ceremony in this rather unusual presentation. 
We were walking down the long state apartments, with their glittering chandeliers, all vastly different than from their aspect when last I had seen them, thronged with men in brilliant uniforms at a court ball.  They were filled that day with with long lines of hospital cots, the white coverlets already drawn back--waiting for the wounded.  At the foot of each cot a little Belgian flag was fastened.  
"The children put them here," said the Queen. 
Up and down through those long apartments we passed in that model hospital into which, all within eight days, the Queen had transformed her palace.  Gone the old stateliness and luxury; nothing now but those white cots, operating rooms, tables with glass tops, white porcelain utensils, even X-ray apparatus--with all their sinister implication.  Now and then a nurse would appear, dropping a curtsey as the Queen passed.  (Everybody's Magazine, Vol. 38, March 1918, p. 17)

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