“So Paris was on fire.”
‘Hopital Claude-Bernard, January
31 1918 – I have been in a big air raid; It was a
white night in the hospital for me. Suddenly my drowsy ears were pierced by a long weird hoot. A moment later the building was in
darkness. I jumped from my bed and ran to the window. The light in front of the
munitions factory was out, there seemed an uncanny silence, the machinery had
been stopped. I hurried to the door. The corridor was full of hastening forms, infirmières,
their loose white robes showing dimly in the grey light.
ce qui arrive?” I
“Les Boches! It’s the first warning,”
she whispered. “See! The lights of
Paris still shine.”
But even as we looked, the
light across the sky flickered, dimmed, flashed out. At the same moment two
great golden stars rose over the munitions factory.
“Les avions!” cried
the night nurse.
And all the time the sirens
kept up their ghostly wailing and the guns began. A moment later a crashing
thud told that a bomb had fallen in our neighborhood. The night nurse drew me
hurriedly into the hall.
“Lie down against the wall,—close—like this,” she ordered.
Up and down the corridor every
space by the wall was occupied by the huddled form of an infirmiere buried
beneath a mattress. The bombs were falling nearer. There was a flash and then a
tearing thud that shook the hospital. I had one ghastly moment, a thrill of
panic terror at our utter helplessness as we lay there awaiting what seemed the
inevitable coming of destruction. The moment passed. I got up and slipped down
the side corridor to the glass door. The sky was full of moving lights; some
burned with a steady brilliancy, some flickered and went out like fireflies, a
few flashed red. There was no telling which was friend or foe. They seemed to
be proceeding in all directions without plan or purpose. The air pulsated with
the humming drone of their motors. They were like a swarm of angry hornets.
I went back to my room and
climbed out on the window-sill. At first I thought the lights of Paris had been
turned on again, but this time they were color of rose. As I looked the pink
flush deepened, grew ruddy, flamed across the sky. I called the night nurse.
“C’est un incendie! Quel malheur!”
So Paris was on fire.
An aeroplane swung low over the
munitions factory, so near that it looked like a great lazy fish with the rose
light from below shining on its belly. Was it friend or enemy?
The bombs were dropping close
again. We could see the flashes and feel the jar of the explosions which made
the windows rattle.
As I watched, a burning plane
looking like a great tinsel ball seared its way through the sky, falling just
to the right of Paris. “Pray God it is a Boche!” I thought.
The red glare over Paris was
fading out. The machines in the munitions factory began to throb once more. In
the grey light at the window I looked at my watch. It was fifteen minutes past
one. I turned to crawl into bed feeling cold and very sleepy. Someone touched
my sleeve; it was the night nurse. She was staring out the window with eyes
that saw nothing.
“And how many little
children will be dead in the morning do you think?” she asked.’
American volunteer & canteen worker
Uncensored Letters of a Canteen Girl
WW1, night time air raid on Paris,
from the splendid book “The War Illustrated
Album de Luxe” – Photos of the damages caused by the raid at
Hospital Claude Bernard, here