The calvary of the sisters of Prémontré
The newspaper which the sisters of the hospital of Prémontré, in Picardy, shows us the kind of calvary they experienced during the war. Prémontré was an asylum housing more than 1200 residents; while there were 52 sisters.
" The alarm bell rang. In that time, the asylum hosted 650 sick men and 750 sick women, 60 nurses, besides the employers and the different trades. The medical service was made up of the head-doctor, of the acting-deputy and 2 house doctors. The acting-deputy and the house doctors were called elsewhere during the first day of August 1914. In turn, the head-doctor left on the 30th or the 31st August to assure his family’s safety, but he never returned. He remained in the bursar’s establishment and became the mayor of the commune(…)"
Since the end of August, the sisters used to see columns of refugees passing under the asylum’s walls and wondered whether it was the case to leave too :
…"leaving, but to go where? (they used to say) And how could they take out so many people. With the illusion that derives from ignorance, they reassured themselves saying: “It’s better to keep the house. After all, they told us that the war will last only three weeks” (…)
At the end of the month, the hospital had to welcome the enemies, and day after day, the sisters were obliged to give major contribution :
…"on the 30th August, the English vanguard arrived from Belgium. He was heading to Paris. We did our utmost to relieve these courageous people who tried to reassure us. We offered them all provisions which we had prepared for the day."(…)
The following day, the French army fled the enemy immediately. The soldiers were exhausted and covered with dust :
…" we gave them something to drink, they handed over to each other the jugs of coffee, herbal tea and other kinds of drinks. We ran along the trolleys, almost under the horses’ feet to reach the horsemen who stretched their arm."(…)
In the evening of the same day, another regiment who followed them and had received the order, stopped at the asylum. Everybody did his best to prepare something for the soldiers to rest. Straw was laid rapidly in all the available places :
…"The soldiers had dreamt to spend a good night. Towards eleven o’clock, a courier gave them the signal to flee because the enemy was near. They left rapidly as they told us “Tomorrow you will have the Germans here. Treat them as you have treated us. They will not cause you any harm"(…)
In fact, in the evening of the following day, 1st September, the Germans arrived in big numbers and were accommodated in the asylum:
…" The victorious officers summoned the authorities of the asylum and those of the commune to introduce themselves and to have supper there. From then onwards, the asylum became their home. They made use of the furniture, the bed linen, the crockery and the food supplies. At the end of the year 1914, the provisions were totally drained and the year 1915 was very challenging.(…) Many sick persons died of hunger and cold. They lacked wood and we used to go daily across the forest, equipped with ropes and canvas sheets to bring as much wood as possible and also some fern to replace the mattresses which the occupiers had sent to their country" (…)
How will the sisters be able to transmit their news in such a situation!
They lived under the Occupation. They couldn’t send any mail and even to leave the locality, they needed to pay a passport to the commanding officer at the cost of 1.25 marks. In such a situation how could the sisters send their news!
During this time, both at la Roche and in Rome, one lived in deep concern and on each letter dated 1915, we can read the same phrase :
"still no news from our dear sisters of Prémontré"!
Text taken from the history of the Province of Savoie, Volume 3 - Sr. Marie Hélène Magnien
To continue next month …