16 Pages


THIS IS WHAT I WAS TOLD BY HENK S. WITH WHOM I spent some time in Madrigueras. Suffering from a poisoned cheek, he was lying for some weeks in a hospital solely occupied by patients who had to be artificially fed. The greater part of them had been hit by dum-dum bullets or shell splinters, and had lost their lower jaw with a portion of their vocal organs. Perpetual silence reigned in the wards. Their convalescence was a long martyrdom. Every day the doctors cut from their thighs small pieces of flesh which were then grafted on to the lower part of their cheek. The raw, red flesh gave them a repellent appearance. Many of the foreigners made themselves a nuisance to the nurses owing to their nervous condition. Others, like sick animals, withdrew into themselves, and were filled with sombre forebodings of the future. The Spanish boys, on the other hand, who for the greater part were very young, had apparently learnt from their early youth to suffer

hunger, cold, and misery with a certain fatalism. When their conditions improved, they basked in the sun on the terrace or sat on each others’ beds playing endless games of lotto. The Head Sister, who was a splendid woman, visited the ward for a quarter of an hour at noon every day, and told them amusing stories. “Then,” said Henk, “no sound came from their lips, but from the glint in their eyes you could see that they were laughing inside. When later she went round to each bed, they could only express the depth of their gratitude to her by a helpless, moving gesture of the hand.”