At the Hostel Door, November 2018
The Brown Hostel
Dorothy Ballantyne, imagine it, aged just 19 years, drove whatever vehicle was available, usually a Red Cross ambulance or car from the port of Boulogne bringing to the hostel anxious visiting relatives and, in the opposite direction wounded soldiers discharged and delighted to be on their way home to Blighty.
Families were cared for at Browns
“In the middle of the camp beneath the hill stands a long brown wooden hut with many windows and a friendly little porch. Its garden boasts a tiny lawn made of sods cut from the hill and fashioned with infinite labour by a soldier-gardener. Mignonette and pansy and cornflower - and beans and lettuces and cabbages - make it a garden to rejoice the heart of every lad who passes by.
Over the porchway is the well known sign of the Red Triangle. It is the Y.M.C.A Hostel where the relatives of the dangerously wounded are cared for during their sorrowful sojurn. Peep in at the doorway which opens directly from the porch. The carpet is bright and cheery, basket chairs give welcome to tired travellers, on the wooden walls are pictures collected from many sources, books, magazines, papers are there; the little writing table by the window is rarely empty. There are flowers too – sweet wild flowers from the hills and tributes from the cottage gardens near; and if flowers are scarce there are leaf sprays and bits of evergreen …
Everybody there becomes somebody’s helper.
Slowly they come; evening passes to night and the inevitable trail goes on.
Then the doctor counts the chances of life and death - and across sea and land his message speeds calling kith and kin to the side of the lad whom death looks in the face.
“Regret to say your son dangerously wounded in hospital at X … He may be visited. If unable to bear the expense, a permit will be granted …”
It is night when the boat arrived with fifteen hostel guests and midnight when the Y.M.C.A cars bring them safely to the door. ‘Is he here?’ asks a grey haired mother. ‘Is my boy alive?’ … ‘Am I too late?’ … ‘Is he blind?’ … ‘Can I see him now?’ … ‘I don’t want any supper … only let me get to him.’
So the tide ebbs and flows and the little band of hostel workers feels the mighty rhythm that bears cottage - heart and palace - heart on its bosom. One secret of the message of the hostel is that the tide has swept into the hostel itself. It has borne away with its loved brother, a husband, many dear friends. And ever as it flows again, to the lips of each springs the question, “Is it well with the lad?”
Lest we forget.