Page 19 - POTB Issue 11
P. 19


                         iolet looked at herself in the hall mirror while Father was fussing in the
                         study.  The new grey cotton dress was easier to wear than the old one,
                  Vthough she didn’t like the white apron going all the way up to her collar.
                  She turned her arm to admire the St John’s badge, a large eight-pointed cross, then
                  picked up her cloak and black felt hat. Could she go to Sanjay’s funeral today, and
                  see him one last time?

                  Violet hadn’t said anything to her parents; there was much to say, but none of it
                  would be well received.  The only person she could speak to was Betty, one of the
                  nurses she worked with in Brighton.  They were both volunteers, their uniform
                  giving them the freedom to go wherever they pleased, without the confines
                  of a chaperone.  Mother had been against Violet’s volunteering, but had been
                  overruled by Father, who thought it would be good to have someone in the
                  household contributing to the War effort.

                  Outside Father and Violet waited for the hansom cab, the air damp but mild.
                  Father smiled at Violet as if reading her thoughts - though she knew he couldn’t,
                  as he wouldn’t be smiling otherwise.  The cab pulled up, the horse nodding and
                  whinnying; inside Violet could smell the leather seats and the horse’s sweat.

                  Father dropped her off at the hospital: converted from the Royal Pavilion, a fantasy
                  of onion domes, colonnades and minarets, it now took injured Indian soldiers from
                  the Front.  The wounded often seemed dazed by the massive chandeliers, statues
                  of elephants and tigers, and brightly coloured Chinese wall paintings.  Rules
                  forbade nurses to have any physical contact with the sick Indians, so Violet and
                  Betty emptied bedpans, changed bedding, or helped the male orderlies.

                  At lunchtime Violet asked about Sanjay’s funeral. “Women aren’t normally allowed
                  at Indian cremations,” said her nursing officer, “but you can go straight to the site,
                  with Betty, and look on.”  She then gave Violet directions for the tram and the
                  track onto the Downs.  Violet met Betty at an inner courtyard in the hospital, and
                  they watched as a photographer took pictures of Sanjay lying on his bier - a rough
                  wooden frame with handles.  His body was covered with printed cretonne, bright
                  blue and pink flowers on a dark background.   “His shoulders are naked,” Violet
                  whispered and closed her eyes to squash back any tears.  White chrysanthemums
                  were then strewn around Sanjay, his face was covered, and the bier carefully placed
                  in a black motor-hearse.

                                                           ~ ~ ~

                                                               Pushing Out the Boat 11                         17
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