It was dark when they reached Calais, to be greeted with the mirror image of the sight they had left behind in Folkestone; lines of stretchers laid out on the dockside in the rain, waiting to be loaded onto a hospital ship.
This time they did not wait to offer their help because they had been met by an official from the Belgian Red Cross who was waiting to conduct them to Lamarck, the convent school that had been converted into a hospital. Calais, less than fifty miles from the battle front, was seething. They passed along streets teeming with soldiers in the uniforms of three nations, horses, carts, gun limbers and refugees and arrived finally at a large, grey stone building. Leo’s heart sank as they entered the courtyard, and looking at the others she could see that they were feeling the same. Everything about the place spoke of neglect and decay. The shutters hung at crazy angles from their broken hinges, the paintwork around the door frames was peeling and the courtyard itself was strewn with rubbish. There was one redeeming feature. Rising above the buildings on one side was the towering bulk of the cathedral, its stained-glass east window glowing softly from the lights inside.
The interior of the hospital was no more encouraging than the outside. Immediately inside the gateway was a row of latrines, easily identifiable by the smell. At an angle to them was a large, stone-flagged kitchen and opposite that a big, draughty room from which a stone-flagged staircase led to the upper floors. In the rooms above straw paillasses were laid out side by side, crammed together as closely as possible, and every one of them was occupied.