“As soon as we had got through, I had to start back for my audience of the Queen. W.—– took me out to la Panne, where we found the Villa on the sand dunes, a little way back of the lines. There were a couple of gendarmes on duty, the King’s Secretary, and the Countess de Caraman-Chimay, the one Lady-in-Waiting. I had just got inside when the door opened and the King came in. He had heard I was coming to see the Queen and had motored down from Furnes. I was able to satisfy him in a few minutes on the points he had wanted to see me about and then he questioned me about friends in Brussels. I suggested to him that it would probably help our committee in raising funds if he would write an appeal for help from America. He fell in with the idea at once, and together we got out an appeal that is to be sent across the water. Where we sat we could see the British ships shelling the Germans, and the windows of the dining-room were rattling steadily. The King stood beside the table with his finger tips resting on the cloth, watching the stuff ground out word by word. I looked up at him once, but could not bear to do it again—it was the saddest face one can imagine, but not a word of complaint was breathed.
“Just as we were finishing, the Queen came and bade us in to tea. She was supposed to wait for her Lady-in-Waiting to bring me, but didn’t. The King stayed only a minute or two and then said he must be getting back to Headquarters, where he would see me later.
“I suggested to the Queen that she, too, make an appeal to the women of America, to which she agreed. Another appeal was prepared for her, and it, too, will be sent to America by the first post.
“The Queen had wanted to see me about the subject of surgeons for the Belgian army. The Belgian surgeons in the Brussels hospitals have been replaced by Germans, and have nothing to do, although they are desperately needed here. The Queen was terribly depressed about the condition of the wounded. There are so few surgeons, and such tremendous numbers of wounded, that they cannot by any possibility be properly cared for. Legs and arms are being ruthlessly amputated in hundreds of cases where they could be saved by a careful operation. Careful operations are, of course, out of the question, with the wounded being dumped in every minute by the score. In these little frontier towns there are no hospital facilities to speak of, and the poor devils are lucky if they get a bed of straw under any sort of roof, and medical attendance, within twenty-four hours. We went to see one hospital in a near-by Villa, and I hope I shall never again have to go through such an ordeal. Such suffering and such lack of comforts I have never seen, but I take off my hat to the nerve of the wounded, and the nurses, most of them the best class of Belgian women, used to every luxury and getting none.
“The Queen gave me tea, and one of her small supply of cigarettes, and we talked until after dark. The monitors off shore had been joined by a battleship, and the row was terrific and rendered conversation difficult.
“The Queen was still full of courage and said that as long as there was one square foot of Belgian soil free of Germans, she would be on it. She said it simply, in answer to a question from me, but there was a big force of courage and determination behind it. As I was not dismissed, I finally took it on myself to go, and the Queen came with me to the door and sent me on my way. She stood in the lighted doorway until I reached the motor, and then turned slowly and went in—a delicate little woman with a lion’s heart.”
– Hugh Gibson, October 29, 1914, A Journal from Our Legation in Belgium