Friday, August 3, 2012

The much loved Duchess of Aosta

August 3, 1912

 The Italian people are said to be "profoundly touched" to learn that the Duchess of Aosta has returned to her duties "on the hospital ship which plies between the new African possessions of Italy the mother country.
The Duchess, whose husband is the heir presumptive to the Italian throne, expressed her intention of "undertaking this patriotic and womanly duty,"when war was declared, but, according to the New York Times, she had to wait some time for the consent of the King and her husband.

The former Princess Helene of Orléans made the decision to board the ship and "announced her purpose of staying there."  She remained on board, working as a nurse, until her "weak health gave way," and she was forced to leave the ship and recuperate at home.

Her family hoped she would remain at home, and be "content with what she had already done,"  but the Duchess of Aosta was determined to return to nursing.  She is now back on board the Memfi.

On board, the duchess is known as Signora Ellena.  She is not address as Your Royal Highness."   She "ranks no higher than any other of the devoted nurses, except that she is at the head."

This is what the Duchess of Aosta wants when she is working as a nurse, but she has found it has also "caused considerable  embarrassment," as many of the nurses are taking the "liberty of putting themselves on an equality with her."

It appears that the ship's doctors the most forgetful.  There are glances in a doctor's direction, and he slips up, and refers to the Duchess as Royal Highness, in front of a patient "who is not supposed to know her rank."

The Duchess is very popular with the patients, some of whom have recognized her on their own.  She often writes "in somewhat bad Italian," as French is her native language,  to the families of the young men who do not survive.

The duchess continues to nurse even though she is not fully recovered.  She suffers from lung trouble. One of her lungs is "entirely gone, and the other is seriously affected."  Her doctors did proscribe sea air for her health, but they did not "order broken nights, unusual fatigue, anxiety, and deep feeling when things are going badly."

For the past few years, the Duchess would travel to the warmer climes of Africa for her health.  But this past winter she chose to eschew her annual visit to Italy's African colonies, and chose to work on the Memfi, "engaged in works of charity," but after her health failed, she was obliged to leave the ship, and return to her palace at Capo di Monte "and be nursed herself."

Now she is back on board the hospital ship, tending to the "ill and wounded," but her family fear that Helene may lose her own "remaining strength."

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