Treatment of the Wounded from Front Line to Blighty

Treatment of wounded soldiers was given a very high priority by the Army as they recognised that prompt effective treatment would result in significantly more of the soldiers being able to return to duty quickly.  In practice during the Great war over 60 % of wounded men were soon back with their Unit in the front line and many more were able to take non combative but important roles within the army.

Stage One

When a man fell or was injured in the trenches or no mans land he would be recovered by stretcher bearers. The men were discouraged from stopping to help wounded colleagues during an advance. No treatment other than immediate first aid and bandaging was carried out although morphine was carried for serious cases.

Stage Two

The Stretcher Bearers would take the casualty to a Regimental Aid Post or Advanced Dressing Station  which would be close to the front line, sometimes in the support trenches, in ruined buildings or at times in open ground. The Post would be made in whatever facility was available, often in the open air. The Post would administer first aid and patch up minor injuries but would stabilise more seriously injured men and arrange for their evacuation via stretcher or horse ambulance during lulls in the fighting.

An Advanced Dressing Station in France painted by Dr Henry Tonks in 1918

Stage Three

The next stop was the Field Ambulance Station which was usually within a mile of the front line. The siting was far enough away to be free of small arms and field mortar, artillery although it was at risk from other artillery.

The Field Ambulance station was often under canvas so that it could be moved easily with the front line. Would could be properly examined and cleaned although limited treatment was available for the seriously wounded.

Each Division had three Filed Ambulances attached so that they were at regular intervals along the front.

Men were either returned to their Unit or sent on for further treatment by motor ambulance or train if one was available.

Stage Four

The next stop was a Casualty Clearing Station  which would be at least 10 miles behind the lines which put it within reach of only the heavy enemy guns. If possible they were sited near to a railway line.

facilities existed here for treatment of seriously wounded men with operating theatres, X ray units and normal medical equipment, There were wards for patients although in practice these were only used for a few days to stabilise a patient after treatment to facilitate movement onwards. There was always a moribund ward where patients who had suffered fatal wounds were treated with morphine until they died.

Sadly War Cemeteries are usually found in places where a CCS was based.

Surviving casualties were again moved by train or motor ambulance.

Stage Five

Hospitals in France were Civilian Hospitals that were used by the military or special Military Hospitals. They were fully equipped with modern medical equipment and would carry out more complex  diagnostic testing and operations as well as providing wards for recovery. British Soldiers were moves on as soon as possible to Convalescent Hospitals to free up the beds.

The hospital staff soon developed expertise and facilities to treat soldiers suffering from the effects of previously little known conditions such as gas poisoning and shell shock.

Many of the hospitals were within range of the very longest guns and gunfire from the front was a constant reminder of the war.

For specific conditions requiring specialist care most British soldiers would be repatriated and be treated in a British Hospital.

Stage Six

Convalescent Hospitals were available in France and Great Britain. Many were operated by the Voluntary Aid Detachment ( VAD) of the Red Cross and St John Ambulance. Convalescent care was provided before Soldiers returned to their Units or were invalided out of the service. If Soldiers were returning to their unit it was normal to have a period of home leave at the end of the convalescence.

Hospital Trains were provided to transport the wounded in France and in Great Britain. These were equipped with bunks and carried nursing staff to help patients during the journey.

Hospital Ships ran between continental ports and Great Britain to repatriate wounded soldiers.