STRETCHERS

The Story of a Hospital Unit on the Western Front

BY FREDERICK A. POTTLE

New Haven - Yale University Press
LONDON - HUMPHREY MILFORD - OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS

1929

 

In Memoriam

OTIS S. SMITHERS, January 23, 1918
HARRISON M. WARD, January 24, 1918
VICTOR R. NEWHOUSE, October 9, 1918
HALORD BODDEN, December 9, 1918
JOHN E. MARTIN, December 12, 1918
BURNETT SMITH, December 16, 1918
DAVID BETTIS, January 19, 1919
EDGAR W. PETTIT, February 22, 1919
LISLE L. BEST, April 9, 1919
HARVEY FREEL, July 30, 1919

 

Too late now to try to say
Too late now to seek to do
Words we owed you on the way,
Deeds we should have done for you;
Too late now to grasp your hand,
Yet I think you understand.

Soldiers' grieving sets its trace
In the heart, not in the eyes;
Though tears furrow not the face,
Who knows what embosomed lies?
Tears were not for us to give,
You who died, and we who live.

How can we weep who know not
What the day for each may bring?
How deem yours the harder lot
In this world's vain sorrowing?
Only this we know at last:
You to nothing worse have passed.

As storm-driven ships that meet,
Cross each other's ways and part,
Shout "Ahoy!" through wind and sleet,
Vanish---yet heart touches heart,
Even so with us befell.
Hail! O comrades, and farewell!

Mayen, January 21, 1919.

 

 

Contents

Illus
ILLUSTRATIONS

Intro
INTRODUCTION

I
FORT SLOCUM. ENLISTMENT

II
FORT OGLETHORPE. THE TENTS

III
FORT OGLETHORPE. THE BARRACKS

IV
EN ROUTE

V
JUILLY. BELLEAU WOODS AND CHÂTEAU-THIERRY

VI
HISTORY OF THE COLLÈGE DE JUILLY; OF HOSPITAL ACTIVITIES THERE BEFORE OUR ARRIVAL; THE NATURE OF WAR SURGERY

VII
JUILLY. THE CHAMPAGNE-MARNE AND THE AISNE-MARNE

VIII
INTERLUDE---COUSSEY, SIONNE, AND DOMRÉMY

IX
PETIT MAUJOUY. ST. MIHIEL AND THE ARGONNE

X
INTERIM. HIKES AT MIDNIGHT; EXPLORATION OF VERDUN; ON LEAVE IN THE AUVERGNE; TRIP TO GERMANY

XI
MAYEN. THE WATCH ON THE RHINE

XII
VERTOU AND SAVENAY; THE TRIP HOME; GETTING OUT OF THE ARMY

PS
A POSTSCRIPT CONCERNING BOOKS

 >

Illustrations

Mohammedan Section of the French Cemetery at Maujouy

A Burial at Petit Maujouy

Digging Graves at Juilly

Wounded Marines on the Lawn at Juilly

Our Orchestra in the Wheat Field at Coussey

Evacuation Eight at Petit Maujouy

Folding and Storing Litters, Petit Maujouy

Carrying Wounded from the Ambulances into the Receiving Hut, Petit Maujouy

Operating Room...

...and Receiving Ward, Petit Maujouy

Fracture Ward, Petit Maujouy

Page of the Operating Room Record Kept by the Author at Petit Maujouy

 

Introduction

IN presenting to the public the war history of a small and little-known hospital unit, it is perhaps prudent to offer something in the way of apology. Few people have ever heard of an evacuation hospital or have any notion as to the kind of work it did. Dressing stations, field hospitals, and base hospitals are well known, at least by name, because of their appearance in popular fiction, but the evacuation hospital or casualty clearing station has as yet received no such attention. And at a time when so many good books dealing with the more thrilling adventures of combatant troops are appearing, it may well be questioned why anyone should be asked to read the story of an army hospital at all.

I have ventured for two, reasons to address this book to a wider public than the membership of the unit whose history it records. The first is that I have always found people interested in authentic information about war surgery. And, as far as I know, there has not yet appeared any work of a popular nature which presents a detailed and reliable account of the surgical care of American wounded during the World War. Five months' service in the operating room of a busy evacuation hospital enabled me at least to witness a good deal of the practice of war surgery, for the evacuation hospital was the place where the majority of the wounded men received their first definitive surgical treatment. Being a layman with no previous experience in such matters, I was perhaps better able than a professional surgeon to observe and record those features of the work which the ordinary man must be given if he is to visualize the scene. I really saw those things, and can describe them at first hand. For the passages which deal with the theories on which the surgical practice was based, I can claim no such authority. I have written them with care and study, but they make no pretense of being anything more than popular science. My first ideas on the subject were formed in the operating room from conversations with the surgeons and from reading such books as we had. Since then, I have consulted more books, and have submitted the entire manuscript to experts for criticism. But no one will expect a layman to speak with authority on such matters. What I do venture to present as trustworthy is the record of the things I saw myself.

An exact and detailed description of the whole process of the surgical care of battle casualties at a given date should be of some historical importance. Our difficulty in reconstructing the past arises from the fact that, though we concern ourselves with recording what is novel or unusual, we usually neglect to write down what we think everybody knows until everybody has forgotten it. Three-fourths of the surgical procedure of an army hospital is nothing but the procedure of a civilian operating room, but that is no reason why someone should not make a minute record of it. I do not believe that there is in existence any single book which does for the surgery of the Civil War what I have attempted to do here. What routine was employed for admitting the wounded and getting the records made? What devices were resorted to for getting the patients quickly and painlessly undressed? What kind of garments did they wear in hospital? Of how many members did a surgical "team" consist, and what were the duties of each member? How was the anesthetic administered? What instruments did the surgeon use, and what did an operation look like? We should find an account of such things now of absorbing interest.

In the second place, I feel that this book may be worth reading simply as an unvarnished narrative of what life in the army was like. It is remarkable how much the experience of men in different branches of the service had in common. Though Stretchers is devoted to the history of a single unit in a noncombative branch, I am inclined to think that it gives a more representative account of ordinary army experience than most of the war books which have so far appeared. We take it for granted that all war stories shall present the heroic behavior of the men in the trenches. The fact is that only a small fraction of the men who formed the armies of the United States during the War ever saw service in the trenches at all. Not more than half of them left the country, and of the men in combatant branches who reached France, not more than half got to the line. Moreover, a large portion of our oversea troops were not fighting men. The zone of encounter is only the narrowest of fringes on the extreme edge of a vast territory, all of which must be elaborately organized for military purposes. To keep one man in the line, there must be several men behind him to see that he is fed, clothed, supplied with ammunition, transported, and cared for when he is sick or wounded. When we speak of the American Expeditionary Force, let us not forget the stevedore regiments at Brest and St. Nazaire, the Service of Supplies with its network of railway arteries and supply depots covering the whole of France from the Pyrenees to the battle line, and the vast organization of hospital units stretching from the trenches to the ports. In remembering these, we shall in no way disparage the deeds of the heroic remnant who faced the odds of the trenches. For our men who held the line we never had anything but humble respect and admiration, and it is only right that the fiction of the War should concern itself with their adventure as being more properly the stuff of tragedy and romance.

But the public may care to supplement its fiction by a book which presents a true and unheightened account of those parts of army experience which were more or less the same for all men in the service, and of others which were common to all men in the A.E.F., though they naturally tend to get squeezed out of the histories of combat troops. I have told how it feels to get enlisted, and what life in training camps was like: in what kind of quarters we lived, how we dressed, what we ate, and how we amused ourselves. I have described the delirious trip to the port of embarkation, the two weeks on the transport, the adventures of the port of debarkation and the days in rest camp. I have had something to say about the discomforts and horrors of war service in France, but I have also found space to record some of the larks which all American soldiers enjoyed there, even the soldiers who saw the most service at the front. And I have not stopped with the armistice, but have gone on to tell how we spent the dreary months that followed, and what it was like to come home again and be discharged from the army.

I have not written this book as an indictment of war or the policies of the United States Army. Resentment and criticism it certainly contains in plenty, but not as part of a scheme of propaganda. They are there because that was the way we thought and spoke at the time. I have written an honest account of what it felt like to be a private soldier in the United States Army during the World War. I am well aware that conclusions unfavorable to the institution of war and to our military system may fairly be drawn from the book, but except in one or two places I have avoided drawing them myself. I have taken my materials as I found them in private letters and diaries, without justification of the attitudes adopted or even much attempt to correct misstatements of fact when the matter was one on which the public has as much opportunity for getting at the truth as I have. For I have not tried to write a history of the World War, but to give a faithful account of how we felt and thought and acted in Evacuation Hospital No. 8.

For that reason my book, after the first few chapters, is largely a collection of extracts from private letters, diaries, and other records made on the spot. I have worried less about chronological and statistical fulness than about transmitting the quality of reality which I myself feel as I recall these scenes. It would have been possible to make a smoother and more succinct narrative by sinking the materials in a paraphrase of my own; in fact, I began the book on that plan. But the farther I went, the more convinced I became that these letters and diaries were the things of most permanent value I had to offer, and I became more and more chary of putting myself in their way.

That I have been able to write the book at all has been due to the loyal cooperation of many other members of Evacuation Hospital No. 8. Mr. William K. Van Arsdale, Mr. Robert F. Towne, and Mr. Roscoe H. Smyth lent me materials of the greatest importance, and Mr. Smyth has increased my debt by constant correspondence. Dr. Roscoe C. Webb furnished me with the series of anecdotes which appear as footnotes signed with his initials. The Very Reverend C. J. McCarthy copied out for me certain extracts from his journal. Miss Emily Z. Smith and Miss Agnes T. Considine gave me my information concerning the nurses, and Miss Considine wrote a more complete account than that of the text to appear in the special edition. I feel particularly grateful to Dr. Arthur M. Shipley, under whom it was my privilege to work as surgical assistant during the greater part of our active service. He lent me some useful materials, including one volume of the operating room record which I kept at Petit Maujouy, wrote the full narrative concerning the officers which appears in the special edition, read and annotated my manuscript, and has always been prompt to answer my queries and to give me encouragement. I have also had materials or helpful correspondence from Mr. Perrin C. Byars, Dr. Asher T. Childers, Mr. Harry W. Conklin, Mr. Charles I. Corwin, Mrs. Anna Isherwood Dexter, Mr. Fred H. Hines, Mr. Herman C. Idler, Mr. Philip F. Linderson, Miss Jessie Manheim, Mr. Allan K. O'Meara, Mr. Robert R. Partridge, Miss Ethel M. Randall, Rev. C. C. St. Clare, Mr. J. J. Smith, Mr. Alfred R. Tilly, Rev. Grover C. Walters, and Mr. Fred F. Weiss.

Several others, not members of Evacuation Hospital No. 8, have assisted me in various ways. Major General Merritte W. Ireland, Surgeon General of the United States, furnished me with comparative statistics for fatality rates in the Civil War and the World War, and has kindly permitted me to quote at the end of my book a passage concerning Evacuation Hospital No. 8 from one of his letters to me. Dr. John H. Long has been of great service in collecting information about the navy operating teams. Mrs. Clive Day, Miss Marie L. Wolfs, and Miss Florence H. Snow have helped me to run down the members of the Smith College Relief Unit. Miss Clara D. Noyes, National Director of the American Red Cross Nursing Service, answered my query about Red Cross nurses at Juilly, and directed me to useful printed materials. Miss Adelaide L. Briggs secured for me a copy of an old magazine which I needed. I have also had help of one kind or another from the Adjutant General's Office, the Office of Naval Records, and the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Navy Department.

I owe a considerable debt of gratitude to those who read and criticized my manuscript. Dr. Stanhope Bayne-Jones read it for the Yale University Press and returned an extended critique, pointing out several misstatements of fact in Chapter Six and suggesting changes elsewhere. I have gratefully taken advantage of all his criticisms. Dr. Harvey Cushing also read the manuscript, and encouraged me greatly by his generous commendation, though he undertook no detailed criticism. Before going to press, the entire book was read and annotated by a committee consisting of Doctor Shipley, Mr. Smyth, Mr. Van Arsdale, Dr. Rutherford T. Johnstone, and the Rev. C. C. St. Clare.

The illustrations are from the collections of Mr. Smyth, Doctor Shipley, Miss Emily Smith, and Mr. J. J. Smith. The originals of most of them, I believe, were made by Mr. Samuel F. Parlin, X-ray photographer of Evacuation Hospital No. 8.

Mr. Corwin's poem on P. 315 is reprinted from the new series of the Stars and Stripes, a paper now defunct. The episode of "Herbie" and the ballade "The Little Soldier from Distant Lands" are reprinted by permission, the first from the Deering High School Breccia, the second from Judge.

The task of publication has been made easier by the courteous and expert service of the Yale University Press. I am especially under obligation to Mr. Malcolm W. Davis for the warm personal interest which he has shown in the book from the time he first saw the manuscript.

F. A. P.
New Haven, July 6, 1929


Chapter One