Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Hospitals Flapping in the Wind

#2 Canadian General Hospital in Le Tréport, France - Collections Canada

Many of the military hospitals in France and Belgium, including those well behind the lines on the French coast, housed the wounded (and staff) in tents. The winters of 1916-17 and 1917-18 were brutal - among the coldest in living memory - which made life miserable as well as difficult for staff and patients alike. These tents were occasionally blown down in storms, which were all too frequent on that windy north coast. Three hospitals were virtually levelled in a gale in August, 1917.

Some of these tented and hutted hospitals had 2000 or more beds, and with the additional accommodations and facilities required for medical and support staff, were like small towns.

During an offensive, a hospital like the 1st Canadian General at Etaples could have 600 admissions a day. In 1917, that hospital alone admitted 40,500 wounded and ill men. It's delightful to see that there was still time and care taken to bandage a dog's paw, as seen in the photo above.

The largest CWGC cemetery in France, at Etaples, with 11,000 WW1 graves - photo copyright Melanie Wills 
Although seemingly well behind the front lines, the base hospitals were occasionally hit in bombing raids. During one on May 19, 1918, over 60 staff and patients were killed and 80 wounded at the 1st Canadian General, while there were another 250 casualties among the other hospitals in the Etaples district. Contrary to the Geneva Convention, these hospitals had been placed next to vital military installations that were legitimate targets for the German bombers. The middle and right graves at the front of this photo are those of a Canadian doctor and nurse killed in that attack.

Some of my characters work in these hospitals in Elusive Dawn.

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