Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: November 21, 1914
From the Scientific American Supplement issue of November 21, 1914, we note, “The first object of an army in war is to disperse or destroy the enemy, but a correlative duty is the care of its own men when wounded or otherwise incapacitated for service; and this involves a very extensive and carefully systematized service that has been as thoroughly studied and developed as the maneuvers of the fighting men.”
Our first image is a hospital train, part of the system set up by all of the major combatants to remove wounded from the scene of fighting and to give them medical care. This train was one of four English ambulance trains built by railway companies for use by the medical corps. On board the train there were provisions for the wounded and their caregivers, a pharmacy, even an operating theater (although performing surgery on a bouncing train was probably challenging and risky). For the British Army, the system moved wounded men from the battlefield to the Regimental Aid Post, under their own power if possible, or via stretcher bearers if they could not walk. Regimental field ambulances, motorized or horse-drawn, would move the nonwalking cases to the Advanced Dressing Stations just behind the front lines, and then to Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS) 10 or more miles behind the front lines. From the CCS, these trains moved wounded men to more distant and permanent medical camps or hospitals in towns.
Our article has at least one erroneous assumption: “Say that 10,000 men are engaged. Of these, 10 per cent must be expected to become casualties—i.e., 1,000. Of this 1,000, 20 per cent will be killed.” During the war the scale of casualties was vastly underrated by many military authorities and politicians. At the battle of Loos, the biggest British offensive in 1915, in the attacking battalions 8,000 men out of 10,000 were killed or wounded. The casualties at the medical facilities and trains have been described elsewhere as “overflowing.”
Our second image shows Major Edwin Hautenville Richardson, with two of his military dogs. He had been working since 1895 to train dogs for military and police use: messenger dogs, guard dogs, and in this photograph, bloodhounds for tracking soldiers who might be wounded and left behind on the field of battle, in need of medical care but unable to move. It was indeed a noble idea, and especially useful when long-lasting battles could range over a wide area. Perhaps the biggest problem, however, certainly with trench warfare, was that going out in the open to collect wounded was so dangerous it was often impossible to bring in the wounded. Or the dead, sometimes for years: at www.greatwar.co.uk/ the guide to the memorial for the battle of Loos states that “it was not possible to recover or bury many of the fallen here until the battlefields were cleared from 1919.” That memorial bears the names of 20,616 soldiers “who have no known grave,” according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Conversely, the cemetery next to the memorial has 1,800 graves but only 684 individuals have been identified.
Our full archive of the war, called Scientific American Chronicles: World War I, has many articles on the state of medicine and care of the wounded in 1914-1918. It is available for purchase at www.ScientificAmerican.com/wwi