Field Ambulances

Hi there, my name is Arthur Austin and I was a wagon orderly for the Field Ambulance. It was my job to deal with the transportation, I would load the injured men on and off the horse drawn carriages, but I would also load and maintain the goods that were also being transported, such as; food, blankets, bandages, and surgical equipment. We had six horse drawn carriages and these could carry 12 patients, each carriage had four horses each.

The Division that I was working with was mostly in action, therefore the ambulance headquarters were about 3 to 4 miles behind the frontline. Although we could still hear everything and sometimes we could feel it! When a bomb would go off we could feel the ground shake beneath  our feet, a constant reminder of where we were and what our role was.

My field ambulance unit consisted of 10 officers, but the officer who was my commander was a Lieutenant Colonel, I cannot remember his name, but he was a great man, he was a regular Army Doctor. This is important because many of the other officers and doctors were just like me, volunteers. They had no previous experience in war or working under immense pressure, I admired those men, they got stuck in and did a very fine job. (AUSTIN)

World War One. Advance dressing station in the field

L0008823 World War I: advance dressing station in the field
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Photograph: anon., official photograph, n.d. Crown copyright.
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Before, I could load the men onto the carriages they had to pass through the Dressing Station. This was where the stretcher bearers dropped the injured men off. They would be seen to by a regimental medical officer who would perform ‘glorified first aid’ on the men, in an attempt to stop the bleeding. These men worked so hard and the only way I can describe them is as anonymous good angels to whom many survivors owed life and limb. They did not just bandage the men up they would often attempt to fix the injury there and then. I remember one doctor, he went by the name of Sparky Staples, in one day alone, he had put up at least 17 fractured thigh bones! (BAGENAL)

The Dressing Station and the Field Ambulances we were always busy, there was a constant flow of wounded men. I remember one time, I was pulled into the Dressing Station and ordered to help out because they were that busy. It turn out I was in there for three days! We never stopped. We dressed the wounded men and got them ready to be sent onto the Casualty Clearing Station, I remember at the end of those three days, we still had 60 to 70 men on stretchers waiting to be seen. It really was a crazy experience, we just couldn’t work fast enough! Those moments where I had to bandage the men up was the worst job I ever had to do in the war, it was a harsh winter, it was ice cold in the tents and I often slept under a tree with only a small blanket, there was no room left in the tents due to all of the injured men. (AUSTIN) Although there was one young man whom I remember very clearly, Robert. When I was helping out in the Dressing Station he was brought over to me, his leg was bleeding really badly and I knew that a bandage would do little to stop the bleeding. I tried to talk to him but he didn’t respond, his eyes were closed and I thought for a moment that he was dead. I got the attention of a doctor who told me that he wasn’t dead, he had just passed out from the shock of the injury, he told me not to talk to him and to just stop the bleeding and then sent him through to the Field Ambulance who would then take him to the Casualty Clearing Station.

I never really saw any soldier die because, as soon as we had dressed them we sent them off to the Casualty Clearing Station. But I was deeply concerned about Robert, he had not said a word during his entire time at the dressing station and his eyes were shut, every once in a while they would flicker, but that was all. I could hear him breathing but his body never moved. I wondered if he would even make it to the Clearing Station. I loaded him onto the horse drawn carriage, it was jam-packed with men, we had to fill the carriages up so that we could make room in the tents for the many more men that were coming through. I spotted a small space in the corner, I placed Robert there and wrapped a thin blanket over his chest, he was still unresponsive. I felt bad leaving the chap there but it was my job and I sent him on his way to the Casualty Clearing Station. I hope the poor feller made it ok. (MITCHELL)