Stretcher Bearer


chris coxMy name is Chris and I was a stretcher bearer in the First World War. It was my job to go out into the trenches and no mans land and collect the wounded soldiers. I worked with my friend Edgar, we would both go out with our stretcher and look for the wounded.

The stretchers that we were using were rubbish, and they were very heavy! The stretcher that we had was very narrow and we used to carry it on our shoulders, and if we were lucky we would reach a place where we could put the stretcher on wheels, and push it, allowing us to have a rest.

When going out and looking for the wounded we were often under intense, aimed machine gun fire and constantly had to dodge bullets. We sometimes had to climb down into holes in the ground that had been caused by bombs thrown by the Germans and help out wounded soldiers who were stuck there.

Once we had got out of these huge holes we would then carry men back to the dressing station, on the stretcher where they would see the doctor. The journey back to the dressing station was one of worst jobs I ever did in the war! It was hard work, the trenches were very slippy and very narrow, it was almost impossible to get back to the dressing station and the wounded soldiers would always ask the same question… is it much further?

Being a stretcher bearer really was a terrible job. The feeling I had of seeing all of those lovely young men killed and horribly wounded, it was terrible and I couldn’t do much to help them either because I wasn’t a doctor. The only thing I could do was get them to the dressing station as quickly as possible. Sometimes we would find men on the battlefield that had been there for a long time, sometimes men had been laying there for days! Somehow, they had managed to stay alive and we worked as quickly as possible to get the men to dressing stations.

The doctors and stretcher bearers worked with heroism to bring in the wounded, but there wasn’t enough of them. My good friend Edgar who was also a stretcher bearer and worked with me a number of times. He had done a good job in bringing men back and attending to others who have been wounded, but it cost him his life.

Our main job was to collect wounded men and get them back to the dressing station as quickly as possible, leave them with the doctors and then go out and find more wounded men. However, there was one situation where I had to help out the doctor at the dressing station. The doctor told me to hold the mans arm, so I got hold of the arm and then the doctor just cut it straight off! I couldn’t believe it! I was left stood there with this mans arm hanging in my hand. The man didn’t really feel the pain, by this point all of his feelings seemed to have gone.

One man I picked up was a young man named Robert, he was lying on the battleground, screaming for his mother,  I could barely hear him for all of the shooting and bombs that were going off around me. I saw him trying to crawl towards the trench, he was covered in blood and stopping every now and again to wave his hand in the hope of someone seeing him. Most men felt very little pain when they first realised they were injured due to the shock of the injury (HORACE). I heard his call for help and made my way over to him, ducking and dodging the shots that were coming my way. When I reached him he looked like a ghost, so pale, the only colour in him was the red blood splattered all over his body. I managed to get him onto the stretcher, but by this point he had passed and was unresponsive. His leg appeared to be badly injured, he was holding it when I first arrived. I worked my way through the trenches with him, it had just stopped raining and the trenches were very, very slippy. Every now and again I would slip a little and Robert’s leg would bang against the side of trenches, this was worried me as it would no doubt make the injury worse, but there was nothing I could do.

Click on the next page to find out more from my friend Arthur on what happened in the dressing stations.

Carriage of the wounded in he trenches in World War One

L0030197 Carriage of the wounded in he trenches in World War One
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Royal Army Medical Corps Muniments Collection
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Digging out wounded from a First-Aid shelter which had been blown up by a shell

L0006417 Digging out wounded from a First-Aid shelter which had been blown up by a shell
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images,
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0