Brandhoek is a small hamlet in Belgium situated between Ieper, Vlamertinge and Poperinge.
No. 3 Australian Casualty Clearing Station was located at Brandhoek Siding (Sheet 28 NW.G.12b) from 21 July to 22 August 1917.
Twenty A.A.N.S. Sisters reported for duty on 31 July; they were moved back to St Omer on 21 August due to the heavy shelling and bombing, before 3 A.C.C.S. and 44 C.C.S. set up at Nine Elms just west of Poperinghe.
The forward clearing hospitals were located close to railways and ammunition dumps (there were acres of shells (reserve dumps) around the vicinity) making it a prime target for German artillery.
We were glad to be with our men. Although they were anxious about us being so close to the lines, they were undoubtedly pleased to have us with them, and gave us a royal welcome.
Our quarters were not ready until 10 p.m. A party of Jocks were working like busy bees, getting the bell tents ready for our occupation.
We were dismayed to find our luggage had not arrived with us. Stretchers were supplied, and patients’ blankets, caked with dried blood and “chatty,” were brought along for our use. It was preferable to spend the night watching the flashes from the guns and the marvellous illuminations in the sky, more dazzling than any lightning.
A continuous rumble and roar, as of an immense factory of vibrating machinery, filled the night. The pulsings and vibration worked into our bodies and brains; the screech of big shells, and the awful crash when they burst at no great distance, kept our nerves on edge; but even to this terrific noise we became accustomed.
Alongside of us. No. 32 were working, while No. 44, like us, were completing preparation. We were a huge city of canvas, batteries and ammunition dumps.
Also alongside was a field ambulance and “Big Bobs” (15 inch guns). Stretched across these was canvas to hide them from the German airmen. It was splashed with brown, green and yellow paint, representing autumn leaves. Our own tents and huts we camouflaged in the same way. When these huge guns talked to Fritz, they split the air with terrific force and made the earth rock and tremble. It was a tremendous relief when they moved away, as they did repeatedly, to prevent the enemy finding their position.
Suspended in the air, like immense sausages, eighteen observation balloons hung over both lines as far as we could see. These observers would telephone to the men below where the Germans were massing theit troops. It was interesting to watch the efforts of the airmen to bring them down.
Two main roads ran one on each side of the hospital, and the ant-like activity on them never ceased. We were obliged to cross the main railway line to reach our quarters, while, on the other side of our compound, the ammunition train passed by. A stream of ammunition was going up every day.
May Tilton, The Grey Battalion pp216-218
May Tilton‘s description (noted above) gives some clues. “Two main roads ran one on each side of the hospital, and the ant-like activity on them never ceased. We were obliged to cross the main railway line to reach our quarters, while, on the other side of our compound, the ammunition train passed by.” Of the shelling on August 22, she writes that, running to the dugout, she tripped and fell, “just as the shell fell in the cemetery behind” (p235).
Third Army, near Arras, May 29th. We are to prepare to move to another area and shall be near enough to the line to get them from the dressing stations direct, without long journey and waits which is what the C.C.S’s are out to prevent nowadays.
July 27th Brandhoek. Hospital has just been pitched and already is splendid. This venture so close to the line is in the nature of an experiment in lifesaving, to reduce the mortality rate in abdominal and chest wounds. Hence this advanced centre to which all such wounds come from a large attacking area instead of going on with the rest to the C.C.S’s six miles back. We have fifteen theatre sisters, thirty-three in all. Sir Anthony Bowlby turned up to-day. It is his pet scheme, getting operations done up here instead of further back or at the Base. Our thirty medical officers include the largest number of F.R.C.S’s ever collected in any hospital in France before, with theatre teams to work at eight tables continuously. July 31st. At 6.30 a.m. we began taking in the first cases. 11 p.m. We have been working in the roar of battle every minute going at full pitch: twelve teams in the theatre. . . . Soon after 10 a.m. “he” began putting over high explosives, they burst on two sides of us not fifty yards away. It is going to be a tight fit; I thought the work was going to get the upper hand of us. We get cases an hour after injury, which is our raison d’etre for being here. August 2nd. In spite of the awful conditions (of wet and mud) a remarkable number are doing well, especially those who came in first. August 9th. No. 44 C.C.S. is to open to-morrow and has thirty-five Sisters and lots of teams. The Australians are at present working with us. They are a handsome crowd and are very nice. We are now to take alternate fifties of abdomens and femurs. 10th. Sir Anthony Bowlby came round to-day and seems pleased with it all. August 11th. He hasn’t shelled us today, and we have been able to get the wards straight. 13th. The Australians open their own unit tomorrow and we three C.C.S’s take in batches of fifty each, abdomens, chests and femurs. August 16th. Bombs dropped on the Australian C.C.S., two killed. August 18th. The letters to relatives of died of wounds reach 400 in less than three weeks. Miss McCarthy (Matron-in-Chief, B.E.F.) came up to-day and was most helpful and kind; she is much distressed at the conditions and thinks we are too far up. August 22nd. A very bad day big shells coming over, one burst between our wards and No. 44 and killed a night sister asleep, and knocked out three others, another laid out the Q.M. in the Australians. The D.M.S. came up and had just said he would close No. 44 and the Australians and we would carry on with increased staff when two more came crashing down. The Q.M.G. who was there said at once—“All must clear out, patients and personnel.”
Miss K.E. Luard, Q.A.I.M.N.S. Unknown Warriors: (Large gaps in the quotation are not indicated). As quoted in Butler’s official medical history, p363. [Kate Luard was the sister in charge of 32 CCS]
Tuesday, 14 August, No one slept, day or night staff. Our bell tents were dugouts. They had lowered us considerably and sandbagged the outsides so heavily, we felt quite comfortable. It needed a direct hit to get us. We received news that a hop over was expected. Conditions for this particular one were bad, for our advance was continually being held up on account of weather conditions.
At 10.30 p.m. the Gothas were over and bombed a lot of men; many were killed. At 11.30 p.m. the wounded began to arrive. The three C.C.Ss took it in turn to admit batches of fifty each. I was in charge of the Resuscitation ward, with two splendid orderlies. Torrents of rain were falling, and poor fellows were carried in, saturated and covered with mud, stone cold and pulseless. Three primus stoves provided our hot water supply. Many of our patients died as we lifted them from the stretchers. By midnight, the ward was full of moaning, groaning wrecks. I was appalled by the immensity and hopelessness of the task before us. At the faintest sign of a pulse beat, we were injecting salines, and working like mad to restore life sufficiently to get the patient to the operating table. The M.Os kept coming from the theatre when they could to watch and help our progress. All the time, the bombardment sounded louder than ever; shells were bursting quite close, and “Big Bob“set our tents rocking and vibrating with his fierce and mighty roar.
Wednesday, 16 August. Fritz was overhead all day. Bombing raids were carried out with great daring. It was quite a common sight to see air fights in which as many as twenty machines were engaged, the white puffs of smoke from our archies bursting all about the raiders.
We had a visit from our matrons-in-chief, Miss Conyers and Miss McCarthy. They were distressed at the conditions and thought we were too far up. At 10 p.m. “he” was over again, and bombed the field ambulance alongside us, killing an orderly and wounding others. The second bomb fell in our compound, between the officers’ and the sisters’ mess tents, killing an M.O., Captain Harris, R.A.M.C. He had arrived from the line for a rest Only twenty-four hours previously, and was playing the gramophone when it happened. Matron and a sister rushed to his aid, but he died as they raised him. Some time later, the body of our mess corporal, Paddy O’Leary, was found lying on the duckboards beside the mess tent. He had been killed by the same bomb.
All the sisters’ tents and the clothes hanging on the tent pole were riddled with holes. Some of the girls, not yet in bed, were thrown violently to the ground. Sister H— buried her face in her eiderdown as she fell, and remained quiet. Then, suddenly, she jumped to her feet, exclaiming:
“What a fool I am, praying like mad to the Lord in this racket!”
Somehow, praying didn’t fit in. We left it to the padre.
Monday, 20 August. The bombardment was louder and longer than ever: another beastly night. Patients were carried in and out all night long. Some had been lying out for days; they still lived, but not for long.
Instead of going to bed, we watched a thrilling fight in the air. Fritz was brought down in flames: a sickening sight. The boys cheered. The pilot tried to volplane down; a man jumped out at five thousand feet, but the parachute did not open; then the engine fell out. They started to shell our observation balloon, but failed to get it.
We frequently saw an observer jump from his balloon when it was doomed, and come sailing along in his parachute.
[Wednesday 22 August] Almost dropping with fatigue, my tent companion, Sister Slater, and I went to bed at 9 a.m., and fell asleep at once. At 10.30 a.m. we were wakened by a terrific explosion, and rushed to the tent door to see what happened. A Jock, working in our compound, said:
“They’ve got us this time; it was a shell. I’ll go and find out where it fell.”
Almost at once, a second shell followed and burst much closer, getting our Q.M. stores.
A very agitated M.O. pushed his head into our tent and said: “Come on, you girls. Put on your coats and slippers. The C.O. says you have to get into a dugout at once. They are shelling us.” We were incensed because he would not allow us to wait long enough to get into our clothes. We wanted to go to the wards, not into a burrow in the ground.
“Good God! That first shell killed a night sister at 44 in bed asleep. Come on!” he said.
Like Brown’s cows, we scuttled across no man’s Land, with our plaits flying, to some trenches occupied by Scotch Canadians who were out of the line resting. Before I reached them, another long drawn-out crescendo followed me closely.
“I’m gone,” flashed through my mind.
The men shouted, “Run!” Others called, “Drop quickly!” My slipper tripped me, and I fell, just as the shell fell in the cemetery behind. I looked back to see a huge mass of black smoke and debris flying in all directions; felt myself lifted and dragged into a huge dugout where all the day staff had gathered.
May Tilton, The Grey Battalion
We have been shelled out three times but this last time was too dreadful. Those brutal Germans deliberately shell our hospital with all our poor helpless boys but really God was good to us we had four killed but it was just miraculous that there were not dozens killed. Of course we (the sisters) were put into dugouts as soon as the shelling got bad but I can’t tell you how cruel it was to leave those poor helpless patients. In a few hours the whole hospital was evacuated & one consolation we saw our last patient carried out before we were sent away but not before one of our greatest little boys on the Staff along with three others had been killed. One was an English Medical Officer the hospital next to us although they only had two shells their casualties were much heavier than ours amongst them one sister killed and one wounded…
If you could only have seen the Australian boys the day we were shelled so badly they came from far & near to see if we were alright. Within an hour there were fully two dozen Officers down in the dugouts with us … a Canadian Colonel brought down a big box of Maple Sugar & a jug of water & then to finish up a Scotch officer carried down a gramaphone to the dug-out door & played Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag & smile.
Pon my word you would have thought we were heroes the fuss we had made of us.
Everything would have been alright if our boys had not been killed. Our hospital is a total wreck now. Our tents were dug down three feet into the ground & sandbagged three feet above & they are riddled.
27 July 1917. Left Trevent at 10.30 a.m. Passed this v. pretty country, changed trains at ——- R.T.O said to change at another station. Arrived H, changed trains. Saw Geoghegan, Anderson, Watts. Arrived Abeele 6.30, & told we were not to go to 3rd A.C.C.S. Sad afternoon, a pretty spot. Ambulance to 62 – all v. good to us.
29. George came in evening. Sisters had arrived at 3 A.C.C.S., not ready.
30. Capt. Henley & Major L. arrived with our mail, plenty of home letters.
31. Left at 2p.m., road crowded with traffic. Through P. Saw 300 German prisoners being marched along road. In tents, sandbags round them. Martin & Collis at work next door. Cam went to 32 for Surgical team with G. Very heavy barrage.
1 August 1917. Rained heavily all day. Fixed wards, all equipment in mine – Thistle & Sadie returned to the fold – Collis came to call –
2. Changed ward to A2. Macks.
5. Bomb dropped at lunch time, a dash for tin hats. George came to ward after fixing & sandbagging tents. Capt. Rodd to dinner & his story of St Julien. Aeroplane v.low after dinner. Heavy barrage. Told at 10.30 p.m. that we are to move tomorrow.
6. Packed up & got ready for a jaunt. Some went to 62 & 63. Saw Gen House & Gen. Birdwood. Came to 32, a very comfortable tent & beds.
7. Went to ward 7. The Jack who had been in Shell hole 7 days. [Transcription error? Perhaps “Jock”?]
8. Thunderstorm in evening, heavy thunder.
9. Awakened by bombs 4 a.m., Sadie announced we had better wear our tin hats.
10. Busy a.m. – antiaircraft in p.m. just after returning to duty. Patients evacuated by train, the first time a train had been past P – for two years. 10 of our patients went, Major Milne, etc, came while we were at afternoon tea. George came over after dinner, working from 11 p.m. to 7 p.m. at 44—-
11. Wakened in early a.m. 1a.m. by bombs, again later on.
12. Saw balloon come down.
13. Heard we are to return to our own unit tomorrow. Another balloon down. Campion went to Base. Letters from home. July 3rd from Melbourne. Mr Gregory called in morning – Collett.
14. Returned to No 3 A.C.C.S. in morning. Fixed tents. Sgt. Teams four arrived. Intelligence. Aeroplane came, brought down after bringing one of our balloons to earth. Hear from Kelly that there is a C.C.S. at El Arish.
16. Stunt. Very busy day in ward. Capt. Dundee, l. arm amputated. Bombs in evening. Capt. Harris & Puddy, killed. Tents damaged.
17. Busy. Saw Fritz with Search lights.
18. Miss Conyers came, also Miss McCarthy.
20. Anti aircraft very busy in evening. Fifty over.
21. Shelled during day, sent to dugouts. Saw Mr. Gregory. Patients evacuated. Left about 6 p.m. for St. Omer. Saw the New Z. sisters. To 59 British General.
Annie Bell – World War 1 Diary – Stephanie Kihlstrom
In April 1917 she [Alicia Kelly] was promoted from staff nurse to sister and transferred to No. 3 Australian Casualty Clearing Station (3ACCS) at Brandhoek, near Ypres, in July 1917. During August 3ACCS was treating many soldiers from the front, which was only a few kilometres away. Like all casualty clearing stations, 3ACCS was very vulnerable to attack and during the week to 21 July it was shelled on five days. The final day of shelling was the worst. In the middle of the morning a shell landed on an adjacent British casualty clearing station, killing a Canadian nurse. The shelling continued, and Kelly and the other nurses were ordered into the dug-outs. Kelly refused, running to the wards and comforting patients by handing out basins for their heads. A padre found her there, and later wrote that “we had literally to drag her to a place of safety”. Kelly was concerned at having disobeyed an order, but although she knew the basins were useless for protection she felt her actions would be good for morale. She was awarded the Military Medal for her actions, and also received the Royal Red Cross in January 1918.
Elizabeth Stewart, Nurses under fire (Wartime issue 50)
We were told “one” Royal Red Cross was being awarded each C.C.S. after our shelling. Sister Kelly (W.A.), received the decoration at No. 3. The decision was a popular one. When the first shell fell, she rushed for the enamel wash basins and covered the patients’ heads to protect them from bits of flying shrapnel, then stood in the middle of the ward, encouraging and cheering her helpless patients.
May Tilton, The Grey Battalion p240
Mentions in accounts of May Tilton, Elsie Grant & Annie Bell; Doherty from Butler’s Nurses’ Narratives (AWM)
Thursday, August 23rd. No. 10 Sta. St. Omer
I’m afraid you’ll be very disappointed, but we are to re-open on the same spot so Leave is off. The Australians are not to go back, but we are to carry on the abdominal work alone as we did before they came up. I imagine that this week’s Push has gone well and that we’ve shoved their line back a bit, or they wouldn’t start the Hospital there again. Westhoek Ridge is ours. I don’t know about St. Julien, but we’ve done well. The ground has been hard and Tanks have been able to get going, flattening out these Pill-boxes which held us up before.
I expected [for one rash day] to be telling you all about Tuesday [21 August 1917] at home tomorrow, but must write it now. The business began about 10 a.m. Two came pretty close after each other and both just cleared us and No. 44. The third crashed between Sister E’s ward in our lines and the Sisters’ Quarters of No. 44. Bits came over everywhere, pitching at one’s feet as we rushed to the scene of the action, and one just missed one of my Night Sisters getting into bed in our Compound. I knew by the crash where it must have gone and found Sister E. as white as paper but smiling happily and comforting the terrified patients. Bits tore through her Ward but hurt no one. Having to be thoroughly jovial to the patients on these occasions helps us considerably ourselves. Then I came on to the shell-hole and the wrecked tents in the Sister’s Quarters at 44. A group of stricken M.O.’s were standing about and in one tent the Sister [Nellie Spindler] was dying. The piece went through her from back to front near her heart. She was only conscious a few minutes and only lived 20 minutes. She was in bed asleep. The Sister who shared her tent had been sent down the day before because she couldn’t stand the noise and the day and night conditions. The Sister who should have been in the tent which was nearest was out for a walk or she would have been blown to bits; everything in her tent was; so it was in my empty Ward next to Sister E [Elizabeth Eckett]. It all made one feel sick.
K.E. Luard, Unknown Warriors, as quoted by Sue Light on GWF K.E. Luard, Q.A.I.M.N.S. Unknown Warriors: (Large gaps in the quotation are not indicated). As quoted in Butler’s official medical history, p363. [Kate Luard was the sister in charge of 32 CCS]. [Kate Luard was the sister in charge of 32 CCS]
Nellie Spindler QAIMNSR was a staff nurse at No 44 CCS which specialised in treating abdominal wounds. Four other nurses were injured in this incident and Sister M Wood recieved the MM for her gallant conduct that day. The 44th CCS was almost immediately moved via Remy Siding to Lijssenthoek where Nellie was buried the next day aged 26. Her grave today lies in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, the only woman amongst over ten thousand men.
Two British nurses at Brandhoek were awarded the Military Medal for their actions on 21 August:
Counting up, there were 7 [British?] nurse MMs Gazetted on the 17th October 1917, mainly for actions that took place on either the 20th or 21st August 1917 (before and after midnight I guess), but they seem to cover a variety of different units – a very busy night.
Sue Light, Great War Forum, 11 January 2009
Brandhoek was used as a Field Ambulance and Casualty Clearing Station and contains three Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries:
Captain Noel Chavasse was Medical Officer of the 10th (Liverpool Scottish) Battalion, the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment, during the first three years of the First World War. He was the only man to win the British Military’s highest award for valour, the Victoria Cross, twice during the Great War…
The Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele)
The attack started at 3:50 am on 31st July . The Scottish were by this time already in open ground and made good progress towards their first objective and they pushed on towards the Steenbeek, a stream that crossed their route. As they crossed it, they were held up by uncut wire in front of them and by heavy machine gun fire from Capricorn Trench. One of the two tanks detailed to aid in the assault came up at 7am and despite being put out of action very quickly by three direct hits from a German field gun, it managed to break through the wire and by 7:45am all the battalion’s objectives had been taken. Noel had moved his aid post forward with the attack and set it up in a captured German dug out at Setques Farm. The area was subjected to intensive German fire but he stayed put. The dugout was small and it served only as a patching up station before the wounded were sent further back Noel had been injured in the head by a shell splinter as he stood up and waved to indicate the position of his aid post. It is possible he suffered a fractured skull in this incident. After being dressed at the Weiltje dug out, Noel returned, despite advice to stay put, to his aid post. His stretcher bearers had been busy and Noel was very busy until sundown. As night fell Noel picked up his torch and went searching the wrecked landscape for survivors, it was raining again by this time.
Early the following day, Noel found himself a German captive who was a medic and the two of them worked hard to treat wounded men in the impossible conditions of mud, blood and water. Noel went to the door of the dugout to call in the next man when a shell flew past him and down the stairs, killing the man who was waiting to be carried away by the Field Ambulance. Details get very confused at this point, Noel may have received another wound but he carried on. The official history of the Liverpool Scottish has it that Noel was wounded twice more in the head. One stretcher bearer had been sent to the aid post to tell Noel to return. Despite intense pain, “The Doc refused to go and told us to take another man instead”. There is no doubt that at about 3am in the morning of Thursday 2nd August, 1917, another shell entered the aid post, Noel was sitting in a chair trying to get some sleep. Everyone in the aid post was either killed or seriously wounded. Noel had received four or five wounds, the worst being a gaping abdominal wound from which he bled profusely. He managed to crawl up the stairs and out of the dug out and crawled along the (flooded, muddy) “road” until he stumbled across a dugout occupied by Lt. Charles Wray of the Loyal North Lancs Regiment who sent for help and later sent an account to his local paper.
Noel was sent to Casualty Clearing Station No. 32 at Brandhoek, which specialised in abdominal wounds…
Noel is buried in Brandhoek’s New Military Cemetery. His grave (Plot 3, Grave B15) has had several memorials over the years, the current headstone was erected on 28th April 1981. It is the only headstone in the world to have two Victoria Crosses engraved on it. The inscription “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” was selected by his father.
Ian Jones, chavasse.u-net.com/chavasse.html
Sunday, 5 August. A sad and touching event took place to-day. It was a Scotch funeral, attended by pipers and numbers of kilted officers and men. The deceased had been a popular R.A.M.C. captain, V.C. and Bar, D.S.O., M.C. After sustaining a scalp wound, he walked about with his regiment for two days. He was then badly wounded in abdomen and arm, and brought to No. 32 to be operated on. He put up a great fight to live, but died next day.
Two M.Os wheeled the stretcher and lowered him into the-grave. His horse led the procession of kilted men. After the service, a piper stepped to the side of the grave and played “Scots Wha’ hae.” Then his colonel saluted him in the grave. He was buried in a large pit, together with a Scotch colonel, an adjutant and a number of soldiers sewn up in canvas.
May Tilton, The Grey Battalion, pp221-222
Yesterday morning Captain … V.C. and Bar, D.S.O, M.C., R.A.M.C., was brought in badly hit in the tummy and arm and had been going about for two days with a scalp wound till he got hit. Half the Regiment have been to see him; he is loved by everybody. He was quickly X-rayed, operated on, shrapnel found, holes sewn up, salined and put to bed. He’is just on the borderland still; better this afternoon and perhaps going to do, but not so well to-night. He tries hard to live; he was going to be married. [Although she did not name him, this was Doctor Noel Chavasse]
Sunday, August 5th, 11.30p.m. Captain … died yesterday; four of us went to his funeral to-day; and a lot of the MOs; two of them wheeled the stretcher and lowered him. His horse was led in front and then the pipers and masses of kilted officers followed. Our Padre with his one arm, Father E. looked like a Prophet towering over everybody and saying it all without book. After the Blessing one Piper came to the graveside (which was a large pit full of dead soldiers sewn up in canvas) and played a lament. Then his Colonel, who particularly loved him, stood and saluted him in his grave. It was fine, but horribly choky.
Quoted in McEwan, Yvonne 2006, “It’s a long way to Tipperary” : British and Irish nurses in the Great War, Cualann Press, Dunfermline
We're pleased that people are using this website as a source for locations, quotes and other primary source material. It's why we published our notes on the web. But we'd very much appreciate a footnote or credit. Much of the hospital (and other) location information for Lemnos and the Western Front is original research -- thank you, from Bernard & Cheryl