Rouen – alongside Boulogne, Etaples and Trouville – acted as one of the primary Hospital Centres for the B.E.F., with some 20,000 beds in March 1918 (Butler, 397).
The British scheme of evacuation was based chiefly on Rouen, to which casualties were conveyed mostly by train, ambulance or improvised, but also by barges down the Somme and by char-à-bancs (Butler, 54). About 15 hospitals were based in the town.
No. 1 Australian General Hospital was based at the racecourse in Rouen from 17 April 1916 until 7 December 1918.
In total, 1AGH admitted 90,298 patients (sick 46,187; wounded, 41,111) — an average of 2,913 per month — with 11,488 examined by X-ray department (Butler p780).
On April 17th the unit took over the huts and tents occupied by No 12 British Stationary on the Racecourse at Rouen, and on the 29th reported the hospital as ready to receive patients. Here, somewhat cramped as to space, it worked through three strenuous years, passing through its wards in that time more than 90,000 casualties.
Its most difficult time was in the winter of 1916-17. The site was an exposed one. “The winter of 1916-17,” an officer relates, “will long be remembered as one of the most severe on record, and it was surprising how well most of the medical cases got on although they were nursed in tents. This was in a great measure due to the devotion of the nursing staff, many of whom suffered from minor degrees of frost-bite during the first three months of 1917. The cold interfered with the water supply, and the use of fuel was restricted owing to the shortage of coal. For weeks the temperature showed several degrees of frost and on occasion the thermometer registered 4 degrees Fahrenheit.”
A large proportion of the casualties from the Somme Battles passed through Rouen, and in the winter wounded were replaced by trench foot, pneumonias, nephritis, and trench fever cases, the latter chiefly sent in a “P.U O.”
The personnel, officers, nurses, and other ranks, alike took part in the social life of this peculiarly interesting town and the hospital Rugby XV (it is recorded) “succeeded in winning a local competition.”
Butler’s official medical history, p416
For descriptions of life at Rouen, see the papers of Sister Alice Ross-King.
At the racecourse were sited 10 General Hospital, 12 General Hospital (later staffed by American medical staff) and 1 Australian General Hospital.
In the champ de courses on the outskirts of Rouen, the British established Number 12 General Hospital, British Expeditionary Force, in 1914. Our unit [Base Hospital 21, United States Army] proceeded to the champ de courses on Tuesday, June 12 , to replace the British staff. This was a 1,350-bed hospital, almost completely made up of tents. Two other hospitals were operated within the racetrack. One was a British hospital for captured, wounded enemy prisoners and British prisoners who had self-inflicted wounds. And the third was a British colonial hospital [1AGH].
Oral history: Dr. Joseph Magidson, Base Hospital 21, United States Army – this piece links to a number of photos of the racecourse
Base Hospital 21, staffed primarily with doctors, nurses, and enlisted men from Washington University, Barnes Hospital, and the St. Louis area, took over the running of British General Hospital No. 12, located near Rouen, France. When the United States entered the war, Great Britain’s first request was for doctors. The British had failed to conserve their supply of physicians and surgeons, allowing both doctors and medical students to fight in the lines. By the spring of 1917, Great Britain faced a serious shortage of medical officers. The first six American base hospitals left for Europe before the American fighting forces. WUSM Bernard Becker Medical Library
The permanent buildings of the racetrack, such as the pavilions, paddocks and cafe, had been put to use, but for administrative purposes rather than patient care. The hospital office was located in the racetrack office, the laboratory in the Post de Police, the office of the commanding officer in a Vestarie under a pavilion and the officers’ mess in the Salon. The medical officers had established quarters outside the pavilions in small bell tents, similar to those used for the wounded. The racing turf remained free of buildings until later in the war. With a surrounding line of trees, it gave a picturesque appearance to the hospital and served as an excellent ground for tennis, cricket and other ball games, as well as drills and parades. Grass covered the ground between the tents and flowers bloomed here and there. The British attempted to make the surroundings in all military hospitals as pleasant and attractive as possible. Thoughtfully given special attention, the nurses were ensconced in wooden huts located inside the protective barrier of the paddock fence.
Base Hospital 21 and the Great War – By Donna Bingham Munger
Sunday, June 17, 1917. Amputations are being done almost every day. Yesterday I went down to the “Theater Hut” to see how our nurses were going to handle a very bad case, for the “Theater Sister” is to be taken away soon. Our people at home would marvel to see what fine work can be done when all the water used has to be heated on top of a small oil stove and all the instruments boiled the same way. The poor boy whose leg had to be amputated was in such bad shape, he could have only the minimum of a general anesthetic, but local anesthesia was given. Besides having both legs badly hurt, his lower back is in terrible shape from injury; after the operation he was put on his face on his bed. Before eight o’clock one of the nurses held his head up so he could have a smoke! And this morning he says he is “in the pink,” which means feeling fine. It is perfectly wonderful, their fortitude, and it is making us all so ashamed for all the complaining we have done. Their bravery is harder to bear than anything else. . . .
July 25, 1917. I do not know how to write about our doings of the past few days, for I cannot write numbers, and it is only numbers that would give you any idea at all of what we have been doing.
August 8, 1917. There was nothing really wrong on Sunday, but that day we had so many sick men to look after, and things got a bit complicated and several nurses got hysterical and I felt things were just too much. Any one would have thought so if they had seen our poor gassed men who are so terribly burnt. One of my most stolid nurses came to me that day and said “I just don’t know how I am going to stand it, taking care of so and so.” I said “Why not?” and she replied, “When he was brought in to us he was so badly burned we could hardly see any part of him that we could touch except the back of his neck; but that isn’t the worst part, instead of cursing or moaning he was singing, and I just can’t stand that.”
To visit and laugh with the men is as much a part of the work as the dressings and baths. On my half day last week I fixed up seventeen and gave three full baths before one o’clock. And a bath here means a cleansing bath, not a refreshing sponge, though it must be refreshing to the men to be free of Flanders mud. One usually takes three changes of water at least.
Kathryn Slaten and I are called the tooth-brush queens for we insist upon more tooth-brushing than the V.A.D.’s [Voluntary Aide Detachments] did. To be sure, many of the Tommies have few enough teeth to clean. They should have started the brushing generations ago.
No one can accuse me of risking exposure to the weather. The men say that if I fell down I could not possibly get up. This is what I wear. One silk and wool union suit, one all wool shirt, two pairs of wool stockings, wool tights, wool bloomers, dress, apron, sweater, heavy brown coat, knitted helmet and the blue knitted cap we have added to our uniform. The rest of my costume consists of heavy hobnailed shoes with inner soles, kid gloves protected by gloves of wool, and last but not least, a pair of heavy socks pulled over my shoes. Carry a stable lantern sometimes shaded with a red handkerchief. My flash light I use to peek into beds and to do Carrel tubes. As you may suspect by this time, I am hardly a figure to conjure with romance as I plod on my rounds – but I have certainly learned how to ward off the wintry blasts.
During the First World War, Commonwealth camps and hospitals were stationed on the southern outskirts of Rouen. A base supply depot and the 3rd Echelon of General Headquarters were also established in the city. Almost all of the hospitals at Rouen remained there for practically the whole of the war. They included eight general, five stationary, one British Red Cross, one labour hospital, and No. 2 Convalescent Depot. A number of the dead from these hospitals were buried in other cemeteries, but the great majority were taken to the city cemetery of St. Sever. In September 1916, it was found necessary to begin an extension. St. Sever Cemetery contains 3,082 Commonwealth burials of the First World War. There is also 1 French burial and 1 non war service burial here. The Commonwealth plots were designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield.
THE LATE SISTER KNOX.
TO THE EDITOR Of THE ARGUS.
Sir, – I should be glad if you would give me space to express an appreciation of Sister Hilda Knox whose death on active service in London has been recorded.
Miss Knox was among the first staff nurses who left Melbourne in the hospital ship Kyarra in December 1914, and who worked at No 1 Australian General Hospital when it was established at the Palace, Heliopolis. Through the unhappy fate that seemed to overshadow that hospital from its inception, the splendid service rendered to Australia and the Empire by its nursing staff has been somewhat obscured. Nevertheless their skill, devotion to duty, and forgetfulness of self in those first dreadful days and nights which followed the landing at Gallipoli, and subsequently, when many hundreds of wounded officers and men were received, form a page of nursing history that any country might be proud of. Miss Knox was one of this band, and worked with untiring zeal, until she herself became seriously ill, after an acute infection. The sister who replaced her – also an excellent nurse – used to say jokingly that she was tired of hearing Sister Knox’s name, as the patients were always quoting her perfection Her nature was retiring and unassuming; she was efficient and kind and gentle. Her death will cause much sorrow to a large circle of friends. –
J. BELL Lady Supt, Melbourne Hospital, late Principal Matron, No 1 A.G. Hospital, Heliopolis, Egypt.
Melbourne Hospital, Feb. 25.
1917 ‘THE LATE SISTER KNOX.’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848-1954), 26 February, p. 9, viewed 19 June, 2011, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1599815
The death of Sister H.M. Knox was a grief to me, she was one of our best nurses and beloved by all. She was on duty at No. 11 Stationary on the Friday, apparently quite well. On Sat. she awoke with intense pain in her head and tried to dress. the effort made her vomit twice. She went back to bed, and the matron was called. Later the Medical Officer saw her and prescribed, at four o’clock in the afternoon she became unconscious, and died at 6 p.m. in the sick sisters hospital No. 8 Stationary Rouen. A little V.A.D. died the same day at No. 9 Stationary, and they both had a full military funeral. Three N.C.O.‘s from No. 11 Stat. and three from No. 1 A.G.H. carried the coffin, three Medical Officers from each unit acting as pall bearers. Every Matron in Rouen attended, also all the first Kyarra Sisters from No. 1 A.G.H. The flowers were most beautiful. She rests in St. Sever Cemetery quite near to No. 1 Aust. Gen. Hos.
E.A. Conyers, matron-in-chief of the Australian Army Nursing Service, 6.2.1917, in a letter to General Fetherston, director-general of medical services (AWM 3DRL/0251 item 52)
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