Lavinia L. Dock.

History of American Red Cross nursing online

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conscious of the bombing, so intent was every one on the
work at hand. The receiving of patients and care of them
in the wards was all done in the dark or by the wee flare of a
candle ; the operating-room was the only place where lights
were allowed. The windows were heavily blanketed and black
curtains hung over them.

I cannot describe those nights, — the long hours spent at the
sterile table, or in giving anesthetics or in doing the many
tasks about the room; the intense suffering of the wounded;
the ghastly sights and nauseating smells when gas gangrene
was present.


Some days after the arrival of Naval Operating Unit
No. 1, reinforcements from the Paris headquarters of the
American Red Cross in France, and United States Army Evac-
uation Hospital No. 8 were brought up to Jouilly, Seine-et-
Marne. Other operating teams arrived also and the little cha-
teau-hospital was greatly enlarged and became the principal
evacuation center from Belleau Woods to Paris. Miss Elder-
kins wrote :

Instead of two hundred patients, there were at times close
on to one thousand, these being evacuated as quickly as pos-
sible to make room for the fresh cases coming in. I do not
remember the exact figures, but over three thousand patients
passed through the operating-rooms during the Belleau Woods
and Soissons Drive.

We remained at Jouilly during June and July, going over
to Meaux to help out in a rush for ^ few days. An evacuation
hospital had come up there but was hardly ready for work
when a convoy of wounded arrived.

On June 7 a second operating team had been sent forward
from Navy Base Hospital No. 1. Dr. James Watt was in
command. Leola Steward and Florence Missimer were the
nurses. The team left Brest on June 7, 1918, and after various
temporary assignments were detailed to duty with Mobile
Hospital No. 1 at Evacuation Hospital No. 7, near Couloin-
miers. Of the artillery fire there, Miss Missimer wrote :

Big Bertha was also sportive in this section ; she plowed up
great holes in nearby fields. One night a Boche dropped a
huge bomb in a field right in front of the hospital and caused
a small earthquake; we and the chateau trembled together.
To the right of us, the French had an anti-aircraft station,
with their big 75's constantly in action.

We were five weeks at this station, doing twelve-hour duty
either day or night, and occasionally it would be twenty-four
hours at a stretch and occasionally a like time off.

On the twentieth of July, we retired at night very tired,
having been on duty all the night before. After an hour's
sleep orders came for us to report to the 28th Division. Stag-
gering out of bed, we dressed, shoved our few belongings into
our sea-bags and by eleven o'clock were seated on them outside
the chateau, waiting for transportation. Here we nodded and


dozed until one-thirty, when a French ambulance rattled up
and all, including luggage, was bundled in and the journey

The weather was extremely hot and the dust so thick that
our lungs seemed choked with it. We were supposed to reach
headquarters for the 28th Division in two hours. Every mile
seemed to take us nearer real activities. Not a civilian was to
be seen, but we passed continual streams of soldiers on horse-
back and on foot. Large ammunition trucks rumbled by.
The soldiers we met seemed indifferently puzzled, as if they
wondered what we were doing there. It was not long before
we, too, wondered.

Carde, a little village, at that time only three miles behind
the firing line, was a mass of ruins, deserted except for an
occasional sentry on duty, the roads almost impassable with
fallen bricks and stones. On beyond this village we came
upon big Naval guns swinging back and forward in action.
Still further on was the artillery carefully camouflaged in the
woods. Time and again we met whole regiments of American
and French soldiers trudging along in a mechanical way, an
unforgetable expression on their worn faces, desperate through
utter exhaustion. On either side of the road, men had
dropped out, throwing themselves on the ground, unable to
go any farther. We found out later that these were men who
had just been relieved from the firing line.

With high explosives whirring past us, we sped on past
trench after trench, actually seeing our own boys, with guns
to shoulder, ready for the words that would send them over
the top, and came finally to a bridge where we halted for
Dr. Watt to ask where we were and where were Division 28's
headquarters. An officer volunteered to take him to a dug-
out where he could telephone; we then found our French
chauffeur had taken us miles out of our way. While we were
waiting for the return of Dr. Watt, we had no difficulty in
engaging the boys, doing sentry duty at the bridge, in con-
versation; they had not seen a woman in weeks. They told
us that under the bridge was enough dynamite to blow up a
whole division of Germans. We delved into our sea-bags and
found several boxes of crackers, which we passed over to
them, hating ourselves for the smallness of the gift.

When Dr. Watt appeared, the Major was with him. He
pointed out the German lines, which were just over the hill-
side, and added that we were in the first line reserve trenches,
a gas section. As the Germans had been sending over gas
shells all day, he begged we would hurry our leave-taking.
We did, tout de suite.


Dr. Watt's team was finally ordered to Field Hospital
No. 109 and reached there at 10 p. m. that night. However,
the end of their journeying had not yet come. Miss Missimer
wrote :

Here at Field Hospital No. 109, a unit under Major
Schaffer, was just getting settled in a lovely chateau, with
most attractive grounds. The Major was very attentive and
kind. So far we were the only women in the personnel. Be-
fore dawn of the second night there, orders came for us to
move on, first to Field Hospital No. 103 at La Ferte, then to
Field Hospital No. 33, and at midnight four days later we
were sent by motor to Field Hospital No. 112 at Chateau-

Field Hospital No. 112 was located in a building, one end
of which had been entirely destroyed. All the windows were
gone. . . . Pontoon bridges spanned the Marne and they and
the ammunition trucks rumbling over them were a constant
target for enemy bombs.

Our stay at Field Hospital No. 112 was for two weeks only.
Dr. Watt's health broke down and we were returned, August
18th, to Brest.

While Dr. Brinsmade's detachment was at Orleans and Navy
Operating Teams No. 1 and No. 2 were at the front, twenty
additional Navy nurses were called from Navy Base Hospital
No. 1 at Brest for service at Paris. One of these nurses, Helen
Hay ward, wrote:

On July 27, 1918, we left Brest for Paris, where eight of us
were assigned to American Bed Cross Hospital No. 3, in
Paris, and twelve to American Red Cross Hospital No. 5, at

American Bed Cross No. 5 was situated on the race tracks
of the Bois tie Boulogne and was entirely under Red Cross
tents. It accommodated twenty-five hundred patients. Each
ward consisted of from one to three tents, with from forty to
seventy-eight beds. We went on duty the following morning,
and were extremely busy. The nurses were all glad to wel-
come even twelve nurses, for the convoys were coming in
every other day. There was one convoy which I especially
remember. It was the admission of eighteen hundred boys
in one morning, all gas cases. The convalescent patients vol-
unteered to act as orderlies and saved us from a trying pre-
dicament; we were at the time short of corpsmen. Their


fine spirit of comradeship for the men worse off than them-
selves was shown in such a splendid way, for before we had
time to ask we had numerous offers of help. A bad gas case
is absolutely helpless. It is surely the most cruel weapon of
warfare; there is so little one can do for them and they suffer
so dreadfully.

The "Bertha" was shooting over the hospital and of course
we had the usual air raids at night when the moon was

The spirit around the hospital was wonderful. Every-
one helped the other. There never was any unpleasantness.
Of course we did a lot of pioneer work, for we did not have
the conveniences or the things to work with that we had at
our home base, but the boys seemed happy and certainly
recovered rapidly.

Of the experiences of the eight Navy nurses assigned to
American Red Cross Military Hospital No. 3, Mary Caldwell
wrote :

At seven a. m. the next morning we were each detailed to
different wards and encountered a very decided change of
work. Here we had patients from generals down to lieu-
tenants, the cases nearly all surgical, the officers mostly
suffering from explosive wounds and compound fractures.
No more great black stevedores, with mumps and measles !
The majority of our patients belonged to the 181st, 2nd and
77th divisions. Many of them were prominent Americans.
Some of our beloved Marines from the S. S. Henderson, whom
a year before we had last seen marching away from the ship
well and happy, came back to us shattered and miserable, to
be nursed back to a poor resemblance of their former sturdy
selves. . . .

The other Navy Base hospital in France which furnished
nurses for detached duty at the front was No. 5. Elizabeth
Dewey was one of these nurses and she wrote:

As we were going off duty the evening of July 19, 1918, we
four nurses. Miss Faye Fulton and Miss Dewey, anestheti-
zes, and Miss Alice Hurst and Miss Caroline Thompson,
were told to be ready to leave for the front at 5 a. m.

We met the others of the two operating teams at the station
the next morning. Drs. George Ross and John Jones were in
command ; assistants, Drs. Tanner and Lyon, and Chief P. M.
Shank and P. M. Steel, Diable and Hornsburger were the
other members of the teams.


We reached Paris about 8 p. m., and reported at Dr. Blake's
hospital. . . . About 3 p. m., July 20, we started off in 12
new Ford ambulances, with a sergeant, on a motorcycle, to
act as convoy. We passed the fortifications and wire entan-
glements, huge airdromes and encampments and later several
hundred German prisoners huddled in a farm yard. We
heard the guns and saw the line of observation balloons above
the trenches. The road was a solid mass of trucks and artil-
lery and even-thing was veiled in the dust. Our Fords had
to get off into a field every little while to cool, and we tried to
remember where Crepy was, for all signs pointed to Crepy.
When we reached there some soldiers gave us hot coffee and
hard tack.

About dusk we sighted a castle on a hill, a fairy-tale castle,
almost too beautiful to be real. We made a turn and were in
the square of a small town. We stopped before a white gate,
and in front of us, behind us and on both sides of the road
were stretchers, each with its burden of wounded. Some were
very still, some groaning, some muttering in delirium. One
man caught my coat as I passed and begged for water. So
we entered L'Hotel des Buines at Pierrefonds, where Field
Hospital Xo. 12 was located.

In about a half hour both teams were working in the hotel
parlor, a medium-sized room reached by a hallway three
stretchers long, and wide enough for the stretcher-bearers to
walk beside each other. The long French windows of this
room were closed ; blankets were nailed up outside the shutters
to hide the light. The furniture was gone. In its place were
two operating-tables and a plank on clothes-horses made a
third. Pictures and mirrors decorated the walls, strong elec-
tric drop lights hung over the tables, fancy stands held
instruments, adhesive strips were stuck on mirrors and win-
dows. A pile of blood-soaked, filthy clothing grew in one
corner of the room and millions of flies rose and buzzed when
an addition was made to the pile. As a patient was carried
out, the stretcher nearest the door was brought in and another
shoved in at the far end from the ground outside. The work
in that room never stopped day or night, except long enough
in the morning to scrape out the filth of the night work, and
in the evening to close everything before lights went on; the
ground outside was not cleared of stretchers until the fourth

About 11 P. M. that first night, a dying man was put on my
table. He asked me to write home for him, and one of the
boys found a pad for me. Dr. Poss asked if I thought I could
keep a record of each case for him. 1 still have that pad, the


first entry being the address of the only man who died on our
table, though the record covers over two hundred cases.

The next morning other teams arrived and the tired Navy
nurses were told to find a place where they could get a few
hours' sleep. They stumbled to the nearest house. Miss Dewey
wrote :

On the second floor were two adjoining rooms with double
beds, the bedding thrown back as if people had just gotten
out of them. We four nurses got into those beds and pulled
up the covers.

Miss Dew r ey's team went on duty again that night. She
wrote :

The night of July 21 a bomb exploded in a garden about
20 yards from us and blew open the windows. Chief Shank
stepped away from one, remarking, "That's too close, but
thank God they let in a little air." Only the most urgent
cases were operated at No. 12. The others were sent on to
where facilities were better. Some of the wounds contained
maggots and nearly all were gas gangrene cases, and the stench
of that room was beyond words.

The pluck of the men kept us at it. Most of them were
conscious and told us they had the Germans on the run. One
boy whose leg had to come off, said, "All the fun I had lying
there in the mud was seeing the Germans beat it. Our boys
couldn't get to me any sooner than they did." Some asked if
we thought they could get back, because "I got to get a Boche
for this."

The night of the 24th we operated on some Scotchmen, who
had come up to relieve our 1st and 2nd divisions. By morn-
ing their medical corps had come up and we were sent back,
reaching Paris at 9 p. M. that night. Over 3500 wounded
went through No. 12, between July 18 and July 24. About
300 non-transportable cases were operated upon there and the
Navy teams performed about 160 of those operations.

On July 29 Dr. Ross's team, with Miss Dewey and Miss
Hurst, was ordered to join Field Hospital No. 6 at Chateau-
Thierry. When they arrived they found that the hospital had
not yet come up, but were told to report temporarily for duty
at the College Jean Mace where some operating was under
way. They were promptly set to work there. Miss Dewey
wrote :


Miss Hurst was asked to hand instruments for three tables
and during the night had three abdominal cases going on at
the same time and, as Dr. Ross said, "got away with it with-
out a hitch." It was a wonderful piece of work. How she
managed to get all those needles threaded and with the proper
sutures is more than I know, but she did.

The following day we joined Field Hospital No. 6 and
Mobile I, which was being put up in a field near Chateau-
Thierry. We were taken there in a truck, crossing the Marne
by a pontoon bridge. This was a large tent hospital wonder-
fully equipped and the operating there, after Pierrefonds,
seemed almost ideal in spite of the fact that we were bombed
and fired over. We operated every day, and part of some of
the nights, ending wth a stretch of twenty-four hours. . . .

The other operating team from Navy Base Hospital No. 5,
under the command of Dr. Jones, with Miss Fulton and Miss
Thompson as nurses, had been detailed to Field Hospital No. 7
at Coulommiers. Miss Dewey wrote of the type of service
which this team had seen:

Field Hospital No. 7 was located near a small chateau,
about a mile from the town. Tents filled the woods back of
the chateau and eight beds were in a tent. The first few days
after their arrival the work was very strenuous, and they
had long hours and little sleep, then more teams arrived and
the work was better regulated.

One night while they were working all the lights in the
operating tent went out, and they had to finish their case by
flash light. That was during one of the severe air raids, of
which they had several.

Both teams returned to Brest on August 15. Miss Dewey
was commended 19 as follows by the Commander of the U. S.
Naval Forces in France:

She is a splendid nurse and a woman of fine character and
exceptional executive ability. Her services while on duty
with the operating teams at the front were extremely valu-
able. She acted as anesthetist during most of her service
there, in addition to which, when relieved from that duty,

19 It is not the policy of this history to puhlish individual citations;
space does not permit it. A list of nurses who have been decorated for
gallant and devoted conduct may be found in the Appendix. This citation
is, however, given in the text as an index to the general type of citation
received by numerous nurses during the European War.


she did extra duty in assisting the nurses in the care of the
wounded with their dressings. On one occasion, under ex-
tremely unsatisfactory surroundings, she gave anesthetics
steadily for fourteen hours without leaving the table, and
after this strenuous labor she visited the cases which had been
operated upon.

Following the return of Dr. Watt and his team members to
Brest in August, 1918, Navy Operating Team No. 1 of Base
Hospital No. 1 with Dr. Long commanding, was sent up to
replace Navy Operating Team No. 2, at Field Hospital
No. 112, Chateau-Thierry. Miss McCarthy, the second nurse
on Navy Operating Team No. 1, had been ill and Jeannette
McClellan, one of the Navy nurses of Navy Base Hospital
No. 1, who had been on detailed duty at Paris, was sent for-
ward to take Miss McCarthy's place.

Navy Operating Team No. 1 set out on August 11 to find
Field Hospital No. 112, which had been moved that morning
from Chateau-Thierry twenty miles closer to the fast advancing
American Front. Miss Elderkins wrote:

Twelve nurses attached to Field Hospital No. 112 were also
waiting for ambulances to be sent to take them up to the
next site. An officer coming down from there said he feared
it would not be possible for any of us to go on that night, as
the Bodies were shelling the roads and also sending over a
great many gas shells in the vicinity of the hospital. Never-
theless, the ambulance came and Miss McClellan, the other
nurses, Sexton and Brady and I started up. We were pro-
vided with helmets and gas masks.

That was a wild ride. We passed through village after
village where not a house had been spared, and the only signs
of life were the military guards. Ammunition trucks were
racing in both directions, and as no lights were allowed, the
traffic was rather perilous. About a half hour before we
reached camp, we were stopped and told that all masks were
to be worn in the "alert" position. We had no more than
adjusted them so, when the real gas alarm came. . . .

Upon arrival at camp we found everything in pitch dark-
ness. . . . We groped our way to the last tent, where four
occupants were sleeping. Cots were brought for us . . . but
we didn't sleep.

Gas alarms sounded continuously. You would hear the
hoarse cries of "gas ! gas !" coming down from the distance as
the sentinels passed the warning. Then our own guard would


take it up, five pistol shots would be fired and some one would
start beating a huge shell strung up on a tripod. To hear the
horses whinnying across the road, where some cavalry troops
were spending the night, was pitiful. They also had to have
the masks on and could not seem to understand it.

In the morning, we found ourselves in a little town called
Cohan. The hospital was at the foot of a hill ; from the top
you could get a good idea of where the fighting was taking
place. Fismes was only four miles away, and the Germans
occupied the town on the opposite side of the river. At night
it seemed like the battle was being fought just outside our

Army nurses have described the severe service at Cohan, and
Miss Elderkins' report repeated some of the things which made
that post of duty so arduous. She wrote :

Our location was poor; we were right in the midst of
things most desired by our enemy. The work here was not
especially heavy, but conditions were such that every bit of
reserve force was needed. The days were intensely hot and
the nights bitterly cold. The flies were unbearable. We had
air raids night after night, with no opposition, for there were
no anti-air craft nearby and seemingly very few French or
American planes.

When we were not operating at night, we spent the time
from darkness to dawn in a cellar twenty feet under ground.
It just held seven cots and thirteen nurses were supposed to
sleep there. If we sat erect on the cot our head struck the
rough stone above. Water dripped on us all night long.
Huge black bugs crawled about and after we quieted down we
could hear the rats. We, ourselves, felt like rats in some
trap, for in case of a direct hit our chances of getting out
were slim. I would have preferred the dugouts, or "graves"
as we called them, that Dr. Long and the corpsmen had dug
under our cots in the tent.

The morning of the tenth day, the Germans had found our
range. They opened fire on us, or rather on their objectives
about us. With shells falling all about us, we went back that
night three miles.

Then followed a series of moves, first to Evacuation Hos-
pital No. 5, outside of Chateau-Thierry, then across the
Marne to Red Cross Hospital Xo. Ill, and a few days later
to Vic-sur-Aisne, where We were attached to Field Hospital
Xo. 127 of the 32nd Division, who were serving with the
French under General Mangin.


The casualties were heavy. We worked a twenty-hour
shift, which really became a twenty-four hour shift, and under
the most trying conditions. The furnishings of the operating-
room were of the crudest kind. Packing boxes were used for
instrument tables and seats for the anesthetist, a stretcher
on two carpenter horses was the operating-table, while we had
to put our solutions, etc, in tin cans, cooking utensils or
stray bits of china ware. A pie plate made a splendid con-
tainer for our alcohol sponges for "scrubbing up." I think it
is pretty generally known that only non-transportable cases
were cared for in the field hospitals, which meant all major
cases, abdominals, amputations, severe hemorrhages and head

When the 32nd Division withdrew, we went back with
them, and by another series of moves and short stops at
various field and evacuation hospitals eventually reached
Base Hospital No. 15 situated at Chaumont.

At Chaumont, Dr. Long's assistant, Dr. Pierson, was given
a team of his own, composed of Miss McClellan and Hospital
Corpsmen Brady. Dr. Long's team, with Miss Elderkins as
the only nurse, was ordered, on September 24, 1918, to report
to Evacuation Hospital No. 8, then near Souilly, seven miles
from Verdun. Miss Elderkins wrote :

It was noon of September 26 when we arrived after a forty-
hour trip with no sleep and little to eat. . . .

When I went to the operating-room to inquire about the
baggage, I found Dr. Long already "scrubbing up" and he
asked me to start the anesthetic of the patient upon whom he
was preparing to operate. It was necessary to continue
giving them until 9 p. St., so I did not have an opportunity to
get into my gray uniform.

I do not believe there was a better organized operating
room in the American Expeditionary Forces than that at
Evacuation Hospital No. 8. It kept the sterile nurse on the
alert every moment, for at times an operation would be in
progress on all the tables. I remember one night there was a
bad chest wound and a laparotomy on the first two of my
tables. At the next Dr. Hanson was removing a piece of
shrapnel which had entered through the skull and was lodged
somewhere near the ethmoid, while the other three tables con-
tained minor cases.

Again, I have seen six surgeons all working on the same
case, where a long anesthetic was counter-indicated. Each
surgeon would take a section of the body and the multiple


wounds would be cared for very quickly. Practically all the
work was done by specialists in their own particular lines.

Online LibraryLavinia L. DockHistory of American Red Cross nursing → online text (page 74 of 153)