Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, October 18, 2013

Bearers Up! How the Great War's Stretcher Bearers Changed Military Medicine

Editor's Introduction:

This month's contributor, Dr. Emily Mayhew of Imperial College, London, is an expert on the medical treatment that the British Army soldiers of the Great War received. Her newest work on the subject, Wounded: From Battlefield to Blighty, 1914-1918, is being released this month by Bodley Head. 

I am proud to be presenting her article on stretcher bearers for two reasons. First, those brave and dedicated individuals began—out of necessity — a revolution in military medicine. The results: today's combat medics with modern facilities, are shown in the slide image below from one Dr. Mayhew's presentations. As "first responders" the World War I stretcher bearer had to initiate the care of men who had often been terribly mutilated by the new weapons of the industrial age, while under fire themselves. Then, still exposed, they had to evacuate their wounded from moonscape-like battlefields. 

It is this last point that makes me feel additionally proud to be presenting Dr. Mayhew's article. I am a graduate of the U.S. Air Force stretcher carrier's training course. Passing the obstacle course as a member of a stretcher team was the most physically demanding thing I did in my service time. Carrying that stretcher with a man aboard over a rope bridge above a creek, under and over barbed wire and many other obstacles, up and down the hills of Texas — all while the sergeants were gleefully throwing practice grenades at our feet and shaking that rope bridge – was the closest I ever came to the trench warfare experience. I did not realize that until I read Emily Mayhew's article.

To Read the Full Article:

Over the Top is our subscription magazine.  It is the one item we charge for. Together with the small revenues we receive from our commissions, these are the only revenues we have to support all our services, most of which are offered for free to encourage interest in the Great War of 1914-1918.  For information on ordering the current year's issues and CDs with our back issues, just download our PDF flyer at:

Each issue of Over the Top includes a main article, full-color images and photos, plus extra features in our "In Parenthesis" section.  For our October issue we have included a poem by Robert Service ("Shooting of Dan McGrew"), who made his way to the Western Front as a Red Cross ambulance driver. During his service he continued to write poems, which were gathered in the volume, titled Rhymes of a Red Cross Man from which this work, "The Stretcher-Bearer," was selected. He dedicated the collection to his brother, Lt. Albert Service, who was killed in Flanders in August 1916.

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