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

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Yanks at British Hospitals

There was an unexpected windfall for the Allies when America joined the war—help with the enormous load of casualties in the 1917 campaign. The first American military installation in France during World War I was Base Hospital No.4 (Cleveland), which arrived on 25 May 1917 to cheering French crowds on, 19 days ahead of General Pershing and the nucleus of his American Expeditionary Force staff. Also known as the Lakeside Unit, the Cleveland unit served at Rouen throughout the war. American physicians, nurses, and enlisted men such as these would be the earliest AEF participants to face the possibility of death and destruction—actually months before the first American soldiers would see combat. 

The British relied heavily on these American units. By 1917 their Medical Department was having trouble handling the massive numbers of casualties. The numbers of casualties treated by the American base hospitals with the British demonstrates the heavy load of patients. 

Base Hospital No.4 treated 82,179; No. 10 treated 47,811; and No. 21 treated about 60,000. These numbers do not include the numbers of patients the Americans treated at the Casualty Clearing Stations or while working with British units. Overall, a daily average of approximately 800 officers, 600 nurses, and 1,100 soldiers was serving with the British. 

One of the hazards they faced was German night bomber raids, which attacked hospitals despite the Red Cross markings. Tragedy struck on 4 September 1917, when the Germans bombed Base Hospital No. 5 at Camiers, killing Lieutenant William T. Fitzsimmons and Privates Oscar C. Tugo, Rudolph Rubino, Jr., and Leslie G. Woods, who became the first A. E. F. casualties by enemy action.

Sources: U.S. Army Surgeon General Reports and Official History


  1. The United States did indeed contribute much to the medical care of the Allies, in particular of the British and Empire forces on the western front. Two sources are worth reading: 'Yanks in the King's Forces' by Michael Rauer( and 'Cheerio!' by Major Harold M. Hays ( By 1918 a number of young medical officers were also serving in British formations and units. The MO of my great-grandfather's battalion (9th Royal Irish Fusiliers) in the spring of 1918 was Harold S. (Syd) Morgan - a most gallant young man who was killed in action in April 1918 (

  2. Base Hospital #9 , The New York Hospital/Cornell unit, landed in St. Nazaire August 20, 1917 and took its position near Chateauroux two weeks later. During the autumn groups of doctors and nurses were dispatched to units close to the battlefields both to receive training and provide support. In January 1918 as American forces became active in battle the census at their hospital 5 hours south of Paris by fast train was 413. By July 1918 it was 1050.

  3. The load on medical resources was extreme and the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic was also a major factor producing tens of thousands of troop casualties requiring treatment and resulted in thousands of deaths among all
    armies. All medical units were stressed beyond belief. Their efforts seem under appreciated.

  4. I am wondering if American doctors were apart of or assisted the BEF in WWII?

  5. According to a book by Joel E. Goldthwait, the British requested help from the American orthopaedic community within days of the U.S. declaration of war. Within three weeks, 21 of the most prominent orthopaedists from across the country sailed for England to provide medical support for the British effort. Many more followed.