Monday, 30 September 2013

Casualties of War

One of the most important aspects of the war, is one which is sometimes overlooked when visiting the battlefield, even in miniature. The official histories speak of heroic deeds and hard fighting, success and failure, the white portland headstones of the Commonwealth War Graves are a stark hauntingly beautiful reminder of those who lost their lives in these blood soaked fields. But what of those who were injured?

To the families and soldiers the Royal Army Medical Corps is perhaps one of the most vital of the support services on the battlefield, something which is as true today as it was in 1917.

The Battle of Messines was planned in every detail and the medical support was a massive part of this plan. The New Zealanders had a well co-ordinated network to assist the injured both on the battlefield and to evacuate them back to the hospitals on the coast of France or in England.

The Main Dressing Station was situated at Westhoft Farm with the Advanced Dressing Station at Kandahar behind the British Lines, they also used the Australian Advanced Dressing Station at Underhill Farm, all lined by tramways and motor car ambulances. There were two Regimental Aid Posts at Fort Osbourne and Boyles Farm, which were moved forward into captured territory after the Town of Messines had been captured at 7am. Captain Nelson, the RMO of the 1st Aucklands, opened his RAP in a captured concrete dug out in Ulcer Sap and Capt Addison opened his RAP at Moulin de L'Ospice a German strong point on the site of the Windmill belonging to the Institution Royale on the western edge of Messines, now the site of the CWGC Cemetery.

The NZ Medical Corps Report of the preparations for the battle and the events during the action is available online and makes interesting reading: The New Zealand Medical Service in the Great War 1914-1918

The German army employed a very similar system, with their main aid post being situated close to the Institution Royale with further facilities in the cellars. The German RAP was demolished during the preliminary bombardments before the Battle, killing many of their medical personnel, leading the attacking troops to conclude that the enemy had scant regard for their injured comrades.

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