Ambulances deliver wounded soldiers to a British Red Cross train which will then evacuate the casualties to a field hospital in the rear, away from the front. The large numbers of casualties drove both sides to develop better medical treatment for their soldiers and significant advances were made in the fields of trauma and reconstructive surgery. Improvements were also made in the way that wounded soldiers were evacuated from the front lines. However by today’s standards, where for example an American soldier wounded in Iraq could be medevaced by air to a trauma center in Germany within hours, the ambulance system of World War 1 was still very slow, which led to many men dying in transit before they could reach a hospital.
American Red Cross bring in wounded
An American stretcher party is pictured bringing in a wounded soldier. Collecting the wounded was extremely hazardous, and the medics often became casualties themselves.
Medical care, especially on the battlefield was extremely rudimentary. The wounded might have their wounds bandaged and attempts would be made to stop the bleeding, but even basic tools such as IV were not available. The wounded would be carried on stretchers by foot because the terrain was too rough for vehicles, and so they would be jostled constantly, aggravating their injuries and causing extreme pain.
A wounded German prisoner of war is led to a field hospital by a British orderly. The date and location of this photo are not known, but it would have been taken somewhere on the Western Front.
I think that this photograph really drives home the reality of trench warfare during World War 1. The German soldier is dressed in tattered, muddy clothes. His face is bloodied and bruised; his eyes are swollen to the point of being shut. His left arm is not in his sleeve; perhaps it is in a sling under his coat – hopefully he has not lost it.
But as much as this German soldier is in bad shape, he is one of the lucky ones. For him the war is over.
Wounded Soldiers on the Western Front
American casualties on stretchers are being brought in from the battlefield and left on stretchers at a collection point. Eventually they will be loaded on trucks for evacuation to the rear, and eventually to a field hospital.
Medical care on the battlefield was rudimentary and evacuation was extremely slow. One can’t tell the severity of their wounds from the photo, but they must have been severe enough that they could not walk on their own. Despite blood loss, shock and the risk of infection, the men are being left essentially unattended on the ground amid the debris of war, waiting their turn to be sent to the rear, away from the front lines.
If they survived, many of these men would suffer life long disabilities.