Heroes and Heroic Deeds of the Great War - D. A. Mackenzie

Heroic Army Doctors

The devotion to duty and sterling courage shown by doctors and nurses and ambulance-men in caring for the wounded soldiers is worthy of the highest praise. In temporary and permanent hospitals there have been many acts of heroism and self-sacrifice which will never be recorded.

Among the lists of killed and wounded that have been published appear the names of officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of the British Royal Army Medical Corps. Red Cross wagons have been fired upon by the enemy; even hospitals within artillery range have not been spared. Many of the doctors and stretcher-bearers have also been killed or wounded by risking themselves to rescue wounded warriors lying in trenches, or on open fields, while shells were bursting round about and rifle-bullets whizzed through the air.

It is not the duty of an army doctor to go into the firing-line. The ambulance-men are supposed to provide first-aid treatment and carry the wounded to hospital. But many doctors have over and over again hastened to the trenches to give speedy relief to wounded heroes, and by doing so have saved many lives.

A British doctor was in the habit, while a long battle was in progress, of going daily along the trenches under a hail of shrapnel bullets and splinters. To pass from one particular trench to another he had to cross a narrow ravine which was swept by the enemy's fire. One day he crossed and recrossed half a dozen times in response to signals which were made to him. He seemed to bear a charmed life. In the end, however, a bullet struck him down. Happily he was not killed, but the wound he sustained was a serious one.

The Victoria Cross was awarded by King George to Surgeon-Captain Rankin for his gallantry in having attended to the wounded in the trenches. He went on with this dangerous work for a couple of days, until his thigh and leg had been shattered by shrapnel.

How it feels to be wounded is described by a doctor who was taken to hospital with a bit of shrapnel buried in his neck. He had been riding forward towards the trenches when he heard the shrill sound of an approaching shell.

"Now", he thought, "I shall be struck." In another second he felt his horse sinking beneath him, and then he experienced a stinging pain in his neck. He fell clear of his horse, but one of his feet was entangled in a stirrup. Stunned and confused, he tried to free it. This he found to be a difficult task. He looked about him in a daze, and became aware that friends were hurrying towards him. Still he went on struggling with the stirrup. Not until he was removed to hospital and had the shrapnel splinter taken out did he completely regain his senses. He made a rapid recovery.

A stirring story is told of how a brave French doctor gave up his life at Ypres for the sake of his patients. These were not his own countrymen, nor Belgians, nor British, but wounded Germans who had been found lying in front of the Allies' trenches after a desperate attack which had been driven back.

They were cared for in the civil hospital. At the time, Ypres was being heavily bombarded by the Germans. A number of shells struck the hospital.

"Should we stay here any longer?" a volunteer nurse asked, addressing the doctor. "The enemy know that this is an hospital, and all the wounded are their own countrymen."

"I cannot leave my patients," answered the doctor, "no matter what the consequences may be.

"It seems strange," the nurse said, "that we should be placed in peril of our lives by Germans when we are nursing Germans. Do they deserve good treatment at our hands?"

"Let us show our superiority," remarked the doctor. "If they do not possess humanitarian feelings it is not for us to follow their example. Were we to imitate them we should descend to their level. So long as I remain here I will continue to look after the wounded Germans, showing them that a French doctor laughs at their shells, and only knows his duty."

Two nurses, who were unable to endure any longer the strain of the bombardment, left the hospital and sought a place of safety. A few days later, however, they returned, and with tears in their eyes confessed to the doctor that they were ashamed to think they had deserted their patients.

Two Germans had died in the interval. There were still fifty-two left, and some of these were in a critical condition. The French doctor laboured unceasingly, dressing their wounds and performing his duty faithfully.

Three days after the nurses had returned he was killed by a shell which came through the roof. His body was removed and buried under cover of darkness. He had died at his post, a real hero, attending to the wounded and suffering enemies of his country. On the following day the survivors were carried from the hospital during a lull in, the bombardment, and conveyed to a place of safety. It was not in vain that the noble French doctor had risked and lost his life for the sake of his patients.