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Trebrys

How were stretcher bearers chosen?

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Trebrys

How were stretcher bearers chosen?

Were there specific men chosen for the task or did everybody have to take turns in doing it? Would have been a nightmarish duty whatever the process of choosing!

Regards,

Trebrys.

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Ron Clifton

In the Regular Army of 1914 the stretcher bearers were men from the battalion band, trained as SBs in peacetime. I think this practice continues today.

Extra SBs were used in case of need but, as a certain amount of basic medical training would be required in order to stop them killing the casualty by handling him wrongly, I suspect that even the extra ones would be carefully chosen, and not just detailed from whoever was around.

Ron

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Trebrys

Thanks for that Ron!

Trebrys.

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geraint

There were also noncombatant soldiers, who were prepared to enlist but not to carry arms and be involved in actual killing. They were as brave as the ordinary soldiers - if not braver, in that they were unarmed and operating in no-mans-land. I've also seen reference to a 'noncombatant corps'. I've no idea how they were allocated to individual battalions/companies. I've also come across individuals who served in line battalions, were wounded, and were redesignated as B1 men and transfered to lighter duties as ambulance men. Wonder if they may have been stretcher bearers as well?

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Trebrys

Diolch eto / Thanks again!

Trebrys

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truthergw
How were stretcher bearers chosen?

...............

Regards,

Trebrys.

We need to distinguish between men who were stretcher bearers and had a degree of first aid knowledge, as mentioned above and men who were detailed to help carry a stretcher. The pictures we have all seen of 6 or 8 men carrying a stretcher through the mud of Passchendaele will not be of stretcherbearers. That will be more akin to a carrying party. A good little story is The Great Push by P MacGill. It is a novel of a stretcher bearer at Loos written by a man who was a stretcher bearer at Loos. It gives some insight into what they did.

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Trebrys

Thank you. I'll keep an eye out for the book.

Regards,

Trebrys.

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Ron Clifton
There were also noncombatant soldiers, who were prepared to enlist but not to carry arms and be involved in actual killing.

Geraint

In 1918 there were seven companies of the Non-Combatant Corps in France - say 4,000 men if we equate them to Labour Corps companies. As far as I know, they were not used at all in the front line, and seem to have been exclusively employed on the L of C where, apart from possible air raids, they were out of range of enemy fire. I have never seen any evidence of them being "doled out" to battalions, whether as stretcher bearers or otherwise.

Ron

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Ivor Lee

Ron

Just to clear up on the Non-Combatant Corps. There were eight companies in France but a company was only 94 Other Ranks. As you say they were not employed in the front line

Ivor

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Ron Clifton

Hello Ivor

Thanks for that. I do have somewhere a note of the establishment of a NCC Company, but I couldn't lay my hands on it, so I went for a "maximum possible size" estimate. Even at that figure, the point was that there were too few of them to spread around infantry battalions, and your correction makes the even more obvious.

Regards

Ron

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Desdichado

In many cases, conscientious objectors (COs) were employed as stretcher bearers. Some did this willingly whilst others were coerced. One case springs to mind in which a small number of New Zealand COs were literally forced on board a troopship to England. From there, they were sent to Etaples. The COs still refused to bear arms and were told in no uncertain terms that if they did not, they faced execution. Surprisingly, the army softened its stance and some of the men agreed to become stretcher bearers. The few who maintained their position were sent to prison.

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geraint

The Quakers in particular, though conscientious objectors, volunteered for noncombatant front line work. Again, I would point out that they were braver than the ordinary Tommy in that they had no means of defending themselves with weapons. I have also heard of very few individuals who refused to wear uniform, let alone carry a weapon, but were perfectly willing to serve on the front line in such medical, compassionate roles. They wore 'blue fatigues of a nonmilitary cut, with a red cross or Quaker insignia.' The quote comes from a verbal account relayed by a son of a RWF soldier, who had two other brothers in the colours, and a third brother working as a conscientious objector as described above.

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truthergw

Geraint, I agree that COs were extremely brave in their own way. I salute them for the way they held to their convictions. May I say though, that they were not braver than the average Tommy. Carrying a weapon did not protect the bearer from being hit by the enemy. If that were so, there would have been very few casualties.

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geraint

Agreed Tom, it's the way wot I rote it! They were as brave as... is the correct form; or even of a different type of bravery. It took a very brave man to say "I conscientiously cannot carry arms and be involved in the act of killing, but I am willing to place my life at risk in attempting to provide compassion to my fellow humans."

Me? I couldn't have done that. I would have been swept along in the euphoria of August 1914, trotting along Rhyl prom with a wooden rifle with the rest of 9th RWF North Wales Pals, looking forward to have a 'bash at the Hun' and be back by Christmas.

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truthergw

Geraint, you would have done what your conscience and convictions impelled you to do. That would have been influenced by your background and upbringing. You may well have agreed with the majority that the proper thing to do was to enlist. If brought up as a Quaker say, or any other group who thought war was not the way to solve a problem, you may well have decided to seek another way.

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grantmal

Trebrys,

There were of course infantry stretcher bearers and field ambulance stretcher bearers. As Ron says, infantry stretcher bearers were usually members of the Battalion band, trained by the Medical Officer in first aid. Their job was to collect the wounded from the battlefield and bring them into the Battalion RAP for treatment by the MO. Field ambulance stretcher bearers then carried the wounded from the RAP to the rear (to a collecting post, CCS etc).

As far as the AIF in 1914 goes: all men enlisted for general service. The officers (doctors) conducting examinations usually included the doctor/officer tasked with raising and training a field ambulance section; he personally chose men for his stretcher bearer squads. Invariably these men had some previous first aid training -- St John's, Red Cross, or Govt Railway certificates were common. The 3rd Field Ambulance's C Section, raised in Western Australia, contained a number of men who, as well as having first aid training, had seen active service in South Africa in combatant units, and others who were crack rifle shots or expert horseman.

Quite a few of the original 3rd Field Ambulance stretcher bearers later transferred to combatant units; a number became infantry officers. It could be argued that the unarmed Field Ambulance stretcher bearers were more prone to experiencing Neursthenia or Shell Shock due to the passivity of their role in battle, ie their inability to release tension through aggression/action.

Although Field Ambulance stretcher bearers were trained in all aspects of first aid they very rarely did any bandaging or treatment of the wounded. At Gallipoli the Australian stretcher bearers carried two to a stretcher -- later in France it was six men to a stretcher. In nearly all heavy actions Field Ambulance stretcher squads were vastly outnumbered by the wounded and would often be clearing long after the fight had ended and their Brigade withdrawn. Field Ambulances of reserve Brigades were often called in to assist, and, where possible, German prisoners were also used to help carry the wounded.

Casualty rates amongst infantry stretcher bearers were very high. Field Ambulance stretcher bearing was not as dangerous a job, although far from safe: of the original 36 stretcher bearers in C Section 3rd Field Ambulance, four were killed in action and 26 wounded.

Good on you,

Grant

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Fred van Woerkom

Grant,

Very interesting what you wrote. However, what is a 'Battalion RAP'?

Ron,

In post #8 you wrote about 'L of C' . I am puzzled.

Pelase enlighten tis ignorant fellow.

All the best,

Fred

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grantmal

Fred,

Regimental Aid Post, usually close in behind the firing line, where the Battalion Medical Officer treated casualties before their evacuation by the field ambulance bearers.

Regards,

Grant

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Trebrys

Thank you all for this input! Most illuminating!

Trebrys.

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geraint
Geraint

In 1918 there were seven companies of the Non-Combatant Corps in France - say 4,000 men if we equate them to Labour Corps companies. As far as I know, they were not used at all in the front line, and seem to have been exclusively employed on the L of C where, apart from possible air raids, they were out of range of enemy fire. I have never seen any evidence of them being "doled out" to battalions, whether as stretcher bearers or otherwise.

Ron

This is an aspect of the war in which I have only superficial knowledge. Are there any sources/ books Pals could refer?

Sorry Iwan. This is not a hijack - a continuation at a tangent; shall we say? B)

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Ron Clifton
Ron,

In post #8 you wrote about 'L of C' . I am puzzled.

Fred

Hello Fred

Lines of Communication - the back area between the French coast and the area of the armies - broadly, the dividing line represented the furthest limit of enemy artillery penetration.

The L of C ontained most of the supply depots, the larger hospitals and much of the transport organisation. The corresponding French term is "l'Arriere" and the German, "Etappen."

Ron

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Desdichado

grantmal, a stretcher bearer would not have been a legitmate target for an enemy combatant and so I'm quite surprised at the high number of casualties sustained by C section. I would imagine that taking a few casualties would have been unavoidable but the figure you've mentioned represents a very large percentage of the men in that unit.

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grantmal

D,

Most of those casualties were due to shellfire, both at Gallipoli and in France. Obviously when an attack was on rear areas were heavily shelled to prevent resupply and reinforcement -- these were the same rear areas the stretcher bearers had to navigate with the wounded. The bullets and the shells (and gas) that hit stretcher bearers were aimed at roads, communication trenches, buildings, crossroads etc, not at men carrying stretchers. The Red Cross armbands worn by the stretcher bearers were seen as useless for this very reason -- a German firing a howitzer from kilometres away behind a ridge wasn't in a position to acknowledge a Red Cross.

During the early fighting on Gallipoli stretcher bearers were deliberately sniped. One C Section stretcher bearer was shot through both legs by a sniper in Shrapnel Valley while he carried a wounded man on a stretcher -- there are numbers of such examples. Again, stretcher bearers used the same tracks behind the trenches at Gallipoli used by reinforcements/reserves going into the fight and carrying supplies. At Lone Pine, for example, only one gully connected the rear of the trenches with the beach; as soon as the battle started the Turks shelled this gully day and night to prevent resupply and fresh troops from joining the fight. The 3rd Field Ambulance had one bearer killed and 11 wounded evacuating the wounded down this gully.

Good on you,

Grant

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Desdichado

Grant, I didn't know about that. On the western front stretcher bearers were usually left alone but I can see that casualties would be sustained by shellfire that did not discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Deliberately sniping at a stretcher bearer is a vile act as they picked up wounded men from both sides.

During the Battle of Britain though, luftwaffe float planes bearing the red cross were ordered to be shot down by the RAF as they were considered to be primarily spy planes rather than rescue craft.

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grantmal

Slightly off the original topic, but here's an interesting account by an Australian, wounded at Pozieres, who was carried by German POWs:

"I was rather badly knocked at Pozieres with the "Blue and White Diamonds" in 1916, and was sent out on a stretcher carried by four Fritz prisoners. The "escort" was a corporal, a walking case with a badly smashed arm. The shelling on the frontline was bad enough, but when we breasted the ridge and looked across the valley I got the wind up very badly, for along its centre Fritz was putting down a barrage, which for intensity eclipsed anything I saw in three years of war.

We halted and took cover for a while, but the barrage showed no signs of weakening, so at last the corporal decided to chance it. His decision was really forced on him, because he was in bad shape himself, and I was a "gonner" unless I could reach a surgeon within an hour or so. He gave the word, and we set off. Lying on the stretcher, perfectly conscious of my danger and my helplessness, I was really in an agony of terror. The German bearers were brave men. Without any sign of fear, they picked me up and, with the corporal bringing up the rear, we plunged into the inferno.

How we got through is a mystery to me to this day. I covered my eyes with my arm and waited for the direct hit that must come. The swish of shell and the racking explosions must have stupefied me over part of the journey, but I came to when the bearers lowered me for a breather near the top of the ridge, beyond the area of death and destruction down below. One of them had been hit in the neck by a flying fragment and was bleeding profusely. Two of his comrades got to work and commenced to bandage him up, when the other, a fine looking young Fritz, made some remark. Then I realised that the corporal was not with us -- that most likely he had been "knocked" in that fearsome valley.

I was not prepared for what followed. The young German dropped a pack that he was carrying, and then headed for the barrage. I watched him with a curious feeling, and as he disappeared into a wall of dust and smoke I reflected that war was an extraordinary thing -- that it did, indeed, bring out the worst and the best in mankind. For five minutes there was no sign of the German -- and then he appeared, and across his shoulders he was carrying an Australian soldier.

I wish I could end this story happily, but alas! The moment our friendly enemy emerged into what seemed comparative safety he staggered and nearly fell. A few more steps and he collapsed. A brief conversation between the two unwounded Germans with me, and they ran down to their comrade's assistance. I watched them bend over him. Then I saw them lift the Australian, and between them they carried him up to where I lay. It was a long time before they got us both to an Aid Post, and in that period I learnt that a shell had shattered the legs of the corporal. The German, after going back and carrying him out, had stopped a flying splinter that had cut his throat so that he died almost immediately. The corporal recovered, and except for a bit of a limp, he is a useful citizen in this State at the present moment.

I submit that the German who gave his life for his wounded enemy was a sportsman in the finest and best sense of the word."

Good on you,

Grant

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