The Canadian Army Nursing Corps was part of the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC). It was founded in 1904 and its members served during World War One in France, Belgium and around the Mediterranean.
By the time Armistice was declared in 1918, 21,453 nurses, physicians, dentists, ambulance drivers, stretcher bearers and orderlies had served. Of them, 1,325 lost their lives. Three members were awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military honor in the British Empire.
Members of the CAMC sometimes worked dangerously close to the front line and often in primitive conditions. The severity of wounds caused new medical treatments to be developed or perfected.
One practice perfected during the war was triage. Patients were separated according to three categories: likely to live, likely to die and might be saved.
Types of Medical Units
During the war, there were several types of medical units.
- Field Ambulance: A field ambulance, despite its name, was not a motorized vehicle. It was a mobile medical unit very close to the front line that treated patients when they were rescued from the battlefield.
- Dressing Station/Aid Posts: These units also were close to the front. They employed a medical officer, stretcher bearers and orderlies. There were two types of units, main and advanced. Under fire, they were never intended to provide life-saving surgery, but sometimes this was necessary. Patients were either sent back to their units or on to a casualty clearing station.
- Casualty Clearing Station: Abbreviated (CCS) and designated a number (for example, CCS #10), these units were located behind the front lines but were close enough to often hear bombardments. They received casualties from dressing stations. The men who arrived at the CSS were not sent there for a long-term stay. They were treated and either sent back to the front or moved further behind the line to a stationary hospital. These units moved frequently but were usually located near a railway line.
- Stationary/base Hospital: Generally in buildings, these provided long-term care.
Conditions at a Casualty Clearing Station
Casualty Clearing Stations were located in tents or temporary structures. The first were located in requisitioned buildings but necessity forced the move to tent cities.
The CCS was staffed with surgeons, nurses, orderlies, a dentist, ambulance drivers and a chaplain.
Patients arrived at the CCS either by ambulance, wagon, railroad or on foot. They were received at reception where they were assessed and a medical tag was applied to the patients’ clothing.
Patients severely wounded or dying were moved to resuscitation, known as resuss, where they were kept comfortable. Others were moved to pre-op.
After surgery but before being moved to a stationary hospital, patients were moved to the award tent where they were kept under supervision. Patients who were being discharged were moved to evacuation.
During a major battle, a CCS could treat 1,000 patients daily.
Medical Care During World War One
During the war, 19 million men, on both sides, were wounded. Of those, approximately 500,000 received amputations.
Some other facts about medical care during the war:
- Blood transfusions were used on a large scale for the first time.
- This was the first conflict where vaccines prevented common illnesses.
- Despite this, new diseases such as trench fever and Spanish flu made soldiers ill.
- Once a patient reached a CCS, his chances of survival were quite good.
- Despite being before the advent of antibiotics, quick treatment with antiseptics helped keep infection levels low.
Are you a nurse or physician? Have you ever had to preform triage? Please leave a comment below.
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