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 I 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 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 led to the development of new medical treatments.
Other treatments were perfected. Triage, for example. 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. Dressing stations were under fire from the battlefield and were never intended to provide life-saving surgery, but sometimes surgery was performed out of 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 personnel often heard bombardments. Casualties arrived from dressing stations, and men treated at a CSS did not stay long-term. 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 stations were located in requisitioned buildings but necessity forced the move to tent cities.
A 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 who were severely wounded or dying were moved to resuscitation, nicknamed 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 moved to evacuation prior to discharge.
During a major battle, a CCS could treat 1,000 patients daily.
Medical Care During World War I
During the war, 19 million men, on both sides, were wounded. Of those, approximately 500,000 had limbs amputated at medical units.
Some other facts about medical care during the war:
- Blood transfusions were used on a large scale for the first time.
- World War I 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.
- Quick treatment with antiseptics helped keep infection levels low.
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Updated: 21 October 2020
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