AMERICAN MEDICAL UNITS ON THE ARCTIC OCEAN
AMERICAN MEDICAL UNITS ON THE ARCTIC OCEAN
Someone Blunders About Medicine Stores--Spanish Influenza At Sea And No Medicine--Improvised Hospitals At Time Of Landing--Getting Results In Spite Of Red Tape--Raising Stars And Stripes To Hold The Hospital--Aid Of American Red Cross--Doughboys Dislike British Hospital--Starting American Receiving Hospital--Blessings On The Medical Men.
At Stoney Castle camp in England, inquiry by the Americans had elicited statement from the British authorities that each ship would be well supplied with medicines and hospital equipment for the long voyage into the frigid Arctic. But it happened that none were put on the boat and all that the medical officers had to use were three or four boxes of medical supplies that they had clung to all the way from Camp Custer.
Before half the perilous and tedious voyage was completed, the dreaded Spanish influenza broke out on three of the ships. On the "Somali," which is typical of the three ships, every available bed was full on the fifth day out at sea. Congestion was so bad that men with a temperature of only 101 or 102 degrees were not put into the hospital but lay in their hammocks or on the decks. To make matters worse, on the eighth day out all the "flu" medicines were exhausted.
It was a frantic medical detachment that paced the decks of those three ships for two days and nights after the ships arrived in the harbor of Archangel while preparations were being made for the improvisation of hospitals.
On the 6th of September they debarked in the rain at Bakaritza. About thirty men could be accommodated in the old Russian Red Cross Hospital, such as it was, dirt and all. The remainder were temporarily put into old barracks. What "flu"-weakened soldier will ever forget those double decked pine board beds, sans mattress, sans linen, sans pillows? If lucky, a man had two blankets. He could not take off his clothes. Death stalked gauntly through and many a man died with his boots on in bed. The glory of dying in France to lie under a field of poppies had come to this drear mystery of dying in Russia under a dread disease in a strange and unlovely place. Nearly a hundred of them died and the wonder is that more men did not die. What stamina and courage the American soldier showed, to recover in those first dreadful weeks!
No attempt is made to fasten blame for this upon the American medical officers, nor upon the British for that matter. Many a soldier, though, was wont to wish that Major Longley had not himself been nearly dead of the disease when the ships arrived. To the credit of Adjutant Kiley, Captains Hall, Kinyon, Martin and Greenleaf and Lieutenants Lowenstein and Danzinger and the enlisted medical men, let it be said that they performed prodigies of labor trying to serve the sick men who were crowded into the five hastily improvised hospitals.
The big American Red Cross Hospital, receiving hospital at the base, was started at Archangel November 22nd by Captain Pyle under orders of Major Longley. The latter had been striving for quite a while to start a separate receiving hospital for American wounded, but had been blocked by the British medical authorities in Archangel. They declared that it was not feasible as the Americans had no equipment, supplies or medical personnel.
However, the officer in charge of the American Red Cross force in Archangel offered to supply the needed things, either by purchasing them from the stores of British medical supplies in Archangel or by sending back to England for them. It is said that the repeated letters of Major Longley to SOS in England somehow were always tangled in the British and American red tape, in going through military channels.
At last Major Longley took the bull by the horns and accepted the aid of the Red Cross and selected and trained a personnel to run the hospital from among the officers and men who had been wounded and were recovered or partially recovered and were not fit for further heavy duty on the fighting line. He had the valuable assistance also of the two American Red Cross nurses, Miss Foerster and Miss Gosling, the former later being one of five American women who, for services in the World War, were awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal.
On September 10th, we opened the first Red Cross Hospital which was also used in connection with the Russian Red Cross Hospital and was served by Russian Red Cross nurses. Captain Hall and Lieutenant Kiley were in charge of the hospital.
A few days later an infirmary was opened for the machine gunners and Company "C" of the engineers at Solombola.
A good story goes in connection with this piece of history of the little Red Cross hospital on Troitsky near Olga barracks. There had been rumor and more or less open declaration of the British medical authorities that the Americans would not be permitted to start a hospital of their own in Archangel. The Russian sisters who owned the building were interested observers as to the outcome of this clash in authority. It was settled one morning about ten o'clock in a spectacular manner much to the satisfaction of the Americans and Russians. Captain Wynn of the American Red Cross came to the assistance of Captain Hall, supplying the American flag and helping raise it over the building and dared the British to take it down. Then he supplied the hospital with beds and linen and other supplies and comfort bags for the men, dishes, etc. This little hospital is a haven of rest that appears in the dreams today of many a doughboy who went through those dismal days of the first month in Archangel. There they got American treatment and as far as possible food cooked in American style.
In October the number of sick and wounded men was so large that another hospital for the exclusive use of convalescents was opened in an old Russian sailor's home in the near vicinity of American Headquarters.
During this controversy with the British medical authorities, the head American medical officer was always handicapped, as indeed was many a fighting line officer, by the fact that the British medical officer outranked him. Let it be understood right here that many a British officer was decorated with insignia of high rank but drew pay of low rank. It was actually done over and over again to give the British officer ranking authority over the American officers.
What American doughboy who ever went through the old 53rd Stationary hospital will ever forget his homesickness and feeling of outrage at the treatment by the perhaps well-meaning but nevertheless callous and coarse British personnel. Think of tea, jam and bread for sick and wounded men. An American medical sergeant who has often eaten with the British sergeants at that hospital, Sergeant Glenn Winslow, who made out the medical record for every wounded and sick man of the Americans who went through the various hospitals at Archangel, and who was frequently present at the British sergeant's mess at the hospital, relates that there were plenty of fine foods and delicacies and drink for the sergeant's messes, corroborated by Mess Sgt. Vincent of. "F" Company. And a similar story was told by an American medical officer who was invalided home in charge of over fifty wounded Americans. He had often heard that the comforts and delicacies among the British hospital supplies went to the British officers' messes. Captain Pyle was in command on the icebreaker "Canada" and saw to it that the limited supply of delicacies went to the wounded men most in need of it. There were several British officers on the icebreaker enroute to Murmansk who set up a pitiful cry that they had seen none of the extras to which they were accustomed, thinking doubtless that the American officer was holding back on them. Captain Pyle on the big ship out of Murmansk took occasion to request of the British skipper that the American wounded on board the ship be given more food and more palatable food. He was asked if he expected more for the doughboy than was given to the Tommie. The American officer's reply was characteristic of the difference between the attitude of British and American officers toward the enlisted man:
"No, sir, it is not a question of different treatment as between Tommie and doughboy. It is difference in the feeding of the wounded and sick American officers and the feeding of wounded and sick American enlisted men. My government makes no such great difference. I demand that my American wounded men be fed more like the way in which the officers on this ship are fed."
Lest we forget, this same medical officer in charge at one time of a temporary hospital at a key point in the field, was over-ranked and put under a British medical officer who brought about the American officer's recall to the base because he refused to put the limited American medical personnel of enlisted men to digging latrines for the British officers' quarters.
Many a man discharged from the British 53rd Stationary Hospital as fit for duty, was examined by American medical officers and put either into our own Red Cross Hospital or into the American Convalescent Hospital for proper treatment and nourishment back to fighting condition. It was openly charged by the Americans that several Americans in the British hospital were neglected till they were bedsore and their lives endangered. Sick and wounded men were required to do orderly work. When a sturdy American corporal refused to do work or to supervise work of that nature in the hospital, he was court-martialed by order of the American colonel commanding the American forces in North Russia. Of course it must needs be said that there were many fine men among the British medical officers and enlisted personnel. But what they did to serve the American doughboys was overborne by the mistreatment of the others.
Finally no more wounded Americans were sent to the British hospital and no sick except those sick under G. O. 45. These latter found themselves cooped up in an old Russian prison, partially cleaned up for a hospital ward. This was a real chamber of horrors to many an unfortunate soldier who was buffetted from hospital to Major Young's summary court to hospital or back to the guardhouse, all the while worrying about the ineffectiveness of his treatment.
So the American soldiers at last got their own receiving hospital and their own convalescent hospital. Of course at the fighting fronts they were nearly always in the hands of their own American medical officers and enlisted men. The bright story of the Convalescent Hospital appears in another place. This receiving hospital was a fine old building which one time had been a meteorological institute, a Russian imperial educational institution. Its great stone exterior had gathered a venerable look in its two hundred years. The Americans were to give its interior a sanitary improvement by way of a set of modern plumbing. But the thing that pleased the wounded doughboy most was to find himself, when in dreadful need of the probe or knife, under the familiar and understanding and sympathetic eyes of Majors Henry or Longley or some other American officer, to find his wants answered by an enlisted man who knew the slang of Broadway and Hamtramck and the small town slang of "back home in Michigan, down on the farm," and to find his food cooked and served as near as possible like it was "back home" to a sick man. Blessings on the medical men!*****
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