By Susan Speaker ~
On May 18, 1917, the Base Hospital #4 group arrived in Liverpool on the HMS Orduna. They were the first of the American Expeditionary Force to join the Great War and the British gave them a warm welcome. The unit’s enlisted men and several officers were billeted in Blackpool, where the mayor celebrated their arrival with a special dinner. A few days later the medical officers and nurses staying in London were welcomed by King George and Queen Mary at Buckingham Palace. In a brief but heartfelt speech, the King said:
We greet you as the first detachment of the American Army which has landed on our shores since your great Republic resolved to join in the world-struggle for the ideals of civilization. We deeply appreciate this prompt and generous response to our needs.
It is characteristic of the humanity and chivalry which has ever been evinced by the American nation that the first assistance rendered to the Allies is in connection with the profession of healing and the work of mercy.
The enthusiastic reception seemed to surprise some of the Americans. Dr. Marion Blankenhorn wrote to his wife during this short interval in England, describing the dinner in Blackpool (an almost embarrassing contrast with the regular hotel fare under wartime rationing!), the general war-weariness of the British, and the changes in everyday life, especially women working in traditionally male occupations. Dr. Stanhope Bayne-Jones, writing to his aunt, also commented on the wonderful hospitality offered to the Base Hospital group, and marveled at the way the British carried on so bravely despite the drawn-out war.
The Base Hospital #4 group left England on May 24th, crossing to France and sailing up the Seine to Rouen, where they relieved the staff of British Expeditionary Force Base Hospital #9. As they traveled up the river, crowds cheered and shouted “Vive les Americans!” During the next twelve months, the base hospital staff would care for over 82,000 patients at the 1200-bed hospital, and send teams out to casualty clearing stations closer to the front lines as needed. The Album de la Guerre, published by the base hospital group after the war, includes many photos documenting the group’s stay in England and subsequent travel to France.
NLM’s World War 1 digital collection also includes histories of some of the individual base hospitals as well as hospital newsletters.
Over the next two years, Circulating Now will periodically publish posts featuring NLM collections that illuminate the medical history of The Great War.
Susan Speaker, PhD, is Historian for the Digital Manuscripts Program of the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.