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Episodes & Studies Volume 1



Throughout the war the regimental stretcher-bearers, by the promptness with which they brought the wounded back to medical aid, were able to save many lives. Officially called battalion medical orderlies, they were infantrymen trained in battle first aid, who went into the attack carrying only a stretcher and a bag of surgical dressings. They were not members of the Medical Corps, but they wore Red Cross brassards and were entitled to protection under the Geneva Convention. The subsequent success of the treatment of wounded in medical units largely depended on their efficiency. They had heavy casualties, for their duties were performed under fire. On one occasion, for instance, a stretcher-bearer waded the ice-cold Rapido River at Cassino and carried back across it a wounded man—all this under sniper as well as mortar and artillery fire.

Bren-gun carriers and jeeps, adapted for stretcher-carrying, were used where possible in the later stages of the war to bring patients back to the Regimental Aid Post. The jeeps were much preferred by the regimental medical officers. These vehicles, if possible, went as far forward as infantry company headquarters, to which point the patients were brought by stretcher-bearers. This innovation, by shortening the distance a patient had to be carried by hand, was an important advance. In the forward areas the driver of the jeep had to face shelling and mortaring of roads and crossroads; often fire might be called down by the dust raised by his jeep.

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‘The RAP had been established in a deserted house and I was very pleased to see the fire burning in the grate. The medical officer examined me and my wounds were dressed. It was found that my left thigh was perforated, involving the femoral artery, and also a wound below the knee was discovered. My thirst was terrific and I was overjoyed when the medical officer gave me a hot drink of cocoa. I was marked down as seriously ill, given a dose of morphia and placed on a jeep, which had been converted to carry stretchers, and sent on the next stage of my journey.’