Treating Tommy

Lewisham Military Hospital had beds for 24 officers and 838 for other ranks as well as provision to take officers suffering from shell shock. The first wounded and sick soldiers arrived at Lewisham in early May 1915.

The military hospitals on the Home Front would have been the last stop on a wounded soldier’s medical journey. If a soldier was wounded on the front line he would first receive emergency treatment from a stretcher bearer and the Regimental Medical Officer at a Regimental Aid Post on the front line. If they needed further treatment they would then be transported by a Field Ambulance Unit to a Casualty Clearing Station. The Casualty Clearing Stations were designed to receive and treat soldiers until they were fit for transport, expedite the immediate the evacuation of those fit to travel and retain those who would soon be fit enough to return to the front line. From here they would be evacuated to a base hospital further behind the lines either by train or ambulance convoy. Those patients who required a longer period of recovery or more specialist treatment would then be transferred to a hospital in the UK. Major Burke in his article “Moving the Wounded” described the process of evacuating wounded and sick soldiers by train;

“Twelve hours later by the time we reached our base, every wound was dressed, and a nominal roll of patients was ready, while every patient was suitably clothed and clean. Detraining took some 6 hours, and in another 10 hours, all suitable cases were in England, the lightly wounded and those unfit for ship having been sent to hospitals at the base.”


Lance Corporal Ward Muir was an orderly at a military hospital in London. In his memoirs, Observations of an Orderly, he describes the scenes when the patients first arrived at the hospital from the fighting front. The first patients to arrive were the walking cases by car followed by the stretcher cases by ambulance. The men would be given the opportunity to bathe, their uniforms would be taken for fumigation and replaced with a hospital suit, their details would be taken and they would then be taken up to the wards. Lance Corporal Muir described how an onlooker would be touched by “on the one hand the kindliness, brisk but not officious, of the staff, and on the other the spontaneous geniality of the battered occupants of the bed.”

For the patients, a typical day on the wards of an average military hospital would commence at 6 am. Those not confined to bed would be expected to make their beds and wash themselves. Whilst in hospital the men would give up their uniforms and wear the specially designed hospital suit which was comprised of a blue jacket and trousers with a white shirt and a red tie. Breakfast would be served at 7.30 am and would normally include porridge, tea and eggs. Eggs were often given as a donation to hospitals by local residents who kept hens. Following breakfast those patients that were able would help with the washing up and cleaning of the ward. Dressings would also be changed in the mornings. The doctor’s inspection would take place at around 11 am and once this was over, those patients who were able would be free to take exercise in the hospital grounds until 1 pm when lunch would be served. Unless the patient was on a special diet to help with his recovery, lunch would consist of meat, vegetables and a pudding. In the afternoon the patients would have free time during which they would be able to visit town or attend tea parties hosted by local charitable organisations. Concerts and gramophone recitals would also have taken place in the hospital. Supper of cocoa, bread and butter would usually be served at about 7 pm.

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