Wednesday, June 16, 1915

Rest Billets, Bethune

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for day: “Battn. standing to.”[1]

THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY:  From the 15th to 18th of the month the Battalion “stood-to,” pending the result of operations being carried out by the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade.”    [2]

1915 MEDICAL SERVICES – FESTUBERT AND GIVENCHY: “After the battle of Ypres the medical units of the 1st Division began to drift southward; No. 1 Field Ambulance by Watou to Bailleul; No. 2 by Hillhoek; No. 3 to Steenwerck. They were about to take part in the series of engagements that lasted from May 9 to 26, known as the Battle of Festubert. The 3rd Brigade was involved on the 18th, and on the following day the Division formally took over the area. Tent sections of the three ambulances operated as a single unit at Hinges. The arrangement served admirably, and won approval from the Army. The units worked side by side with an operating tent for serious cases, and another for walking wounded. The motor ambulances delivered their patients to each in turn. The regimental aid posts were also combined, as the front was narrow. For purposes of evacuation hospital barges were employed, and conveyed the more serious cases from the main dressing station to Dunkirk or Calais. Each barge had 30 beds, with a medical officer, four nurses, and orderlies. As a further development of the policy of direct evacuation, casualties were taken from the front to the canal, and their wounds dressed on the barges.

The first two days were wretched with rain and cold, and the work of the stretcher bearers was difficult along the mile journey. By night horsed ambulances could reach Indian Village, and by the 20th, when the weather cleared, motor vehicles advanced beyond Festubert to the great relief of the wounded. The action centered in the “Orchard,” and the rescue of the fallen demanded great courage. Of one volunteer party of eight bearers from No. 3 Field Ambulance four were wounded and two killed. The number of casualties treated in this action was 996 Canadians and 111 British.

Certain departures from established procedure were justified by the experience gained. Evacuation of wounded was made direct without passing through a casualty clearing or even a main dressing station; ambulances were operated as single units, and aid posts were combined; an advanced medical headquarters with an officer in control; regimental officers were to report the probable number of wounded in their areas; wheeled stretchers were more freely used; provision was made against slightly wounded wandering out of their own battle area.

The action of Givenchy was fought on June 15, 1915. The field lies little more than a mile south of Festubert. The Canadian Division held a front of 1,000 yards north of la Bassée Canal. There was room for only one brigade, and the field ambulances served it in turn during successive weeks. The others cared for the sick of troops in reserve and rest. The headquarters were at Vendin, near Bethune; the main dressing station was at Le Quesnoy, clearing to Chocques; the advanced report centre was near that station. The arrangement worked as if it were automatic. Up to noon on the 16th, 11 officers and 350
other ranks passed through, and the aid posts had been clear two hours earlier. By night there were 234 additional casualties.

Late in June the Canadian Division was transferred from the IV Corps of the First Army to the III Corps of the Second, and moved northward into the Ploegsteert area, with medical headquarters in Nieppe, the dressing station at le Romarin, and the divisional rest station in Bailleul. On July 15, pursuant to the transfer of the Division to the Second Army, No. 2 Field Ambulance moved up from Steenwerck near to Neuve Eglise to conduct a main dressing station in tents; a combined divisional rest station and corps convalescent camp was maintained at Bailleul. With minor changes these positions were held until April 1916, a period of nine months.

The 1st Division by all these labours was a seasoned body of troops before any other divisions arrived. The medical service had become strong, flexible, and swift. The wisdom learned was transmitted to the other divisions as they arrived by direct instruction and by the posting of experienced officers to the later formations; but the 1st Division never lost the authority it acquired in those days when it was the sole Canadian force in the field.” [3]

[1]  War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, June 16, 1915.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa
[2]  R.C. Featherstonhaugh, The Royal Montreal Regiment 14th Battalion C.E.F. 1914-1925, Montreal, The Gazette Printing Co., Ltd., 1927, pg. 62.
[3]  Sir Andrew MacPhail, Kt., O.B.E., “Official History of The Canadian Forces in the Great War 1914-1919 -  The Medical Services,” Ottawa, Minister of National Defence, F.A. Acland, Kings Printer, 1925, pp. 36-38