Tuesday, August 15, 2017

First Patients Arrive

Surgeon and staff operating on a wounded patient,
Base Hospital 50, Mesves, France, ca. 1918-1919

The officers and enlisted men of Base Hospital 50 reached Mesves, France, on Tuesday, August 6. Arriving by train too late to disembark, the men didn't get to the Hospital Center until the next morning when they marched from the station to the complex. The men of Base Hospital 50 were the second unit to arrive, having been preceded by Base Hospital 67.

The Hospital Center was located on the top of a small hill between the towns of Mesves and Bulcy, surrounded by low and rolling countryside. The unfinished buildings were built of hollow tile or concrete blocks, with wooden roofs, covered with tar paper. The men were put in temporary barracks until theirs were completed. Much of the complex was only half-built, building barely started on much of the facility. The center was scheduled to have been completed the following summer, "but the war had progressed so rapidly that it was necessary to have all the work rushed as fast as possible."1 Intended to have a capacity of 40,000 beds when completed, in the end, the greatest number of patients at the center at any time were 27,000 men at the time the Armistice was signed.

The first task Base Hospital 50 staff undertook was to clear away debris from inside and outside the wards. Time was of the essence to get the wards cleaned and outfitted, as their first patients were expected at any time.

We had only half finished our task when we received our first trainload of patients, at 7:30 p.m., August 15. There were 315, but most of these were only slightly wounded and were called "sitters." There were a few litter cases, who were in rather serious condition. There were no electric lights, water was received only through temporary pipes, and at first, no bathing facilities were available. The Unit itself was handicapped by the non-arrival of a large part of our overseas baggage, which had been selected for any emergency that might arise. The equipment not having arrived, the hospital was equipped by the Medical Supply Depot. It was necessary to crudely construct from rough lumber, beaverboard, tin cans and any material at hand, office equipment, stoves, cupboards, etc., all required but which were impossible to secure at the Center. When the first trainload of patients ar- rived there was not a nurse in camp, and the men were forced to assume these duties, along with their other work, and not knowing much about this, it was very difficult; but with the aid of the doctors they were able to handle the job temporarily.2 Just a week after the first patients arrived another train came in with 700 more, and this taxed us to the utmost. A few days later 300 more patients arrived, and this time we were able to get a few nurses from Mars Center, who helped us out a great deal.

Within days of arriving, Base Hospital 50 was a fully functioning part of the Mesves-Bulcy Hospital Center and the strains of overwork were already in evidence by early September when the unit's first casualty, Sam Parker, occurred.

  1. United States. Army. Base Hospital No. 50. The history of Base Hospital Fifty : a portrayal of the work done by this unit while serving in the United States and with the American Expeditionary Forces in France. Seattle, Wash. : The Committee, 1922.
  2. The nurses of Base Hospital 50 encountered delays and bad weather during their crossing and didn't arrive at the center until the end of August.