Battlefield to Base Hospital

U. S. Army Hospital Number 30, Royat, France: Aerial view of hospital

Aerial view of Base Hospital No. 30 at Royat, France. (National Library of Medicine)

U. S. Army Hospital Number 30, Royat, France: Operating room

Operating room at Base Hospital 30 in Royat, France. (National Library of Medicine). 

U. S. Army Hospital Number 30, Royat, France: Evacuating wounded from hospital

Evacuating the wounded at Base Hospital 30 in Royat, France. (National Library of Medicine)

After arriving in France, base hospital staff disembarked from the transport ships and prepared to travel to cities and towns across the country where the Army had established hospital centers to care for its sick and wounded. In some cases, they joined British or French doctors and nurses at existing hospitals, sometimes relieving the staff and taking over management of the hospital. The Army’s base hospitals were part of a complex, efficient system of medical support for the American forces fighting in Europe. In the trenches, battalion aid stations saw to life threatening wounds, as hospital trains and ambulance companies all worked to evacuate the wounded from the line of fire. Within a matter of hours, a soldier wounded on the battlefield could be transported to a hospital.

Base Hospital No. 30 was one of the first base hospitals to arrive overseas. Hospital staff sailed for France in April 1918, arriving at Brest on May 2 and then advancing to Royat, where they would serve for the duration of the war. A small resort town in the Auvergne Mountains, Royat had plenty of hotels, but lacked a hospital. Initially, Base Hospital 30 operated out of a small, run-down hotel in Royat with a capacity of 500 beds. When its first patients arrived in June 1918, with many more behind them, it quickly became clear that more space and more beds were desperately needed. Over its ten months of service, Base Hospital No. 30 would expand to occupy sixteen different hotels in Royat. Here, they established everything from operating rooms and convalescent wards to living quarters and laundry facilities.

 

Operating room at Juilly

Surgical Team #50 in an operating room at Juilly, France. (University of California San Francisco Special Collections)

Ireland, Captain Weeks, "Dunne" at Juilly

Alta Ireland (left) and other nurses at Juilly, France. (University of California San Francisco Special Collections)

Nurses like Alta Ireland were a crucial component of the base hospital system. Ireland had enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps on December 26, 1917 in San Francisco, California. Assigned to Base Hospital No. 30, Ireland was part of a select group of highly skilled and dedicated nurses chosen for duty on surgical teams. Each team consisted of two officers, a nurse, and two orderlies. Alta Ireland served with Surgical Team #50, pictured at right in an operating room in Juilly, France. Alta Ireland stands second from right. At fourth from right stands Sgt. Ivan Heron, whom Alta Ireland would later marry on September 24, 1920.

Surgical teams traveled from the hospital center to casualty clearing stations closer to the front lines, sometimes working through air raids or under fire. When they left the hospital for the battlefront, they could be gone for a matter of days or for weeks at a time. In late July 1918, Alta Ireland arrived near the fighting at the Second Battle of the Marne, and worked tirelessly for seventeen consecutive days to care for the casualties of the fierce fighting. The battle lasted from July 15 to August 5 as German forces attacked from east and west of the city of Reims while Allied forces fought to force them back across the Marne river.

It was here that Ireland was given the nickname “Peaches” by Frederick Boynton, a wounded soldier in her care. Riddled with bullets, the young soldier was close to death by the time Ireland found him in the aftermath of the battle. Boynton called her “Peaches” for her “rosy cheeks and charming smile” before dying in her arms on the battlefield. 

U. S. Army Hospital Number 30, Royat, France: Pneumonia ward in Grand Hotel

View of pneuomonia ward in Base Hospital 30. (National Library of Medicine)

Miss Elizabeth Lee (left) and Miss Guilda Jones, two of the American Red Cross Nurses Contributed to the Service by Stockton

Newspaper article discussing Guilda Jones' and Elizabeth Lee's departure for service in the Army Nurse Corps. (Stockton Daily Evening Record)

U. S. Army Base Hospital Number 47, Beaune, France: General view

View of Base Hospital 47 at Beaune, France. (National Library of Medicine)

Not every Army Nurse served on the front lines like Alta Ireland. Many remained at hospitals far behind the front, but underwent challenges of their own, nonetheless. Infectious diseases, primarily influenza, caused serious obstacles in the care of the wounded. Historically, the Army had struggled most to contain outbreaks of typhoid fever, but the risk of the disease had been all but eradicated through vaccinations by the First World War. Typhoid fever wasn’t the only medical risk mitigated in the decades before World War I: across the board, mortality rates for admitted patients were drastically lower than earlier wars.

Despite these advances, the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic caused significant complications for the Army and constituted the majority of disease-related deaths among American forces in World War I. While tending to gruesomely injured soldiers arriving from the front, nurses in base hospitals across Europe were fighting a battle of their own against the highly infectious strain of influenza and the respiratory complications, like pneumonia, that often followed. A nurse’s duty to care could cost her health and safety, and in some cases, her life. Whether on the front lines under enemy fire or in the midst of an influenza outbreak, the risk undertook by these women who volunteered for the Army Nurse Corps was immense. Over the course of the First World War, 134 army nurses lost their lives while serving, most to influenza or pneumonia.

In October 1918, Guilda Jones witnessed firsthand the ultimate sacrifice of an army nurse. Jones enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps alongside her close friend, Elizabeth Lee, in  Jones and Lee had studied nursing together at St. Joseph’s Hospital in San Francisco, California. Both women were assigned to Base Hospital No. 47 after enlisting in the Army Nurse Corps.

At first operating out of partially completed barracks in Beaune, France, the hospital began accepting patients as construction continued around them. In early October 1918, Guilda Jones was working the night shift on an officer’s ward with only one other person to help her oversee 82 patients. Elizabeth Lee, who worked on the pneumonia ward, had been ill for several days but insisted that she didn’t feel that bad. Earlier that day, the hospital’s head nurse instructed Lee to go to bed and rest. At three o’clock in the morning, while Guilda Jones was working on the officers’ ward, the night superintendent of the hospital rushed in looking for her: Lee had taken a turn for the worse. By the time Jones reached her, she had lost consciousness, and passed away before the dawn broke.

She was laid to rest in a white uniform purchased by Guilda Jones, the closest thing her friend could find to the nurse’s uniform they’d worn together back home in California. The night before she was buried, the soldiers who carried her coffin draped it with the American flag and left it to rest in an empty building, but they didn’t leave her alone. Guilda Jones stayed by her side till morning.  

 

Battlefield to Base Hospital