Our latest collection - Military Hospitals Admissions and Discharge Registers WW1 (MH106 at The National Archives) has now reached half a million named records; about a third of the total we estimate will soon be available. Search this collection to uncover stories of the battle to keep servicemen and women fighting fit in the First World War. Discover details of the injuries they received and treatments they endured whilst in the care of the military medical teams, and plot their journey back to the battlefield, or, in the case of the more seriously afflicted, back home. Conditions such as trench foot and mustard gas poisoning were commonly endured, but these records list some of the lesser known causes of agony, shedding new light on some of the extraordinary medical procedures borne out of necessity and also out of a lack of supplies and equipment. Whilst some medical conditions such as 'flu' are still common today, it's surprising how simple conditions such as tissue inflammation had very serious consequences back then.
The top 10 conditions at the time were:
- Pyrexia (fever of unknown origin)
- Inflammation of connective tissue
- Trench foot
- Gunshot wound
- Mustard and chlorine gas poisoning
A mammoth task for our team of experts
Often hospital notes were quickly scribbled down in the thick of battle, in writing that is now barely readable. Our specialist team of experts has transcribed these records, deciphering not just the handwriting but the terminology used at the time. Each record is then repeatedly checked internally before being released. Our 50-strong data entry team can spend months scrutinising the original documents. It's a labour of love (and not for the inexperienced) that ensures these vital named records can now be searched by members.
Rachel Cope and Naomi Stevens are two of our data interpretation experts, they say “the biggest challenge we face is working out what the individual letters are, which has to be done before deciphering what the words are, and in what context they are meant. De-coding unfamiliar medical terminology, abbreviations and even little known religions is a daily challenge.”
Thinking outside the box to put the puzzle pieces together is required for most records.
Here's a typical journey anyone injured on the battlefield had to endure:
- Stretcher bearers, carrying only medical basics such as morphine and bandages, had the arduous and hazardous task of recovering the injured (or dead) from the battlefield.
- The first stop was the Regimental Aid Post (RAP), which was merely a few metres behind the trenches and likely to be just a rough dugout. Only basic first aid would be provided here, and the wounded would either be patched up and sent back to fight, or if too badly injured would be sent on to the next station.
- Field ambulances, often half a mile away, were merely tented areas designed to provide a modest level of triage and treatment. If the casualty was deemed unfit to fight at this stage they would be moved on to...
- The Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) was typically about 12 miles from the frontline, and had operating theatres, mobile x-ray units and about 50 beds and 150 stretchers for the more seriously wounded. From here the wounded might be sent to a...
- General or Stationary Hospital. Better equipped and often with specialist centres for treating conditions such as mustard gas poisoning, these were usually situated near a railway line, providing quicker transportation back to Britain for those needing further treatment or being discharged. Specially adapted railway carriages would take passengers to the nearest port where…
- Hospital ships would cross the Channel back to Britain, for their final journey home or to a British hospital for further medical treatment or surgery to repair injuries.
- Patients requiring extended recovery periods were sent to converted stately homes.
Did you know?:
- Officers and other ranks were initially kept in separate wards, until officers asked to remain with their men.
- Those soldiers who could prove their injuries were caused by the enemy (such as bullet or gas poisoning) would be rewarded with a pension.
- There were a few female doctors, although mainly women worked as Matrons, Sisters and nurses.
We get regular comments about the work we are doing with the collection, here's one that we received on our Facebook page just a few days ago… “A great job you are doing! I'm researching private Edward F. Woodland (London Regiment), who was wounded at Hill 60 and admitted to CCS 3 in Poperinghe April 20 1915. I understand the archives of CCS 3 are among the 2% still available today.” Roel Zuidema, Forces War Records full member.
A call for stories...
Have these records uncovered the journey of a relative or ancestor? We'd love to hear your story, so please do get in touch. Contact our Customer Support team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and please title your email 'MH106 story'.