Sav­ing Pass­chen­daele’s many wounded

The Timaru Herald - - COMMENT&OPINION -

When the guns fi­nally went silent af­ter New Zealand’s dis­as­trous Oc­to­ber 12, 1917 at­tack at Pass­chen­daele there were scores of wounded men whose lives now de­pended on the hero­ics of stretcher bear­ers.

South Can­ter­bury Mu­seum’s ex­hi­bi­tion Hell Let Loose looks at World War I’s Western Front and tells the sto­ries of both Pass­chen­daele and the med­i­cal units serv­ing dur­ing the fight­ing.

The Kiwi troops had been asked to do the im­pos­si­ble: at­tack across bog-like ground against for­mi­da­ble Ger­man de­fences un­touched by ar­tillery fire. The re­sult­ing slaugh­ter left hun­dreds of wounded New Zealan­ders ly­ing on a cold bat­tle­field.

It was now that brave men, like South Can­ter­bury’s Wil­liam Mills, went to work with their stretch­ers to re­move the wounded from No Man’s Land between the op­pos­ing trenches. There were so many wounded that the job was too big for the Field Am­bu­lance and bands­men who usu­ally car­ried out the task and in­fantry troops were called into as­sist. The mud was so deep it took six men to carry a sin­gle stretcher and could take four hours to get a man to treat­ment.

Some of the wounded lay on the bat­tle­field for three days and un­doubt­edly some suc­cumbed to their wounds, but that was not the fault of the bear­ers who worked to the point of ex­haus­tion.

Thank­fully the Ger­mans took pity on those la­bor­ing with stretch­ers and re­frained from fir­ing on the men un­der­tak­ing the re­cov­ery. A truce evolved on the line and the Ger­mans also re­moved their wounded from the bat­tle­field.

PHOTO: ALEXAN­DER TURN­BULL LI­BRARY

An ad­vanced dress­ing sta­tion on the Pass­chen­daele bat­tle­field.

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