The Royal Army Medical Corps, formed in 1898, operated the army’s medical units and provided medical detachments for the infantry divisions at home and overseas. It was assisted in its work by voluntary help from the British Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance, the Friends Ambulance Unit, the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachments) and private and charitable ventures. The Corps officers and men did not carry weapons or ammunition.
At the outbreak of the Great War there were some 9,000 other ranks in the Corps which increased to some 13,000 officers and 154,000 other ranks by 1918, similar in numbers to the British Expeditionary Force of 1914. The Corps itself lost 743 officers and 6,130 soldiers killed in the war, many dying with injured comrades in their arms, others killed carrying simply a stretcher or a water bottle. Members of the Corps won 7 VCs, 2 with bars.
A soldier’s chances of survival from wounds received in battle depended on how quickly his wounds were treated, and the Great War was producing enormous numbers of casualties requiring treatment at the same time. A quick and efficient way of removal and treatment was needed and to that end what was known as the ‘chain of evacuation’ was established, using in the beginning in the main horse-drawn transport, in which the sick and wounded were moved backwards by a series of posts: the regimental aid post, the collecting post, the advanced and main dressing station, the casualty clearing station and finally the general hospital either overseas or England via hospital ship. Each part of the chain had its role with the overall objective of treating the sick and the wounded and returning them if at all possible to the fighting force. It has been estimated that just on the Western front, the wounded returned to the firing line represented a manpower saved of some 1,600,000.
At an early stage in the war, casualty clearing stations were expanded into forward areas and in some cases could take up to 1,000 patients. The Corps served across the globe in France, Belgium, Macedonia, Italy, Palestine, South Russia and Mesopotamia.
A significant development during the Great War was the formation of the Corps’ Sanitary Sections that checked the sanitation of all barrack areas, billets, cookhouses, washing facilities, waste disposal, incineration, water conservation, etc, using highly trained personnel including sanitary inspectors, architects, engineers and builders.
The 53rd (Welsh) Division, when in Bedford, included detachments from the Royal Army Medical Corps:
- 1st Welsh Field Ambulance
- 2nd Welsh Field Ambulance
- 3rd Welsh Field Ambulance
- 53rd Sanitary Section
The 68th (2nd Welsh) Division included the:
- 2/1st Welsh Field Ambulance
- 2/2nd Welsh Field Ambulance
- 2/3rd Welsh Field Ambulance
The Field Ambulance was a mobile unit situated quite close behind the fighting front whose role was to treat men who could be quickly returned to unit (the lightly wounded or sick) but in general to prepare the men for a move to a casualty clearing station. In 1914, each infantry division had three Field Ambulance detachments, each of which was divided into three sections. In turn, those sections had stretcher bearer and tented subsections. At full strength a Field Ambulance consisted of 10 officers and 224 men. The capacity of the Field Ambulance was theoretically 150 casualties, but in practice many needed to deal with very much greater numbers.
As with all other units, the Field Ambulances initially relied heavily on horses for transport and had an establishment of 14 riding and 52 draught and pack horses. By the end of 1914, each Field Ambulance also had seven motor ambulance vehicles.
Corporal Arthur Llewellyn Jones was a soldier in the 3rd Welsh Field Ambulance and was stationed in Bedford prior to the 53rd (Welsh) Division’s departure for Gallipoli. He served in the Dardanelles, Egypt, the Persian Gulf and Gaza, where he was killed on 7 May 1917, aged 21 years. Alan Jones, Corporal Jones’ great nephew, has compiled a most informative illustrated page on his great uncle’s life and his time in the Army, with extensive detail about the work of the Field Ambulance unit, the campaign in the Dardanelles and the fighting in Gaza.