I’ve recently booked my first trip to the Somme for July this year. This will be on the weekend before the centenary of my great-great-uncle’s death. I’ve told his story before, My Tommy’s War: An underage Welsh brickie on the Somme. Since writing that post, the Soldiers’ Effects Registers have confirmed that of the three casualty clearing stations listed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as being in the vicinity in July 1916, he died of wounds in No 36 Casualty Clearing Station. This made me wonder the exact position of the clearing station in relation to the cemetery, and just who might have been caring for him in those final days after he was wounded on 16 July.
The obvious place to start was the war diary of No 36 Casualty Clearing Station (the relevant period is now held at The National Archives as WO 95/344/8). The first mention of Heilly in the diary is on 27 February 1916, when the day’s entry reads:
Arrived at CORBIE at 12.15pm and orders received from RTO [Rail Transport Officer] to go on in train to HEILLY. Orders received at Heilly from DDMS [Deputy Director Medical Services] 13th Corps to park the equipment & stores under canvas & for the unit to return to CORBIE, where half the officers & men were attached to No 5 CCS and half to No 21 CCS.
There is no entry for 28 February, but then the sequence starts again on 29 February:
Orders received from DMS [Director Medical Services] 3rd ARMY to proceed to HEILLY on 1/3/16 & open the unit in tents close to the Railway Station on the South side of the line.
A A Seeds Lieut-Col RAMC OC 36 CCS
The 1913 Medical Register suggests this was Arthur Atkinson Seeds, who joined the Army Medical Service in 1898 following graduation from the University of Dublin.
The diary continues in March:
The unit arrived at HEILLY by road from CORBIE and proceeded to pitch a camp in a field close to HEILLY Railway Station South of the line under instructions received from the DMS 3rd Army. The unit was transferred from the administration of the 3rd Army to that of the 4th from 12 noon this day.
The equipment & stores of the unit were removed from the place where they were parked near the Railway Station and brought to the camp.
The ground of the camp is 180 x 75 yards. The ground is clay and very soft. It is bounded on the W by a cultivated patch (rye grass) and on the E by ploughed land. N is the railway line & S the main CORBIE-MERICOURT Road.
The unit was engaged in pitching tents to form a camp & in cutting trenches to drain the camp. There is no water laid on in the camp and the nearest water is fit for drinking is distant 1.5 miles
Application was made to DMS, 4th Army for permission to cut a road running W to E at the railway end of the camp. This road is required for two purposes (1) Evacuation of patients to trains (2) Bringing in Stores, Coal, Hospital Supplies, etc.
Captain G M Hodges ordered to proceed to CORBIE by DMS 4th Army to supervise the sanitation of that town. Some snow in the morning and a good deal of rain.
G M Hodges (later referred to as G M W Hodges) was probably George Montague Williams Hodges, the 1913 Medical Register gives his address as Ilbury House, Deddington, Oxon, graduated from the University of London in 1907.
There was a sharp frost last night.
Captain G M Hodges departed to CORBIE.
A road was begun to be cut running W to E at the railway end of the camp. Chalk was brought from a quarry by motor lorries for this purpose. Inspection of camp by DMS, 4th Army.
Some snow fell during the night and a little more this morning. Work resumed on the road. Cinders were fetched from AMIENS (15 miles each way). A layer of cinders was laid on first, then chalk as dry as possible, and then cinders on top of the chalk.
There’s nothing much by way of evidence of the position of the camp then until 14 March:
One lorry despatched to BOUGANVILLE for stores. Applied for extra ground for expansion to ??? officer, 15 Area, 4th Army
The expansion was in order that the unit could provide 1000 beds, rather than 200. On 21 March Hodges took over the unit from Seeds, who had been ordered east (probably Egypt). The expansion of the camp continued for the rest of the month, and involved visits from the CRE [Commander Royal Engineers] 13th Corps and DDMS 13th Corps to settle various matters and arrange works such as kitchens, water supply and latrines. Among the new tents were some larger marquees. At the end of the month Lt Col James Willes Jennings arrived to take command (joined the Army Medical Service in 1888 having been licensed in Ireland).
April continued much the same, now with 149 (Army Troops) Company, Royal Engineers undertaking some of the work. April also saw the arrival of chaplains G L Bates (C of E) and J J Colley (RC). The medal index cards suggest G L Bates was Guy Locrington Bates, and Army Chaplaincy Museum interview records give his address as Playden, Sussex. Census records show he was there from about 1895. 14 April also saw the arrival of seven nurses, led by Sister-in-Charge M E Vernon Harcourt ARRC QAIMNS(R), Sisters C L Carnegie TFNS, P Barnard TFNS, Staff Nurses M Purves TFNS, P M Jones TFNS, E M Henderson CHR, A Cooper QAIMNS (CHR). Initial arrangements were made with the Revd Walsingham Cook Kerr of 23 Field Ambulance for burials in Mericourt Cemetery. The first admissions were made on 15 April. The first death of a patient was recorded on 26 April, 8636 Pte T W Thorley. 2nd West Yorks, that was also the day the first cases were evacuated by ambulance train. A Wesleyan chaplain arrived on 29 April, the Revd James Robert Batey. Deaths of all ranks continue to be recorded by name until the end of June. The duties of the chaplains at the CCS of course included carrying out the burials of those who died there. The sheer number of deaths to be dealt with in July means that the chaplains at all three of the CCSs based around the station would have carried these out jointly in all likelihood, so their names are also recorded below. I’ve concentrated on non-conformist and C of E chaplains, as this fits best with what I know of the church attendance of the family.
On 2 May 34 CCS and 38 CCS arrived and camped close by. 34 CCS moved on to Daours almost immediately, but 38 CCS set up close by. May otherwise continued much the same as the previous month with a new RC chaplain, Revd B Schofield arriving on 7 May to replace the Revd J J Colley, and an additional nurse, Staff Nurse E M MacDonald QAIMNS (CHR) on 8 May, and two more, Staff Nurses L Clayton CHR and C (or G) Chatfield QAIMNS arrived on 13 May, while Staff Nurses P M Jones TFNS and M Purves TFNS left for 16 General Hospital, Le Treport on 14 May. The water supply to the camp continued to be a problem, an accidental meeting between the OC and the Chief Engineer of 15th Corps near the railway station on 28 May seems to have helped move things forward.
June began with Major Richard James Campbell Thompson taking over command from Lt Col Jennings who was posted to Rouen. 38 CCS opened for admissions on 19 June, and from then on the two CCS admitted on alternate days. There is no direct mention of the forthcoming offensive, but the entry for 30 June reads:
The personnel has been reinforced by 3 MOs [medical officers], 3 NCOs and 20 men from Field Ambulances of the 19th Division.
The Nursing Sisters are 10 in number –
Captain Cain – 11th Notts & Derby – with 50 PB [permanent base – ie not fit for frontline duty] men from III Corps has reported for duty.
Trench shelters have been erected
(1) to join up 2 rows of 3 marquees to form a dressing room [presumably in the sense of surgical dressings]
(2) to join up 2 rows of 2 marquees to form a large ward for serious surgical cases.
The warm ether inhalers are in general – & most satisfactory use.
Sanitation & health of personnel – good
On 1 July, 38 CCS took the initial casualties, but 36 CCS still took in 1005 wounded. Just two ambulance trains arrived at the station to evacuate the wounded along the chain to bigger hospitals, leading to the DMS closing the CCSs at Heilly to admissions, so the wounded had to go on to Corbie instead. 2 July also saw the camp visited by Sir Douglas Haig and the Adjutant General, and just over 1500 admissions. On 3 July admissions dropped to just over 500 (including 24 Germans). The diary comments:
The spirit of the British wounded is extraordinary, the men are all in good spirits
By now the ambulance trains were running properly, easing some of the difficulties, but 36 CCS was seeing many instances of gas gangrene developing in patients. The 4th and 5th each saw around 600 admissions, and on 5 July 3 additional MOs arrived from 12 CCS, plus two Canadian Nursing Sisters (sadly not named). 6 July saw only 173 admissions, the diary also mentions “Colonel Sir Wilmot Herringham CB has taken charge of the GS Wounds Chest” [gun shot wounds to the chest]. Herringham was a highly distinguished civilian doctor. he had been consulting physician at Barts since 1904 and also commanded the medical section of the University of London Officers’ Training Corps. Until a little earlier in 1916 he had been the only consulting physician attached to the BEF. On one visit to a CCS Sir Douglas Haig had noted “I saw Sir Wilmot Herringham with his coat off, setting a fine example, by washing and attending to the slightly wounded cases”. Sadly one of Herringham’s sons had died in infancy, the other, George Wilmot Herringham, had been killed in the First Battle of Ypres, and his wife Christiana (a notable artist) had been in an asylum since 1911.
On 7 July admissions again topped 800, and on 8 July were 799. On the 8th the Wesleyan chaplain, Revd J R Batey, was posted to 31st Division, while two more nursing sisters were attached from South Midland (56) Casualty Clearing Station in Amiens. Again they are not named in the diary. On 9 July admissions were back down to just over 450, 10 July around 250, 11 July just under 300 (and four more nurses from South Midland CCS). The diary notes:
From noon – 1st to 5pm 11th – 283 major operations performed in Theatre – including 68 penetrating abdominal wounds.
Admissions were 282 on 12 July and almost 400 on 13 July – including 96 Germans. The 13th also saw a visit from Surgeon General Sir Arthur Sloggett, Director-General of Medical Services of the British Expeditionary Force, and the opening of 2/2nd London (55) Casualty Clearing Station on the northern side of the railway, closer to Heilly village itself.
14 July saw the opening of the Battle of Bazentin Ridge, with the British forces drawn from 4th Army. There were almost 1500 admissions to 36 CCS (including several gassed), and a further visit from Sir Arthur Sloggett. On 15 July there were again over 1100 admissions, 36 CCS stopped receiving between 1700 and 2300 while 38 CCS admitted. Captain Cain returned to his battalion, to be replaced as an Extra Medical Officer by Lieut Wilsher?? of 7th South Lancs.
16 July was the day Fred Holbrook was wounded (according to a later newspaper report), so presumably he was among the 730+ admissions that day or the 400+ on 17 July. By now 400 admissions was regarded as “a comparatively quiet day”. The 17th also saw the installation of electric light in the operating theatre. The 18th saw just over 290 admissions. The diary also includes a brief summary of statistics for 1-15 July, in total 49 officers admitted, 9808 other ranks and 368 Germans. 410 operations had been carried out in theatre.
On 19 July there were over 670 admissions, and Captain Rawlinson and Lieut Wooler arrived from CCSs in Doullens as extra medical officers. The medical staff now stood at 16 medical officers (doctors) and 19 nursing sisters. The diary also states:
50 new beds delivered from ordnance, making 241 in use. The unit developing more and more into a stationary hospital [these units were the next larger, and were normally further from the front line].
Sir Wilmot Herringham working most devotedly on GS Wounds of chest and cases of Gas poisoning.
20 July saw over 630 admissions, 21 July 440, 22nd almost 350 and then 23 July over 1050, this day also saw a visit from Sir Edward Morris, the premier of Newfoundland. There were 290 admissions on 24 July, 300 on 25 July, and on 26 July, the day Fred Holbrook died:
A very quiet day so far as admission of wounds was concerned
Admitted OR [other ranks] sick 14, Wd [wounded] 51.
Throughout this period the diary continues to record officers who have died of wounds by name, but there is not even a daily tally of the deaths of other ranks. However the month’s entries conclude with a summary of the entire month’s activities:
Resume of the month’s work
Admitted officers 79 (22 deaths)
other ranks 16045 (401 deaths)
Germans 480 (28 deaths)
Operations in theatre 759
Penetrating shell wounds 105
Compound fracture of femura (uncomplicated by Gas Gangrene & with hope of complete recovery) 65
Penetrating abdominal wounds 167 – 46.7% recoveries
In the 167 cases are shown the quite hopeless cases who were taken to the Theatre for palliative Colotomy, return of intestines & ???? etc
In all the diary gave a reasonable insight into the care offered, and some of those involved, but only gave a hint as to the location: adjacent to the railway line and the road between Corbie and Méricourt-l’Abbé, but didn’t locate precisely in relation to the station. See the location of Heilly Station Cemetery on Google Maps:
If the map is not showing, follow this link to Google Maps. The description of the hospital’s location suggests it lay between the railway line and the road now numbered as the D120. However, it’s not clear which side of the Rue du Moulin/Hameau de Caqueval (the road which goes over a level crossing by the station and joins the D120) it lay.
The war diary does offer some hints at other leads, 36 CCS reported to the Director of Medical Services 4th Army. This post was held by Surgeon General Menus William O’Keeffe who also had to keep a war diary, now WO 95/447 for 1916 (items 1-9). This largely covers more administrative matters, but does reveal a little more about some of the staff working at 36 CCS too, for example the appointment of Ambrose Lorne Lockwood as surgical specialist there. He appears to have been a Canadian who joined the RAMC on the outbreak of war. It seems arrangements for 36 CCS had largely been made before 4th Army took over the area from 3rd Army (which suggests that the 3rd Army DMS diary may also be worth reviewing), but there is some discussion of the location for 38 CCS being selected, however, once again, the precise location does not appear to be given. Several sketch maps are in the diary, but show only the railway line, and sometimes the main road, not the local roads. In these, 36 CCS often appears (due to the scale) to be the other side of the railway. For 38 CCS we have:
Permission is also requested to locate another CCS alongside the present one at HEILLY. This only means enlarging the accommodation at present there, and requires a further plot of land to be hired.
If these two sites [the DMS also wanted to establish another CCS at PUCHEVILLERS] are approved the difficulties which at present exist in evacuating large numbers of Wounded from the front will disappear.
And in a request for engineer services:
No 38 CCS
Drinking-water will be drawn by tanks from well at HEILLY. The pipe-line for washing-water from the river, at present installed at No 36 CCS, should be extended to the site of the new CCS; or better, a tank and pump installed between the two CCSs on the South side of the CORBIE-MERICOURT road
It’s quite clear that the Somme offensive was already being planned, but it seems that the medical services were still underestimating the number of casualties that would result. Their estimate at in April was that they could manage evacuation of 35-40,000 casualties per week in the whole army area. By June however they were asking for sufficient ambulance trains etc to be made available to 4th Army to enable the evacuation of 10,000 casualties per day, and were worried by reports in delays in evacuation during the Battle of Loos the previous year. They received a rather offhand reply from the Quartermaster General at GHQ:
It is not anticipated that there will be any difficulty in meeting the needs of Fourth Army during active operations.
No reports of any delay in the evacuation of the wounded during the fighting round LOOS can be traced in this office.
The next obvious diary to investigate was that of 38 CCS, to see if that gave any definite statement of location, but this diary proved to be very sparse (perhaps supporting the desire expressed by the DMS in his diary to remove the OC 38 CCS from his command for lack of organisational skills, to which higher authorities did not agree). The most relevant entry is probably the arrival of the Revd Leslie Edward Baumer as chaplain to 38 CCS.
The diary of 149 Army Troops Company, Royal Engineers (WO 95/400/1) was equally scant. Though mentioned in all the other diaries as having been involved in various works around Heilly, the only definite mention of Heilly in this diary relates to building a railway siding.
I also tried WO 95/450/1, the diary of the 4th Army Deputy Assistant Director Medical Services (Sanitation), but again no real references to the precise situation at Heilly. The 4th Army Chief Engineer kept no diary until July 1916
(WO 95/451). None of the 13 Corps HQ diaries are yet online, but the diary of their Deputy Director of Medical Services and Commander Royal Engineers (both in WO 95/903). May yet shed some light. The only remaining diary not yet considered in this blog post is that of 2/2nd London Casualty Clearing Station (also known as 55 Casualty Clearing Station), now WO 95/501/3. Again this says only that the unit was based north of Heilly Station, it arrived only on 9 July and was ordered to be ready to receive walking cases as soon as possible, and the first patients were admitted on 11 July, having notified the DMS the previous day that they could take 200 cases, or 300 at a push. Again perhaps the most significant record in the diary in relation to Fred Holbrook is the arrival on 7 July of the Revd John Waterfield as C of E chaplain to 55 CCS. However, he was replaced on 13 July by the Revd Wilfrid Parker. Parker seems to have been well-connected in the church, the 1911 census shows him as chaplain to Cosmo Gordon Lang, then Archbishop of York, who was subsequently translated to Canterbury. At the time he was interviewed about taking up a chaplaincy position (which was only on 28 June 1916) he was a curate to the Revd Dick Sheppard at St Martin-in-the-Fields. Sheppard himself had been a chaplain at a casualty clearing station in the early months of the war, but his health broke down under the conditions.
What I’d particularly been hoping to find in the various war diaries was a map reference for 36 CCS, but so far to no avail. I decided to check the trench maps that are now available online anyway, in the hopes that the position would be marked. There are two main collections online that I’m aware of, the set held by MacMaster University in Canada, and the more recently available collection from the National Library of Scotland. The search by location on the NLS website quickly showed me that the relevant sheet was a 1:20000 map 62D.NE and offered me four choices of edition. Only one of these was in 1916, corrected to 28 April, the remainder in 1918 by which time the CCSs had all moved on, so I chose the 1916 map as 36 CCS was setting up by then. As this area was well behind the lines the maps were not updated as frequently as those covering more heavily contested areas (though the NE quadrant of the map does cover Mametz Wood, but presumably it was the 1:10000 covering just that area that was updated more regularly). Sadly nothing is marked for 36 CCS. I checked the 1918 maps as well just to be sure, but unsurprisingly there was nothing on those either (though they did show that some trenches were constructed in the area during the German Spring Offensive in 1918). One nice feature of the NLS maps is that you can choose to overlay them on modern mapping, and adjust parameters of the trench map such as it’s opacity to see the modern map underneath. In this instance you can see just how little has changed in this area. The trench maps have the added bonus of showing contour lines which helps gets a better sense of the lie of the land. In this area we can see that the land rises quite rapidly as we move SE from the railway line (which is in the valley of the Ancre). I also used Google Earth to get a sense of the land (you can reach a cut down version via the Google map above, but it’s most useful by installing the full package on your computer).
At this point I decided to find out if anyone else had managed to locate it, so I tweeted a general question tagging particularly Sue Light (@Scarletfinders) who is something of an expert on the nursing aspects of the First World War, and Mark Banning (@MGBTours), a battlefield guide with whom I’d previously had some general discussion about the cemetery. Neither could turn up anything more specific, Sue pointed me to a blogpost of hers about the area, but her feeling had been that it was sited further away from the railway. Possibly that was where 38 CCS was sited, given the comment about the location of a pump between 36 and 38 CCS quoted above.
Fortunately a few other people picked up on the tweet as well, and Sandra Gittins (@ypreswoman) pointed me towards some photos in the Imperial War Museum collections that show the Heilly area in September 1916:
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916© IWM (Q 1254)
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916© IWM (Q 1255)
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916© IWM (Q 1256)
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916© IWM (Q 1257)
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916 © IWM (Q 1258)
Of these Q 1255 is perhaps the most interesting of itself as several tents can be seen in the background, next to the railway line, and to the east of the station. There do not seem to be any tents set up in the field the other side of the road leading to the station. Does this solve the question of location? In my twitter conversations, Sue Light was concerned that there wasn’t enough room for the CCS to set up in the fields immediately adjacent to the station. However, using the measuring tools in Google Earth it’s possible to see that the original size of camp described in the diary, 180 x 75 yards comfortably fits in the field. Even if the expansion of the unit to provide 1000 beds (from 200) did actually quintuple the physical space required, there would still be plenty of room. One other factor had originally made me think that a site the other side of the road was more likely, and that was the description of the track that was built to link the camp to the station, which was described as running west to east. However, on reflection, it would of course make more sense to start building the track from the station (which was on the road) to link to the track, so that the unit’s lorries could reach the point at which work was being carried out on the track that they were actually building. Looking at the available satellite imagery though, there does appear to be more evidence of a track to the west of the station, rather than to the east, but the original could well have been ploughed up following the war. The area to the east of the station also seems a better fit for the description “It is bounded on the W by a cultivated patch (rye grass) and on the E by ploughed land” – there is no evidence of any field boundaries on the current field to the west of the station, until a patch of woodland is reached, but there is an apparent field boundary to the east, if that corresponded to the original eastern boundary of the camp, there would have been plenty of room for rye grass to the west, before reaching the road that leads from the D120 to the station. This also seems to fit with the location of the pump described above, and the description of the ground as being clay, as you move to the east, and also as you move to the south away from the railway as the ground becomes higher, the aerial imagery available shows a much more chalky hue. It’s interesting that 2/2nd London (55) CCS is said to be on the north of the railway as the contemporary maps show that as largely wooded or marshy, however, diagonally opposite the station across the level crossing there is a property with a small area of open ground.
This solves the question of location fairly satisfactorily, but I will check the other war diaries mentioned once they become available online to see if any further supporting (or contradictory) evidence can be found.