„la nuit, l’on nous emmena dans des ambulances…“

 

The 19th episode of Stimmen aus den Schützengräben is dedicated to wounded soldiers in WWI. It is not easy to determine their exact number, also due to the fact that many were hit more than once during the war. Statistics on casualties usually count about 10 million dead and over 20 million wounded.

Whenever possible first aid was administrated on the front line, and then soldiers were moved behind the lines, where field ospitals had been set (usually adapting buildings such as schools, churches etc.). With a few selected documents we tried to give a first impression on how wounded soldiers were cured and carried.

 

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Australian advanced dressing station during the Third Battle of Ypres, 1917 (Imperial War Museums)

 

The first „guest“ of the week is German Lieutenant Ernst Jünger (1895-1998). In 1920 he published a an account of his experience on the Westfront under the title „In Stahlgewitter“ (Storm of Steel). Jünger was wounded seven times during WWI. For the episode we selected a passage of his book in which he relates his experience in a field hospital. „The field hospital was built in a school near the railway station and hosted over 400 heavily wounded soldiers (…) All the misery of war was concentrated in the big operating theater (…) hither a limb was amputated, thiter a skull was chiseled (…) A Sargeant, who had lost his leg, laid dying in the bed next to mine. In his last hour he awoke in violent shivers and let a nurse read him his favourite chapter of the Bible. Then, with barely audible voice, he asked all the comrades in the room to forgive him, because he had so often disturbed their quiet in his febrile delirium…“.
The full book is available at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/34099/34099-h/34099-h.htm

 

Austrian operation room of a field hospital in Russia, 28 November 1915 (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)
Austrian operation room of a field hospital in Russia, 28 November 1915 (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)

 

The second document is a passage from the book „Diario di un imboscato“ by Attilio Frescura (see episodes #2 , #3 und #14 ). In an entry dated 20 June 1916 the Italian officer wrote: „All night long the wounded have been brought down from the frontline to Campomezzavia to be taken care of. (…) The wounded soldier is put on a stretcher and carried down for hours, on a mule track where even the mules refuse to go. And the stretcher-bearers slip, stumble, fall down. And the wounded screams, with all his martyrized flesh“. Another passage of the same entry reads as follows: „He tells me that today, among the others, two wounded, one Italian and one Austrian, were taken care of and put one next to the other. The Austrian asked, in his bad Italian: „Brother, thirst…“ And the Italian apologised for not having the canteen with him, and being unable to help. He reassured the Austrian, saying that water would come soon. The new friendship was so devoted that the Austrian somehow wrapped his arms around the Italian, sighing silently. And the Italian left him like that. The Austrian seemed to fall asleep, happy to have found some kindess amid all the fighting. And he embraced that kindess, until death loosened his grip“. The full journal is available at: http://teca.bncf.firenze.sbn.it/ImageViewer/servlet/ImageViewer?idr=BNCF00004006672#page/1/mode/1up

 

Wounded soldiers in an hospital near Strasbourg
Wounded soldiers in an hospital near Strasbourg

 

The third document is an original interview with British sargeant Leonard J. Ounsworth (see episodes #1, #3, #7,#8 and #18 ). He recalls the first hours after being wounded on the Western front, when he was carried to a dressing station some miles behind the lines. Ounsworth remembers that there he saw a nurse for the first time, and that he was really embarassed when she had to undress him. The full interview is available at: http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/de/contributions/462

 

French soldiers carrying wounded comrades in the Argonnes, 1915
French soldiers carrying wounded comrades in the Argonnes, 1915

 

The last document is a passage from the memories of French cavalryman Charles Guilbert (see episode #9). After being wounded, taken prisoner by the Germans and set free by an English patrol Guilbert was taken to an house where other wounded were being taken care of. The building must have been only a few kilometers behind the lines, since an English artillery battery was firing from the courtyard. The house was shaking at every shot. During the night he was brought to an English field hospital set in a school, near Pas-de-Calais. He stayed in the hospital from the 12 until the 15 of October 1914. The full transcription of Guilbert’s memories is available at: http://ppognant.online.fr/G141802.html.

 

-Credits-

Editing: Larissa Schütz, Matteo Coletta.
Commentary: Matteo Coletta.

Voices in this episode: Norbert K. Hund as Ernst Jünger,  Matteo Coletta as Attilio Frescura and Charles Guilbert, Leonard J. Ounsworth as himself.

Jingle:

Music: Gregoire Lourme, “Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hannes Hochwasser, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.

 

 

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