From A Surgeon's Journal
, 1915-1918


BOTH diary and semi-invalided diarist continued in their appointed orbits long after November 14th. Although the stream of blessés had dried at the source, the overseas hospitals remained full of patients who must be cared for until they could be transshipped to the destination all were eager to reach, but to which the sick and wounded supposedly had the right of way. Their number may be gathered from the following Thanksgiving Day entry in which some casualty figures are cited:

Neufchâteau, Nov. 28

Rainy season in earnest. All day in the office filing peripheral nerve literature and keeping close to a stove. Found in the enemy literature (Deutsche Med. Wochenschrift, 1918, p. 854) an article on Polyneuntis ambulatoria---"in young and otherwise healthy individuals, with loss of deep reflexes and without signs of cortical disease." So I am not the only one.

All are wondering now that Mr. Wilson---or Mrs. Wilson?---has decided to come over, what particular claim we have to a prominent seat at the Peace Table. Our total casualties are some 326,000, only a little more than half of them representing battle casualties, viz., 179,625. The few thousand American dead are tabulated as follows:

Killed or died of wounds


Died of disease


Died unspecified




Unofficial reports credit the French (excluding the Colonials) with 1,700,000 dead and casualties untold, a large percentage of the poilus having of course been wounded more than once. This far exceeds the losses of the British, who have had only 658,704 dead out of something over three and a half million casualties. Indeed someone has stated that the total number of cases (mostly British) treated by each of our six original Base Hospital Units serving with the B.E.F. exceeds the total casualties of the A.E.F. B.H. No. 4, for example, had 67,591 patients.

What an insignificant toll we have paid after all! It is illuminating to compare the Canadian and American lists and to find the figures practically identical. The Canadian Corps with its total of ca. 400,000 volunteer troops have been in the thick of it since the second Ypres, while we with something like five times that number in the A.E.F. have had battalions in the line for only a few paltry months.















While we have been prodigal of our regulars and marines, a very small proportion of our ca. two million men have been in contact with the enemy; the Canadians, on the other hand, from the outset have been regarded as essentially a fighting corps. To put it another way, approximately two out of every four Canadians who have served in the B.E.F. have been killed or wounded, whereas something less than two out of every sixteen Americans who embarked to the tune of "Over There" were booked for casualties.

An Amsterdam report of the German losses shows that during the past few weeks they have rapidly risen, almost to the level of the French figures, which, as a matter of fact, may never be precisely made known.

    Up to Oct. 31 Up to Nov. 10
Germans killed





103,000 (?)











At the close of hostilities nearly 18,000 wounded Americans were occupying beds in overcrowded hospitals officered and manned by war-weary people, most of whom were looking for any kind of excuse to get leave and go sightseeing along with the Army of Occupation. Since many of the wounded were still in need of serious secondary operations, the problem was one for which G.H.Q. scarcely knew the answer. It was at first decided that they were to be rushed home; but soon after this programme was set in operation, the ports of embarkation became so jammed that at Savenay, for example, 10,000 patients in 8000 beds, mostly under canvas, were despondently awaiting the long-overdue transports. Ere long came word from Washington that since no more hospital beds were available at home, the remainder must stay in France until provision could be made to receive them. As no one had had any experience with demobilization on a large scale, there were orders and counter orders and unbelievable confusion.

Meanwhile, final meetings were being held in Paris of the R.C. Research Committee; also of the Conférence Chirurgicale Interalliée in which British, French, Belgian, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Serbian, and American doctors compared notes. It was even thought that further sessions might profitably be held and plans were laid accordingly; but these things required constructive efforts for which there was no longer either enthusiasm or leadership.

Conscientious medical officers, however, had much paper work to do in their several hospitals. Orders were issued by G.H.Q. that reports must be written which could be used later on for an official medical history of the war. This necessitated the accumulation of statistical data from as many of the scattered hospitals in the A.E.F. as could be reached and could be persuaded to take the trouble to analyze their case records, which a good many refused to do. Elaborate and somewhat humiliating qualification cards for rating had to be filled out before movement orders of any kind could be secured; and there were other masses of red tape to be unraveled by those whose patience was itself fast unraveling.

On December 22nd came a message from Chaumont stating that the medical headquarters at Neufchâteau were to be closed and that movement orders had been issued for the diarist and three other members of Base Hospital No. 5 still attached there to rejoin their original Unit with the B.E.F. at Boulogne. They somehow managed to get transportation to Paris, where two days later the following entry was made:

Christmas Eve

After a cold damp night in Epernay we had breakfasted, badly enough, in company with some young British officers who after a period of leave were making their way across the old battle areas to rejoin their units. The morning promised fine and we got away, proceeding due north over the Montagne de Reims, whose southern vine-clad slopes bristle at this time of year with neatly stacked poles which from a distance give to the hillsides the appearance of an unshaven chin. A heavy mist shrouded all the valleys, and the series of hills poked their heads out of it in most enchanting fashion.

So on and up into the forest, mostly of oak and birch, the trees green to their terminal branches with moss and lichen---past the zones évacuées, interdit pour civiles---past countless bypaths with signs innumerable by "Ordre d'Armée---Défense absolument d'entrer---Dépôt du munitionsP.A.C.A." ---past a French military cemetery---past wire and trenches and chevaux de frise. As we begin to descend and the wide views of the country beyond open out we pass successions of secondary fortifications, and road screens abound, both lateral and horizontal. By Monchenot, which must have been under observation from all sides---Champfleury with still more defenses, and through the screen of mats concealing the road come the first distant glimpses of the cathedral. Then line after line of defenses---French cavalry coming out---and so, over a choked and mossy canal paralleling the river bed of the Vesle, into Reims. . .

It was an unforgettable picture---the western façade of the cathedral, the most beautiful product of the greatest of centuries, still magnificent, for Reims has come through the fire glorified like the soul of Jeanne d'Arc herself---this as a gray background while in the Place du Parvis the survivors of the 100th Regiment of Chasseurs, the defenders of Reims in their marvelous blue, were drawn up in open square for a prise d'armes.

We came upon this unexpected scene just as the sun, low in the south, burst through the reluctant clouds eager to add light and warmth to the moving spectacle.

A fanfare of trumpets and drums, followed by some bars of the "Marseillaise," the regiment presents arms, and General Petit decorates and embraces in turn three officers as Chevaliers of the Legion of Honor. Again, and the exploits of eight poilus, one after the other, are read out and, one after the other, tapped on each shoulder by the sabre of Mon Général, each has a Croix de Guerre pinned on his left breast. Then the turn of the regiment itself, and with the same preliminaries---a burst of martial music, a short stirring address---the presentation of arms---a cross is pinned on the regimental colors so that henceforth all may wear the green fourragère.

We meanwhile from our pile of crumbling masonry looked on with awe and reverence mingled with a sense of apology for having stumbled upon a solemn rite held by its defenders in honor of an edifice---imperishable though mutilated, typifying the soul of France.

It was over. Forming columns, they swung around the empty pedestal on which the Maid's statue once stood and to stirring music marched out of the square and away into the tumbled wreck of Reims.

On reaching Boulogne, the diarist was taken into Sir Almroth Wright's billet and there, while marking time for another three weeks, material was gathered from the hospital records for a subsequently published account(47) of the Unit, whose personnel by this time was fretting to know what was in store for them and when and by whom they would be demobilized, whether by the B.E.F. or the A.E.F.

On January 17th, the diarist was ordered to proceed to England for the purpose of observing reconstruction work that was being done in certain Base Hospitals there. This made it possible for him once more to spend a week-end with his old friends in Oxford. And so it came about that on the following Sunday, after dining with Osler by candlelight in Wolsey's Hall at Christ Church---the first such gathering to be held here for three years ---he was taken home at 9.30 and put to bed at "The Open Arms" with a hot water bottle at his back, a bed lamp at his side, and Walt Whitman's Memoranda of another war put in his hands to read.

From these Memoranda of 1862-1865 two excerpts were taken which might have been written---so it is stated---by a Red Cross worker, let us say at Evac. No. 7 in Coulommiers during the autumn of 1918:---

(1) We have undoubtedly in the United States the greatest military power---an exhaustive, intelligent, brave and reliable rank and file---in the world, any land, perhaps all lands. The problem is to organize this in the manner fully appropriate to it, to the principles of the Republic, and to get the best service out of it. In the present struggle as already seen and reviewed, probably three fourths of the losses, men, lives, &c., have been sheer stupidity, extravagance, waste. The body and bulk came out more and more superb---the practical Military system, directing power, crude, illegitimate---worse than deficient, offensive, radically wrong.

(2) Such was the war. It was not a quadrille in a ballroom. Its interior history will not only never be written, its practicality, minutiæ of deeds and passions, will never be even suggested. The active soldier of 1862-'65, North and South, with all his ways, his incredible dauntlessness, habits, practices, tastes, language, his appetite, rankness, his superb strength and animality, lawless gait, and a hundred unnamed lights and shades of camp---I say, will never be written---perhaps must not be and should not be.

The diarist remained in England long enough to appreciate the tragic aftermath of the war for the returning "heroes," most of whom found someone younger and more vigorous than themselves holding down their former jobs. Disillusioned veterans were encountered everywhere openly begging in the streets or clutching at the straws of a possible livelihood by peddling some trifle to the passers-by. In the daily papers were long Personal columns with advertisements by relatives requesting information about "the missing"; by former officers and N.C.O.'s who were giving their qualifications and offering themselves for menial jobs. Not the least disillusioned were the middle-aged medical officers entitled to wear four blue service chevrons on their sleeves, perhaps even a wound stripe or two and some pieces of ribbon on the breast. Home again, but broken in spirit after their four wasted years, they must start in once more at the bottom, replace their out-of-date office equipment and try to recapture some of their lost practice if it ever could be recaptured. It was a depressing time, with the menace of strikes to stop railroad traffic and close down industry and, perhaps worst of all, a peace conference sitting in Versailles planning how to humiliate Germany most effectively and to make her pay for all that had happened.

Finally there came, on the last day of January, a movement order for the diarist to proceed to Liverpool, there to embark for home on a transport. And the story may close with some of the entries made on the old Canopic, now in use as a troop ship, on which our diarist crossed as the senior medical officer when she brought back the 162nd Infantry.

Wednesday evening, Feb'y 12th

´Come seven!" "Once mo', bones!" "Joey, don't you hear me?" "Ten dollars on de side he doan make it." "Come natural!" "An' a seven overtook him." "Two he's wrong." "Dollar he shoots." "Three to two no ten." "Come bones!" "Look at 'em come!"---all this with snapping of fingers, much profanity and no less obscenity.

With one's eyes closed it might be a group of doughboys from the Midnight Division crouched around a ground sheet and a torch; but it's really a flushed group of officers crooning over the throws of the dice as they crowd around a large table in the smoking room. There they "roll the bones" all day and all night, and so do other ranks on levels below this hurricane deck.

Ewers of A Company tells me it pervades the entire force and by a week after pay day the money of each company is in the hands of four or five people---usually, be it said, the same people---And they play it off for heavy stakes till it rests often in the hands of one man. To make it quick in the end, the pack is simply cut for high or low cards at $500 a throw. One of his sergeants has sent home $8000 won at craps since they came over a year ago. It's a vice by no means confined to the South and West for Donovan tells me many of the most successful crap-shooters are New Englanders. Even New York may do better than the surly-looking Major of the 77th whom I just saw leave the table after losing the last of his Express Company checks to the tune of 780 dollars.

I've confessed before that we were a blasphemous and a thieving army but this gambling business never came home to me so acutely as on this voyage home. If it's as widespread as these young men admit, I 'm not sure but that wine and women are less serious evils. War, after all, isn't Hell---it's demoralization, which is far worse. Hell, for all one knows, may be very well governed.

Sunday the 16th of Feb'y

It's been a week of winds and what the Captain's bulletin calls a "confused sea." The daily inspection has been kept up with its not unwelcome intermission. The men's quarters are reasonably clean, though I do not particularly envy one or two of the Companies their accommodations; and we have had no special sickness to cause anxiety---one pneumonia, two cases of mumps, and a naval ensign who is dying with tuberculosis, very cheerfully be it said.

Are we naturally a discontented lot or have we had cause to grumble? Troublesome investigations---Congressional and otherwise---are likely to follow if the temper and feelings of these youths aboard represent that of the national army as a whole. The pettiness and incapacity of the regular officers in most services, which the mask of discipline but feebly concealed, seem to have roused the ire of the rank and file, and from one point of view it perhaps speaks well of our national characteristics that during the time of stress there was no movement other than to work with the machine, much as it obviously needed to be overhauled and put in new hands to get the best out of it. To have eagles perched on your shoulders when most others have bars does not lead to intimacies or confidences; but the thing is there, nevertheless, on all sides, without much being said.

The only ones aboard to whom this does not appertain seem to be those who have served with the British---the naval officers, some of the casual M.O.'s, and a few of the flying men. Those who served with the R.A.F. consider themselves most lucky. One of them is a Minnesota boy who, every flyable night, has been down the Rhine Valley in a huge Handley Page to drop bombs on Mannheim or even Cologne. Having come to love and respect the officers under whom he served, he can't understand why our young aviators feel as they do. Have they had a particularly raw deal, or does all this really indicate profound differences in British and American qualities of leadership?


"We are holding our own" and a bit more---229 miles. This means with good luck sometime Wednesday, 15 days out from Liverpool. Whew! Snow, a northeast gale, a heavy sea, and another case of mumps have punctuated the morning.

Restraints are beginning to break down more and more---the ship was badly policed this morning, perhaps due to yesterday's omission of inspection. Talk in the lounge and smoking room is getting a little more free. Somewhat mutinous and indignant talk in spots now that the bridle is off---from casual aviators, ordnance people and National Guard---particularly National Guard. The few regulars aboard are outnumbered and though they give orders, which are obeyed, they are not so greatly feared as when the ocean and the censorship lay between the A.E.F. and home.

The regular is so constituted that he strains at trifles---at the gnat and swallows the elephant. Just now it's over the absurd question of what may be worn when we disembark---as though it much mattered, provided officers were clean, neat, and had a soldierly bearing. Many a one complies with regulations and yet looks unaccountably sloppy---regulations concerning the type of boots and whether 4 or 5 inches of lacing exempts or necessitates the wearing of spurs. No service caps to be worn ashore, and yet most of us have nothing else. Spiral puttees are taboo, as are trench coats and also Sam Browne belts! We are all still more or less in terror of the M.P. Be sure and salute him first is common advice. "Why, organizations have been held up a whole month at Brest because an M.P. reported an outfit, some doughboy from which was seen with his blouse unbuttoned, etc. etc."

Tuesday, the 18th Feb'y

A little better run yesterday, and we should get in to-morrow. Despite 12 cases of mumps, a bad outbreak of "cooties" in Co. A, and two or three very sick-looking members of the ship's motley crew in the hospital bay, landing papers have been made out with young Capt. Mark, the Transport Surgeon, Capt. Crothers of the 126th, and old Dr. Smilie, for 32 years ship's surgeon on the Canopic.

The rotund and imperturbable Smilie! What a chain of associations he brings up---of the Canopic in March of 1915 and our little band off for a few weeks to the American Ambulance at Paris. Among them were Cutler, Osgood, and Boothby, who came out again on this second adventure. I can see Richard Strong sitting at the very desk over there in this lounge correcting proofs of his South American report---continuously from early morn till 5 p.m. on a glass of water for lunch. And Helen Homans, that bright soul who alone of our party served abroad without intermission until her heroic death.

Curious the repetitions of places visited and of persons encountered in the first and on this second more prolonged episode. It almost merges into a single absence---out on the Canopic in March 1915 and now by chance home on the same boat nearly four years later. There are overlapping memories of the second and third Ypres and of many persons and places in between---Makins, Wallace, Sargent, General Sloggett, Robert Bacon, the Oslers, Col. Gallie, the American Ambulance people, Tuffier, the Ypres salient, the Carrels, Dakin, the Casino at Boulogne, the Strongs, the Blisses, Sir Almroth, Keogh, the wounded poilu, the wounded Tommy---all these and many more emerge from the background of both episodes.

But somehow there was a break in the story: the Lusitana got sunk; submarines became too many to tolerate; and ere long a lot of sturdy youths, vigorous enough though not very trim in appearance, wearing cowboy hats and carrying bolo knives, both of which they were made to discard soon after they came to be identified thereby---these American youths, I say, began to appear, and soon in multitudes, and with them a horde of persons who didn't belong to the first chapter, Red Cross and Y.M.C.A. people and Knights of Columbus and Salvation Army folks with coffee and doughnuts; and docks got built and railroads laid down, and it was too much for the enemy and the taut line frayed, finally broke, and then the end.

So here we are, a very few of us, finding our way home on the Canopic, three months after this end came, and we are a fortunate company of 1400, for there are about two hundred times as many as we still to be brought home from France.

In the back of the last volume of these chronicles, one finds pasted a small printed sheet asserting that the diarist had been honorably discharged from the Army. His official Military Record on the verso states: "No record. Sailed from U.S. for foreign service May 11, 1917. Arr. port overseas May 21, 1917. Sailed from port overseas for U.S. Feb. 5, 1919. Arr. Hoboken on Canopic Feb. 20, 1919. Remarks: Discharged per S.O. 1614, S.G.O., Washington, D.C., April 9, 1919."

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