The D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944 would see 160,000 men land on the beaches of Normandy, and planners knew that casualties would be catastrophic. Waiting in the English Channel were transports carrying 30,000 stretchers, 96,000 blankets, tons of bandages, and massive supplies of blood. The plan was to ferry those who could be transported back to England for medical care. But it would not be the 160,000 alone who would potentially require care; in the three weeks following the invasion, a total of one million Allied troops would be in France, and many would become casualties.
And so there were the medical personnel, most of whom never saw combat, but who fought the war in their own way. Ahead of D-Day, they planned and built 150 hospitals, capable of caring for 50,000 wounded men. Oh, and these hospitals could be moved on short notice to follow the troops into France!
One such hospital was the 186th General Hospital, located on a 91-acre deer park in southern England and comprised of 158 prefab buildings included surgeries, dental reconstruction, eye clinics, and rehabilitation units. It was staffed by 500 doctors and nurses who worked 14-hour shifts to see that patients were in a bed within 30 minutes of arrival at the local train station. And how did they get to the station? On 39 hospital trains each ferrying 256 patients from the coast and fully staffed with trauma surgeons and emergency personnel.
And this was just one hospital, one staff of 500 out of tens of thousands. By the war’s end, 422,000 beds had been provided in 324 Allied mobile hospitals, many for men with catastrophic injuries that would haunt caregivers for a lifetime. One young surgeon of the 186th described the experience as “living hell” – limbs severed, jaws shot away, eye sockets empty, the strong young bodies of days before, now decimated. How did they do it, we might wonder, day after day for almost a full year? Our heroic young surgeon explained it simply, “We were just trying to do our part, that’s all.”
Here’s to the nameless heroes we will never know… Thank you for your amazing contribution!
Above: Doctors of the 186th General Hospital
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The Little Book of Heroes: 1939-1945 is now available on Amazon.
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