The Roses of No Man's Land
WENCHES IN TRENCHES
REGIMENTAL AID POSTS (RAP)
During the war every fighting unit (infantry battalion, artillery brigade or cavalry regiment) had it's own doctor [or Regimental Medical Officer - RMO]. He was Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) but came under the commanding officer of the fighting unit he was attached to. The doctor's role was not only to attend to medical matters but also matters of sanitation and hygiene, which meant water supply, the preparation of food, and the supervision of sanitary areas all came under his control. The doctor's daily routine usually began with him doing an inspection of the sick. He then inspected the camp or billets, and the cook houses. The rest of the day would be taken up with the training and supervision of water cart orderlies and stretcher-bearers. To assist him in his duties he would have had an RAMC Sergeant or Corporal attached to him and perhaps 1 or 2 RAMC Privates. When away from the Front Line, the doctor's post was known as the Camp Reception Station [CRS] or Medical Inspection Room [MI Room] and contained 2 - 6 beds for short term holding for those needing rest but was not sick enough to be evacuated back.
When in the trenches the doctor's post was the Regimental Aid Post. This was usually a wounded soldiers first port of call. Here he would be patched up and either returned to duties in the line or passed back to a Field Ambulance. Along with the RMO there were orderlies and men trained as stretcher bearers who would provide this support. These Regimental Stretcher Bearers came from the fighting unit the RMO was attached to, usually the regimental bandsmen. When under pressure, the RMO could be further assisted with bearer teams from a Field Ambulance. All involved were well within the zone where they could be under fire.
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FIRST FIELD DRESSING
Every soldier had a special pocket in his uniform for his issued 'First Field Dressing.' It contained antiseptic pads and two bandages (one for entry wound, one for exit) in a waterproof cover. This dressing was applied by a regimental stretcher-bearer, a comrade, or by the wounded soldier himself, if he was able, in the firing line. If the wounded man was unable to walk, he was carried back via hand or wheeled stretcher to the RAP. The regiment stretcher-bearers had then fulfilled their duty, and it became the RMO's responsibility for receiving the wounded man, and treating him by checking the dressing, overseeing the splinting of fractures, and ensure everything was being done to stop the patient going into shock. If morphine was given or a tourniquet applied, the soldier's forehead was marked with a "M" or "T". If required he would undertake an emergency amputation but large operative treatments were discouraged so close to the fighting and danger.
The RMO also completed a Field Medical Card for each patient and fixed it firmly to the patient, generally attaching it to a button by its attached string. This card included the soldier's name, rank, and unit, a diagnosis, and any special treatments (like operations) performed. As the patient moved down the evacuation chain, the Field Medical Card remained with him so that information could be added to it and his full treatment could be known. The patient was then taken to a designated collecting area to be picked up by stretcher-bearers of the Field Ambulance.
According to Dr John S G Blair "The basic MO's drug box in 1914 included phenacetin for headaches, Adrenaline in injectable form, 0.0003gm, one dose to be used as a stimulant.... Dover's powders for colds, Bismuth salicylate for the stomach, cough medicine, a light aperient calomel, and a strong one, unspecified; quinine sulphate, 2gr (60mg) as a tonic, lead and opium tablets to be made into a lotion as an application for sprains or as an anti-diarrhoeal and, for the doctor to hold safely, morphine sulphate gr 1/4 or grl 1/2 (15 or 30mg). Morphine was to be given "under the tongue or by injection." There were also methylated spirits, iodine, boric lotion and carbolic acid 1 part in 60 as antiseptics for wounds, Lastly there was sal volatile, to be given for 'fainting, a few drops in water'."
[Dr John S G Blair 'Centenary History of The Royal Army Medical Corps].
Equipment at the RAP was supplied by the Field Ambulances and normally consisted of a primus stove and a beatrice stove, along with an acetylene lamp, anti-tetanus serum, assorted bandages, blankets, Boric ointment, cotton wool, first field dressings, plain gauze, shell dressings, Sulphur ointment and a vermoral sprayer. There was also reserve boxes of all of the above, and a hamper containing medical comforts such as brandy, cocoa, bovril, oxo, biscuits etc.
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National Library of Scotland
The site of the RAP came under the concern of the officer commanding the fighting unit. It was ideally situated a few metres behind the front line, but near the regiment's headquarters so the RMO could be provided with early information about the tactical situation. It was also to be located central so it could be easily accessed from any part of the front line in which the regiment is engaged by the wounded. Also in a place that was sheltered to protect all from enemy fire, and easily accessible to the Field Ambulances who were next in the line of evacuation.
RAP's were usually situated in a dugout, in a communication trench, a ruined house, or a deep shell hole. In areas where constant fighting had occurred over a long period of time, such as Ypres, there was very little cover left so a RAP might have been set up behind a burnt out tank. RAP's had no holding capacity for the wounded. If the engagement was successful then the RMO moved forward and searched out another area which would come into the above criteria. A yellow flag was put up so that the wounded could find it and runners might be expected to run back to advise the ADMS and the Field Ambulances of the new location.
Read more in the next section: Field Ambulance