If a soldier was wounded he would try to apply his Field Dressing, which he carried in his tunic pocket together with an ampule of Iodine. He would then try to make his own way back to his own lines, often under the cover of darkness. If he was badly wounded he would have to wait for the Regimental Stretcher Bearers to take him to the British trenches. He would first be taken to the Regimental Aid Post where he would be assessed by the Regimental Medical Officer who would tend to his wounds.
The next part of his journey was by relays of Royal Army Medical Corps Stretcher Bearers to the Advance Dressing Station, which was located either above or below ground, depending on the degree of shelling. Here he would be re-assessed as more facilities were available. He would receive an Anti Tetanus Serum and would be given hot food and drink to maintain his strength for the onward journey to the Casualty Clearning Station, and ultimately the Base Hospital.
This process may seem cumbersome but worked well in practice, and saved thousands of lives. A soldier could be back in hospital in England within 24 hours.
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MEDICAL CHAIN OF EVACUATION
A man's chances of survival depended on how quickly his wound was treated. The First World War produced vast numbers of casualties all requiring immediate treatment at the same time. This necessitated an efficient system that could immediately address a patient's critical injuries close to the Front and then evacuate him to a medical unit further behind the line, in a safer zone.
All medical field units needed to be able to move at a moments notice. This was essential to ensure the fighting units had medical support during an advance or retreat. The procedure for a significant advance was for each medical unit to move forward to one already up and running in front of them. Therefore, the Regimental Aid Post would move forward in line with the fighting soldiers. An Advanced Dressing Station would then move forward to a Regimental Aid Post. The Main Dressing Station would move forward to an Advanced Dressing Station. A Casualty Clearing Station would move forward to a Main Dressing Station, and a Stationary Hospital would move to fill the gap between the Casualty Clearing Stations and the General Hospitals near the ports. In a retreat the procedure would be same but in the opposite direction. This was achieved by a small 'light section' of each unit moving forward immediately. They would provide care for the serious cases still housed in the unit ahead who were unable to be moved. The rest of the unit would then evacuate less serious cases, then would close, pack up and move.
Sometimes the nature or physical features of the area (due to unsuitable topography for motor transport, bad weather, or deteriorated land due to heavy shelling) prevented medical units from getting optimally close. In these situations Relay and/or Collecting Posts were set up where patients could be collected and transported by horse drawn ambulances. (These will be explained further in the Field Ambulance and Casualty Clearing Station sections).
It was imperative that the medical evacuation chain did not hinder the fighting troops going into action or prevent them from getting to their ammunition, and vise-versa. Also the Medical Services were reliant on other branches of the army to supply materials to build Dressing Stations, construct roads, railway sidings, and/or provide telephonic communications.
Before the start of any major offensive the Directors and Assistant Directors of Medical Services (DMS and ADMS) who were appointed to oversee in the offensive held a conference to discuss all the above factors before setting up the evacuation chain for that sector.
Read more in the next section: Regimental Aid Post