This print by the Ilustrated Londom News shows British wounded early in the war. Nearly 90,000 of the BEF had been wounded or killed from August to December 1914. This kind of industrial war would demand an industrial approach to treating casualties.
Canada had already sent out a medical unit - see appendix - but it was not going to be enough. In Montreal a few key men were working on how to organize the best known of the new units, No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill). This was to be the unit that John McCrae (A McGill man) was to spend the war.
Henry Birkett had retired from the CAMC in 1910. He rejoined the Medical Corps in 1914 as a Lieut Colonel and was in charge of the Montreal area. He canvassed his colleagues and friends in Montreal and learned that there was support to organize an expeditionary hospital to support the CEF in France. In December 1914, he got the green light from Principal Peterson. Uncle Montagu was on the board and his support was also key. The plan was sent to General Hughes, Minister of Militia and Defence the architect of the CEF, who passed it onto Sir Alfred Keogh, the DG of the British Army Medical Services. The plan was approved on December 15, 1914. (Source)
Birkett would command. Uncle Montagu's best friend, Lt Col Henry Brydges Yates would be 2nd in command. (Yates' son C Montagu Yates was Uncle Montagu's godson.) Lt Col John McCrae would be in charge of medicine. Both McCrae and Yates would die of pneumonia in this service. Mrs Alice Mary 'Bunting" Yates was the Regent of the IODE of Montreal and would later be involved with Aunt Marguerite in establishing the IODE hospital in London.
The staff were drawn from the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Montreal General and from McGill that had one of the finest medical schols in the world at that time.
The Royal Vic - to be closed in 2015 - was then the pre-eminent hospital in Canada and is adjacent to the McGill campus.
Uncle Montagu was Chairman of the board in 1914.
Uncle Montagu's house Ravenscrag is next door on the left hand side of the picture of the Royal Vic. It is now the Pyschiatric wing of the Vic. McGill would be just south of the hospital where the photographer would be standing.
The Montreal General hospital, that will also close in 2015, was then much smaller, 72 beds, and in a different location to the one today - Dorchester and St Dominique streets. Alec's father was on the board in 1914.
The orginal plan was to have a unit of 520 beds - much larger than the General. In January of 1915, Birkett was told that the unit would be doubled in size making this the largest Canadian hospital ever. His team rose to the challenge and recruited 35 officers, 73 nurses and 205 other ranks.
Meanwhile, Aunt Martha Allan, aged 20 the daughter of Uncle Montagu and Aunt Marguerite, was trying find her way to join this unit. It appears that she had a good try at joining the #3 for in the diary of Clare Gass - who was a senior nurse and who recorded the entire experience there is a note of sensation about Martha's appearance before sailing and allusions of a scandal.
But she was both too young and she was untrained. In spite of all his pull, only fully trained nurses would sail.
Foiled, Martha joined the VAD and hatched a plan with another old friend of the family, Dr John Lancelot Todd to get over to Europe. Her plan was to buy her own ambulance and get in the war that way. We will see that her plans changed after the sinking of the Lusitania.
Dr Todd was also to join Number 3. Later, he would go to London and work with Uncle Montagu Allan to set up the first ever Canadian war pensions scheme, the early version of Veterans Affairs.
Todd was also a friend of John McCrae and had given him Bonfire, his horse. Montreal was a very small world!
Aunt Marguerite was also planning to go back to England and work to help the men. She was initially going to work with her friend Julia, Lady Drummond, in the Red Cross. Later in the war she managed a convalescent hospital for Canadian Officers in Sidmouth, Moore Court. This was a Red Cross operation under the aegis of Julia, Lady Drummond and was started by Mrs Yates and was then run by Aunt Marguerite. Emily Yates and Martha Allan helped their mothers there. Both Alec and his brother Hartland would end the war there as patients before Alec was shipped home on the Aquitania. So the war ended with the survivors in the family holding on to each other.
It would take until the end of April to get everything ready. The Hospital would leave on May 6 from Montreal on a troopship. The Metagama. You can see some of the nurses on the rail top right in this picture taken as they set sail. (Picture Source)
April and May 1915 were to be the months when everything changed for my family.
Next - The war so far for Britain - Setting the stage for the Canadians to enter the war proper. Then - More on the horses that went with them. Then - Gas an attempt to break the defence. In February, the First Contingent land in France and we shift gears as they get ready for their baptism in April.
Appendices below the fold
Appendix 1 - The Medical Units of the First Contingent
The following made up the first medical contingent which sailed from Canada on October 3, 1914:
No. 1 Field Ambulance (aboard the Megantic)
No. 2 Field Ambulance (aboard the Laurentic)
No. 3 Field Ambulance (aboard the Tunisian)
No. 1 Casualty Clearing Station (aboard the Megantic)
No. 1 General Hospital (aboard the Scandinavian)
No. 2 General Hospital (aboard the Franconia)
No. 1 Stationary Hospital (aboard the Athenia)
No. 2 Stationary Hospital (aboard the Scotian)
No. 1 Sanitary Section
Appendix II - Clare Gass
Clare was a very good friend of McCrae and he showed her in Flanders Fields long before it was published. She copied it in long hand into her diary)
Appendix III - Martha Allan - Scandal as she tries to join the hospital Source