Formation of the Base Hospitals


Final Inspection of Harvard Unit at Fort Totten, N.Y., May 11, 1917

Gift of the Estate of Walter B. Cannon to the Library of Harvard Medical School, 1945

Although there were plans to create a demonstration hospital on Boston Common in May 1917, America's entry into the war meant that the hospital units were transferred from the Red Cross to the U.S. Army and had to mobilize immediately for departure.  The unit formed from the Brigham under the direction of Harvey Cushing left Boston for New York on May 8 and then boarded the Saxonia on May 11, headed for Europe.  This unit would form Base Hospital No. 5, at Camiers, then later Boulogne.  The Massachusetts General Hospital unit, under Frederic A. Washburn, became Base Hospital No. 6 at Talence, and a Boston City unit under John Joseph Dowling became Base Hospital No. 7 at Joué-les-Tours.

Due to a shortage of British medical personnel, six of the American base hospitals--including No. 5--were loaned to the British Expeditionary Force for a one-year period, slated to end in June 1918. This agreement continued at the urging of the London War Office, however, and Base Hospital No. 5 remained with the B.E.F. throughout the war.

Harvey Cushing asserted that the six hospitals

attached to the B.E.F. during their period of service received as a matter of fact more wounded than all the seventy-eight Base Hospitals in the A.E.F. put together…. Thus the opportunity was given, as could have been possible in no other way, to learn to appreciate and understand our British and French allies…. Thus better than our friends in the A.E.F. we weathered British diffidence and came to know and respect British character, unselfishness and spirit of sacrifice; and so likewise certain French traits, which at first distressed us, we could ignore when we came to appreciate their fineness of nature and the dignity with which they bore their extraordinary hardships, aggravated in almost all families by cruel personal griefs.