David Cheever and the Second Harvard Unit


"Operating Theatre," circa 1918
From the Photograph Album of Helen F. Kimmens

Gift of Mrs. Frederick J. Caldwell to the Archives of Harvard Medical School, 1970

The members of the Harvard Surgical Unit were originally slated for service in periods of three or six months.  A second contingent of 30 men and 36 nurses sailed on the Noordam in November.  This contingent was under David Cheever (1876-1955) as Chief Surgeon.  It arrived in France on December 2 just before No. 22 General Hospital moved to winter quarters at Wimereux.  On December 15, the unit received its first wounded from the front lines and would then see some 1400 patients over the course of the next three months.  

In April 1916, David Cheever reported on that first winter of the Unit's service to the Harvard Alumni Bulletin:

As would naturally be expected in the winter season, probably one-half the cases were sick rather than wounded…. The wounds were almost entirely due to high explosive shell fire, machine-gun and rifle fire, and bombs, the proportion of injuries by shrapnel being comparatively low, owing to the fact that there is a great preponderance in the use of high explosive shells over shrapnel. There were practically no bayonet or other wounds sustained in personal encounters, owing to the fact, as stated above, that no great action took place…. The medical officers gained much experience in the best and most expeditious and practical methods of handling the wounds common to modern types of warfare, and especially the complications caused by severe infections and by extensive injuries to bone.

The Harvard Surgical Unit
David Cheever and the Second Harvard Unit