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The Great War
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Too Few Doctors at the Front
John Keegan
"A regiment of 900 soldiers would have 32 stretcher-bearers, which meant 16 stretchers, two men to each stretcher.

"You can see that if you have three or four hundred wounded lying out in front of the regimental position – out in no-man's-land – and the Germans did in effect, once the attack stopped, let the British collect their own wounded.

"There was no official truce even if they were afflicted by the sight of the holocaust – and you can see that 16 stretchers aren't going to save many lives. So the great difficulty was to get the wounded to the point of first aid, to the regimental aid post, and then to the casualty clearing station where the doctors would begin to treat them.

"The doctors were overwhelmed too.

"There are these terrible descriptions of these tented casualty clearing stations completely surrounded by men lying on stretchers, or simply lying on the ground, waiting their turn. And their turn not coming that day, or perhaps not even the next day. The doctors did their best.

"... triage wouldn't work in conditions like the Somme.

"There was a system called triage, or 'choosing' (a French word). But triage typically divides people into three classes: the hopeless, the seriously wounded, and those who will probably recover without much treatment. It focuses attention on the middle group. There were simply too many casualties and too few doctors – too few anybody."

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