Transporting casualties from the front line during the First World War was a long and difficult process.
If the casualty could stand, he would be sent to an Aid Post; stretcher bearers were called for those who could not walk. Each Aid Post was manned by a medical officer who would administer first aid. If the wound could be dealt with by the medical officer alone, the soldier would return to his unit almost immediately.
If the wound was more severe, the casualty would be taken along to a Dressing Station run by the Field Ambulance, which was generally staffed by the Royal Army Medical Corps (“RAMC”). The RAMC manned both Main and Advanced Dressing Stations close to the front line. Dressing Stations were mostly used for primary care, bandaging and improved first aid. For wounds too severe to be successfully treated at a Dressing Station, the soldiers would be moved further behind the lines, for treatment away from the threat of enemy fire.
These soldiers were moved by any means necessary – horse and cart, motor vehicle or rail, with little attention paid to the comfort of the men. The next treatment centre was a Casualty Clearing Station, a near-front medical station which could provide far better care than those under the stress of enemy fire.
Casualty Clearing Stations were large, well equipped tent cities which provided treatment to those who could not be treated at the front and those whose injuries were too severe for further transportation when they came in. Often housing up to 1000 people, and with up to 300 more casualties coming in per rotation, Casualty Clearing Stations were huge centres which provided care for the seriously injured. Some would provide transport to base hospitals for those who required more care, and for those whose injuries were serious enough for them to be sent home – wounds which became known as “a Blighty”. Soldiers who were returning home would be taken from the Casualty Clearing Station to a port. Soldiers requiring treatment en route would be taken by ambulance train with specially fitted carriages, or by barge along the canals, to a Base Hospital.
For seriously injured soldiers, the prospects of survival were greatly improved on arrival at a Base Hospital, where surgery and more complex care were available. More than half of those admitted to a Base Hospital made it back to Britain for further treatment or convalescence.
Because of the large numbers of casualties returning from the front line, a large number of civilian hospitals in the UK had to be turned over to the Army for use as military hospitals. Pre-existing asylums were also taken over by the military to assist with the treatment and diagnoses of those with mental health difficulties. And thousands of private hospitals and homes were turned into auxiliary hospitals to offer convalescent care in support of the war effort.
For further information on the subject of casualties and medicine during the war, you might find these websites useful:
BBC’s World War One In Numbers
Containing Trauma: Nursing in the First World War (Book Link)
Red Cross: Nursing In the First World War (PDF booklet)