D-Day Preparation Surgical Review Team

Brigadier Elliott Cutler US Army left front row with Admiral’s Bradbury and Wakely (far right front).

The Surgical Division was divided into 2 halves with a senior surgeon in charge who dealt with all difficult decisions there were 8 operating teams, consisting of Surgeon, anaesthetist, and a theatre sister. Sometimes there was a requirement to borrow an anaesthetist from Knowle hospital. VAD clerks took down the surgeon’s notes in theatre. The surgical team worked hard and long hours, the medical officers in an operating team worked in theatres for 8 hours then for a further 8 hours in 2 wards allotted to them, one covering following theatre time the other prior to his time in theatre.

Haslar Surgical Team 1944.

As with all organisation there were at time problems and two events worthy of note involving medical officers. The first case concerned a Flag Officer, important to ‘Operation Overlord’ developed a Quinsy (abscess of the throat) a throat specialist managed to get the senior officer fit in time but then the Admiral insisted in sailing taking the medical officer with him. The second case was somewhat different in that one of the recently appointed medical officers requested special leave to visit the ship he had recently left, which was lying off the Isle of Wight in order to collect personal items. He made it to the ship but was ‘Shanghaied’ and taken to Normandy as the Captain refused to let him land again.

D-Day Final Preparations
The first casualties were expected to arrive about 24 hours after ‘Operation Overlord’ commenced and there was a forecast that, while it would be a protracted action, the worst would be over in 10 days.
Estimates of the casualties to be expected ranged up to a maximum of 60 very serious cases every 2 hours. Such numbers could not be coped with and staff hoped that they would not be reached. Haslar was not informed of ‘D’ Day in advance, but a week, or so before it was anticipated to take place all patients currently in Haslar were evacuated by special ambulance trains to the North of Scotland and thereafter only emergencies were admitted. Many staff of the day state that there was a lull work wise and that there was a strange air of anticipation of the coming event throughout Haslar.
Outside of Haslar preparations were very evident, the concreting of road junctions to be used by tanks, the building of concrete barges at Stokes Bay for use with the artificial Mulberry harbours and the arrival, parking and embarking of thousands of tanks and other military vehicles. The air was filled with the sight of allied aircraft and the waters outside the hospital were filled with shipping of all sorts. Tanks occupied the roads around Haslar

The Invasion Begins
Like the whole of the UK Haslar heard the news of the start of D-Day on the morning of 6th June. As staff awoke and moved to their place of duty, they were very aware of the peace and quiet, the Solent was empty and no shipping to the front of the hospital, nor the Solent, or Spithead.
Staff commenced the planned transfer of medical wards into surgical ones, including the rushed requirement for added washbasins and taps in 2 medical wards. The first casualties arrived early on the 7th June and the pre-planned organisation for the hospital was in full swing.
Seriously wounded arrived in batches at fairly steady intervals. The hospital Fire Party made up a deficiency in stretcher bearers with great enthusiasm and with many volunteers. Surgical Consultants operated throughout the night on the first 4 nights and after 72 hours there was a lull during which any arrears were taken care of.
Following this, casualties arrived mainly at night as the convoys had left France in the morning and with the possibility of mines making for a slow voyage.

Transfer of Patients from the Beaches of Normandy

Tank Landing Craft 238 transported equipment to Normandy and returned with Casualties

Reception of the Wounded – Reception Stations at Haslar.
Early in the war the Arches of two ground floor colonnade areas on opposite sides of the main Quadrangle were bricked in to form two casualty reception stations each reception area was equipped with Oxygen and Suction and up until D-Day one area was kept ready at all times with a skeleton staff. Both stations could be manned within minutes following a loudspeaker announcement.

The ground floor area under ‘D and E’ Block that was bricked in to form a casualty station.

Each station had a capacity for 40 stretchers and 40 sitting cases and were in close proximity to the 2 underground operating theatres. The reception stations were steam heated, with secondary lighting that came on in the event of mains failure. There were sanitary annexes, pantries for hot drinks and equipment storage for dressings etc.

The reception areas were to experience continuous use during the reception of the wounded following D-Day. A Senior QARNNS Sister was in charge and a senior member of the surgical staff took charge when casualties were being received, other staff being both Sick Berth staff and VAD’s (Navy). Patients from the UK, Commonwealth especially Canadian, US Troops and Prisoners of War were all admitted.

Patient records were improved by having an in-house sequentially numbered ‘Bed Ticket’ for each casualty.  These showed at any one time the exact number of patients received and each had pre-printed history and examination headings and body outlines. Totals were recorded on a large bed state board, said to resemble a list of ‘starters and jockeys’ as seen at race courses.  

The first casualties arrived on 7th June and clerks were organised to take all their personal items and valuables, which were placed in a bag with the injured person's name on the outside.  The clerks also entered the names and details of every person who entered and left the hospital.    

Bearers carried stretcher cases off transport and escorts guided walking wounded to their immediate destination. The whole process was speedy and on one day alone some 86 patients were received and assessed in the space of one hour and ten minutes. All was smooth and the injured assured on arriving at a strange destination and many a patient stated how much they appreciated the manner of their reception and also how unexpected it had all been for them.

Resuscitation Ward and the important provision of Blood.
Medical Officers, supported by the Pathology department manned the two resuscitation wards, each on the ground floor and adjacent to a reception station and an operating theatre.
VAD’s and Sick berth Staff had been trained in readiness and the ratio of care was one member of staff to two patients, again oxygen was laid on and also mobile X-ray apparatus in each unit.

Medical Officers also manned the blood bank, which was part of the newly formed Royal Naval Blood Transfusion service. The supply was kept up by the daily bleeding of volunteers from establishments in the Portsmouth command. The resuscitation wards proved to be much needed and of great value.

VAD Collecting Blood for the newly formed RN Blood Transfusion unit

Treatment of Burns

An old operating theatre and an adjacent ward under the charge of two QARNNS sisters were used for the treatment patients with burns.

Facilities for Relatives of Casualties
Announcements by radio and press warned anyone travelling by rail to visit relatives in hospital that they would be subjected to major delays. The Red Cross and Women’s Voluntary Services had arrangements to meet them at stations, provide transport and the ability to find accommodation in private houses.

The Run Down from D-Day

It soon became possible to reduce the number of operating teams and to allow those who lived locally to go home when not on watch – there was still no leave outside of the port area. The wounded continue to arrive having received more close medical attention in France and whilst their condition was severe, they were in a better condition than those that had been admitted earlier.

VADs Pose with Recovering Patients

Many staff reported that the clothing of earlier casualties received was covered in sand from the beaches and that some casualties had lain in the sand for several days before being picked up. Staff also stated that the floor of the casualty area resembled a sandy beach and was cleared during any lull in admission.

One such casualty received was an American soldier who, injured laid for several days on the beach head and it was some 5 days before he arrived at Haslar with major stomach wounds. He was resuscitated, operated on and eventually left Haslar well on the way to recovery.  

At the time of fighting in the ‘Falaise Gap’ - Normandy (August 7th) the scene of a major allied advance and battle, it was now that Haslar received many German prisoners of war who had themselves lain injured for several days and had contracted Gas Gangrene. From reports the Germans were very wary of their treatment as they had been informed by senior German Officers that they would be operated on with no anaesthetic causing one German Prisoner of War to attack a VAD in the operating theatre by grasping her throat and she had in turn to be rescued by her colleagues.

Haslar ceased to be used at the end of August, considerably longer than the 10 days suggested at the beginning and in that period 1347 patients were received. Out of the first 109 patients admitted 19 died and the mortality numbers after that occasion fell in number  as such was the care received. Throughout the 3 months the 2 underground operating theatres were in use all day and one was in use most of the nights.

The patients that Haslar received were truly international and of all services, consisting of British, and Empire Forces, especially Canadians, Americans, Norwegians, Fighting French, Dutch and Poles. Two French female civilians were also admitted one was most enthusiastic but the other was not so favourably disposed towards the Allies, complaining that her farm had been destroyed and her husband killed. Many prisoners of war were received with many claiming to be Russians, Poles, or Austrians and were treated well, just as other soldiers were.
The majority of German POW’s were either over 30, or under 20 years of age, some 16, 17 years of age. Many of the Officer POW’s spoke excellent English having been educated pre-war in Oxford, or Cambridge.

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