Haslar Heritage Group

Haslar's D-Day

Royal Naval Hospital Haslar and Operation OVERLORD D-Day 6th June 1944.
Researched and collated by Eric C Birbeck MVO - Haslar Heritage Group.
75th Anniversary of D-Day
Haslar’s D-Day from 6th June until August 1944.

During the D-Day Campaign Haslar, the old hospital served this country and the wounded of ‘Operation Overlord’ D-Day as it had not had the privilege to serve since the Napoleonic wars….quote from British Medical Journal 1944.

This article is collated from Royal Naval Medical Journal reports and personnel serving at Haslar at the time. My thanks go to the QARNNS Archive and personal stories,  Also Jane Wickenden Histo-librarian of the institute of Naval Medicine in providing the journal articles.

Portsmouth and Gosport were prime targets for enemy bombers and lay only a few minutes flying time of enemy-occupied France. There were many bombing raids, with Haslar affected by incendiaries up to the weeks before D-Day and the days following the invasion V1 rockets frequently skimmed the top of buildings, up to 20 a day, until launching sites on the Cherbourg peninsula were finally overrun.

Haslar has a warren of cellars under the original building and provided for excellent Air-raid shelters for patients fit to be moved, others were accommodated on the ground floors of the buildings, protected by blast walls of sandbags. The cellars also accommodated two modern 3 operating table theatres that were air conditioned and fitted with gas filtration plants.

Haslar WWII The ground floor protected by a sandbag blast wall, with shelters for staff but also protected wards on the ground floor

The theatre layout was designed and implemented by Surgeon Rear Admiral Sir Cecil Wakeley. During the early war years Haslar treated 5000 patients a year and rising to some 16,000 during the last years up to1945 necessitating for routine evacuations to other hospitals each week. Each patient was categorized on admission and daily thereafter by the medical officer in charge of the ward and a daily ‘state’ kept showing the number of cases fit for transfer to the cellars and elsewhere and those unfit to leave in any circumstances.

Casualty Evacuation Plan for ‘Operation Overlord’.

At the outset of 1944 Haslar’s role was to be limited but Haslar was soon incorporated into the nation-wide Army scheme for the treatment and disposal of all casualties within the UK with all arrangements being coded as ‘Top Secret’.

In the main the Army medical services were to provide medical care in France, sending casualties back to the UK by any kind of available ship, but chiefly in medically equipped Tank Landing Ships.

Each ship could accommodate 320 casualties, with 3 medical officers, with one being an anaesthetist. The Royal Navy provided and trained medical staff for the returning ships to Portsmouth, Gosport and Southampton. Once French ports became usable hospital carriers and ships were used.

Outline of Organisation for the Treatment of Casualties.

Haslar was designated as the port hospital for Gosport. Port hospitals were meant to receive only those cases so seriously wounded that they could not be transferred further inland. Therefore the bed complement for Haslar was cut from 1,100 beds to just 400, which were reserved for this purpose. At the same time 400 was the numbered along with staff that could be sheltered in the hospital air raid shelters both in the grounds and in the cellars of the main hospital building. Patients then had to be transferred further inland once considered fit to travel and were transferred on ambulance trains from Gosport Station, which had been partially blitzed in previous air-raids. The trains left mainly at night.
Haslar Medical Officers – Organisation.  

The medical organisation of Haslar allowed for 38 medical officers, 14 more than normal and at the point of D-Day there was 35 and then 5 including 3 anaesthetists were sent to Landing Craft. An urgent case was made regarding the shortage and numbers were barely made up in time. Prior to D-Day a series of planning meetings were held at Haslar involving the RAMC and Senior RN Medical staff headed by Brigadier Elliott Cutler US Army senior surgeon. Cutler was awarded the OBE by King George VI for his services to the UK forces.

Surgeon Rear Admiral Sir Cecil Pembrey Grey Wakeley, 1st Baronet, KBE RN who designed and laid out the Haslar underground cellar operating theatres. In World War I he was a Surgeon-Lieutenant aboard the hospital ship HMS Garth Castle at Scapa Flow.

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