History
28. 12. 2018
Rajko Radojević

Canadian Medical Missions in Serbia and the Balkan Front During WWI 1)

Before I start talking about the Canadian Medical Missions in Serbia
and the Balkan Front during WWI must say a few words about the war
itself to place everything in a historical context.
When Austria-Hungary declared war on the Kingdom of Serbia
on July 28 th 1914, Serbia found herself inadequately prepared to fight
her third war in two consecutive years. The two Balkan Wars (1912
and 1913) had sorely taxed her human and material resources. For
the war with Austria-Hungary the Serbian army lacked much of the
modern weaponry and equipment necessary to engage in combat.
Furthermore, the medical supplies, spent during the two preceding
wars, could not to be replenished quickly enough due to the lack of
time and funds. When the mobilization was completed on August 9 th
1914, Serbia’s army numbered approximately 250,000 equipped with
various pieces of weaponry. Austria-Hungary, on the other hand, had
the standing peacetime army of some 36,000 officers and non-com-
missioned officers and 414,000 soldiers. During the mobilization that
number was raised to a total of 3,350,000.
The Austro-Hungarian armies, invade Serbia on August 12 th .
However, after a fierce four-day battle, the Serbian army beat the Aus-
tro-Hungarians back across the border, recording the Battle of Cer as
the first Allied victory of the war. Contemplating the events of those
first days of the war Winston Churchill will write years later: „The War
was decided in the first twenty days of fighting, and all that happened
afterwards consisted in battles which, however formidable and devas-
tating, were but desperate and vain appeals against the decision of Fate“.
Austria-Hungary will invade Serbia twice more that first year of
the war and will be repelled on both occasions, the last time at the
Battle of Kolubara − a remarkable example of a force much smaller
in size and with inferior technical equipment, defeating an aggressor
much more potent than itself. The Serbian Army recaptured Belgrade
on December 15 th , ending the first phase of the war with no changes in
the border. For the Allies, this astounding victory earned Serbia the
sobriquet of a „valiant“ and „gallant“ ally for the remainder of the war.
However, Serbia was not allowed to rejoice in its successes. The
60,000 plus prisoners of war her army had captured were infected with
typhus. As they had to be transported all over the country for billet-
ing, they spread the disease. Consequently, a very serious epidemic of
typhus broke out in the fall of 1914, unknown in Europe since the Black
Plague, wasting half of Serbia’s medical staff and taking with it sever-
al hundred thousand of the population. Serbia’s government sent out
to the world an urgent appeal seeking the services of medical practi-
tioners and supplies to fight the scourge. Medical missions and volun-
teers from Great Britain, the United States, France, Canada, Australia,
Russia, Greece and Italy responded in large numbers. By late spring
1915 typhus was defeated and by August, the International Sanitary
Commission, formed in early spring 1915 for the suppression of typhus
epidemic, was in a position to announce that no single case of typhus
was being reported anymore.
Then, in October 1915, Austro-Hungarians, ably aided by the power-
ful German army struck from the north, while Bulgaria, their newly-
found ally, invaded from the east. The Serbs put up a valiant defense
but the sheer exhaustion, with supplies spent, and with the long-prom-
ised help from the Allies nowhere in sight, the Serbian Government
made a fateful decision in December 1915, seldom if ever attempted in
history: rather than capitulate, retreat to the Adriatic coast, the only
route left open to them, counting on the Allies to help evacuate them
to safety. Consequently, the Royal Court, the Government, the Army,
diplomatic corps, members of foreign medical units, and thousands of
civilians, including women and children who chose to flee rather than
face the conqueror, trekked across the ice covered and snow-clad crags
and crevices of the Albanian and Montenegrin mountains, whipped
by bone-chilling winds, rain, blizzard and snow, constantly exposed
to the viciousness of the Albanian marauders, with almost no food
or the basic necessities of life. Thousands, perhaps more than half of
those who started the exodus, perished along the way. Serbian histor-
ians refer to this super human endurance as „the Albanian Golgotha”.
Those who survived were evacuated to the Island of Corfu, where, after
recovery, recuperation and rearming were transported to the Salonika
Front in 1916 to resume their fight for liberation of the fatherland.
When Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4 th 1914
– Canada, being one of the British overseas dominions was at war her-
self. Canada’s main contributions to the Allied victory were record-
ed at the Western Front where over 65,000 Canadians lost their lives,
fighting valiantly in such battles as the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, the
Second Battle of Ypres, the Battle of the Somme and Vimy Ridge. Can-
ada’s contribution to the Salonika Front, however, was almost exclu-
sively in the form of financial aid, medical missions and individual
medical volunteers.
In 1915 Lieutenant General Sir Alfred Keogh, British Director-Gen-
eral, Army Medical Service, approached Major General Guy Carleton
Jones, his Canadian counterpart, with a request to send Canadian
General Hospitals to northern Greece and Macedonia to tend to the
needs of the Eastern Army, which had found a safe haven in that area
after the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign. Jones consented to Keogh’s re-
quest, even though Canada had no troops of its own attached to the
Eastern Army. No.4 Canadian General Hospital and No.5 Canadian
General Hospital were dispatched in November and December 1915 re-
spectively; No.1 Canadian Stationary Hospital joined them in March
1916. These hospitals were fully equipped and self-sufficient, with 1040
beds each, and staffed by a full complement of doctors, nurses, techni-
cians, orderlies and cooks.
No. 1 Canadian Stationary Hospital was formed at Valcourt,
Québec with Lieut. Colonel S.H. McKee as the Commanding Officer
and E.M. Charleson as Matron. It was composed of 104 nurses, gradu-
ates of McGill, Laval and Queen’s universities. In fact, most of its staff
came primarily from Québec and Eastern Canada. „Stationary“, how-
ever, is a misnomer. The primary function of these battlefront hospi-
tals was to offer first aid to the wounded, which meant their staff was
constantly on the run, attending to the casualties at the battle line and
puling them out to safety, thereby constantly jeopardizing their own
safety and wellbeing. The unit served at Salonika from March 3 rd 1916
to September 4 th 1917.
No. 4 Canadian General Hospital was University of Toronto’s con-
tribution to the Allied cause. It was organized, staffed and equipped
entirely by the U. of T. students and alumni. With Colonel J. A. Rob-
erts in command and Nursing Sister A. J. Hartley as Matron it arrived
at Salonika on November 9 th 1915. A hospital with a capacity of 1,040
beds was erected under tents on the road to Bitolj, four miles outside of
the city. On May 19 th 1916, the hospital was transferred to the east side
of the city to the Kalamaria site. At this location huts were provided.
With an initial bed capacity of 1,040, it was increased to 1,540 in July
1916, and to 2,000 in June 1917. It was one of the best equipped hospitals
at the Salonika Front. It even had its own dental unit, a rare luxury
when it came to military hospitals. In 1917, Dr. George Gow of that
unit performed some emergency dental intervention on King Peter I
of Serbia, for which the grateful King presented him and his assistants
with State decorations. The unit operated until August 17 th 1917 when it
returned to Basingstoke, England.
No. 5 Canadian General Hospital was formed in Victoria, British
Columbia, as that province’s contribution to the war effort. The unit
was comprised of 30 doctors and 72 nurses, plus the stretcher-bearers,
orderlies, cooks and other support staff. E. C. Hart was the Command-
ing Officer and Nursing Sister F. Wilson, the Matron. They served at
Salonika from December 14 th 1915 to August 16 th 1917.
Since there were no Canadian troops stationed at the Salonika
Front, these three hospitals cared for thousands of British, French,
Russian, Italian and Serbian troops. Then, in 1917, the issue why the
Canadian hospitals were not servicing Canadian troops was raised in
the House of Commons and by September of that year all three hospi-
tals were dismantled and relocated closer to the Western Front where
the Canadian soldiers needed their care and nurturing.
Many other Canadian medical volunteers travelled to Serbia on
their own to respond to Serbia’s time of distress. In the fall of 1914 and

Рубрике

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Претплатите се и дарујте независни часописи Људи говоре, да бисмо трајали заједно

даље

Људи говоре је српски загранични часопис за књижевност и културу који излази у Торонту од 2008.године. Поред књижевности и уметности, бави се свим областима које чине културу српског народа.

У часопису је петнаестак рубрика и свака почиње са по једном репродукцијом слика уметника о коме се пише у том броју. Излази 4 пута годишње на 150 страна, а некада и као двоброј на 300 страна.

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Уредништво

Мило Ломпар
главни и одговорни уредник
(Београд, Србија)

Владимир Димитријевић
оперативни уредник за матичне земље
(Чачак, Србија)

Радомир Батуран
оперативни уредник за дијаспору
(Торонто, Канада)

Александар Петровић
уредник за културу
(Београд, Србија)

Жељко Продановић
уредник за поезију
(Окланд, Нови Зеланд)

 

Небојша Радић
уредник за језик и писмо
(Кембриџ, Енглеска)

Жељко Родић
уредник за уметност
(Оквил, Канада)

Никол Марковић
уредник енглеске секције и секретар Уредништва
(Торонто, Канада)

Џонатан Лок Харт
уредник енглеске секције
(Торонто, Канада)

Лектори

Душица Ивановић
Торонто

Сања Крстоношић
Торонто

Александра Крстовић
Торонто

Графички дизајн

Антоније Батуран
Лондон

Технички уредник

Радмило Вишњевац
Торонто

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