1st Field Ambulance (NSW) 1st Brigade, 1st Division, AIF

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About This Unit

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The 1st Field Ambulance was the Field Ambulance Company that belonged to the First  Brigade of the Third Division, comprised of 1st, 2nd 3rd and 4th Battlaions, all of which were drawn largely from NSW.  

The 1st Brigade landed at Gallipoli on the 25th April 1915 and the Field Ambulance was established near the beach.  The First Brigade then proceeded to Egypt and France after the evacuation.  The Field Ambulance followed its parent Brigade.

The Field Ambulance Company was responsible for 'Second Line' casualty evacuation from 'First Line' Regimental Aid Posts (RAP) in each battalion.  

The RAP belonged to the Battalion (or other units) and was manned by the Regimental Medial Officer (RMO), a qualified doctor generally of Captain rank supported by several non-commissioned officers (NCO) of Sergeant and Corporal rank, with a number of medical orderlies at the rank of Private.  

They in turn were supported by unit stretcher bearers, generally drawn from the Battalion's Band.  These men would be trained to administer First Aid sufficient to clear airways, staunch bleeding and perhaps splint fractures so that casualties could be evacuated to the Battalion RAP.   Casualties would be hand carried - requiring at least four men but more like eight over any distance for each casualty.  Hand carts were also used but rough ground generally meant stretchers,  When mass casualties occurred, such as through major shelling or an enemy attack,  decisions would have to be made about the priority of evacuation.   The RMO would assess the casualty and decide whether they were to be evacuated and with what priority.  Grievous wounds with little chance of survival would generally not be evacuated.

When an attack or advance was undertaken, the RAP would follow up the units' forward elements and were thus exposed to enemy direct fire (rifles and machine guns) and indirect fire (artillery mortar fire and even gas).

The Field Ambulance would have personnel deployed forward to retrieve casualties from the RAP to the Field Ambulance Advanced Dressing Station and then to a Casualty Clearing Station (CCS).

They would have to deploy forward to reach the RAP, and thus come under the same risks as the front line combat troops.

They may have had a number of means to assist in casualty evacuation from light rail, horse drawn vehicles and even motor vehicles.  Or they could indeed also be stretcher borne.

Once at the CCS, additional Medical Officers and supporting personnel were available to carry out life saving surgery.  Some casualties might be retained in a limited number of beds - generally to allow more seriously wounded to be evacuated further to rear.  The tragic fact was many men would have died here from serious wounds and indeed many of the cemeteries scattered through Northern France and Belgium originally began alongside a CCS.

From a CCS casualties might be taken to a Field Hospital or straight to a General Hospital. 

On Gallipoli, the Field Ambulances were 'on the beach'.  Subsequent evacuation was by ship to Lemnos Island, then to Malta and ultimately to the United Kingdom where soldiers might be hospitalised for many months.  Then they would undergo rehabilitation, either in the UK or in serious cases they might be repatriated back to Australia.  Many of the wounded succumbed to their wounds in transit.  They would be buried at sea in the traditional naval fashion. 

Soldiers with serious wounds who needed surgery have what is called "The Golden Hour" to receive the treatment they need.  After that time their chance of survival diminishes rapidly.  Conditions were such that evacuation times were extended considerably by poor weather, the predominance of water, mud, the detritus of battle, shell torn ground and enemy action.  At the time infection was also a great risk as it was prior to the discovery of penicillin and other antibiotics.

 

(C) Steve Larkins July 2014

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