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Field Surgical Unit

Heroes Remember

I went overseas with the 16th Field Ambulance as part of the 4th Armoured Division. And in England we were broken up. The officers [inaudible] officers was broken up. And I was, had a very fortunate break in that a friend of mine had been given the command of what was called a "field surgical unit." Now a field surgical unit was quite new in both British and Canadian Army but the British had started using them in the war in the desert and it was a means of bringing surgical help much, much closer to the wounded individual than they ever really could before. Because a field surgical unit could function within a few miles of the line and so that the chaps wounded could be evacuated very quickly. Whereas previously they were taken to casualty clearing stations which were somewhat farther back, you see. A field surgical unit was a small army unit, army medical unit. The unit was self-operating in that we could function on our own. We had three vehicles and in our three vehicles we could pack our equipment including tents and the surgical supplies necessary for operating and sterilizing and one extra unit for carrying personnel. And the way a field surgical unit worked was in conjunction with at least one or two or three others. They would or we would be attached to what was called a field dressing station. A field dressing station was like a small field ambulance, but its job was to provide space and rations for attached units. But the main job was to provide stretchers or cots for wounded that were being operated on. So if you can picture this small unit, that supplied the beds and so on and then sprouting out from it would be one field surgical unit or two, if the going was tough and a lot of casualties, a third one. And in addition a field transfusion unit. So now that group was known as an advanced surgical centre. Now the nice thing about that was that an advanced surgical centre could be set up within two or three miles of where the fighting was taking place. The fighting goes on like out in the Liri Valley and no longer are the field surgical units necessary but they send up, start another advanced surgical centre and the one field dressing stations remain as it was, looking after the wounded and evacuating them as they became unable to withstand the jolts in the ambulance. And the field surgical units, the transfusion unit are then fastened onto another field ambulance, field dressing station that was brought up from behind. And there you you have another. And this leap-frogging would go on. That was an arrangement that worked very, very well and I think that it could be credited with saving a lot of lives.

Mr. Meiklejohn recalls being assigned to a field surgical unit, describing their purpose and how the medical units were grouped.

Dr. Robert Meiklejohn

Dr. Robert Meiklejohn was born in 1907, in Harriston, Ontario, and remained there throughout his youth, participating in cadets and the local militia. While attending medical school in England during the 1930s, Mr. Meiklejohn visited Germany. He returned from his visit certain war was imminent. Dr. Meiklejohn re-joined the militia upon his return to Canada, leading to quick enlistment upon Canada's declaration of war. Frustrated after almost a year of performing medical exams on troops, Dr. Meiklejohn transferred to the 16th Field Ambulance (whom he had been a militia member of) when it was activated, and was posted overseas. After arriving in England, Dr. Meiklejohn was posted to a newly created field surgical unit, a section of an advance surgical unit stationed within a few miles of the front lines, and posted to Italy. After losing their equipment when the ship was sunk during the journey, the unit was posted with British Forces for a few months before reuniting with Canadians. Following the Italian Campaign, Dr. Meiklejohn's unit was transferred to France to join Canadian troops heading into Holland. Dr. Meiklejohn finished his service in Holland bringing relief to the starving population. He returned to Canada soon after VE Day.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
Dr. Robert Meiklejohn
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
Royal Canadian Army Medical Corp / 4th Armoured Division

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