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Military Hospitals and Doctors

1st Eastern General HospitalFrom the start of the war, significant numbers of men were repatriated from the front for treatment and convalescence in the military hospitals. A substantial one (the 1st Eastern General) was established in Cambridge, staffed largely by the doctors from the old Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Because of the reputation of the college in medical education, there were many Caian medical students and trained doctors in the services and many of our medical students worked at the hospital acting as dressers, like Arthur M Horsey who died in 1917.

The 1st Eastern General initially opened at the Leys School, and then at Trinity College when school reconvened in September 1914. Trinity had wards opening onto the court with beds in the covered walkways but this, too, was inconvenient when the new term started in October. The prefabricated hospital subsequently found a more permanent home on land where later the University Library was built.

The 1st Eastern Hospital contained 1500 beds by the end of 1915, later rising to 1700. The wounded were ferried to the hospital from the station in fleets of ambulances serviced by Marshalls Garage in Trinity Street. The hospital itself had a post office, shop, tennis courts and a cinema for the use of staff and patients.

Several of the Caius doctors who served during WW1 made great contributions to medical science. Outstanding amongst those who survived the war, is Sir Harold Delf Gillies (1901), widely considered the father of modern plastic surgery


Harold GHarold Gilliesillies was a New Zealander born in 1882. He came to Caius to study medicine on a chapel scholarship and was a rower in spite of a childhood injury to his elbow. He qualified as a surgeon and, in 1915, he joined the RAMC serving in the hospitals at the front.  Whilst there, he met an American-French dentist called Charles Auguste Valadier. Gillies became enthusiastic about Valadier’s efforts to replace missing jaws resulting from gunshot wounds.

Walter Yeo first plastic surgery patientBattlefield wounds were often horrendous and Gillies became interested in facial reconstruction in order to counter the effects of these wounds. After treating several severe wounds, in 1917, he undertook his first facial reconstruction on a sailor, Walter Yeo, who had been badly injured at the Battle of Jutland. His work went largely unrecognised until the mid-1920s.

He persuaded the army medical authorities to set up a plastic surgery unit at The Queen’s Hospital, Sidcup and treated 2000 casualties of the Somme there.


Another piCharles Samuel Myersoneering Caian doctor who survived the war but served in France was Charles Samuel Myers. He was the son of a London merchant and came up to Caius in 1891. He was a gifted violinist, had a great interest in anthropology and was a member of the expedition to the Torres Strait with W H R Rivers. Myers became lecturer in Experimental Psychology in 1906 and published his genuinely original ‘Textbook of Experimental Psychology’ in 1909. He was instrumental in setting up the Psychological Laboratory in 1912.

Charles Myers was keen to join the RAMC at the start of WW1. Working in the hospital at Le Touquet, he was the first person to use the term ‘Shell Shock’ in literature. This was in his paper published 100 years ago as a result of observations taken in late 1914. His seminal work involved the measurement of olfactory and visual perception in men who had been subjected to trauma from blasts. A great debate ensued as to whether shell shock was the result of brain injury or was purely psychological in nature.

After the war, Charles Myers returned to Cambridge and became a Fellow of the College and, after moving to London, an Honorary Fellow.


It is well known that Caius has a long and distinguished tradition of training doctors, and WW1 saw many of them killed on active service. There is a bit of a myth that the care of the wounded from the battlefields was rudimentary but in fact the system was carefully planned. The first point in the treatment of casualties once they had been carried in from the front was the Field Ambulance. These units were described in ‘A Medical Officer's diary and narrative of the First World War’ by T Hampson:
"In a scattered action, naturally the wounded will be all over the place, many … have to be searched for and collected together for dressing or evacuation. The next step in the evacuation is the carriage of the wounded … to the Field Ambulance Advanced Dressing Station (ADS). The position of this is of course extremely variable, depending on the situation, but if possible it is a place on a road where our horse buses can be got to, and where the wounded can be attended to …. ADS's have to be as close as possible to avoid long carries by bearers, and are often within rifle range of the enemy…

At the FA HQ, urgent operations could be done, or the cases more thoroughly dressed, given AT serum, drinks and food, and made as comfortable as possible, often on palliasses stuffed with straw; but there was no unnecessary undressing."

Kenneth HarriKenneth Harrison Alloa Kellie son Alloa Kellie served in the 104th Field Ambulance at Derancourt, near Albert and was killed on the 25th June 1916. Born in Maida Vale, he matriculated at Caius in 1892 and worked, often with children, at St George’s, Paddington Green Children's Hospital, the Belgrave Hospital for Children and at the Royal Hospital for Diseases of the Chest. At College, he was a keen rower and a freemason. Kenneth also studied in Paris, New York and Boston.