The Men of Penetang: Dr John Morris Nettleton and the #3 Stationary Hospital
Of all the men who went to war in World War 1, one had a distinguished career that we know little about, Dr John Morris Nettleton who was born in Penetang. A rather tall man at just a half inch
below six feet he was born in 1887 to Charles
the son of a local pharmacist and businessman of Penetang. John was single at the outbreak of war. He would send his mother money throughout his service. Though we don't know much about the personal contributions and emotions of Dr Nettleton, the diary of the 3rd Stationary Hospital does show, some of what he went through.
1915: The Hospital unit was mobilized in February of 1915. Dr. Nettleton was an original member of the #3 Canadian Stationary Hospital. #3 Stationary Hospital is kind of a misnomer, as the unit had all the personnel needed for a hospital but was more of a military unit than a brick-and-mortar hospital. In fact, most of their time was in canvas tents or temporary buildings. It was a moveable hospital that travelled with their equipment and set up tents and huts to treat injured and sick during the war. The equipment alone weighed 350 tons. Incredibly for the time, it included x-ray equipment.
Leaving Nova Scotia on the 18th of April and arriving in England on the 29th, Dr. Nettleton, ranked Captain, would travel with the other doctors and nursing sisters overseas. They had stops in England, Mudros Greece (Gallipoli Campaign), Alexandria Egypt then back to France, where they would set up a hospital outside of Boulogne.
The personnel of the 3rd Stationary Hospital would survive dysentery and other nasty diseases while treating huge amounts of patients. In one spell, 5 doctors and 25 nurses became sick. In one 96-hour period at the end of November, they treated 792 patients!
Dr. JM Nettleton was put in charge of sanitation, bringing all the equipment up to sanitary conditions, despite being a tent hospital.
On the Calais Road a tent hospital was erected and in the next seven months it would see 12 to 13 thousand patients, with a death rate of less than 1%. But despite being called a stationary hospital, they would once again move, this time to Calais. At Calais there was a Citadel where they could set up the Hospital under slightly better circumstances. They were still housed in tents on the most point, and huts (75 feet in length by 18 feet wide) were also still being used. The war didn't stop for winter. Here they would work with the #1 British Convalescence Camp.
In 1916 they were setting up the Hospital in and around the Citadel. In July of 1916 they began to see a lot of battle casualties. In July over 200 patients were being admitted a day. Many only staying for a few days before being evacuated to England. Many of the wounded were wounded in the legs. Which suggests they "went over the top" and were shot outside the trenches. Things slowed down in August, but construction kept on with more huts and mess tents being constructed. In late August it is noted that the nursing sisters have been on duty for months and a change of scenery might be needed.
In late August the winds were high and personnel and even patients could be seen holding onto ropes to keep the tents and huts from blowing away. From May to August, 6155 patients went through the Hospital at Calais. In September, it is noted that despite the weather turning raw, the hospital is still not heated. The Hospital was now 400 beds in size, some in the citadel, some outside in huts and tents. They also seem to have lost their Horsfall Destructor. Which is what they called an early incinerator, a rather important device at the time, if you're trying to control sanitary conditions.
The Stationary Hospital was once again slated to be moved to Havre, the Commanding officer went off to inspect site, leaving Dr. Nettleton as the Senior Officer. Mercifully, in November rains and high winds, the admittances are down due to their impending move. The winds did claim some huts, splitting them up the middle of their roofs.
Although the weather being not so good in the winter of 1916, the camp was busy tearing down the tents to be re-raised at the new location. Couldn't have been nice work. That being said, many of the officers and crew take the opportunity to take leave.
In November they would arrive at Doullens and proceed to raise a hospital from tents. Many of the huts were destroyed by the wind, so they first had to be repaired before being erected.
In December they were up and running 600 beds. JM Nettleton and GJ Gillam would get leave and go to Nice France for New Years. In the new year and new location, they began to accept patients straight from the front. They would see head wounds and would begin to recognize shell shock victims. In January it would seem the head, toilet, was frozen solid, indicating how cold it was in the camp.
January of 1917 Doullens
Many of the diseased patients were new arrivals, being new to the lines, the cold was very hard on them. As well as the shock of viral conditions. In one day most of the 137 new patients, 80% were sick with diarrhea. Which must have made for a interesting situation, with the head being frozen. In February the plumbing in the temporary hospital was mostly frozen, no water could be had from the taps for washing, this is something awful in a hospital. At this time upwards of 500 patients were in the hospital and only a tricle were being evacuated. Some returned directly to the front lines.
Also, in February came many cases of shell gas patients. Frozen temperatures made the gas freeze and soldiers could accidentally bring it into shelters, where once warm, the gas would claim victims. The location of the hospital was so close to the front that soldiers would march by on their way. When the 35 Division did so, about 30 were admitted with foot infections.
In the dead of winter another problem arose. With the cold icy conditions, it was difficult to evacuate patients out of the hospital. Towards the end of February, the proximity of the war hit home. The train station a mile away was bombed, and the planes delivery the ordinance could be seen directly over the town of Doullens.
In March there was the beginnings of Spring thaw. This however as most Canadians know meant the roads were splitting up and potholes were everywhere. This made it hard to get supplies in and patients out. The hospital swelled to over 600 patients. There seems to be problems with the shell shock and neurological issues. They are difficult to diagnose and decision on whether to return them to the front or evacuate them to England has resulted in a backlog. In early March, the water supply was returned, seems it unfroze, and a new gas pump was installed. But this also meant the trenches were turning from icy to wet. Infections of the feet, trench foot et al were beginning to be on the increase. The mental illnesses such as shell shock continue to pile up in the hospital. |t is not clear what to do with them, at least they are identifying them as illnesses.
In late march "Summertime" came in full force. Supply chains both in and out opened up. Daily admissions hovered around 50. The good weather would not last as April was cold and wet. A Psychologist visited, but there was still none on staff.
In May, the Senior officer, EG Davis was replaced by HM Reason. Also in May the fight took on heavier casualties, as upwards of 90 patients a day were admitted. It is noted that Indian (India) and Australians who were fighting around Bullecourt were being admitted. The hospital was so close to the action that orders were given that the patients were to retain their gas masks and equipment in easy reach. It is noted 164 patients were there for shell shock, but no real treatment was available.
With the nicer weather, and despite being so close to the front, an Empire Sports Day was held outside the citadel. The Hospital received fruit, vegetables and confectionaries (jams and jellies) from Canada. Casualties gradually increase till there are 700 patients in Hospital. Eventually by the end of June, despite showing as a 750 bed hospital, they have well over 800 patients. Also in May, they got their new Destructor (incinerator) a few months after the other one broke down.
In May, Dr. Nettleton was granted leave. He returned refreshed we hope. The camp is taking over some of the POW medical services at nearby POW camp at Orrville and Theirves. The Australian medical branch now send 20 people to help at the Hospital.
In July of 1917, Captain JM Nettleton is struck off strength. Leaving the #3 Stationary Hospital. The enormous strain of working in a Hospital in War time had caught up to the good Doctor and he would remove to Shorncliffe, with what is called debility, a loss of strength ( he was also anemic), probably from exhaustion.
In 1918, the Hospital at Doullens would be bombed by the Germans.
After a month as a patient of Shorncliffe, he was attached to the Hospital for the rest of the war. He would receive a promotion to Lt Colonel. He would return to Canada in 1919.
Art Duval Pipesmoke of the Past