The following account of the 298th US General Hospital was sent to me in July 2008 by a former nurse in the Unit - Capt Katy Dunworth, nee Morse. It was published in The Quarterly Review in the mid -1940s by the Unit's CO, Walter Maddox. The Journal is likely to have been a publication of the UoM's Medical Society. The article included the following account of his role and an account of his life to date.
"When the Michigan hospital unit was organized some four years ago, Dr. WALTER G. MADDOCK, Associate Professor of Surgery in the Medical School. was first its Executive Officer and later became the Commanding Officer. He returned from Europe with the rank of Colonel in the Medical Corps. Dr. Maddock was born in Toronto in 1901, and after an early education in the schools of Winnipeg and the Detroit Central High School, he entered the University, from which he received his bachelor's degree in 1924 and his degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1927. He became Instructor in Surgery in the Medical School in 1929 and has been active in the Department of Surgery since that time, except for his period of service in Europe. He has written a long list of articles, some of them in co-operation with Dr. Frederick A. Coller and others. He is a member of the American College of Surgeons, the American Surgical Association, the American Board of Surgeons, and numerous other professional organizations. He is also a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, Phi Kappa Phi, and Sigma Xi. He was recently awarded the Legion of Merit."
MICHIGAN'S HOSPITAL AT THE FRONT
BY WALTER G. MADDOCK, M.D.
MICHIGAN'S medical unit, the 298th General Hospital, was organized at the University, spent thirty-six months overseas, and took care of forty-three thousand patients during that time. It was typical of other one-thousand bed general hospitals, with personnel made up of 32 medical officers, 6 dental officers, 14 administrative officers, 83 nurses, 2 dietitians, 2 physical therapists, 5 Red Cross workers, and 450 enlisted men. Of these, all the medical and dental officers and a third of the nurses and the dietitians came from Michigan; and it was a tremendous advantage to be associated with a group whose professional and personal characteristics were such as to make them good companions under the long association and stress of war. Many fine officers, nurses, Red Cross workers, and enlisted men joined the unit later, with the end result of a superior record and an Army "Meritorious Award" for service overseas.
As civilians, we entered the Army with our professional ability but were abysmally ignorant of the ways of a soldier; one gets the uniform first and learns later. At our first camp the GI Joes were amused when they put groups of officers and nurses through the paces of field drill, but it was something new and the 298th had the spirit to make fun of it. We studied Army manuals, went on hikes to improve physique and stamina, bought more Army clothes every time we went to the post exchange, attended classes on every conceivable military subject, were fingerprinted, photographed, inoculated, and dog-tagged for overseas service. The war seemed far away, and we occasionally thought it might be over before we would have a chance to do our part.
Waiting time moved slowly, but finally the sailing day arrived. I have always marvelled at the casualness with which we said our farewells, just as if we would be back next week-not daring to think it might be three years. Without escort or convoy our ship, the former luxury liner Mariposa, seemed to have an impossible task in crossing waters about which recent newspapers had headlined, "600 German Subs in North Atlantic"; we never felt more conspicuous, even in later buzz-bomb days.
Our luck held, however, and without mishap, but in a fog, we arrived at Liverpool, where our first impressions were of bomb damage and blackout. This important port had been extensively hit, and the darkened view suggested the unreality of prehistoric ruins. The actual damage was not great, however, and nothing like the complete destruction we later saw in most of Germany's important cities. Britain enforced her blackouts, and although we carried flashlights they could only be used intermittently to find curbs and cross streets; the glow of a lighted cigarette was the best beacon to avoid collision in the dark with the countless passers-by. To know where one was and to find one's way back was a puzzle, often made amusing by the helpful Britishers who seriously said, "It's dead strite, you cahn't miss it." There are few straight roads in Britain.
It took a lot of adjustment to fit into a large group, to have little privacy, to do the same things, to wear the same kind of clothes-particularly for the nurses-not just during the day, but every evening too. I have known of several instances where nurses went into British stores and asked permission to try on suits, dresses, or hats just to see how they would look again in different clothes. The British understood this wistfulness and considered themselves lucky that their soldiers could wear civies while at home and on leave. A first wish on finishing Army or Navy service is to buy one of the dizziest, snappiest, craziest hats imaginable to offset months of brown and blue caps. It is said that the discharged soldier wants anything but brown clothes while the sailor takes brown to escape the blues.
Bristol, England, our hospital location for the first nineteen months, is not regarded as a pretty city, but the surrounding country, with the near-by Cotswold hills and the Severn River Valley opening into the Bristol Channel, is an artist's delight. In Greenfield Village, Henry Ford has a beautiful Cotswold cottage, typical of the many stone dwellings near the hospital.
The climate about Bristol, as in most of England, is relatively cool and moist, and so green hills, fine trees, and beautiful gardens are the rule. A friend of mine from the wilds of Texas claimed that England was the most monotonous place he had ever lived in, for every corner was lovely with flowers and the grass was ever green.
The English people were most friendly and cordial, and many of them entertained us in their homes. They would talk to us on the street and on buses and trains much more than they would talk to each other. Since most of them had relatives in the British Service, many away in the Navy or in foreign service, they tried to cover up loneliness by being especially nice to us. The nurses were invited everywhere and had far more possible engagements than they could keep.
Since both food and fuel were strictly rationed throughout England, it was not easy for people to be so hospitable. To save embarrassment at the table, it was arranged that all American service men and women should take along some food, and their contributions of chocolate bars and cigarettes were always welcome. But the fuel problem was more difficult, especially during the fall and winter. Hospital quarters were warmer than any English home, so most of our personnel did not stay away overnight. The English fireplaces toast only one side of a person at a time, but the British people wear more woolens than we do and so manage to be fairly comfortable. We were always glad to get back home and warm up before turning in.
Our patients came from local troop accidents and sickness, plus air-force casualties, and in the spring of 1943, hospital ships brought patients back from Africa, so all our personnel had good experience with battle casualties long before D Day.
The hospital in Bristol was a semipermanent emergency affair constructed in 1941 on an estate at the edge of the city. The red brick buildings, one story in height, were strung out along two main walks and were divided into thirty-two wards of thirty patients each. Multiple coal stoves, four to a ward, heated the hospital sections. Nurses' quarters were not divided into rooms but into cubicles large enough to hold two cots and a dresser, but all deficiencies in the building, however, were well made up for by central heat and plenty of hot water.
Our medical equipment was excellent and readily allowed the best kind of treatment, so I know every American, soldier received the best of care. The presence of the nurses meant much more than superior nursing, for the feminine touch was a great morale factor that brightened up all the wards and recreation halls.
The cross-channel jump took place on July 15, 1944-thirty-nine days after D Day-and was uneventful in spite of some concern. Shipping space was very scarce, all baggage, therefore, had to be a standard size and weight. We have all laughed many times about the nurses' bedding-rolls. Everyone knows the problem of packing for a long trip. This time each person was to pack all of his or her Army clothes, plus a nineteen-months' collection of junk, into a bedding roll and, except for a handbag and a small knapsack, everything had to go into it. Most of the nurses' rolls were the right weight, but were packed and rolled too loosely-twice as big as they should have been. Instructions to reroll them scarcely improved them at all.
Finally, one of the lieutenant colonels was ordered to get a detail of men to reduce those bedding rolls to the standard size of not more than eighteen inches in diameter -and his word on what was to be discarded was the law. It's always touchy business to sort through other people's personal belongings, and that Colonel has always maintained that the looks he got from the nurses when the rolls were being revamped were more lethal than the buzz-bombing he got in France. The final result was good. With more even packing, it was not necessary to discard anything to make the rolls meet the standard size, and everybody was happy.
Getting the nurses on board ship bothered us a bit. It was reported that they would have to climb up the side on rope landing nets, and this seemed impossible, since, besides wearing a huge combat suit, a gas-protector coverall, and a steel helmet, they had to carry a gas mask, knapsack, a two-blanket bedding roll, and a medium sized handbag. With all this stuff hanging on them, the large girls were simply immense and the short ones could hardly waddle. However, the nurses were always taken care of. Arrangements were made beforehand so that the small boats which took them out to the ship were hoisted up the side, and the girls, with many thanks that the rope climb had been avoided, scrambled over the rail. They were unloaded in the same manner on the famous Utah Beach of Normandy two days later.
Cherbourg, on the tip of the Normandy Peninsula, was our first destination on the Continent. There we took over the large French Marine Hospital of fifteen hundred beds. I had known for several months before D Day that this was to be our location, and from time to time reconnaissance photos had been taken to make sure that it was still standing. When we arrived it was in use by the French and an American field hospital, the previous German hospital personnel and patients having been transferred to England. But it was in a sad state. Fighting had taken place within the hospital grounds during the capture of Cherbourg, and by imagining what a battle could do to the beautiful grounds and buildings of our campus, one can get some idea of the mess we faced.
We went to work right away, for this was the only general hospital in operation in France at that time, and although large numbers of patients were being evacuated from field stations by air directly to England, the load in Cherbourg was heavy. On many occasions three hundred patients were admitted for treatment and three hundred were evacuated to England on the same day. The work and shifting were all the more difficult because there were no elevators in that three-story building. We cared for the patients and cleaned up the hospital at the same time, and for several weeks there was time only for long hours of work, for food, and a little sleep.
Many amusing things happened in the hospital at Cherbourg. As the French occupied the front building, we would transfer French wounded to them from our sections. The nurses would have their ward reports ready, showing the number of empty beds, and then, during the night, French patients would sneak back and crawl into these beds in the American wards. It was a little embarrassing to explain this to the General in command of the French hospital, because the soldiers' story was that the American treatment, food, and cigarettes were better than those of the French.
We had another problem in feeding all who appeared for meals. The hospital drew daily rations according to the number of personnel and patients, yet every soldier working in Cherbourg and those coming into town on business or otherwise - and there were a lot of "otherwises"- would try to eat at the hospital. Our mess was popular, and we fed all we could, but with thousands of tons of supplies going to the advancing armies the Quartermaster's check on food became strict. We finally had to station the First Sergeant at the head of the "chow line" to check our men as they got their food. If there was anything left over, we dished it out to the others, including the Navy.
At one time fifteen hospital trains, which had arrived from England and were shuttling back and forth with patients, were assigned to us for supplies. They came and left at all hours and had priority rights for anything they needed. We set up a day and-night service, handing out food, drugs, linen, and surgical dressings, and at the same time tried to keep enough on hand for our hospital. It was a hectic time, but when you needed help you got it - and gave it.
The frequent shutting off of our water and electricity supply in Cherbourg was a serious handicap, particularly when it happened with no advance notice. The waste disposal sewers also were troublesome as they almost never worked. The best laugh the French had on us was when the American engineers connected the water disposal pipes from the main kitchen to what they thought was a large sewer but which turned out to be a deep water hole which was part of the lightning-rod system from the roof of the hospital.
One of our first tasks on taking over the hospital was to get the showers in working order. After they were fixed, they were in use eighteen hours a day, and everyone who came had a bath.
The French were as helpful as they could be, but after four years of impoverishment under the Germans they had little to give. Yet sometimes we wanted extra things for the hospital, and "scrounging" was the word used for the process of getting what was required by "cleaning up" or "policing" abandoned German dumps, storehouses, or buildings. Some officers and enlisted men were particularly good at this. They seemed to have the "contacts." They simply were told what was needed and were given a truck to get it - no questions were ever asked as to where the stuff came from or how it was obtained.
The patients at Cherbourg came from all over the Normandy battle area and from the thousands of soldiers working on the supplies going to the armies. Many were badly wounded and were deeply thankful for the care and rest received in a good hospital. German wounded were placed in separate wards and generally were good patients. They received the same care as our soldiers.
For the first time we began to see many of our Allies-Poles, Russians, Belgians, Dutch, Greeks, and others-who had been forced to do slave labor on the channel fortifications. All these people were given much-needed medical treatment.
By the end of October, 1944, the Allies had swept across France and Belgium, and we were, therefore, too far behind the lines. Also, we had the hospital well cleaned, the worst parts repainted, and new clinics and a new operating room set up. These were all indications to us that it was time to move, time to turn the place over to a new outfit and start in again on the rehabilitation or construction of another hospital.
On the twenty-ninth of October orders came to move to Liege, Belgium. Everyone had accumulated more stuff, so once again we were faced with the problem of too much baggage and too little. space on the two hospital trains which were our means of transportation. Railway conditions were still critical, and the five-hundred-mile journey from Cherbourg to Liege took about four and a half days, an average of five miles per hour. There were only half enough sleeping accommodations on the trains, so the stretcher bunks were used in two twelve-hour shifts. However, this was no hardship, and everyone enjoyed the trip, for it really was a good rest after the grind at Cherbourg and the frequent train stops gave us a chance to get out, look around, and stretch.
Liegé, captured four weeks previously, was a new chapter for us. The battle for Aachen was over, and the Americans were now held up at the Roer River. This time our hospital was a tented affair to be built in a sixty-acre cow pasture at the edge of the city. A good solid sod on the field and a gentle slope grading down to a small creek for drainage helped to keep us from bogging down in mud. A thousand-bed hospital with quarters for 'personnel requires nearly five hundred tents and about three miles of paths and roads, and the medical officers and men joined with the engineers in getting things done. It was a combined job, and everybody worked in order to be ready for patients, since an offensive was only a few days away. Until things were set the nurses lived in two large houses in Liege and spent their time resting, sightseeing, getting hairdo's of one elaborate kind or another, and enjoying the facilities of a lame bath building located on the main street of the city. With an unlimited supply of that precious element-hot water-this building offered the choice of a tub bath, shower, Swedish bath, or, on the top floor, a swim in a beautiful large pool which had the added attraction of an adjacent dance floor and cafe. The place was open at night, and it was good to go there for a hot soak and bath, particularly after a long day of construction work in the hospital area-it was more fun than a movie. You will notice that hot water and baths loom quite large in this account, but they are fixed institutions in the American way of living and we got them or arranged for them whenever we could.
Hospital construction proceeded so rapidly that within twenty days' time the nurses had moved out to their tent quarters and patients were being received. We were far from ready for patients, but they came anyway, and we learned to accept and to improvise in order to make up for the deficiencies. Hot meals are a necessity in a hospital, as elsewhere, and are not obtained, particularly in a tented hospital, without a great deal of supervision and care on the part of everyone concerned. The patients' kitchen was 350 yards from some of the wards. The food containers were small, and last winter was very cold in Europe.
We solved the problem by arranging the food containers on a shelf around the ward stove, setting the coffeepot on top of the stove, and making toast for everyone. Toast vanished in tremendous quantities, for it was always difficult to fill the soldier who had just come in from the front line, where meals were sketchy, often K or C rations. Also, dehydrated foods do not have much bulk, so it often took a ration and a quarter to fill GI's up and add a little weight. .
Dishwashing was a real nuisance in our tented hospital. It was done by Belgian women, working in small tents-seven such tents for the thirty-four wards. Hot water for this purpose was obtained by assigning a small squad of soldiers to keep the fires going and keep buckets of water on the stoves. There were three messes-the patients' mess, the enlisted men's mess, and the officers and nurses' mess-and it took plenty of hot water to keep them clean. With so little kitchen equipment with which to prepare food, it has always seemed remarkable to me that we were able to feed nearly two thousand people. No steam kettles, no large washing sinks, no large stoves. The job was well done, but without the large equipment it was done the hard way.
Running a thousand-bed hospital in tents is, in general, not as difficult as it may seem. The medical equipment was there, and no patient went without proper care. Only the operating room and the central supply were in wooden buildings, prefabricated ones obtained from a German dump. It was necessary to take patients outside in going to and from the operating room, but they were well covered and we knew of no patient who suffered from it. The general health of the personnel while living in the tents was better than at any other time. Although we were outside a great part of each day and lived in drafty quarters, none too well heated, there were fewer colds and sore throats during the winter on the cow pasture than during the two previous winters when we were quartered in buildings. Everyone got to like it, and when in the spring we were offered a building hospital, not a good one I will admit, we turned it down and stayed in the tents.
According to reports Liegé had sixty seven thousand buildings destroyed or damaged by buzz bombs and was harder hit than either London or Antwerp. We had bombs coming from November to the middle of February, and besides actual damage they were a good psychological weapon for the enemy . Occasionally German fighter bombers dropped their "eggs" around us, but none of them, nor any buzz bombs dropped in our sixty-acre area. We were simply lucky, for the five other general hospitals in Liege were either bombed or strafed by machine-gun fire from German planes. The strafing took place on moonlight nights, and we were never sure whether it was intentional or not. We had Red Cross flags on more than two hundred tents, as well as two ground flags one hundred feet square that could be seen from an altitude of fifteen thousand feet.
The Battle of the Bulge was at our back door, for the Germans were finally stopped only fourteen miles from Liege. Since all the forward hospitals had been forced back and out of operation, we were at that time receiving patients directly from the front. Just before Christmas a bomb dropped four hundred yards away and cut the main water line to the hospital, so all water was carried in pails for seven days.
The combat casualty patients hated the buzz bombs tremendously. All their training had stressed taking cover from bombing, but here it couldn't be done. The bombs were coming over continuously night and day, and if the patients had gone to a slit trench every time the air-raid warning sounded, there would have been no rest and no treatment. Also, many of the patients were too sick to move. The Army would have evacuated all the medical units from Liege, but they badly needed there the ten thousand hospital beds, since the railway lines were cut behind us and there was no other place to send patients. It seemed best for everyone to stay put. The nurses did a grand job of looking nonchalant and carrying on in the wards and other places while bombs were coming over. The patients followed their example and were quiet, although things were happening all around them. Our closest near-hit was just one hundred yards to the side of the nurses' quarters, and large pieces of frozen sod were showered all over their tents; but our luck held, and no one was hurt.
Because of all these things the patients had a tremendous regard for the nurses and their work and would do anything possible for them. An amusing incident testified to this fact. It was reported to me one morning that some local Belgians were raising a fuss because one of our soldiers had been seen stealing and killing one of their chickens. The soldier was described as a tail fellow. We questioned all our tall men and looked for blood and feathers. None were found. Then someone remembered seeing a tall soldier-patient coming from that area. We looked him up, and this is his story. The nurses had been very good to him at the hospital,. and that morning his ward nurse had casually mentioned that for dinner she would sure like to have one of the chickens she had seen on her way to work. Half an hour later the dead chicken was delivered to her. We laughed about it, paid for the chicken, and I was always pleased that she had not wished for the Colonel's head that morning.
This brief account of some of the things that happened in the 298th General Hospital can be duplicated in hundreds of Army and Navy medical units. In good American style each outfit thought it was the best, and there was keen rivalry to excel. The superior standard set by the Michigan unit was the result of the co-operative effort of one of the finest collections of officers, nurses, dietitians, physical therapists, Red Cross workers, and enlisted men ever brought together in a military hospital, and the University may well be proud of its record. May we now work to stop all wars, for the cost in death wounds and broken lives is far too high.
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