This photograph, taken by Charles Hilton DeWitt Girdwood, shows four stretcher bearers ‘at work’. They are attending to two men with head injuries, after what appears to be a recently concluded battle.
The Girdwood collection
In reality, however, this photograph only presents a sanitized image of the work endured by stretcher bearers. As ‘Geographer and Historical Photographer to the Government of India’, Girdwood was permitted to travel to France to create a visual record of the First World War, but on the condition that he remained away from the front lines.
Instead of showing the aftermath of an attack, this photograph depicts the Second Battalion of the Leicester Regiment under instruction to act ‘dead’ or wounded. The staging of this photograph is heightened by two soldiers swapping their BEF (British Expeditionary Force) uniforms for German ones.
‘The work’ of stretcher bearers
During World War One, a stretcher bearer’s role was the first link in the ‘chain of evacuation’ for wounded soldiers. With a basic knowledge of first aid – and relying upon physical strength – these men were tasked with retrieving the wounded from no man’s land, and transporting them over difficult ground to Regimental Aid Posts, Advanced Dressing Stations and, in some cases, to distant Casualty Clearing Stations. Evacuations were typically carried out under immense pressure because the bearers were working under streams of shell fire or battling through mud quagmires. It often took four to six men to move one casualty.
- Full title:
- Tenderly lifting a serious case; stretcher bearers at work. Photographer: Girdwood, Charles Hilton DeWitt
- Photograph / Image
- Charles Hilton DeWitt Girdwood
- © Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen’s Printer for Scotland
- Usage terms
- Crown Copyright
- Held by
- British Library
- Photo 21(151)
- Article by:
- Emily Mayhew
- Life as a soldier, Wounding and medicine
Dr Emily Mayhew follows a wounded soldier from the battlefield to the hospital, explaining how stretcher-bearers, surgeons and nurses would help him recover and adjust to his new life.