Base Hospital 12

Northwestern’s Base Hospital 12, with doctors drawn largely from the University and nurses recruited from the Illinois Training School for Nurses and local hospitals, arrived in Dannes-Camiers, France in June 1917.

The Camp

Base Hospital 12 was attached to the British Expeditionary Force, taking over the BEF’s General Hospital 18 for the duration of the war. For the next 22 months its medical staff cared for over 60,000 wounded soldiers, approximately 3,000 of whom were American soldiers. Of the six members of the Base Hospital who died, at least two were Northwestern students.

By the Numbers

22of the original 37 medical staff were Northwestern medical faculty

78of the 199 noncommissioned and enlisted ranks were from the University

60,000 wounded soldiers were cared for at Base Hospital 12 in 22 months

Drawings of the Camp

“In the first place, this part of France is not what got the country the ‘sunny France’ reputation. It rains a great deal and is inclined to be cold and damp even in summer. It is quite hilly.” —Base Hospital 12 nurse Emily Lyon, November, 1917

Working at the Camp

“A convoy is usually from one to two or three hundred, and they are brought by ambulance to the reception tent. Here an M. O. assigns them to wards, and the orderlies carry them in. At the wards where we receive them, their clothing is immediately removed and put outside, as they are likely to be what the boys call ‘chatty,’ if direct from the lines, or they may have gas in them and be dangerous that way.”

Tragedy Aboard the SS Mongolia

Newspaper clipping on the death of the two nurses Helen Wood and Edith Ayres, May, 1917

Newspaper clipping on the death of the two nurses Helen Wood and Edith Ayres, May, 1917

On May 19, 1917, a tragic accident occurred aboard the transport ship SS Mongolia, carrying staff and equipment of Base Hospital 12 from New York to France. During target practice on the open sea, ordnance fragments struck several nurses, who were sitting on the promenade deck. Several nurses were injured, while two nurses, Helen Burnett Wood from Evanston and Edith Ayres, were killed. According to contemporary newspaper articles, the ship returned immediately to the port to unload their remains. Their deaths were among the earliest U.S. casualties of the war and the first female Americans killed in military service.

Documents from the Camp

“Nurses live in huts built long and narrow, two beds to a room, a stove, and a few books. Our mess-room is quite a charming place. We have a piano, victrola, a stove that opens in front like a grate, wicker chairs and furnishings. Some of the things were made by patients.” —Base Hospital 12 nurse Ruth Spencer, undated

More Information

This collection is housed in the University Archives of Northwestern University Libraries.
The complete digitized collection can be viewed here.