Friday, February 22, 2013

Base Hospital 28

KC0015 - State Historical Society of Missouri
Gas casualties, the carnage of trench warfare, and the influenza epidemic presented the medical world with a new range of challenges. To face those challenges, doctors practiced developing methods such as radiology, anesthesia, bacteriology, and plastic surgery during the war. Additionally, the hospital system was carefully organized to deal with the influx of wounded soldiers. Once wounded, a soldier was taken to battlefront dressing and casualty clearing stations for first aid. From there, they were transported to a field hospital or evacuation hospital based on the severity of their wounds. After being stabilized, they were then transported to a base hospital, which was far from the front.

This week, Over There project staff evaluated a collection of correspondence from Dix Teachenor, a Missourian who was stationed in Limoges, France at Base Hospital No. 28, one of nearly 100 American hospitals operating in Europe during the First World War.
Base Hospital No. 28 was organized at Christian Church Hospital in Kansas City almost immediately after Woodrow Wilson declared entry into the war. Dix Teachenor was one of 155 personnel from the Kansas City region who were recruited into No. 28. His brother, surgeon Frank Teachenor, also joined No. 28.

On February 22, 1918, No. 28 was transferred to Fort McPherson, Georgia for rigorous training. After three weeks of medical lessons, French coursework, simulated emergency situations, drilling, and inspections, Dix told his parents that he "never felt better in my life. Regular hours, meals and outdoor life is good for me and my muscles are getting very hard.” The dozens of letters he sent home during his time at Fort McPherson also describe lectures given by Dr. Charles Mayo, the nearby German-American internment camp, and the hospitality of Atlanta, Georgia socialites. During their four-month stay in Georgia, the personnel of No. 28 also received training in specialized positions. Dix was promoted to sergeant and trained in bacteriology lab work.

On June 12, 1918, No. 28 boarded SS Megantic and set sail for Europe. As they approached Great Britain, they encountered a flotilla of German torpedo boats, and were diverted around the north coast of Ireland. They disembarked at Liverpool England, and traveled by train to Southampton. There they boarded HMS Antrim and crossed the English channel. After landing in France, they traveled by rail to Limoges, arriving at their destination an entire month after leaving Fort McPherson.

No. 28 arrived in Limoges to find that their camp consisted of a few piles of lumber, a single barracks, and one latrine to share between 300 people, with nowhere for them to admit patients. All personnel and French contractors went to work constructing the camp, and within one month, there were over 20 buildings.  The hospital continued to grow, annexing nearby Bellaine Seminary.  On July 24, 1918 Teachenor wrote home:  "We have patients now. My occupation still changes however. Yesterday I was a draughtsman and statistician and today a carpenter, constructing desks for the lab."  Base No. 28 eventually held 2,908 beds and a fully equipped, modern laboratory. Lab work was comprised of microscopical pathology, postmortems, bacteriology, serology, epidemiological work, water and milk analyses, and chemistry.
Limoges, France
August 2, 1918
Dear Mother and Father,

We are very busy in the lab now, working long hours, but at interesting work. We had our second post mortem today. This time on a boy who lived in Kansas City near us, at 3509 E. 30th St. His name was James H. Caylor; he was badly burned by a gas "liquid fire."
Yesterday we held a military funeral on the first boy. He was dressed in his uniform and draped with that flag for which he gave his all. Your three letters were very fine and I had looked forward to them with pleasure. One was written on the 13th of July and got here on the 30th-in 17 days that's fine.


I don't like this country relative business. I hope the company leaves soon. It is very hard on mother to have company to work for, and for dad in a financial way.
I'm pleased that you send Lillian the contents of the weekly cablegrams.
Ask all the questions you wish, and if I can answer them I will. Say what you wish; your letters coming to me are not censored.
Now listen : don't let our being over here keep you from going out and enjoying yourselves. You probably suffer more than we do. We are ok. So pass the time pleasantly.
Frank is very busy in his ward.
We are well and send love
Your loving son
Sergt. Dix Teachenor
Base Hospital No. 28
A.P.O. 253
American E.F.

Throughout the summer and early fall of 1918, Teachenor's letters home frequently discussed his work with postmortems, bacteriology, and blood analyses, as well as his observations of his brother's surgeries. His letters also revealed the stalwart attitudes of the soldiers he worked with, such as in this letter from August 14,1918: “In making the specimens for blood counts in the wards I naturally hear some gruesome talks and see sad sights which I cannot tell. The patients are very brave and life goes fairly pleasantly with them, and the American doctors do wonderful work."

On November 12, 1918, Teachenor described Armistice Day celebrations in Limoges. "In all my life I have never seen such a wild and happy crowd; it seemed like the world’s greatest day – probably the happiest day the entire world has ever known." Although hostilities had ceased, the personnel of Base Hospital No. 28 were not able to go back to the United States until the spring of 1919, after all of their patients were evacuated. Of the 9,954 patients admitted to Base Hospital No. 28 during the war, only 69 deaths were reported.

After the war, many of the doctors of Base Hospital No. 28 became prominent figures in Kansas City medicine. Frank Teachenor became the area's first neurosurgeon and a leader in surgical and neurosurgical circles in America.

Bibliography and Suggestions for Further Research

Base Hospital No. 28, Collection 86.95. National World War I Museum.

Dix Teachenor (1892-1961) Papers (KC0015). The State Historical Society of Missouri.

Ford, J. H. (1927). The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War. Volumes 1-15. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

Kovac, A.; Hulston N.; Holmes, G.; Holmes, F. (2009). "A Brave and Gallant Company: A Kansas City Hospital in France during the First World War" Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains: 168-85.

Tarnowsky, G. (1918). Military Surgery of the Zone of the Advance. Philidelphia : Lea & Febiger.