Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 January 2015
Clearing the wounded from the battlefield was always a problem, especially for the wounded themselves, for whom delay often meant death. When the AIF arrived on the Somme, the British Army already had ‘a highly organised and stable system of clearance and evacuation [of the wounded] in place’. The Australian medical units were obliged to fit themselves into the established British system, something that was difficult as all the prime locations for casualty clearing stations and hospitals had been commandeered by the British Army. Despite these difficulties, by 20 July 1916 Colonel A.H. Sturdee, Assistant Director of Medical Services with the 1st Division, had in place a series of regimental aid posts in the area behind the front line. Three field ambulance collecting points were set up, with the main one located at Casualty Corner at the end of Sausage Valley. Men would be carried from these points to the advanced dressing stations by horse-drawn wagons. From the dressing stations they would be cleared by horse-powered lorries or, for the less severely wounded, by motor bus.
The arrangements appeared sound, but when the 1st Division launched its attack on Pozières on the night of 23 July 1916, the realities of battle soon revealed weaknesses. The regimental aid posts were found to have been sited too far back, and new ones had to be set up nearer the front lines. The heavy artillery barrage falling on and behind the front caused severe casualties not just among the attackers but also among the stretcher-bearers. Those who survived were rapidly worn out by the physical and emotional stresses of the work.