By Dr Jen Novotny, Research Assistant in History, University of Glasgow
This post looks at how medics at Jutland treated battle casualties, contending not only with complex injuries, but having to manoeuvre through confined spaces aboard ships.
Medical students at war
Two classmates from the University of Glasgow, John MacIntyre and John Hislop, both medical students, saw action as medics at Jutland. MacIntyre was from Gairloch, the son of a merchant. Hislop, from Wishaw, entered university at the age of 16. Both men enrolled in 1912 to study medicine and took the same courses, however, both left in 1915 to join the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. As third-year medical students, they were commissioned as Surgeon Probationers, the most junior of the Royal Navy’s Medical Branch. At University they had taken courses in Anatomy, Pathology, Materia Medica (i.e. medicines), and Clinical Surgery. As Surgeon Probationers, they gained practical experience by performing GP duties aboard ship, in addition to attending battle casualties. In fact, MacIntyre and Hislop were receiving on-the-job training much as they would have if they stayed in Glasgow, where third-year medical students worked on the wards of the city’s hospitals.
During the battle, medics like Surgeon Probationers MacIntyre and Hislop would have tended to the casualties as best they could, with the aid of stewards, cooks, and canteen hands, who made up first aid parties. On Beatty’s flagship, HMS Lion, medical stations were set up fore and aft for walking wounded, with more serious cases – those arriving on Neil Robertson stretchers – being tended to in the mess, until smoke and fumes made this space unusable. Easy access to hot water was critical for a medical station. Nearly all of the casualties occurred in the first half hour of action. Movement of the wounded, however, could only occur in lulls between action, and some in isolated positions had to wait for medical attention. Medical kits with basic supplies, most importantly antiseptics and bandages, were scattered throughout the ship for those who could not immediately seek care at the medical stations. After the end of action, patients unable to walk were gathered up and tended to, with the Captain’s bathroom serving as an operating theatre for the most serious cases. Major surgery was not attempted, due to a lack of time, and amputations and other procedures were postponed. Meanwhile, recovering wounded were laid on bedding on the decks wherever space allowed, kept warm with Bovril, hot water bottles, and blankets.
The ships of the Grand Fleet suffered a disproportionate amount of flash fires and explosions, as German shells ignited the improperly stored and unstable cordite compound used in British munitions. Medics present at the battle reported that something near 50% of the injuries they treated were burns from these fires.
Unfortunately neither of the young medics survived Jutland. MacIntyre, serving on HMS Ardent, an Acasta-class destroyer built by William Denny & Brothers in Dumbarton, perished along with all but two of the crew. According to the Official History, Ardent was reduced to “a mere mass of scrap-iron” in “a minute or so” with only two survivors. Lieutenant-Commander Marsden, one of the survivors, described “Our guns were useless against such adversaries; we could do no more than wait for the first salvo. … Shell after shell hit us, our speed diminished and then we stopped. Our three guns ceased firing one by one.” (Bennett 1964: 142) Marsden said of his crew, “ All hands fought the ship with the utmost gallantry till she sank beneath them” (Ibid.: 143).
Meanwhile Hislop had the misfortune of being one of only a handful of crew who died aboard HMS Nessus, which saw heavy action just before dawn on 1 June. Nessus survived Jutland, but was later sunk after a collision with the cruiser HMS Amphitrite while the ships were zig-zagging through the North Sea in a fog bank in September 1918.
Hislop and MacIntyre will be remembered at 9.00 a.m. on 31 May 2016 in the University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel, along with Sub-Lieutenant Thomas Mclaren Hutchison and Sub-Lieutenant Charles Philip Tanner. Their biographies will be read out, followed by the planting of poppy crosses in the WWI Memorial Garden. All are welcome.
Works consulted and cited:
The Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service contains four papers dealing with the treatment of wounded in the battle of Jutland, in its issue dated October, 1916. Fleet Surgeon Alexander MacLean and Surgeon Horace, E. R. Stephens, both of H.M.S. Lion, describe their experiences in the hope that these may prove interesting to others, since the conditions under which naval medical officers have to work in action differ so widely from any that they may have encountered in other situations. Staff Surgeon J. McA. Holmes gives an account of the treatment and disposal of the wounded in a light cruiser during action. Mr. L. Fraser discusses the treatment of wounds received in naval action, and Fleet Surgeon John R. Muir, attached to H.M.S. Tiger, reflected on his experiences in the battles of Jutland and the Dogger Bank.
Bennett, G.M. 1964. The Battle of Jutland. London: Batsford.