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Durham County Record Office: the official archive service for County Durham and Darlington

The Wounded

Lieutenant Rees was seriously wounded during the Battle of the Somme in early August 1916. He wrote this letter to his mother from a hospital in France, describing how he received his 'nice cushy little wound' and travelled by motor ambulance (a luxury compared with the horse drawn ambulances which were also used in the First World War) to a dressing station and then on to the Base hospital.

Letter from Lieutenant Rees, 6 August 1916, p.3 (D/DLI 7/560/4) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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Letter from Lieutenant Rees, 6 August 1916, p.4 (D/DLI 7/560/4) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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If he had been more seriously wounded he would then have been transferred to a hospital in Britain.

See a full transcript of Lieutenant Rees' letter, 6 August, 1916.

Rees later received a Military Cross for his bravery that night: he led a bombing party up Munster Alley, clearing 60 yards of trench, taking five prisoners and holding his position during the night, despite repeated attacks.

There were several military hospitals in France and Belgium. These were often farmhouses or chateaux, away from the front line, where the wounded were cared for until they were fit enough to travel to hospitals in Britain.

Photograph of a ward at ‘Le Touquet’ officers’ hospital, France, c.1914 (D/DLI 7/63/5 (278)) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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This photograph shows the patients, doctors and nurses in a ward at 'Le Touquet' officers' hospital in France, c.1914. The chandeliers have been covered with sheets, possibly to prevent them from becoming dusty and causing infections.

Penicillin was not discovered until 1928 and antibiotics were not available until the 1940s; infection of even a small wound could prove fatal.

Photograph of a soldier having shell splinters removed, n.d. (D/DLI 7/701/2(72)) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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This photograph shows an officer having shell splinters removed from his buttocks. Although everything seems clean, the frayed edge of the sheet shows how stretched resources had become.

You can also see the bucket for the used swabs at the foot of the bed.

The wounds received by Rees and the unidentified soldier in the photographs were serious, but did not have long-lasting consequences.

Photograph of Private Smith and Kitty Hunter’s wedding, n.d. (D/DLI 7/963/3) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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Private Tom Smith of 14DLI was not so lucky. He was severely wounded at the Battle of Arras on 22 April 1917 and lost both his eyes.

The story does have a happy ending though: he later married one of the support workers who helped him at St Dunstan's, a training centre for blind ex-servicemen in London's Regents Park.