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United States. Army. Base Hospital No. 12

 Organization

In October, 1916, Dr. Frederick A. Besley, a surgeon at the Northwestern University Medical School, began organizing a general hospital unit to assist the Allied war effort in Europe. Northwestern University contributed $5,000 to the unit. The medical officers came primarily from Northwestern with others from Rush and the University of Illinois. The nurses came from Cook County, Mercy, Augustana, and Evanston hospitals. Many of the enlisted men had been students at Northwestern and other universities in the Chicago area. Although officially called the U.S. Army Base Hospital No. 12 (Chicago Unit) it was frequently referred to as the Northwestern University Base Hospital.

Dr. Besley, commissioned a major, became director and chief of surgical services for the unit which left Chicago on May 16, 1917. It sailed on the Mongolia from New York on May 19, with a complement of 240.

On May 20, during gunnery practice aboard ship, portions of the brass cup of a shell boomeranged, killing two of the nurses (Edith Ayers and Helen Woods) and injuring a third (Emma Matzen). The Mongolia returned to New York, the two bodies and the injured nurse were removed, and new ammunition was loaded. The Mongolia set sai1 again on May 23.

The unit Landed at Falmouth, England on June 2 for a brief stay, during which the personnel were entertained by Sir Thomas Lipton and were greeted by King George V and Queen Mary.

On June 11 the unit Landed at Boulogne, France and was transported fifteen miles along the Channel coast to the Dannes-Camier area. Here the unit, as the second U.S. hospital unit to reach France, fulfilled the first part of its mission by taking over the position of the British Expeditionary Force's Base Hospital No. 18, thus freeing the British staff for duty closer to the front Line.

For the next 22 months the unit operated a 1,200 to 1,500 bed tent-and-hut hospital, treating some 60,000 patients, mostly British soldiers. Occasional German air raids in the area created dangers beyond the usual hazards of disease and accident. Most of the 330 officers, nurse, and enlisted men returned to the United States in April, 1919.

In World War II Northwestern, primarily through the efforts of Drs. Michael L. Mason and J. Roscoe Miller of the Northwestern University Medical School, revived the unit as the 12th General Hospital, in February, 1942. Mason had served with the unit in World War I as sergeant in charge of the orderlies.

The unit left the United States on December 12, 1942, and landed at Oran, Algeria on December 26. The unit then marched five miles to Ain-el-Turk where the hospital was set up and put in operation. After heavy activity the unit embarked from Oran on December 15, 1943, and landed at Naples on December 19.

In June, 1944, the unit took ship to Anzio and then moved to a position near Rome. On November 19 it was shipped to Leghorn and established the hospital on the coast just north of that port. The next three months were especially active. By July 7, 1945, the hospital had discharged its last patients and the unit itself came to its practical end on August 11, with just 19 of the original professional, group from Northwestern left. Final orders arrived on September 1, 1945.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

United States Army Base Hospital Number 12 World War I and II Records

 Collection
Identifier: 0/20/7
Abstract U.S. Army Base Hospital No. 12 (Chicago Unit), frequently referred to as the Northwestern University Base Hospital, was organized in October 1916 to assist the Allied war effort in Europe, and revived in World War II. Records from various souurces include clippings, programs, poems, newsletters, journals, published articles, memorabilia, correspondence, photographs, and a scrapbook.