While Bullets Fly: The Story of a Canadian Field Surgical Unit in the Second World War
, Jan 7, 2008
- 348 pages
A soldier is badly wounded in a mobile, fast-moving theatre of war. Without rapid surgery, he will die. There are no helicopters to move him out to a hospital.
This was the problem faced by the military medical authorities in the Second World War. Their solution: take the medical services to the wounded! They set up mobile ambulance units, field dressing stations and blood transfusion units, all based on trucks so that they could move swiftly to keep up with the troops.
They also set up field surgical units, which were mobile operating rooms based on three trucks and managed by the surgeons themselves. They operated in everything from tents to wine cellars, abandoned schoolhouses and hospitals to monasteries and cathedrals. Working often in conditions that would be condemned in modern hospitals, they did whatever it took to save lives.
This is the story of one such unit, the 2nd Canadian Field Surgical Unit under the command of the young surgeon Rocke Robertson: from its set-up and training in England to the historic Allied landings in Sicily; through the killing grounds of central Sicily and southern Italy to the horrific Battle of Ortona on Italy's Adriatic coast. Operating in stifling heat and raw cold, fighting off dust, flies, exhaustion and malaria, they dealt with wounds and patient loads that stretched their imagination, ingenuity and strength to the breaking point.
These units were the precursors of the Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (MASH) in the Korean War, where the wounded soldiers were transferred swiftly and smoothly by helicopter to a medical facility set up behind the lines.
Written by Rocke Robertson's son, this is a vivid and intimate account of a field surgical unit in action - saving lives while bullets fly.