From the diary of Leutnant d.R. Wilhelm Egly, killed
in action on the 27th October 1917. At the time of the action described below
he was fighting in front of the Toter Mann.
"We could no longer wait; we had to go through the wall
of fire that seemed to have no end.
"The mill!" Said someone quietly and the
others felt a cold shudder....
A splintered stretcher lays on the lip of a shellhole,
a badly wounded man underneath it. Next to him lays a torn off arm with a
redcross armband, the stretcher bearers lay dead in the shellhole. Four men
have been killed trying to save one. More stretcher bearers are clambering down
the side of the hill.
The heart beats, seemingly close to explosion but they
move calmly with their heavy load, as if they were walking down the cool
corridors of a hospital and not through a night in hell. They put the stretcher
down and pull the badly wounded man out of the mud. They lay him on the
stretcher next to the other, two men on one stretcher. Wounded men are heavy,
Out of the hell around the mill they walk, carrying
both men. They leave one of the wounded in the safety of a bunker in the old
German defensive line on the southern edge of the Forgeswald. They would come
back for him after they had carried the other wounded soldier to the Hauptverbandplatz.
Night after night these loyal stretcher-bearers made
the journey well aware that they were walking into the valley of death."
Stretcher bearer Josef Nagel was serving in the Sanitäts Kompagnie Nr.1 of XVI Armeekorps when he received the Iron Cross 2nd class. The Korps was in the Argonne, bordering on the Verdun Sector.
The pain and suffering of the wounded was the same
whether a soldier wore field grey or horizon blue and the notes of a French
doctor could just as accurately describe a German field hospital.
"The bloody bandages are dropped on the floor; we
have no time to dispose of them. They form a carpet that is ankle high on the
An artilleryman is brought in, he is in terrible
condition. His wounds are horrible; he has bled a lot, his face like white
marble. Both his legs are smashed, attached with just a few strands of meat and
sinew. He is still bleeding heavily.
While he is being given a morphine injection a doctor
The splintered bones stick in all directions, the
wound is full of hanging bits of flesh, remains of his trousers and underwear.
Carefully we try and bandage the wounds. This means moving the leg... there is
a fountain of blood that shoots out, like liquid pouring out of a keg it soaks
The poor man lets out a low moan and dies, it happens
so fast we are not prepared for it, we almost don't notice it.
New screaming at the entrance, this time a wounded man
with a chest full of bullet holes, all bleeding badly. He is bandaged, gets a
morphine injection is sent into a deep sleep with ether... he is then carried
The Wound Badge award document for stretcher bearer Alfons Rösch. Serving in the 35th Sanitätskompagnie of the 28th Infantry Division. He was attached to the Badische Leib Grenadier Regiment Nr. 109 at the time the document was issued.
"Big black patches marked the places where the
stretchers stood before the wounded were carried into the surgery. Leaning
against the wall were the empty stretchers, their canvas covers stained black
with crusts of blood.
The bearers stand around with haggard faces, tortured
looks, as if sentenced to death.
Behind the barn the sight is terrible. Wounded who had
died on the way, or during bandaging had been pushed aside to make way for
those who were still living. There they lay, piled up on each other, open
torsos, missing limbs, terrible to see. The faces carry grimaces of anger, pain
or desperation while the bodies lay in grotesque positions.
On a ground lay the
remains of a captain, three ribs and half a face wrapped in a tunic. Next to it
lays a similar package with a paper name tag.
The pile of bloody corpses is the stuff nightmares are
made of. At night the rats add to the horror, eating away the faces and eyes,
leaving bloody skulls staring out of empty sockets.
Bury them? There are simply too many. We have to live
amongst them, eat amongst them and sleep amongst them...."
The Iron Cross award document awarded to Alfons Rösch. At the time of the award the division was serving on the Somme where they lost very heavily.
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