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Private_Robertson4568

WW1 Infantry Stretcher-Bearers

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Private_Robertson4568

My Great Grandfather, Private Guildford Spencer Robertson (4568) of the 2nd Australian Infantry Battalion, 1st brigade, 1st division served on the western front. He enlisted in 1915 and was sent on the frontline in late July 1916 in France during the Somme offensive. He was captured at Hill 60 in Belgium during the German Spring offensive.

He was a stretcher-bearer in an infantry battalion my grandfather told me. I have a patch that says 'SB' that he wore. Did infantry stretcher-bearers work full time as a bearer or part time? Were they in the frontline trenches in WW1? Did they have rifles? Did they also play infantry roles as well as bearing roles?

If anyone has information for me on infantry stretcher bearers please comment!

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sotonmate

This is duplicated and requiring removal.

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Muerrisch

Did infantry stretcher-bearers work full time as a bearer or part time? Part-time, sometimes there were no casualties.

Were they in the frontline trenches in WW1?

Yes.

Did they have rifles? SBs could be required to act as riflemen so on those occasions would have a rifle.

Did they also play infantry roles as well as bearing roles? Yes, see above.

If anyone has information for me on infantry stretcher bearers please comment!

I know nothing about Australian SBs but, early in the war, British SBs were bandsmen. later, there were not enough bandsmen.

Edited by Muerrisch
erratum

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FROGSMILE

Just to add to Muerrisch’s response, it had long been in the British and Commonwealth military policy that regimental bandsmen would in times of war act as stretcher bearers.  This relatively simplistic policy worked well enough in the small wars of the colonial empire, but when it came up against the industrialised killing of WW1 it faltered, when large numbers of bandsmen were killed in the early months of the war and it was realised that they were probably better employed in their musical capacity to raise morale and aid recruiting in the towns and villages of Britain.  From that time units organised their own stretcher bearer arrangements and placed them under command of regimental medical officers and based them at the regimental aid post.  Men were often rotated through the role, not least because of attrition rates.  Regimental bands became based at their regimental depots, and followed a programme of employment involving duties both in Britain and in France and Flanders.

Edited by FROGSMILE

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Private_Robertson4568

Thankyou a lot for the information. My great grandad who was an infantry stretcher bearer also has a round qualification patch that says 'SB'. Does that mean he could have been a full time stretcher bearer without a rifle?

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FROGSMILE
12 minutes ago, Private_Robertson4568 said:

Thankyou a lot for the information. My great grandad who was an infantry stretcher bearer also has a round qualification patch that says 'SB'. Does that mean he could have been a full time stretcher bearer without a rifle?


No, it just means that he would have worn the patch (often seen on arm bands) for the periods he was employed on stretcher bearing duties.  Rifles were not carried acting as a stretcher bearer, not least because it got in the way and inhibited their work.

 

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F202D647-D271-4B68-9108-DFFD90F45862.jpeg

Edited by FROGSMILE

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Private_Robertson4568
1 minute ago, FROGSMILE said:


No, it just means that he would have worn the patch (often seen on arm bands) whilst employed on stretcher bearing duties.

But the patch isn't the usual red and white armband. It is a permanently sewn on patch. It is much smaller and is a qualification patch. Does that mean he was a certified stretcher-bearer or something?

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FROGSMILE
7 hours ago, Private_Robertson4568 said:

But the patch isn't the usual red and white armband. It is a permanently sewn on patch. It is much smaller and is a qualification patch. Does that mean he was a certified stretcher-bearer or something?


No, the red and white badge (Red Cross) you describe was the qualification, or more accurately, mark of role for Royal Army Medical Corps - RAMC (and Dominion equivalents).

Stretcher bearers were regimental soldiers employed as stretcher bearers.  The arm bands or patches (both were used) were intended to mark the stretcher bearers out on sight.  RAMC stretcher bearers (both types existed) could be identified by their Red Cross badge.  Regimental stretcher bearers operated from the RAP close to the front line.  RAMC equivalents operated from casualty clearing and field dressing stations further back.
 

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16E7B447-DF27-46B5-A98D-9B883DE43237.jpeg

Edited by FROGSMILE

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Private_Robertson4568
2 minutes ago, FROGSMILE said:


No, the red and white badge you describe was the qualification, or more accurately, mark of role for Royal Army Medical Corps (and Dominion equivalents.

Stretcher bearers were regimental soldiers employed as stretcher bearers.  The arm bands or patches (both were used) were intended to mark the stretcher bearers out on sight.

Yeah okay. So do you think my great grandad was a regimental stretcher-bearer who would do his job during times of high casualties like attacks and barrages? And while on the front line also carried a rifle?

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FROGSMILE

Yes.  Men switched between roles as and when ordered to do so.  The enclosed photo showing a trench view depicts a group of Australian stretcher bearers.

 

6F3CF51C-024C-4D48-9B84-A6E78C84CD4A.jpeg

89A5E57C-4DD8-4A73-B31E-D3CEA6C8735B.jpeg

Edited by FROGSMILE

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Private_Robertson4568
3 minutes ago, FROGSMILE said:

Yes.  Men switched between roles as and when ordered to do so.

Image result for ww1 stretcher bearer qualification patch    The patch looked liked this but said 'SB'

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FROGSMILE
5 minutes ago, Private_Robertson4568 said:

   The patch looked liked this but said 'SB'


Yes, that was a later pattern badge.  See enclosed photo.

F9F75EF5-4DC9-4117-950E-51FC624CEFB1.jpeg

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Private_Robertson4568
2 minutes ago, FROGSMILE said:


Yes, that was a later pattern badge.  See enclosed photo.

F9F75EF5-4DC9-4117-950E-51FC624CEFB1.jpeg

Thankyou. I think he was consistently a stretcher-bearer according to my grandfather. He also had a medical profession so I think that is why. But when he wasn't a bearer he myst have been a rifleman.

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MrSwan

It is worth reading "The Long Carry", the journal of Frank Dunham, who served as a stretcher bearer with various battalions of the London Regiment. Although trained as a rifleman, he had previously obtained first aid qualifications as a civilian, and was selected as an SB on arrival in France.

 

It appears to have been a semi-permanent appointment and it is quite striking that he seemed to live in fear of losing his position and having to return to the rank and file.

 

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Private_Robertson4568
4 minutes ago, MrSwan said:

It is worth reading "The Long Carry", the journal of Frank Dunham, who served as a stretcher bearer with various battalions of the London Regiment. Although trained as a rifleman, he had previously obtained first aid qualifications as a civilian, and was selected as an SB on arrival in France.

 

It appears to have been a semi-permanent appointment and it is quite striking that he seemed to live in fear of losing his position and having to return to the rank and file.

 

I think this is the same thing with my great grandad. Because he told the family that he was a stretcher-bearer. 

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FROGSMILE
49 minutes ago, Private_Robertson4568 said:

I think this is the same thing with my great grandad. Because he told the family that he was a stretcher-bearer. 


Once a man was given a role and found to be competent at it, he tended to be employed in that way consistently, but what I was trying to make clear is that every man in an infantry battalion is first and foremost a rifleman.  When out of the line he would have had to take his turn at guard, and participate in various forms of training and practice, including with his rifle.  Each man was allocated a weapon that when not in use was held in a secured store (arms kot, or armoury) of one form or another, although for most it was with them all the time.  An infantry man might carry out any one of a variety of roles, e.g. bomber, mortar man, Lewis machine gunner, runner, drummer, stretcher bearer, cook, but his most basic role was always that of rifleman.  I hope that helps.

Edited by FROGSMILE

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Private_Robertson4568
50 minutes ago, FROGSMILE said:


Once a man was given a role and found to be competent at it, he tended to be employed in that way consistently, but what I was trying to make clear is that every man in an infantry battalion is first and foremost a rifleman.  When out of the line he would have had to take his turn at guard, and participate in various forms of training and practice, including with his rifle.  Each man was allocated a weapon that when not in use was held in a secured store (arms kot, or armoury) of one form or another, although for most it was with them all the time.  An infantry man might carry out any one of a variety of roles, e.g. bomber, mortar man, Lewis machine gunner, runner, drummer, stretcher bearer, cook, but his most basic role was always that of rifleman.  I hope that helps.

Thankyou very much! It does a lot. It confirms what you say because he had a medical profession. That is why he was mostly a stretcher-bearer on the frontline. He had experience.

Edited by Private_Robertson4568

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FROGSMILE
1 hour ago, Private_Robertson4568 said:

Thankyou very much! It does a lot. It confirms what you say because he had a medical profession. That is why he was mostly a stretcher-bearer on the frontline. He had experience.


Yes, that is one notable advantage of a citizen based army formed from scratch.  They did not have the military experience of their regular counterparts, but they brought with them experience from civilian life that could sometimes be put to good use.  Most intensive wars on a scale of national survival often start like that, with relatively small regular army formations bearing the brunt until such time as national resources can be mobilised and properly trained.

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sotonmate
15 hours ago, sotonmate said:

This is duplicated and requiring removal.

How polite !

Removed my comments instead and left this duplicate which was unposted at the time !

PR 4568 - did you get to see my post before it was zapped ?

Edited by sotonmate

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Muerrisch

A few words of amplification.

1. Australian practice regarding stretcher bearers was not necessarily identical to British, and most of the Forum's knowledge base is British.

2. Frogsmile shows several versions of badges/ patches/qualifications with the letters SB. The two truly circular ones, with letters entwined, were qualifications available solely to members of the British volunteer forces and were worn almost entirely "at Home" although a few may have made their way to war in the early months.

3. The letters SB in a half wreath, made on khaki worsted, MAY be Australian official issue, but were certainly not British official issue. There were very many supposedly "unofficial" badges worn in the war. "Unofficial" in this context means never authorised in Army Orders, and never provided from central funds. Below that category there were badges provided by formations, or by units, and thus sanctioned. Below that there were badges knocked out by enterprising tailors with ready sales to individuals. The SB in half wreath is highly likely to have indicated stretcher bearer, and might well have been either Australian official, Australian unofficial, or British unofficial.

 

I heartily endorse the advice above:

It is worth reading "The Long Carry", the journal of Frank Dunham, who served as a stretcher bearer with various battalions of the London Regiment. Although trained as a rifleman, he had previously obtained first aid qualifications as a civilian, and was selected as an SB on arrival in France.

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charlie962

Liana Markovich, University of  NSW,  wrote this dissertation in 2015 that is very helpful. She might have produced a book since ?

 

Charlie

Edited by charlie962

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Muerrisch

See also:

Australian Army Badges Cloth Insignia of the Army in Australia, 1860-1993

Cossum, J. K.

Note that this is the army IN, not OF, Australia: the Australian Expeditionary Force which fought outside Australia diverged from the Militia concept to more closely parallel the British. I have the book somewhere and will look for SD wreath but do not feel optimistic.

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Paul Bradford
11 hours ago, FROGSMILE said:


Once a man was given a role and found to be competent at it, he tended to be employed in that way consistently, but what I was trying to make clear is that every man in an infantry battalion is first and foremost a rifleman.  When out of the line he would have had to take his turn at guard, and participate in various forms of training and practice, including with his rifle.  Each man was allocated a weapon that when not in use was held in a secured store (arms kot, or armoury) of one form or another, although for most it was with them all the time.  An infantry man might carry out any one of a variety of roles, e.g. bomber, mortar man, Lewis machine gunner, runner, drummer, stretcher bearer, cook, but his most basic role was always that of rifleman.  I hope that helps.

My Great Grandfather was a Road Sweeper in civilian life and a Pioneer engaged on road repairs in France. The photograph of him in the front rank on the right, when looking at the photograph, shows him marching with a rifle, when you'd expect that he would have been carrying a shovel!

Cover of the magazine20171204_14294827.jpg

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Private_Robertson4568
9 hours ago, sotonmate said:

How polite !

Removed my comments instead and left this duplicate which was unposted at the time !

PR 4568 - did you get to see my post before it was zapped ?

Sorry mate. I am still getting used to this forum. And yes I did. I am sorry for that.

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FROGSMILE
2 hours ago, Paul Bradford said:

My Great Grandfather was a Road Sweeper in civilian life and a Pioneer engaged on road repairs in France. The photograph of him in the front rank on the right, when looking at the photograph, shows him marching with a rifle, when you'd expect that he would have been carrying a shovel!

 


That is enormously evocative for me because in a career of 40-years some of my happiest times were as a pioneer. The pioneer concept began, at least in its modern guise, in the British-Indian Army, and FM ‘Bobs’ Roberts was a great  supporter and advocate.  All men were to be trained as infantry with semi-skilled engineering skills.  As such they could wield a shovel like few others, but were equally adept with a rifle, which was always carried and well used.  As fast follow on troops intended to secure, improve and hold captured trenches, from 1917 they carried double the usual number of Lewis Guns with 4 per platoon instead of 2.  Several, so armed pioneer battalions played a leading part in slowing down the Kaiserschlact advances of March 1918.

Edited by FROGSMILE

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