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Private Thomas

Stretcher-bearer Bear

Listen to Private Thomas’s Story

I reckon everyone’s heard of John Simpson Kirkpatrick. The newspapers call him the “Man with the Donkey” and he was a stretcher-bearer at Gallipoli. He got shot three weeks after we landed at Anzac Cove.

That’s a big risk when you’re a stretcher-bearer in the Australian Army Medical Corps. We don’t carry guns or bombs. Our job is just to find wounded diggers and get them to safety and help.

It’s dangerous work. Sometimes you’re running up and down the trenches and other times you’re out in no-man’s land between the enemy’s trenches and ours. Going into no man’s land is never good. After a big battle it can take days to collect all of the wounded and if the enemy are still in their trenches there is always the risk they’ll shoot at us, even if we are carrying a flag with a red cross or a plain white flag.

At Gallipoli we worked in pairs but on the Western Front in France and Belgium, where the ground gets thick and sticky with deep mud, it sometimes takes six of us to carry one stretcher. The first aid training I got from our medical officer means I can put a dressing on to stop bleeding or keep broken limbs in place, but our main job is to get our diggers back to the doctor as fast as possible without hurting them more.

Once the wounded are seen by the doctor at the Aid Post, which is usually pretty close to the action, we take them to the Dressing Stations a little further back from the fighting. Here they get even more medical attention, sometimes even urgent surgery. After that we move them to our Casualty Clearing Stations, which are like temporary hospitals with nurses, doctors, operating rooms and lots of beds. For the diggers who need special treatment or a lot of time to recover, we might send them to one of our General Hospitals or even send them on a Hospital Ship to England.

They reckon at Gallipoli we carried around 18,000 wounded diggers. It’s going add up to more than that on the Western Front, that’s for sure.

For diggers on the battlefield stretcher bearers could mean the difference between life and death, but it wasn’t just our soldiers they’d help. Aussie stretcher bearers would give aid to Germans or Turks – it made little difference if a bloke was in trouble they were there to help. These diggers are unsung heroes.