Few realize that the first contingent of the United States Army to see active duty in Europe during the First World War came out of Cleveland, OH. The Lakeside Unit, a group of physicians, nurses and enlisted men provided medical care to allied troops from 1917-1919. In fact, the organization of the Lakeside Unit began nearly two years before the US entered the war when American Ambassador to France, Myron T. Herrick, asked friend and fellow Clevelander Dr. George Crile, to organize a surgical team to study medical conditions in France. Crile, Chief of Surgery at Lakeside Hospital, drew from the personnel of Lakeside Hospital to staff the unit and arranged for a term of three months service at the American Ambulance in Paris. The experience at the American Ambulance convinced Dr. Crile that base hospitals should be staffed by men and women who worked together as a unit and had developed an esprit de corps. In the summer of 1915, after Crile returned to Cleveland, Surgeon General W.C. Gorgas asked him to outline a plan for the organization and equipment of base hospitals should the US enter the war. In cooperation with the Red Cross Cleveland Chapter, Crile prepared a plan to make US civilian hospitals available for overseas military service, marking the beginning of the “Hospital Unit Plan of Organization of the Medical Reserve Corps of the US Army for Service in Base Hospitals”.
The American Red Cross initiated the formation of the base hospital units by various civilian hospitals through out the country. A mock mobilization led by the Red Cross was held in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia on October 27, 1916 using Red Cross and Lakeside Unit personnel. This experimental mobilization revealed deficiencies in planning and led to the establishment of a committee to standardized medical supplies and equipment for base hospitals. This resulted in greatly accelerating the medical preparations when war was declared.
On April 28, 1917, 22 days after the United States declared war on Imperial Germany, Dr. Crile received a telegram from General Gorgas asking if the Lakeside Unit could be ready for duty in 10 days. Crile’s response assured Gorgas that the Lakeside Unit, now designated Base Hospital No. 4, could be ready within the desired time. The Unit consisted of 27 officers, 64 nurses, and 155 enlisted men. Colonel Harry L. Gilchrist, Medical Corps U. S. Army, arrived on May 3rd to take command and eight days after the receiving the order to mobilize, the personnel of Base Hospital No. 4 left Cleveland for New York. Sailing from New York harbor on May 8th aboard the H.M.S. Orduna, they docked in Liverpool England on May 18th. The officers and nurses proceeded to London where the King and Queen of England greeted them at Buckingham Palace, while the enlisted men traveled on to Blackpool. The Unit reunited at Southhampton and sailed for France aboard the Western Australia, a British hospital ship. Sailing up the Seine River to Rouen, France the Unit arrived on May 25, the first American troops to land in France. Buses were waiting to move the Lakeside Unit to General Hospital No. 9 of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.)
Cleveland’s medical figures had a significant impact on medical techniques before and during the US involvement in World War I. This virtual exhibit chronicles the Unit’s service from 1914 through Armistace Day in 1919. Through a cooperative effort between the Stanley A. Ferguson Archives at the University Hospitals of Cleveland and the Dittrick Medical History Center of Case Western Reserve University, original images and documents from both institution’s holdings have been compiled to produce this exhibit. A quick scan of fellow historical institutions in Cleveland produced materials relating to the Unit. Thanks go to the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and the Western Reserve Historical Society for their assistance and use of their collections.