Kansas native, Nelle Kuhn volunteered for service as a nurse just before the United States entered the war in April 1917. She applied for an emergency passport in order to get to France in May 1917 and proceeded to U.S. Base Hospital #21 as a nurse sometime after May 22. Base Hospital #21 arrived in England in late May, and after a short period of training transferred to Rouen, France as part of the British General Hospital #12, which had been in operation since late 1914 in the Rouen horse track. Wounded men from the Somme sector of the front lines were sent there for initial treatment followed by evacuation to England (known as “blighty” to the English soldiers) or southern France for recovery.
Base Hospital #21 was one of six American military field hospitals initially prepared under the auspices of the American Red Cross before the U.S. entered war. This was done when the U.S. Army was not permitted to expand, in order to preserve American neutrality – including its medical capabilities. The Red Cross gathered the necessary equipment for creating the hospitals while the Army recruited the personnel – who, in the case of the doctors were largely recruited as volunteers from medical colleges. Base Hospital #21 was formed in St. Louis at the Washington University School of Medicine.
According to Special Orders No. 115 dated April 25, 1919, Nelle, and other nurses at the Nurse’s Demobilization Station in New York, NY, were ordered to proceed home for discharge. Ms. Kuhn’s service was recognized by the French with the Croix de guerre – awarded for gallant service and courage. During her time at the hospital in France, Ms. Kuhn kept a journal in which she asked the soldiers under her care to record their names and any comments they wanted to write – many took the opportunity to make statements about the war, others recorded their feelings in poetry while others expressed their thanks for the care they received at the hospital and for the kindness of the nurses. Several patients left drawings, cartoons or even watercolor pictures. This journal has been recorded and made available for this exhibit with the kind permission of James Philip Foster, Nelle Kuhn’s great-grandnephew.
Guide to the Journal
Note that most of the names entered in the journal have numbers before or after them – these are British army ID numbers – many also have abbreviations for the units in which they served i.e. 9th Royal Fusiliers – which stands for the 9th battalion of the Royal Fusiliers a.k.a. the City of London regiment. The dates recorded begin with July 10, 1917. The following glossary should help with the many abbreviations and acronyms in the journal which may not be familiar.
A.E.F.: American Expeditionary Force – the American army in France
A.I.F.: Australian Imperial Force
A + S H: Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders – British infantry unit
Batt: Artillery battery or infantry battalion
B.E.F.: British Expeditionary Force – the British army in France
Inniskilling Dragoons: Cavalry regiment
KORL: King’s Own Regiment (Lancaster)
K.O.S.B.: King’s Own Scottish Borderers infantry regiment
KOYLI: King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry regiment
K.R.R.C.: King’s Royal Rifle Corps
M.G. Coy.: Machine gun company
QueensR.F.A.: Royal Field Artillery – light and medium artillery batteries
R.G.A.: Royal Garrison Artillery – heavy artillery batteries
Royal Fusiliers: Infrantry regiment
S.A.I.: South African Infantry
S. Staff.: South Staffordshire Regiment
T.M.B.: Trench Mortar Brigade
Yorks: Yorkshire Infantry regiment
Ranks / titles
Gunner, gnr, gunr: artillery gunner
L/Cpl: Lance corporal – enlisted rank below sergeant
Pvt, pte, pvte: Private – lowest military rank
Rfm: Rifleman – enlisted member of an infantry regiment with the “Rifles” designation