Mick Crumplin continues his medical blog by looking at Transport of wounded or sick soldiers in the Peninsula Wars

a watercolour of a Napoleonic battle scene

Wounded being carried away by comrades or on a Dooley (stretcher – far right) (Author’s image)

Transport for supplies, casualties and sick, ammunition and equipment was a massive challenge for Arthur Wellesley in the Peninsular campaigns (1808-14). He was starting a series of movements to defend his boundaries, plan for evacuation if necessary, capture critical fortified border towns and invade Spain, then France.

No mean feat with governmental parsimony, impoverished locals in occupied allied territory and, let’s be honest, difficult terrain save for major inter-city roadways. But Wellington had learnt much in the Low Countries and in India. The overwhelming priority was to prosecute a war against the French occupying armies in Spain. His problem was to choose between supply and evacuation of wounded or sick men was hard, but obvious. The sick and wounded had very little transport.

a cartoon showing a wounde man on a cart pulled by ox

‘Going Sick to the Rear’ – a cartoon by Thomas Rowlandson from ‘The Military Adventures of Johnny Newcombe’ (Author’s image)

McGrigor’s answer was to urge therapy for the sick and wounded to be administered nearer the front line. He even imported prefabricated portable wooden hospitals from Britain. Temporary hospitals were set up behind the areas of fighting. Nevertheless the British army lacked dedicated stretcher bearers and vehicles. The sick walked, were jolted unbearably in crude noisy farm wagons or rode on mule or horseback. Despite this, the treatment of casualties gradually improved under McGrigor. At Toulouse, the last action in the spring of 1814, the hospital mortality for the casualties was around 11%.