Returning Home – Remembering France
U.S.S. Mercury, Troop Transport Ship to America
Binnie and Milne led their men home as determinedly as they had led them to France. On 19 April 1919 the hospital personnel boarded the troop ship USS Mercury at St. Nazaire, France, and sailed to America, arriving on 30 April 1919. The unit was demobilized on 2 May 1919 at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and the men were then sent back to Kansas City. Within the space of just about one year the best of Kansas City doctors and nurses had created a 2,500 bed military base hospital in a foreign land at war, cared efficiently and well for nearly 10,000 patients, and returned to their homes without a single life lost in members of the hospital company.
After six months in America, on 6 November 1919, the members of the medical staff of Base Hospital #28 gathered at the University Club in Kansas City, where they were served a dinner of appetizers, filet mignon, Brussel sprouts in cream, hearts of lettuce with French dressing, and “fancy ice cream” and cake for dessert. John Binnie was the toastmaster, Lindsay Milne gave an address, Edward Skinner was appointed historian, and Charles Dennie read a poem about keeping alive the memories of Base Hospital #28. By the time of the dinner most of the hospital’s staff were again part of the growing medical community of greater Kansas City. It is not known whether or how often they gathered to remember service in France in subsequent years. The personal aspect of their military service with Base Hospital #28 was beautifully evidenced by the 1918 Christmas card, adorned with a photograph of the hospital in winter, sent by Dr. and Mrs. E. H. Skinner to family and friends.
Imaginative Christmas Greeting Card of 1918
John Binnie, the oldest of the staff members of Base Hospital #28, returned to his busy surgical practice, but in July 1921 suffered a stroke that left him without speech and a right-sided paralysis. He was unable to continue his surgical practice, though over a period of several years he did experience some recovery in military hospitals in California. Binnie finally settled in San Diego where he lived as an invalid until his death in 1936. Lindsay Milne opened a private practice in Kansas City and was a valued member of the staffs of the University of Kansas Hospital, the Christian Church hospital, General Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital, Research Hospital, and Menorah Hospital. He was an avid hunter and fisherman, consistent with his Scottish origins. He died of lung cancer in 1944 at his home in Fairway, Kansas.
Many of the other staff members of Base Hospital #28 became leaders in medicine, locally, regionally, and nationally. Charles Dennie, a neighbor of Lindsay Milne in Fairway, joined the distinguished company of dermatologists in Kansas City. Rex Dively joined Frank Dickson, an orthopedic consultant to the Third Army, to form the famed Dickson Dively Orthopedic Clinic at St. Luke’s Hospital and conducted a research program at the Kansas University School of Medicine. George Hoxie, the first dean of the Kansas University School of Medicine, maintained a general practice in Kansas City and was involved in tuberculosis control and school health. Donald Black was long associated with the Kansas State Department of Health and the Kansas University School of Medicine. G. Wilse Robinson bought the Christian Church Hospital on West Paseo, where Base Hospital #28 was conceived in 1917, and created the Robinson Neurological Clinic. Sam Snider was a leader in the care of tuberculosis patients in Kansas City. Edward Skinner was one of the founders of the Southwest Clinical Society and also one of America’s leading radiologists. Frank Teachenor returned to become the area’s first neurosurgeon, the founder of the Section of Neurological Surgery at the Kansas University School of Medicine, and a leader in surgical and neurosurgical circles in America. All of these men and most of the other medical staff members taught at the Kansas University School of Medicine.
In 1962 Charles Dennie began a weekly series in The Bulletin of the Jackson County Medical Society. Titled “Little Known Medical History” this engaging set of 55 essays were his memories of Base Hospital #28 at a remove of time of over 40 years. He described the USS Megantic as taking 2,000 soldiers and 300 nurses to Europe, the nurses becoming prettier and prettier with every day of the voyage. Once in Limoges his attempt, with Claude Hunt and Joe Kimberlin, to enjoy the company of three presumed mademoiselles at the movies and a leisurely walk home, was ended abruptly by a large, menacing, irate husband with a black beard. He described the successful effort of the Kansas City doctors to reduce the thirteen official U S Army hospital forms used for patients down too just three. In respect to medical improvisation he remembered finding that two-percent sodium bicarbonate in sterile Vaseline eased the pain of mustard gas skin lesions and promoted healing as well. Without antibiotics he and his colleagues successfully treated acute meningococcal meningitis and its sequelae with intravenous anti-meningococcal horse serum in six patients. He lauded Morris Clark, the anesthesiologist who, with four trained corpsmen, gave thousands of anesthetics without a single anesthetic death. To help the busy surgeons the hospital’s dentists treated the jaw fractures. His colleague, G. Wilse Robinson, who was the neurology and psychiatry consultant, was described as always striding around in calvary boots with spurs attached. As venereal disease was the province of dermatology in 1918, Dennie had wariness of but grudging respect for the wiliness of French prostitutes. While decrying the acute gonorrhea that brought a sergeant to his attention he admitted admiration for his discovery that a sheet of French toilet paper was exactly the size and texture of a five franc note. Proffered to a French lady of the evening in a dark encounter the sergeant claimed that he had never been refused service.
French Five franc Bank Note
Dennie wrote that, when gas warfare began, it was French Senegalese troops who discovered that a cloth soaked in their urine and held over nose and mouth was protection from the acute effects of chlorine gas. There followed gas masks that used chemicals similar to urea to counteract chlorine gas. Dennie found that mustard gas was fatal in only two percent of those “gassed” but, nonetheless, disabled survivors for many weeks. Bayonet wounds were rare in hospitalized patients and wounds caused by shrapnel were far more common than those caused by bullets.
Dennie ended his series of 55 essays with these words, published on 23 February 1963. “It takes a common and much beloved cause to draw people into an insoluble group and to make people take up a common cause. We who are left are old and worn; but we shall have the love of our outfit in our hearts so I will say farewell to a brave and gallant company!”
Images and statistics in the section are from the National World War I Museum, Kansas City, Missouri, USA.