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No. 6 Casualty Clearing Station
We are seeking information about No. 6 CSS (Casualty Clearing Station) who we think were mustered at Catterick in September 1939 with Matron Marian Winfield Bannister and eight other QAIMNS (Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service). The nurses of 6CCS BEF (British Expeditionary Force) were evacuated in the evening of the first day from Dunkirk in 1940 on The Worthing. They were still nursing on the voyage home. An account of their last few days up to and including the journey home is in the National Archives. Marian and Gretchen Leyland's hand written accounts are included. Does anyone know the 6CSS movements prior to this? Did all the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) men make it home to Britain?
If you can help with info then please contact us.
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Marian's nurses were: Australian nurses Sister Agnes McCoy Hartrick and Sister (Mrs) Faith Mortimer Brownhill; Sisters Gretchen Leyland and Teresa Lyons, who had both trained at Guy's Hospital; Sister Kate D (Kathleen Doris) Roberts from Liverpool; Sister Eileen Symon, who had trained at Hull Royal Infirmary, and Sister Jean (possibly Jessie Campbell) McKechnie from Argyll.
Stuart Cresswell has been researching his father's experience with the BEF in 1939 and 1940, for a talk originally to be given on 6th June this year, the 80th anniversary of the end of Operation Dynamo. He had been in the OTC (Officers Training Corps) at school and university and was commissioned on 13th May 1939 into SARO (Supplementary Army Reserve of Officers, renamed after the war as Regular Army Reserve of Officers) as lieutenant and called up on 31st August.
Initially he was medical officer with 42nd Royal Norfolks, but from 11 November 1939 until after returning via Dunkirk he was with the Light Section of No 6CCS as a major and in charge of radiology.
Stuart has the reports of both Marian Bannister and Gretchen Leyland (typewritten) incorporated into the 6CCS War Diaries for May 1940. The normal diaries having been destroyed when they expected to be captured. He also has the report of Lt Col Wheatley the commanding officer, Major Blackburne (possibly the adjutant) and another unidentified. He also has the war diaries for 6CCS from November 1939.
Until 29th February 1940 the Heavy Section remained at Verquin (about 30 miles west of the Belgium border and 45 miles south of the coast) closed but designated to go forward into Belgium when "activities" started. The war diaries report mostly "Administration and Training" with occasional forays to recce other sites as possible for CCS. The Heavy Section had nearly 100 tons of equipment which needed a railway train and 48hours notice to move.
On 2nd February the Light Section were posted to Metz to the Hospital Militaire Legouest there. They were to take no equipment but to take over that of the unit they were relieving, 1CCS. The Light Section comprised 4 officers, 4 nursing sisters and 26 OR.
A quarterly report of 15th March listed the principal cases: Influenza 58; Rubella 29; Carbon monoxide poisoning 9; Frostbite 6. There had been 11 wounded by gunshot. There had been 298 admissions: 19 officers and 274 Other Ranks. About two thirds were returned to their units with the remaining third evacuated some 200 km further back. One evacuation that month listed 9 medical cases (8 lying 1 sitting) 10 surgical (5 lying 5 sitting) and one sitting VD. Listed as Gastro enteritis, Pneumonia, Phthisis, Myocarditis, Tonsillitis, Bronchitis, Trochantari Bursitis; Hernia, Acute appendicitis, injury right knee, Fractured clavicle and head injury, GSW right leg, soetic hand, Piles, Paraphimosis, Paratitis, IAT finger; Gonorrhoea. These were of course before enemy activity in the west.
On 28th March the Light section returned to the area of Verquin, to a chateau at Vaudricourt.
The Germans invaded on 10th May. That was also the day that Winston Churchill took over as Prime Minister.
On 12th May the Light Section 6CCS moved forward to Haaltert, 60 miles into Belgium about 17 miles NW of Brussels and about 40 miles back from the Front at the River Dyle, the Heavy Section followed by train.
On 15th May the Heavy Section left Haaltert by train (part of the withdrawal) for Hazebrouch which would take two days. Sisters Leyland and Bannister were on that train. The Light Section (with Major Cresswell) remained to receive other casualties (though he is not sure for how long).
On the night 19/20th May the Heavy Section moved by train to Bailleul; the Light Section followed by day. They set up in the Mental Hospital at Bailleul "in spite of the presence of some 1800 female lunatics" nursed by nuns.
On 21st (or more likely 24th) May 6CCS received orders to return to Belgium: an error, having reached Messines they returned to Bailleul. Sister Leyland mentions Sister EM Symon at this time. On 21st May over 1000 patients were admitted.
700 patients were evacuated from Bailleul by train to Dunkirk.
On 26th May (completed on 27th May) everyone was evacuated to a farm on the Abeele-Stenvoorde road.
Also on 26th May the Sisters and 17 German prisoners were evacuated to Dunkirk. They boarded to Hospital Ship Worthing at 2100 hrs. This was the day that Churchill authorised Operation Dynamo. Sister Bannister reported 0500 on 27th May "Arrived at Newhaven".
On 28th May Lt Col Wheatley heard that the Belgians had laid down their arms and that the road to Dunkirk was open to the enemy. All available documents were destroyed, and they prepared for capture. However no further enemy activity and a thunderstorm allowed them to escape. They used a Michelin road map to find a devious route to Bergues outside Dunkirk. It was here in maintaining a Regimental Aid Post that his Father was Mentioned in Despatches (though he was recommended for Military Cross and has the citation).
On 30th May Lt Col Wheatley reported "Lt King was given permission to evacuate Dunkirk after delivering the salvaged stores. The CO and Maj Cresswell finally took an ambulance of wounded and others who had been collected at Teeteghem to Dunkirk and embarked with them at 0300 30 May with the permission of DDMS 3 Corps (Deputy Director of Medical Services). All embarked."
Stuart is not sure of the dates because Sisters Bannister and Leyland and Lt Col Wheatley report the same event on different days! They were relying on memory many months later. If you can add to the story of No 6CCS then please contact me and I shall pass the info on.
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