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Wounded soldiers being taken to hospital by ambulance, 1754.

Wounded soldiers being taken to hospital by ambulance, 1754.

Credits:Wellcome Library, London.

When we hear the sound of an ambulance’s siren we all know to move to one side to let the paramedics get to the emergency. In earlier times no system of transport existed and so a soldier faced three choices: treat his own wounds, lie there until found or rely on his comrades to carry him to a doctor.

By the 800s CE the armies of the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI operated a type of ambulance service. The men were known as duputati and it was their job to carry men on the left side of their horses.

Dominique Larrey set up his system of flying ambulances, which were wheeled carts, in the late 1700s. When the Crimean War was declared in 1853 there were no orderlies or wagon-drivers employed by the British Army. Lack of transport for casualties was a problem as only 24 carts for local use were available. The Hospital Conveyance Corps was formed in May 1854 to carry stretchers and drive wagons.

But it still took a long time to get to hospital. Men were transferred to a ship and sent to Scutari (where Florence Nightingale had set up a hospital), which was 300 miles from the battlefield and took 3-5 sailing days to reach.


Related links


R Corbett Bell, The Ambulance: A History (London: McFarland and Co, 2008)