"Physicians in WWI, Part 1"
In 1914, Dr. Ralph McReynolds joined the Red Cross. He was finishing a residency at St. Louis City Hospital.
He was born in 1884, the son of Dr. Robert McReynolds of Knox City, Mo. His grandfather, Dr. Burdett McReynolds, was also a physician and was considered a pioneer of Knox County.
Dr. Ralph McReynolds received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Chicago in 1910 and his medical degree from Rush Medical School in 1913.
McReynolds was a practicing physician in Kirksville, Mo., in 1915, when he received notification from the U.S. government that he was to be in charge of the American Red Cross Hospital at De Panne, Belgium, also known as La Panne in French. According to The Quincy Daily Herald, he took the position for the valuable experience such surgical work would provide. He sailed for France on the steamer Rochambeau with a fellow Missouri physician, Dr. W.A Clark, on Dec. 4, 1915. They arrived in Bordeaux, took a train to Paris, another train to Calais, and on to La Panne in a car. The trip was not without adventure, as they were initially denied entrance into Belgium.
La Panne housed the government and the king and queen of Belgium because the Germans had taken Brussels. McReynolds told the story of the daily visits of Queen Elizabeth, her work with the wounded, and the fact that the town was not shelled by the German Army as the queen was from Germany and well loved. She gave Christmas gifts to patients and the doctors. To the doctors she gave cigars, candy and a muffler.
At La Panne, the American unit had two surgeons, and 22 English and French nurses. Each surgeon was responsible for 100 cases. The hospital had 1,000 beds and was located a little over 5 miles behind the front lines. The hospital wasn't deliberately shelled, but its staff worried about the air war as the planes did not have a very accurate aim.
The Americans were recalled home in 1916 because Red Cross units were considered emergency units until the belligerents could manage their own wounded and because the Allied authorities were increasingly worried about infiltrators and spies and didn't trust the Americans.
McReynolds moved to Quincy after his service in December 1916 and opened an office in the Illinois State Bank Building. He joined the Adams County Medical Society and remained active in the American Red Cross by teaching first aid classes and giving lectures on his experiences in Belgium.
In late April 1917, McReynolds and 13 other Adams County physicians signed papers to serve in the reserve medical corps. The others were Henry J. Jurgens, John A. Koch, Walter Stevenson, Vernon Chapman, J.K. Reticker, Thomas B. Knox, E.L. Caddick, R.H. Jacobs and Henry S. Siewell of the Illinois Veterans Home, O. F. Schullian, H.F. Litchfield, Albert Martin Austin of Mendon and Lennie Aleshire of Plainville. At the start of the war, the Army Medical Department had fewer than 1,000 people but increased to over 300,000 by war's end. The medical department expanded its physician list to 31,530, which was almost 24 percent of American physicians.
Also in April, the American Expeditionary Force was formed, initially sending 14,000 men overseas in June. The force numbered 2 million by the end of the war. The troops didn't move to the front until October 1917 because Gen. John J. Pershing wanted them to be thoroughly trained for combat. They saw only limited action. The major battles involving the AEF didn't occur until 1918.
While the first troops were headed overseas, the surgeon general was considering commissions as first lieutenants for the 14 Adams County doctors. In anticipation of those physicians being called for service, the Adams County Medical Society "appointed a committee of five physicians to manage a canvas of the medical fraternity of the county for the purpose of ascertaining how many doctors were eligible for army service." The committee was to obtain pledges from society members to reserve a part of their fee when they treated the patients of the doctors in service. In addition, new physicians were to be discouraged from moving to the community during the duration of the war. These measures were taken to protect the practice and livelihood of doctors at the front.
Dr. Thomas B. Knox was the first to receive a commission and left for Fort Riley, Kan., in July 1917. In August, McReynolds and Dr. Lennie Aleshire left for Fort Riley to fill the government quota for physicians from Adams County.
After nine months as a member of the medical corps, McReynolds sailed for France on May 27, 1918, aboard the Tunisian. He was assigned to Field Hospital 19 of the 4th Division Sanitary Train, where he became the commanding officer. A sanitary train, which we would now call a medical battalion, was responsible for the medical care of the division. The unit consisted of personnel for aid stations, ambulances, field hospitals and a medical supply unit. Each division had four field hospitals where patients were evaluated and stabilized. From there they could be returned to service or sent farther back of the front lines to larger hospitals for additional care. The field hospital was 6 to 8 miles from the front and could hold approximately 100 to 150 patients. A field hospital also operated dispensaries. The entire medical system was based on triage and speed of evacuation.
At the war's end in November 1918, McReynolds served an additional six months with the American Army of Occupation in Germany. He retired from service as a captain and returned to Quincy in September 1919, after serving in the Army Medical Corps for two years. He resumed his civilian practice in Quincy in association with Dr. Kurt Shawgo. McReynolds remained in Quincy his entire professional life. He was president of the Adams County Medical Society in 1923 and active in many civic and professional organizations. McReynolds died in 1979 and is buried in Greenmount Cemetery in Quincy.
Arlis Dittmer is a retired medical librarian. During her 26 years with Blessing Health System, she became interested in medical and nursing history -- both topics frequently overlooked in history.
In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of America's entry into the World War I, this column will run articles about the area and its involvement in the war. The articles will coordinate with the Remembering WWI exhibit at the History Museum, which runs through 2018.
"Acquainted with Belgium's Queen," Quincy Daily Whig, December 17, 1916, page 21.
Ancestry.com. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010 (database online). Provo, Utah, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2011.
"Blessing Hospital, Roll of Honor," Quincy Daily Herald, April 12, 1918, page 4.
"Dr. Ralph McReynolds Left Tuesday Night for Ft. Riley to Join Medical Reserve," Quincy Daily Whig, Aug. 9, 1917, page 3.
"Dr. Ralph McReynolds Returns to This City," Quincy Daily Herald, Sept. 20, 1919, page 2.
Goodson, Larry, "In Times Past -- McReynolds," Edina Mo. Sentinel, Sept. 17, 2014, page 3.
"Kirksville Doctor to War Hospital," Quincy Daily Herald, Dec. 1, 1915, page 14.
"Physicians Make Pledges for War," Quincy Daily Whig, June 12, 1917, page 3.
"Quincy Doctor Back from the War," Quincy Daily Journal, Dec. 12, 1916, page 12.
"Quincy Doctors to Medical Corps," Aug. 8, 1917, page 3.
"Quincy Surgeon, Stationed in Belgium with Red Cross Tells Interesting War Story," Quincy Daily Whig, Dec. 12, 1916.
"Fourteen Doctors Sign for Service," Quincy Daily Herald, April 28, 1917, page 10.
Office of Medical History, U.S. Army Medical Department, "World War I The Ambulance Service." In the United States Army Medical Corps, pages 37-55. http://history.amedd.army.mil/booksdocs/HistoryofUSArmyMSC/chapter2.html
"Yesterday's babies and how they look today," Quincy Herald-Whig, May 19, 1969, page 5B.