Canada sent a total of 418,606 men overseas and in comparison hospitalizations numbered 539,690. Battle casualties numbered 144,606 with hospitalizations for various diseases numbering 395,084 and this number included more than one hospitalization for a soldier. This was a period prior to there being any effective antibiotics. Minor illnesses of today were rampant in World War I and are mostly eliminated today. A soldier could be way from his unit for weeks or months in WWI.
The Canadian Corps statistics are as follows: data was collected from the Medical Services in 1925.
Total Casualties overseas from Disease and Wounds
Disease in Officers 19,100 Disease in Other Ranks 375,984 395,084 Death from Disease 175 Death from Disease 3,650 3,825
Wounds in Officers 6,347 Wounds in Other Ranks 143,385 149,732 Death from Wounds 819 Death from Wounds 16,363 17,182
Total Deaths Overseas
Disease and other causes in Officers 297 Other Ranks 4,663 4,960 Killed in Action Officers 1,776 Other Ranks 32,720 34,496
Died of Wounds Officers 819 Other Ranks 16,363 17,182
*****less than !% of hospitalized diseased soldiers died from disease and of those who were also wounded the mortality rate was 11.6%.
This information comes from the Official History of the Canadian Forces i the Great War
Officers Other Ranks Total
Head and Neck 907 21,377 22,284 Chest 230 3,550 3,780 Abdomen 78 1,317 1,395 Pelvis 10 43 53 Upper extrimities 1,895 49,615 51,508 Lower extremities 1,809 41,843 43,652 Wounded, remained on duty 904 6,698 7,602 Wounded, accidental 107 2,140 2,247 Wounds, self inflicted 6 723 729 Effects of gas fumes 368 10,998 11,356
Both arms and legs 2 soldiers One leg 1,675 soldiers One foot 232 soldiers Both feet 11 soldiers Both arms 6 soldiers One arm 667 soldiers One hand 141 soldiers
Estimations from World War I are 20 million dead and 21million wounded. Of the dead 9.7 million were military and 10 million civilians. Allied military deaths were 5.7 million.
Many died in combat, from accidents or died while a prisoner of war. However, disease and famine caused the majority of the dead and with horrendous conditions this meant fever, parasites and infections were the norm and these swept through the trenches. Many died after receiving physical injuries in battle but many others suffered from diseases caused by terrible living conditions, a shortage of food and lack sanitation and personal hygiene. Soldiers were under medical care for a sickness and not wounds. Because there was alack of medicine and pharmaceutical knowledge also meant there was diseases with no cure. If one soldier became infected it spread immediately to those around them. This the led to global epidemics and the death of countless people.
Among the diseases and viruses that were most pervasive were influenza, typhoid, trench foot and trench fever.
The No. 1 risk was infection from a simple cut that was caused from cleaning a gun or digging a trench and this could lead to infection because the body was weak from not sleeping, they were wet and dirty and so were their clothes and the diet was restricted.
The Field Ambulances were busy during an advance or offensive and much quieter at other times allowing them to treat less urgent issues. It is said that the top six issues a Field Ambulances dealt with was pyrexia or fever, inflammation of connective tissue, trench foot, influenza, scabies and shrapnel and a host of other issues.
DISEASES / ILLNESSES (alphabetically)
Cerebo-Spinal Meningitis: This is when the membranes around the brain and spine become inflamed by viruses and bacteria
Diabetes: This disease resulted in the death of many as no medicines had been developed to control the disease. Strict diets limiting food intake was impossible while one was at the front and life expectancy was not long once diagnosed.
Dysentry: This is an inflammatory disorder of the intestines causing severe diarrhea and abdominal pain. Those suffering from this ailment were isolated at special medical centres.
Flies: The trenches were narrow and they smelled. The bodies of men and animals were always nearby. There were millions of flies and they covered everything. If a man put a cup or food down it was instantly covered in flies. They were around a man and on him, they were in the mouth when you talked or tried to eat.
Heart Disease: During World War I. Heart defects were very difficult to detect and diagnose especially in a war zone. Hereditary heart disease damaging the four major valves of the heart was common and officers and lower ranks who were suspected of having heart disease were discharged.
Influenza: This disease caused more deaths than World War I. This was a massive epidemic just at the end of the war in 1918. People who had poor hygiene and were malnurished were apt to contact Influenza. This included our men who had just come off the front. Symptoms were having a high fever aching muscles, a persistent dry cough, headaches weakness, a sore throat and blood poisoning and all the while they had pneumonia. Once one contacted Influenza they usually died within three days from excruciating pain and with the body swelling. There was no cure, gauze masks were distributing hoping the transmission would slow or stop.
Jaundice: This is when the pigmentation of the skin turns a yellowish colour and it was caused by the urine of rats on the battlefield.
Malaria: Many were affected in World War I with many dying. It was not curable because of the lack of medicines and treatment facilities. It was caused by a parasite and made worse by conditions being unsanitary in living areas and by malnutrition.
Rats: Millions of fat gorged rats cohabitated with the troops in the trenches. A rat could produce 100sa year and efforts to curb the population was not at all productive. They ate through haversacks and if possible devoured a man's rations. Being so close to rats produced typhus and other rat borne diseases.
Shell Shock: Shell shock was a term to describe the post traumatic a soldier would suffer during and after the war. Symptoms were insomnia, the inability to walk or talk and panic attacks. As the war continued case numbers grew. Doctors were unable to nail down the exact cause of the disorder. There was speculation that the explosion of bombs and shells caused shockwaves in the brain and that carbon monoxide from the explosions caused damaged brain tissue. Patients showing signs of shell shock were labeled cowards but as cases increased the medical field worked on a solution beginning with rest and then talking with their officers In very severe cases the man was sent to a Casualty Clearing Station for many weeks. If no improvement several more rounds of observation took place until they could return to the front.
Tetanus: Also called lock jaw is known for stiff muscles where there are wounds, stiffness of neck and jaw along with muscle spasms. An antitoxin and the complete and early excision of gunshot wounds.
Trench Fever: Early in the war it was classified as pyrexia and was first reported in 1915 in Flanders . Soldiers suffered from a fever that relapsed in five-day cycles and this incapacitated large numbers of men. It was similar to Malaria and it was thought lice were the cause but finding a treatment failed. They dealt with it by using insecticides to delouse the clothing. Then in 1918 it was confirmed that lice caused Trench Fever. It was also known as quintan fever. Body live clung to the clothing of a soldier and they would breed. To eliminate the lice the soldier resorted to running flame along the seams of their clothes. Trench Fever was easily transmitted to those nearby. Symptoms included aches, stiffness in the back and shoulders which descended violently, vertigo, fainting, headaches, fevers, constipation and sores on the skin and continuous fever attacks. Once a soldier was infected he would be taken from the front and out of commission for a minimum of 90 days. One plus was that the mortality rate was low. It was possible to have this disease more than once/
Trench Foot: This became a serious issue in the winter of 1914-15 and was prominent in the trenches that had been dug in terrain that was at or close to sea level, with the water table lying just below the surface. When digging, the soldiers would reach the water and the trench would flood. For long period they would have to stand in the water in their socks and boots unable to move about and not able to remove their socks, It would not take long for the feet to swell and then go numb with the skin turning red or blue. It was painful. If it was ignored the feet became gangrenous leading to nerve damage, tissue loss and finally amputation. The very impossible solution was for the soldier was to rinse their feet in lukewarm water, dry their feet and change his socks as often as possible during the day.
Tuberculosis: This was a vicious which killed many people. It was called by a breeding bacteria. and there were two stages which was primary and secondary. It was rare to diagnose the primary stage from x-rays. but if diagnosed with the second stage they were then at high risk of lung failure. Second stage symptoms were a cough, bloody sputum, weight loss and a high temperature. They would be institutionalized to stop the spread of the disease to anyone. There were no medicines to treat the disease. As the war was entering its late stages the mortality rate was the highest. The disease gradually disappeared but it left physical and mental scars.
Typhoid / Typhus Fever: Typhoid was a bacterial infection caused by the Bacteria Salmonella typhi and was one of the most deadly. Symptoms were sweating diarrhea along with a high fever and as it progressed they became extremely dehydrated and be in excruciating pain. It is transmitted by ingestion of food or water contaminated with feces. Typhus was transmitted from soldier to soldier by body lice. It came from bad hygiene and the mortality rate was from 10-80%. There was no medicine to slow or eliminate this disease.
Venereal Disease: The First World War was a breeding ground for sexually transmitted disease. It grew during the war and spread to the unaffected population. Gonorrhea was the most common disease with Syphilis right behind and it rapidly spread among the troops and weakening their ability to fight. The cure was very expensive, time consuming and not effective.
Nurses and the Front
Millions of times the story repeated itself during the course of the war. A soldier reaches the front singing and going the other way toward the rear are the lorries filled to capacity with the wounded and dying.
There was a special breed of woman at the front who was as brave and courageous as the soldier in battle and these were the nurses of the Medical Corps. Where they worked life hung by a small thread and that the work they did was even worse than the enemy shells and bombs falling nearby making them casualties as well. Here at the front their work was fast paced and it was violent and intense, bloody and filthy, where the patient has been lifted from a muddy swamp and not recognisable as a soldier, is lousy and has no control over the lower organs, the smell, the groans; it was a miracle they kept their sanity.
Info from the Regimental Rogue and the Biomedical scientists.net