Within 30 days of Congress voting to enter World War I, six American base hospitals were ordered to France to care for US soldiers. Base Hospital No. 5, also known as the second Harvard Unit, was the second to deploy, led by Dr. Harvey Cushing, noted neurosurgeon at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, and chief nurse, Carrie Hall, MGH School of Nursing (SON) graduate, class of 1904.
Nurses traveling overseas under the banner of the American Red Cross
Deployment of these units was so rushed, nurses embarked from New York Harbor in civilian attire with no time to wait for their Red Cross uniforms. They forewent the customary apprenticeship for military duty; the reputations of their respective institutions sufficient to allow the US Army to accept them without delay. Many MGH nurses had been overseas since 1915 serving in the first Harvard unit in France and other units attached to the British Expeditionary Force. Now under official US declaration of war, Base Hospital No. 5 departed aboard the Saxonia steamship, May 11, 1917.
Hall (far left) with other MGH Head Nurses
Upon arrival in France on May 31, 1917, Base Hospital No. 5 was assigned to No. 11 General Hospital, British Expeditionary Force, in Camiers, France. This unit was adjacent to the original Harvard Unit and close to other MGH nurses in the area. No. 11 was a well-established, tented, British facility of 2,000 beds. Situated mid-way between the mouth of the Somme River and Calais, it was almost always filled to capacity.
Once settled, Hall, then president of the MGH Nurses Alumnae Association, invited 18 MGH SON grads for a picnic at a nearby beach. They talked of home and shared concern for the whereabouts of the RMS Aurania, which was transporting the MGH unit, Base Hospital No. 6, across the Atlantic. Rumors had reached them that a German submarine had sunk the ship. But within days they would learn that the Aurania had safely crossed the English Channel.
US nurses aboard the RMS Aurania