Name of Object: Stretcher
Object Type: Stretcher
Category: T&E for Science and Technology
Sub-Category: Land Transportation
Material: Fibre, Cotton, Canvas, Metal, Brass
Catalogue Number: 1985.001.010
Accession Number: 1985.001.010
Earliest Production Date: 1939
Latest Production Date: 1945
Length: 235 cm
Inscription: In black on the leg of the stretcher “HW”
Institution: Veterans Memorial Military Museum
Institution City: Kensington
Institution Province: Prince Edward Island
Description: Stretcher, medical; fibre, cotton, canvas; metal, brass; full length canvas stretcher; frame made from metal tubing, expands in width and is supported by two hinged under supports; attached is a strap for fastening patient to stretcher; on legs written in black “HW”
Narrative: A Wounded Canadian solider was said to have disembarked in Halifax, Nova Scotia on this stretcher and resides in Summerside, Prince Edward Island.






Photo: Stretcher on display 


The First World War brought new wounds and traumas for the soldiers that were never experienced by the medical community before. This was mostly due to the new advances in weaponry, such as the use of machine guns and chemical gases. The medical world had to evolve because of these injuries and during the years of the First World War, the changes were minimal. By the Second World War, medical advances were so minimal medical workers were experiencing the same problems. The Second World War also brought new difficulties with treating soldiers on the battlefields due to advancements in weaponry. One of the largest advancements to the medical field during the Second World War was the use of helicopters to air lift soldiers out of harm’s way so they could receive better treatment of their injuries.[i]

Another device that was highly used during the Second World War to transport soldiers out of battle was the medical stretcher, or the “litter”. The stretcher was simple in design but highly effective under the circumstances. These medical stretchers consisted of canvas material being attached to a frame made of brass metal tubing and was supported by two hinged under supports; the tubing was capable of expanding in width.[ii] There were straps attached to the stretcher for the purpose of securing the patients and medical suspenders were attached to the Corpsman’s uniform to help support the weight of the stretcher when it was carried by two men.[iii]

The men in charge of carrying these stretchers were known as “litter” (stretcher) bearers and when there were not enough “litter” bearers available, cooks, musicians, and company clerks were given the task of retrieving wounded soldiers. “Litter” bearers were worked hard and often worked 72 hour shifts with trips to facilities anywhere from 1000 yards to four miles away. The “Litter” bearers were mostly assigned to the medical detachments manning first echelon facilities. These facilities included such places as battalion aid stations; evacuation from the rear (the aid station) used the same stretcher. These stretchers were not only used as a means to carry wounded soldiers from place to place, but they were often used as the operating table for the soldier that occupied the stretcher. Ideally, an ambulance would be at the rear to receive the patients on a stretcher. From there the stretcher would be placed in the rear of the ambulance with other stretchers holding soldiers who were ready to be transported; the ambulances were designed to hold six to eight occupied stretchers. However, since ambulances were not often available, the “litter” bearer was responsible for carrying the wounded soldiers by hand to their next destination.[iv]

The work these “litter” bearers did was very strenuous and they were required to be in excellent physical shape. During their training sports programs, including volleyball, baseball, hockey, and boxing, were implemented and participation was mandatory. The trainees were also required to participate in ten mile route marches with full equipment, this march served as a test of the men’s endurance. Their training also required the men to be well educated in map reading and knowledgeable on how to remove injured soldiers from tanks and how to properly transfer soldiers on stretchers down cliffs.[v]

There was an understanding between the different sides that the different armies were not to fire on enemy medical services. For that reason, the “litter” bearers and other medical personnel wore red crosses on their arms, red crosses were also found on the top and on the sides of the ambulances. The red crosses acted as a universal symbol of medical service personnel. However, there have been some reports from Canadian medical personnel, that they had stopped flying the red cross because it became a target for German artillery fire.[vi] Therefore, many “litter” bearers were injured or killed by enemy mines or fire. There were also a high number of “litter” bearers that suffered emotional breakdowns from stress and exhaustion.[vii]




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