As John L. Cameron, MD, FACS, FRCSEng(Hon), FRCSI(Hon), noted in his American College of Surgeons Presidential Address, “John Miller Turpin Finney: The First President of the American College of Surgeons,” Dr. Finney had already completed his tenure as President of the ACS when at age 53, he was appointed Director of Base Hospital No. 18—the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD, unit (see Figures 1–5). The hospital left New York on June 14, 1917 as a unit of the Army Medical Reserve Corps accompanying the First Division of American troops sent to France after the U.S. entered World War I (WWI). Dr. Finney had joined the Maryland National Guard in 1898 during the Spanish-American War and had remained active with the guard. As the probability of war loomed, Dr. Finney and colleagues at Hopkins patriotically and eagerly joined the Medical Reserve Corps.
The base hospitals
Hopkins was one of the many medical centers in the country that had made tentative preparations— before the U.S.’s entry into the war—to form a medical unit that could serve as a base hospital. These units were initially organized and supported by the American Red Cross, which continued to play a major supporting role throughout the war. The Hopkins unit was organized to comply with the war department’s policies with staff for a 500-bed hospital, though in France their hospital had 1,000 beds that could expand to 1,300 with tents when needed.
Base hospitals were the third level of care after frontline mobile units and evacuation hospitals. At the base hospitals, operations of all kinds were performed, and patients were kept until they were ready for discharge or transfer to port hospitals for transport home. Staff from the base hospitals were frequently posted temporarily to units closer to the front. Ultimately, 120 base hospitals were established, 49 of them affiliated hospitals organized and staffed by volunteers from U.S. hospitals and medical schools. For transportation reasons, base hospitals were eventually grouped into hospital centers.
Base Hospital No. 18 was located only 60 miles from the war front in the village of Bazoilles-sur-Meuse in the Lorraine region of northeast France. The hospital had surgical, orthopaedic, ophthalmic, otolaryngologic, dental, and medical departments. The facility’s Roentgen Laboratory had plate and fluoroscopic capabilities. By the armistice, Bazoilles was a fully operational medical center with seven base hospitals.
Dr. Finney’s leadership
Dr. Finney was director of No. 18 as it set up and became organized during the miseries of the first cold, muddy winter. His son, Eben, was one of the 32 Hopkins medical students among the enlisted personnel. In February 1918, Dr. Finney was tapped to serve as Surgical Consultant to the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), and he and his staff supervised surgical care of all the AEF medical units. Dr. Finney ultimately rose to the rank of Brigadier General.
During his personal inspections of frontline hospitals, Dr. Finney learned to dive into shell holes to avoid incoming artillery rounds and survived being overcome by carbon monoxide in his antiquated staff car. When U.S. troops became involved in major battles, the hospital received large numbers—sometimes trainloads—of casualties and briefly functioned as an evacuation hospital. Base Hospital No. 18 cared for 14,179 medical and surgical patients during its 17 months in France.
Figures 1–4. Cover and pages from The History of Base Hospital No. 18, A.E.F. (Johns Hopkins Unit)
Images courtesy of the Library of Congress
Figure 5. Johns Hopkins Hospital Nurses in World War I, wearing gas masks, 1918
Cameron JL. ACS Presidential Address: John Miller Turpin Finney: The First President of the American College of Surgeons. J Am Coll Surg. 2009;(3):327-332. Available at: facs.org/~/media/files/archives/cameron2008.ashx. Accessed November 24, 2018.
Finney JMT. A Surgeon’s Life: The Autobiography of J.M.T Finney. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons; 1940.
Swan JM, Heath M. History of Base Hospital No. 18, American Expeditionary Forces. Baltimore: Base Hospital No. 18. Washington, DC: Army Medical Library, 1919. Available at: https://collections.nlm.nih.gov/catalog/nlm:nlmuid-14230600R-bk. Accessed November 24, 2018.