Whistleblowing in World War One

(Extract from “The War Memoirs of David Lloyd George”)

The wounded in WW1 Mesopotamia were brought downriver to Basra in “Hospital Ships”.

A Whistleblower Reports His Concerns:

“We are reluctant to describe the details of the condition in which many of the wounded arrived at Basra, on account of their sickening horror; but we deem it necessary to quote one witness on this subject, because it brings home the appalling nature of the sufferings which were thus glossed over by the authorities. Major Carter, I.M.S., who was in medical charge of the hospital ship “Varela” at Basra, waiting for the wounded from Ctesiphon, thus describes the arrival of one of the river convoys.
“I was standing on the bridge in the evening when the “Medjidieh” arrived. She had two steel barges without any protection against the rain, as far as I remember. As this ship, with two barges, came up to us I saw that she was absolutely packed, and the barges too, with men. The barges were slipped, and the “Medjidieh” was brought alongside the “Varela.” When she was about 300 or 400 yards off it looked as if she was festooned with ropes. The stench when she was close was quite definite, and I found that what I mistook for ropes were dried stalactites of human fæces. The patients were so huddled and crowded together on the ship that they could not perform the offices of Nature clear of the edge of the ship, and the whole of the ship’s side was covered with stalactites of human fæces This is what I then saw. A certain number of men were standing and kneeling on the immediate perimeter of the ship. Then we found a mass of men huddled up anyhow – some with blankets and some without. They were lying in a pool of dysentery about 30 feet square. They were covered with dysentery and dejecta generally from head to foot. With regard to the first man I examined, I put my hand into his trousers, and I thought that he had a hæmorrhage. His trousers were full almost to his waist with something warm and slimy. I took my hand out, and thought it was blood clot. It was dysentery. The man had a fractured thigh, and his thigh was perforated in five or six places. He had apparently been writhing about the deck of the ship. Many cases were almost as bad. There were a certain number of cases of terribly bad bed sores. In my report I describe mercilessly to the Government of India how I found men with their limbs splinted with wood strips from “Johnny Walker” whisky boxes, “Bhoosa” wire, and that sort of thing.”

Before the Geneva Convention forbade it, we see Hospital Ship “Mejidieh” here delivering armed troops to the front!

Cover Up of Failures:

“We will now see how the evacuation of the wounded, resulting in such appalling conditions, was officially described by the General Officer Commanding the Expedition. We append two telegrams on the subject:-

From- Secretary of State for India To- General Nixon, Basra. Dated December 4th, 1915.

C.243. On arrival wounded at Basra. Please telegraph urgently particulars and progress.

From – General Nixon, Basra. To- Secretary of State for India. Dated December 7th, 1915.

940/28/A. Your C. 243. Wounded satisfactorily disposed of. Many likely to recover in country, comfortably placed in hospitals at Amara and Basra. Those for invaliding are being placed direct on two hospital ships that were ready at Basra on arrival of river boats. General condition of wounded very satisfactory. Medical arrangements under circumstances of considerable difficulty worked splendidly.”

Whistleblowing Policy:

Major Carter was not exactly thanked for submitting his observations.

“He was treated with great rudeness. General Cowper told us that, ‘I threatened to put him under arrest and said that I would get his hospital ship taken away from him for a meddlesome interfering faddist.'” (“Faddist”:- “One who seeks and adheres briefly to a passing variety of unusual beliefs.”)