The bearers had the responsibility of following the advancing infantry and carrying the wounded out of battle. Once a soldier fell, the men in his unit had to leave him behind to wait for the bearers. Carrying wounded with an advancing infantry unit would only slow the unit down and leave it open to attack while distancing the wounded man from life saving medical care. The bearers who carried the wounded off the field would trek for miles in either direction, bearing the injured soldier, their gear, and a stretcher. Hollinger never served as a bearer and, therefore, he did not discuss their essential role in the medical process.
In the photo above, the men of the 111th are practicing holding stretchers. While all the men in the 111th unit were formally trained to be bearers, the grueling nature of the job meant only the strongest men could perform the task.
When stretchers were unavailable or damaged, bearers would carry men to medical care on their backs. While it is hard to gauge the severity of the soldier’s injuries from this picture alone, bearers were supposed to bring back all the wounded, even those that were close to death. They would often carry the wounded for miles, walking through the battlefield, over the dead, and around the trenches.
Applying the tourniquet on the battlefield was the responsibility of the bearers. Without the bearers’ sacrifices, the wounded never would have made it to medical care. Tourniquets like this one saved lives and bearers became so well versed in applying them that the average bearer could do the procedure blindfolded.
The tourniquet was one of the first lines of defense for the medical staff. It gave them valuable time to transport wounded soldiers from battle to the First Aid Dressing Stations (FADS) where better tourniquets and other measures were used to keep soldiers alive until they could be transported to a hospital.
Hollinger frequently discussed the First Aid Dressing Stations in his diary. Although he never mentioned bearers in his diary, they were an integral step to getting the wounded to Hollinger and his company.
Click here to learn what happened to troops once they reached medical care.