Oregon Over There: Base Hospital 46 during World War I

University of Oregon Medical School & World War I

Officers and Nurses of the Base Hospital 46 at Camp Lewis, Washington, c. 1918. Historical Image Collection.

On May 24, 1917, a little over a month after the United States declared war on the Germany Empire, University of Oregon Medical School (now OHSU) Dean K. A. J. Mackenzie wrote to Director of Military Relief Colonel Jefferson Kean and offered to furnish personnel for a Red Cross Base Hospital. The offer was accepted immediately, and Colonel Kean requested that a Director, Assistant Director, and Chief Nurse be appointed. 

In a secret ballot vote on June 20, 1917, UOMS faculty selected Dr. Robert C. Yenney as Director, Dr. Richard R. Dillehunt as Assistant Director, and Multnomah County Hospital Superintendent of Nurses Grace Phelps as Chief Nurse. Recruitment and commissioning of officers took place under the Director's office, while enlistment of corps men was carried out at the Medical School. Chief Nurse Grace Phelps conducted the enrollment of nurses from her Red Cross office in Southwest Portland. By the end of July 1917, all officers were commissioned, corps men enlisted, and Red Cross nurses enrolled.

Over the following months, the unit conducted drills three times per week, during weekday evenings and weekend mornings, at Multnomah Field in Portland (now the site of Providence Park). Between December and February, a number of enlisted men traveled on their own expense to Camp Lewis in Washington for training. 

On January 2, 1918 the Red Cross formally certified the unit as complete in personnel and equipment. The unit's name was then changed from "University of Oregon and Benevolent and Protective Order Red Cross Base Hospital Number 46" to "United States Army Base Hospital Number 46." 

The Road to France

Hospital center in Bazoilles-sur-Meuse, Franc, 1918. Base Hospital 46 at far right. Eleanor Donaldson Papers.

In March 1918, Captain Otis B. Wight received mobilization orders for Base Hospital 46, and over the ensuing weeks enlisted men reported to Camp Lewis. In April, nurses not already assigned to duty were called to camp hospitals on the Eastern seaboard. Officers on detached duty, not yet called to Camp Lewis, received similar orders and were assigned to camp hospitals in New Jersey in May. 

All nurses received orders to report to New York City in May 1918, and several days later enlisted men and personnel at Camp Lewis received orders to report to Camp Merrit in New Jersey as soon as possible.  

On June 11, 1918, officers and enlisted men departed for France, traveling on the R.M.S. Missanabie. The steamer traveled across the Atlantic Ocean as part of a convoy of 13 transports and a British cruiser, landing in Liverpool on June 23. From there, troops traveled via train to Southampton, crossed the English Channel in a steamer, and traveled by train through France to reach their destination of the base hospital center in Bazoilles-sur-Meuse, France on July 2, 1918. 

After a five-week stay in New York, Base Hospital 46 nurses departed for Liverpool on July 4, traveling on the British transport Aquitania, arriving in France on July 16, 1918. 

Life on the Base

Nurses Club, Base Hospital 46, c. 1918-1919. Grace Phelps Papers.

On July 19, 1918, the base hospital moved into its permanent location at the hospital center, comprised of twenty 50-bed wards and 1,000 beds in tents. Between July 23, 1918, when the hospital received its first convoy of patients, and January 19, 1919, when all B.H. 46 patients were evacuated to other hospitals in the center, the hospital admitted 8,366 patients. The base hospital center in Bazoilles-sur-Meuse was primarily an evacuation hospital, and only about a quarter of the patients treated there returned to active service.  

The influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 loomed large over the activities of the hospital. In fall 1918, the number of influenza and pneumonia cases rose dramatically. 1,158 influenza cases passed through the hospital in total. A double ward of the hospital was given over to treating just the influenza cases.  

Life at the base hospital was marked by periods of frenzy, as well as periods of idleness and apprehension. One Base Hospital 46 doctor described the atmosphere as similar to that of a city fire department: "It is feast or famine, periods of intense activity alternating with those of enforced leisure... the slack periods were a sore trial to many of us."  

Efforts to cheer the personnel and patients of the base hospital ranged from Thanksgiving dinner festivities, to musical performances, to dances and poetry. Over the holidays of 1918, after the armistice was signed, nurse Eleanor Donaldson recalled, "We found some real decorators among the convalescents and we made our wreaths beside the fire and in the tea room, our candy for the boys in the little kitchenette."  

The Hypodermic, Base Hospital 46 newsletter, August 17, 1918. Grace Phelps Papers.

Coming Home

"Vannes, Morbihan, France: One of the stops on the way home for many of us," c. 1919. Grace Phelps Papers.

In early November 1918, Base Hospital 46 had increased its emergency capacity in anticipation of an offensive that would never occur, thanks to the signing of the armistice between the Allies and Germany. Patients still poured in the hospital center, however, primarily non-emergency medical cases and wounded soldiers passed down the line from other field and camp hospitals. Word arrived on December 31, 1918, ordering the unit to prepare for return to the United States. The hospital was evacuated on January 19, 1919. Weeks of tedious waiting followed, until finally the officers, nurses and personnel of the base hospital left Bazoilles-sur-Meuse by train. They continued on to coast ports and sailed to New York at the end of April. From New York, members of the unit traveled via train to Camp Lewis, Washington, arriving May 20, 1919. Personnel were then discharged over the following days. 

After the war, most Base Hospital 46 personnel settled back into civilian life, working at hospitals and clinics around the region. Dr. Richard Dillehunt, Assistant Director of Base Hospital 46, became the Dean of the University of Oregon Medical School, and Chief Nurse Grace Phelps became Superintendent of Nurses at Doernbecher Children's Hospital. Many of the nurses of Base Hospital 46 kept in close touch over the years. Newsletters and annual holiday dinners allowed veteran nurses to keep up with the activities of their former colleagues. After the outbreak of the World War II, Base Hospital 46 personnel brought the unit's flag out of storage for the 46th General Hospital Unit to carry overseas, and raised funds for families of Bazoilles-sur-Meuse affected by the new conflict.  

Exhibit brochure

Text and selections by Meg Langford, Public Services Coordinator