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Shortly after the United States declared war on Germany in 1917 in hopes of making World War I “a war to end all wars,” Presbyterian Hospital responded to the national call for doctors and nurses to serve in the war by organizing U.S. Army Base Hospital No. 2.

Base Hospital No. 2 was one of the first U.S. medical units to reach France in 1917 and was assigned to take over a previously established British army hospital in Étretat, a fishing village and summer resort in Normandy about 20 miles northeast of the port city of Le Havre. 

The unit had 25 physicians and surgeons and 65 nurses, almost all affiliated with Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia’s medical school, who cared for the war’s military casualties. 

By Fall 1917, 23 more nurses joined Base Hospital No. 2. Unlike the physicians, who were members of the U.S. Army Medical Corps and received officer commissions, nurses were considered part of the American Red Cross. 

On two occasions, small groups of doctors and nurses were detached from the base hospital to form casualty clearing stations near the front lines to treat wounded soldiers or stabilize them for transport to a field or military hospital. The men and women at these stations faced additional hardships and danger, including a bombing raid on their quarters.

When the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918, Base Hospital No. 2 prepared to depart Étretat, which in days of peace was often visited by Monet and impressionist painters who came to capture the picturesque beauty of its extensive beaches and stunning cliffs. Before leaving to sail back home, the unit’s members gathered in the local cemetery to remember those left behind, including one member of the unit, Amabel Roberts, a 1916 Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing graduate, who died from sepsis.