During World War 2 hand held stretchers were regularly used by medical staff to move badly injured troops from the battlefield to first aid posts and from their into ambulances. British stretchers of the period were made of two wooden poles, with canvas between them, the whole thing held apart by a metal bracket. These stretchers appear frequently in wartime photographs:The stretchers were carried onto the battlefield by, appropriately enough, stretcher bearers. The weight of a man and this stretcher had to be carried by two of these stretcher bearers, and as can be imagined, this became very heavy after a short period of time. It was imperative that as little shock as possible was given to the casualty, so to make their job more bearable and to help protect the casualty, stretcher bearers were issued with supporting straps to help them carry their stretchers. The straps are made of webbing with a sewn loop at one end and an adjustable loop at the other:The loop is adjusted with a large brass buckle, allowing the height of the stretcher to be altered depending on the heights of the two stretcher bearers:Inside the straps is a faint makers mark, that sadly I cannot make out:The straps would be worn around the neck, with one handle of the stretcher slotted into each loop. This allowed the bearer to rest his arms and support the weight of the casualty on his shoulders if required, as well as ensuring the stretcher would not be accidently dropped. Jim Wisewell of the 223rd Field Ambulance explains the process of collecting and treating casualties:
Men wounded as their infantry platoon advanced were picked up Regimental Stretcher-bearers (RSBs)—infantry-men (not RAMC) within the regiment. They could do little for the casualty except stop bleeding and put on a field dressing, then get him back to the Regimental Aid Post (RAP) staffed by a Medical Officer, (supplied by the Field Ambulance [Fd Amb]) and a few more proficient RSBs, where he would receive an assessment of his chances of survival. (In some cases the MO had to play God and decide who would be evacuated – who not.) From here men of either A or B Coy of the Fd Amb would take him by stretcher-carrying Jeep back to the Advanced Dressing Station (ADS) where there were all RAMC personnel and RASC Ambulance drivers. Here he would receive fuller treatment, inoculations, transfusions, application of splints, renewal of dressings from MOs and Nursing Orderlies, First Class. (I was one of the latter and worked in the Treatment Centre throughout the NW Europe campaign.) From here he would be evacuated as soon as he was fit enough to go to the Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) which might be two or three (or 20 or 30) miles back depending on the military situation. Here were surgeons and refined equipment which did all possible for him until he could go on to the base hospital—or back to fight again.
These straps came out of a £1 bin at a show a few years back. They are getting harder to find as many have been cut up to make reproduction 1908 cross straps, which are the same width of webbing, I need another one and a stretcher to go between now!