Veteran Stories:
Denham Meek

Army

  • Camp Borden weekly 20 miles route marches, circa 1944.

    Denham Meek
  • Lt. Col. (Dr) Walter Bapty at an Advanced Medical Corps Training at Camp Borden, Ontario, circa 1944.

    Denham Meek
  • Denham Meek during an advanced medical training at Camp Borden, Ontario, circa 1944.

    Denham Meek
  • Denham Meek in laboratory training, Fall of 1944.

    Denham Meek
Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"The casualties hit us D-Day plus 3 [three days after D-Day], when staff learned to admit 100 patients an hour, usually in batches of 300, but who stayed only 24 hours with us after receiving all major medical care."

Transcript

I was brought up on a farm in the Okanagan [Valley, British Columbia] and managed first to finish first year university before joining the RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force]. I was then declared medically unfit, so I moved to Trail, B.C., as an assayer [tests minerals and ores to determine composition and value] for two years. At that point, I did a lot of laboratory work. Volunteered for the army, I was assigned to the medical corps [Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps] and had a very intensive four month hospital laboratory course in Toronto before going to England with No. 4 Canadian General Hospital.

My duties included just about every job in the lab; and I finally assumed the status of senior NCO [non-commissioned officer]. We did not always have all the equipment we needed, so I made some of it with the experience I had from growing up where if one wanted something, with no money, we had to make it.

We arrived in England at Florence Nightingale’s most recent hospital ten days before D-Day, to take over from No. 8 Canadian General Hospital, which was a working Canadian hospital at the time. It was sent to the continent shortly after D-Day. The casualties hit us D-Day plus 3 [three days after D-Day], when staff learned to admit 100 patients an hour, usually in batches of 300, but who stayed only 24 hours with us after receiving all major medical care. Staff then had to discharge 100 patients an hour to make room for the incoming patients. Patients reached us by truck or ambulance, then air ambulance from the continent to England, and then by a circle of ambulances from the airport. They reached us often within a few hours after being wounded. Blood on them had not dried and many still carried their loaded small arms and other weapons. Many ward nurses had to deal with quite an arsenal until the quartermaster [responsible for supplies and provisions] came to remove them.

The hospital had three ORs [operation rooms] going 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with at least two surgical teams of two doctors for each OR on call at all times. One extraordinary man I remember, a private, was assigned to suturing wounds because of his unique skills. Where he acquired this skill, I never did know, but he was at it all day long until he was demobilized in 1946.

Into this melee one day I was called to the OR by a Dr. Joe Samis to see a patient on the table. Major Samis was doing the first popliteal artery anastomosis in our hospital’s history. Up until then, the hospital had lost seven legs due to dry gangrene, that is due to no blood supply. The popliteal artery is the sole blood supply to the leg [in anatomical terms, the leg refers to the part of the lower limb between the knee and the foot]. By the time the patient reached our hospital, it was too late usually. There was much concern about this loss of legs. On the table I saw a man lying down. Dr. Samis was installing an anastomosis of the severed popliteal artery using a large [arm] vein. The background [to this] is: a very young doctor in a casualty clearing station in Europe had found a piece of glass tubing and some liquid silicone to line the tube and had done a rough anastomosis of the man’s severed popliteal artery. That patient had been put into an open, facedown body cast and returned to England, reaching us a few hours after the wound, so he did not lose his leg.

Dr. Samis asked me if I could blow glass. Yes. Can you flare the ends, and do you have any liquid silicone? Yes, and yes was my reply. So he said, would you make up 15 to 20 sets of two pieces of flared glass tubing with a small dropper bottle full of silicone, which we will ship to them in the front line. I made two quarter inch tubes of about five and seven inches long, flared, and fire polished both ends. It was only ordinary glass tubing we had in the lab for making equipment. Then from the dispensary, I got some one ounce dropper bottles and filled them with some liquid silicone we had in the lab that, until then, had no known use. The silicone poured into the tubing, preventing the blood from clotting in the tube. These sets were wrapped in cotton, sterilized and sent off to the front line’s casualty clearing stations in Europe the next day. No. 4 Canadian Hospital never lost another leg. It gave me a good feeling to be part of it. In my memory, our hospital had only one battle casualty. If you made the hospital, you lived.

Follow us