Dr. Elbridge Best and Base Hospital 30 in WWI

This is a guest post by Cristina Nigro, UCSF History of Health Sciences graduate student and curator of the UCSF Archives WWI exhibit.

Each year on the last Monday of May, our nation commemorates U.S. service members from all wars who died while on active duty. On this Memorial Day we pay special homage to the servicemen and women of World War I, as 2017 marks the centennial anniversary of the U.S. entrance into WWI.

Elbridge Best. From the John Homer Woolsey papers, MSS 70-5, box 1, photograph album.

Dr. Elbridge Best, graduate of the UC Medical School class of 1911 who later joined the UCSF faculty, served in WWI at Base Hospital No. 30 in Royat, France. Base Hospital No. 30 was organized by the UC Medical School in March 1917—the month before President Woodrow Wilson asked a joint session of Congress to request a declaration of war with Germany. In a 1964 interview, Best recalled the early mobilization effort by him and his colleagues who “felt that the war was imminent” and who “were a little concerned with regard to the possible slowness of the White House deciding to declare war.”

Officers and enlisted personnel. From the John Homer Woolsey papers, MSS 70-5, box 1, photograph album.

Before leaving for the front, Best was put to work in the aviation unit established in San Francisco. He helped to medically examine applicants for the aviation corps in the summer and fall of 1917. Best was later transferred from the aviation unit to the Presidio in San Francisco. There, he “did regular duty until the mobilization of the Base Hospital 30 in November when we then stopped our other activities, lived as a unit until the transportation was arranged and we boarded the ship at Fort Mason to proceed down the west coast.”

The unit arrived in New York harbor in March 1918, staying at Camp Merritt for about a month before embarking on the journey abroad. Best recalled his experience with an influenza epidemic in New York at the time: “Many of the Army men were taken to the Rockefeller hospital for treatment. And each of the cases where fluid was found in the chest the procedure was to immediately insert a needle and draw the fluid. It became very evident that whenever we saw this done we would say to a friend that we will see this body in the morgue the next morning. So many of these boys died following the removal of the acute fluid that when we went to France we made it a rule never to draw any fluid off until after we were sure there was frank pus and it should be treated surgically. The result was that we lost none of those cases which were the cause of the high mortality at the Rockefeller hospital.”

Base Hospital #30 at Royat, France. From the John Homer Woolsey papers, MSS 70-5, box 1, photograph album

The staff of Base Hospital No. 30 arrived in Royat, France in May 1918. Best remembered that casualties were sent to the hospital soon after the unit arrived: “They came almost as soon as we had most of our material unpacked….The casualties from the front came down to us on trains, Red Cross trains, arranged with beds. And we removed the patients from the trains by way of the windows ordinarily. The one train was full of gas injuries, phosgene and mustard gas. Another trainload came all shot-up which the debridement had been done at the front. These trains ordinarily did not have mixed cases—they were usually all of one type—and they usually contained from four to five hundred wounded at a time.”

Loading patients on “D” train. From the Photograph collection, W, World War I.

Best recalled suddenly learning of the armistice on November 11, 1918: “Everybody was elated and as soon as the evening meal was over on that day, all of those who were not on duty went the three kilometer distance to Clermont-Ferrand to celebrate this notable event…After the armistice, some of us had the privilege of visiting French families in various country areas…We would go and have tea with a certain family or we would have dinner with some people or they would have a reception in which French and American people in the vicinity would appear. I am particularly reminded of one French family we visited in a lovely, old-style two story wooden home on a farm…These people spoke no English and we had to converse in French. And the philosophy, the problems, the day-by- day incidents that these people would gossip with us about were exactly the same as those that we would encounter among families in similar positions in the United States. The only difference between these delightful people and the people in our homes were that they spoke French and we spoke English.”

Misses Dunn and Ireland [nurses] leaving Clermont-Ferrand. From the John Homer Woolsey papers, MSS 70-5, box 1, photograph album.

None of the doctors, nurses, or dentists from UCSF who served their country during the Great War died in active duty, but all have since passed on. UCSF Archives and the UCSF History of Health Sciences Graduate Program honor their legacy with an exhibit, “DO THE BEST FOR OUR SOLDIERS”: University of California Medical Service in World War I, on display now on the main floor of the UCSF Library, 530 Parnassus Ave, San Francisco, through April 2018. It is free and open to the public during Library hours.

View more WWI images and documents from the UCSF Archives collections on Calisphere.

Archives WWI Exhibit, Talk and Tours

Exhibit opening and Archives talk: “DO THE BEST FOR OUR SOLDIERS:” University of California Medical Service in World War I.

Date: Tuesday, May 23rd
Exhibit Tour: 11 am – 11:45 am, main floor of the Library
Lecture: 12 pm – 1:15 pm, Lange Room, 5th Floor, UCSF Library
Exhibit Tour: 1:30 pm – 2 pm, main floor of the Library

Lecturers: Morton G. Rivo, DDS (retired) and Wen T. Shen, M.D. (UCSF)
Moderator: Aimee Medeiros, PhD (UCSF)
Location: Lange Room, 5th Floor, UCSF Library – Parnassus
530 Parnassus Ave, SF, CA 94143

This event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided.
REGISTRATION REQUIRED: http://calendars.library.ucsf.edu/event/3321575

Lieutenant Colonel Howard C. Naffziger in World War I army uniform. Base Hospital 30 collection, AR 2017-16, carton 1, Family Album World War I.

The UCSF Archives and Special Collections is pleased to announce the opening of a new exhibit at the UCSF Library, “DO THE BEST FOR OUR SOLDIERS:” University of California Medical Service in World War I.  The exhibit commemorates the centennial anniversary of US involvement in World War I and recognizes the service of UCSF doctors, nurses and dentists at Base Hospital No. 30 in Royat, France. It also highlights the war-related research and care provided by UCSF scientists, clinicians, and healthcare workers in San Francisco and abroad.

Join UCSF Archives & Special Collections for guided tours of the exhibit and an afternoon talk with Drs. Morton G. Rivo and Wen T. Shen. Dr. Shen will speak on the biography of Dr. Howard C. Naffziger. Lieutenant Colonel Howard C. Naffziger, a prominent neurosurgeon before the war, served in the Army Medical Corps in France and at home, as Chief of the Neuro-Surgical Service at the U.S. Army Letterman General Hospital located in the Presidio. Naffziger became the Chair of the first Department of Neurosurgery at the University of California in 1947.

Dental chair and equipment. This picture accompanied aletter written to Dr. Guy S. Millberry on October 7, 1918. UCSF School of Dentistry scrapbook titled “Dental College Alumni Serving in the First World War, 1917 – 1919.”

In April 1917, when America formally entered World War I, the United States Army had 86 dental officers, the US Navy, even fewer. Dr. Rivo will discuss the contributions of the UCSF Medical and Dental Schools that helped to quickly establish extensive dental/maxillofacial services on the Home Front and with the American Expeditionary Forces in France. He will address the role of dentists and oral surgeons, both in the US as the military mobilized, and in France, during the ensuing brutal year and a half of combat which terminated in November 1918.

This exhibit was curated by Cristina Nigro, graduate student from the History of Health Sciences  Program, UCSF Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine.

Operating room at Juilly, France in 1918 with Surgical Team #50, friends and Miss Perry Handley. UCSF Tales and Traditions, Volume VIII, Base Hospital 30 staff, WWI.

Morton G. Rivo, DDS
Dr. Rivo received his dental education at SUNY Buffalo. He continued his specialty training in Philadelphia and Boston, first as a Fellow in Periodontology at the Graduate School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania and then as Resident Fellow in Periodontology and Oral Medicine at the Beth Israel-Deaconess Hospital in Boston. Dr. Rivo served as a Captain in the US Army Dental Corps in France, stationed near the old World War 1 battlefields.

After practicing for several years in Buffalo, Rivo transferred his clinical practice to San Francisco where he subsequently worked and taught periodontics for over 30 years. He is the former Chief of Periodontics at UCSF Medical Center/ Mt. Zion Hospital and was a member of the Medical Staff at California Pacific Medical Center. Dr. Rivo is past-president of the American Academy of the History of Dentistry. He is also the past-chair of the Achenbach Graphic Arts Council at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Dr. Rivo has retired from the practice of periodontology and currently is a student at the Fromm Institute at the University of San Francisco, where he is studying art, music, history and philosophy.

Wen Shen, M.D.
Wen T. Shen, M.D., M.A. is an endocrine surgeon specializing in procedures for thyroid, parathyroid and adrenal gland surgery. His research focuses on the molecular biology, genetics and treatment of thyroid cancer as well as the use of minimally invasive surgery. Shen also has an interest in medical history and has studied the development of hormonal therapies for benign and malignant conditions and the impact of the 1942 Coconut Grove Fire in Boston on the evolution of surface treatment for burns.

Dr. Shen graduated magna cum laude at Harvard College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history and science. He earned a medical degree and completed a surgical residency and research fellowship in endocrine surgery at UCSF. He received the Esther Nusz Achievement Award from the UCSF Department of Surgery, Resident’s Prize from the Pacific Coast Surgical Association, William Osler Medal from the American Association for the History of Medicine and Rothschild Prize from the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University.

In 2016, Dr. Shen was elected the 67th President of the UCSF Naffziger Surgical Society for its 2016-2017 term.

UCSF Cornerstone and Health Sciences Artifacts On Display Now

UCSF Archives recently showcased historical material at UCSF Alumni Weekend. We had a great time sharing yearbooks and artifacts from the collections and hearing wonderful stories of UCSF history from attendees.Selections from material that we shared at the event (and more!) are now on display on the 5th floor of the UCSF Library, 530 Parnassus Ave. The exhibit is free and open to the public during library hours. Come check out unique and beautiful health sciences artifacts and discover how UCSF community members saved the clock and cornerstone of the original 19th-century School of Medicine building from demolition.