A collection of diaries penned by an Aberdeen graduate gives a glimpse into the horrors of the First World War.
Ernest William Henderson Cruickshank, a former student and staff member at Aberdeen University, fought for his right to be in the Royal Army Medical Corps.
He was initially declared unfit because he lost his eye in an accident before the war.
During the conflict he kept detailed diaries, and while the first volume was lost, the second volume has been purchased by the university’s special collection team.
Born in Leith in 1888, Ernest was educated at Robert Gordon’s College and then awarded Bachelor of Medicine from Aberdeen University in 1910.
At the outbreak of war in 1914, he was working at the University of London as a research fellow.
After being denied acceptance for active duty he spent a year working in a military hospital in England.
He later convinced the authorities that he should be on the front line by climbing up on top of an ambulance train and running along the roofs of the carriages, and started work on the ambulance trains in France in February 1916.
The diaries describe Cruickshank’s work on Ambulance Train 11 before and during the Battle of the Somme.
His collection, which is called Aberdeen to Flanders: Ernest William Henderson Cruickshank, is now part of Aberdeen University’s Museums and Special Collections.
Andrew MacGregor, an archivist for the university, said: “We were delighted to acquire these amazing First World War journals of a remarkable student and member of staff of the university.
“They shed light on his experiences as a young man helping to care for the wounded at the battle of the Somme through to his work searching for prisoners-of-war in prison camps at the end of the war.
“The journals are particularly special as they contain numerous photographs, letters and documents, and this, combined with his detailed notes, gives a real insight into the realities of war.”
The ambulance trains were used to pick up the huge numbers of wounded soldiers from collection points behind the front line and take them to hospitals in France or to the ports for transportation to military hospitals in the UK.
The medical teams on board carried out emergency surgeries and other treatments.
Ernest’s diaries give vivid details of what he saw during the war, including a football match between the ambulance team and Chasseurs Alpins, the elite mountain infantry of the French army.
However, one diary entry reveals the trauma of the conflict, and states: “Never have faced such a sight.
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“Hundreds of wounded men standing and lying on the damp grassy slope, just down from the very thickest of the fighting, covered in mud, blood, tied up with bandages.”
By the tenth day of the Somme, the Aberdeen alumni’s train had carried a total of 4,053 casualties.
The diaries also contain copies of railway tickets, samples of trench money, instructions for wound dressings, letters, photographs and maps of front lines.
From July 1917, Ernest was attached to the 28th Field Ambulance in Flanders, supporting the 9th (Scottish) Division.
As a medic on the front line, his duties included searching for wounded soldiers in the dark, even during an artillery bombardment.
After the war he later worked at universities in China, Cambridge, London, India and Nova Scotia before he retuned to Aberdeen in 1935 to work as Professor of Physiology until 1958.
He died in Aberdeen at the age of 76.
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