6/27/2016 Peter Durantine

World War I Diary: Experiences of a Battlefield Ambulance Driver

Before commanding an ambulance corps on French battlefields in World War I, Charles Stahr graduated from Franklin & Marshall College, studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and became chief surgeon at Lancaster General Hospital.

"The ambulance corps, a unit of the National Guard, was organized by Stahr in May 1917, and most of the men who were part of his unit had homes in Lancaster County," said Danielle Cicchiello, a history and religious studies major and rising senior. "Two or three had graduated from F&M."

  • J. Reah Hollinger, class of 1917, is on the left wearing glasses. Under Charles Stahr's command, the 111th Ambulance Company of the 103rd Medical Battalion, 28th Division, U.S. Army, traveled to the war front in France the autumn following Hollinger's graduation from F&M. Unit members treated the wounded from conflicts at Chateau Thierry, the Argonne Forest, and other battles. Since 1939, a monument at the western end of Lancaster's Buchanan Park has commemorated the unit, listing the names of its members. J. Reah Hollinger, class of 1917, is on the left wearing glasses. Under Charles Stahr's command, the 111th Ambulance Company of the 103rd Medical Battalion, 28th Division, U.S. Army, traveled to the war front in France the autumn following Hollinger's graduation from F&M. Unit members treated the wounded from conflicts at Chateau Thierry, the Argonne Forest, and other battles. Since 1939, a monument at the western end of Lancaster's Buchanan Park has commemorated the unit, listing the names of its members. Image Credit: College Archives

A Hackman summer scholar, Cicchiello plans to pursue a doctoral degree in the history of science after graduation. She is using her research into battlefield medicine, and two F&M alumni who practiced it, to arrange a pair of museum exhibits.

One is an online exhibit for Lancaster's Edward Hand Medical Heritage Foundation and the other is an exhibit for F&M's Phillips Museum of Art, scheduled to open April 6, 2017, the day 100 years ago the United States entered the war.

"World War I medicine is not as advanced as it is in World War II, but it's not necessarily primitive," Cicchiello said. "There are tourniquets, anesthetic masks, gauze, ether tubes, and catgut ligatures for surgery kits." 

  • In 1928, Lancaster city commemorated Charles Stahr's participation in World War I and Army career by naming the former National Guard armory at 438 N. Queen Street after him. Stahr's father, John Summers Stahr, served as F&M's president from 1889 to 1909. In 1928, Lancaster city commemorated Charles Stahr's participation in World War I and Army career by naming the former National Guard armory at 438 N. Queen Street after him. Stahr's father, John Summers Stahr, served as F&M's president from 1889 to 1909. Image Credit: College Archives
  • Danielle Cicchiello, a history and religious studies major, spends part of her time researching in Shadek-Fakenthal Library. Danielle Cicchiello, a history and religious studies major, spends part of her time researching in Shadek-Fakenthal Library. Image Credit: Deb Grove

Stahr, a captain in the army, had earned his Franklin & Marshall degree in 1897. One of the F&M alumni he had under his command was J. Reah Hollinger, who, as a member of the war-shadowed class of 1917, joined the Army upon graduating. He kept a diary of his wartime experiences.

"Hollinger served in World War I as an ambulance driver," Cicchiello said.  "We're using his diary to create an exhibit based on World War I battlefield medicine."

For her research, Cicchiello spends time in the College Archives at the Martin Library of the Sciences, in Shadek-Fackenthal Library, and browsing the more than 10,000 medical artifacts housed at the foundation.

"I've looked through the collection and picked things that Hollinger talks about in his diary," Cicchiello said.

Professor of History and American Studies Louise Stevenson also plans to present the diary-based exhibits to the Pennsylvania World War One Centennial Network. Students in her World War I centered courses during the spring of 2017 will read portions of Hollinger’s diaries.

"We believe the College's joint project with the Edward Hand Medical Heritage Foundation Museum will broaden the representation of soldiers’ wartime experiences to include medicine, thereby making a significant contribution to the Pennsylvania World War I Centennial Commission’s commemoration of the war," Stevenson said.  

Last year, Emily Hawk '16 presented research on the diary, which Hollinger's daughter, Barbara Hollinger, a former secretary at F&M, presented to the College.

"I'm building on her work with the diary to make the exhibit," Cicchiello said. "My actual work is with the medical artifacts and with Stahr. He ended up serving as the director of Lancaster General Hospital after the war."

Hollinger, who lived until 1996, was the last survivor of the 111th Ambulance Company of the 103rd Medical Battalion. He left behind his uniform and helmet, to be used in the exhibits, that his grandson presented to Stevenson.

Cicchiello said the research experience has been worthwhile.

"I want to study the history of science in graduate school, so this is a really nice way to look at the history of war medicine, especially for World War I," she said. "It's not something people normally study. Looking at it from this perspective is really interesting."

  • Visitors to the Edward Hand Medical Heritage Foundation's virtual exhibit will be able to see J. Reah Hollinger’s diary, read a transcription, and examine the medical devices used in the battlefields. Visitors to the Edward Hand Medical Heritage Foundation's virtual exhibit will be able to see J. Reah Hollinger’s diary, read a transcription, and examine the medical devices used in the battlefields. Image Credit: College Archives
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