An American doctor was one of the foreign volunteers that helped Romanians during the First World War
doctor was one of the foreign volunteers that helped Romanians during the First
World War. Among Brits and other Europeans, naturally caught in the war, doctor
Joseph Breckinridge Bayne was a peculiar character, as nobody had expected,
back in 1916, to see an American coming to Bucharest and rendering a military
hospital functional. But, that's exactly how it happened. J. Breckinridge Bayne
was born in June 1880 in Washington DC, where he graduated from the School of
Medicine of Georgetown University. He was not a prominent historical or
scientific figure, so his biography was not easy to compile.
One of his compatriots, however, Ernest H.
Latham Jr. managed to do that. In the 1980s, he was a cultural attaché at the
US Embassy in Bucharest. Here is Ernest Latham himself talking about his work
on the book titled "A strange destiny. J. Breckinridge Bayne, an American
doctor on the Romanian front 1916-1919", published by the Vremea publishers:
"The documentation was not easy to bring together, he was not a prominent
person in the US. And probably the first thing I did was do a Google search of
his name, and then I knew that he had gone to medical school at Georgetown
University, so I contacted the university and I got a transcript of his
curriculum. They revealed that he had attended a boarding school in New
England, in Massachusetts, for a year before he went to university; by
coincidence the school that I also went to. Unfortunately, they only had a
record that he had been there, there was nothing on how well he had done or
what courses he had taken."
Dr. Bayne was
extremely passionate about surgery, but, unfortunately, he did not manage to
practice it as he would have liked, because, after his father's death, he took
over his general practitioner office. Both his passion for surgery and his
altruism prompted him to join the medical corps of the British Army, as a
volunteer, after two years in which WWI had wreaked havoc in Europe. He arrived
in Bucharest on November 7th, 1916, together with a small group of
British medical staff, and, almost immediately, alongside General Alexandru
Marghiloman, the president of the Romanian Red Cross, decided he and his team
should work in the 1st Ward of Queen Elisabeth Hospital. Dr. Bayne
would stay there even after Bucharest's evacuation, following the city's
capitulation in front of the Germany army, in December 1916. Due to the US's
neutrality back then, Bayne was able to continue his activity at the hospital,
but without the help of any skilled medical personnel, because all of them,
including the British, had taken refuge in Iasi.
The American doctor managed to
train those who remained as volunteers and tried to save the many wounded soldiers
who would get to the hospital. Fighting against the hardships of a city under
siege, he managed to operate and even make prosthetics to replace soldiers'
amputated limbs. The situation, however, started changing in 1917, when the US
entered the war against the Germans. The doctor was forced to leave Bucharest,
after 8 months of uninterrupted work and huge pressure. But he did not give up
working as a doctor, because in the rural area where he settled, he treated
villagers affected by poverty, malnutrition and various ailments and epidemics.
In fact, during a cholera epidemic, Bayne himself got sick, but he eventually
His efforts were recognized, and king Ferdinand decided to decorate
him with the 'Star of Romania' order in 1918. That summer, Dr. Bayne returned
to Washington, but not for long. In late October he left again, accompanied by
an entire Red Cross team, to help contain the typhus outbreaks in several
villages south-west of Bucharest. In 1919, Dr. Bayne left to the US for good
and never returned to Romania. Today, his confessions, included in his 1944
memoirs, titled "Bugs and Bullets", make up an important document telling of
the US presence in Romania during WWI, as Ernest Latham believes:
bibliography of Romanians involved with Romania in the First World War is a
very short list indeed. Dr. Bayne's memoirs we've already discussed, the
memoirs of the American minister of that time, Charles Vopicka, and a very
brief mention in the writings of John Reed "War in Eastern Europe". He as for a
very short time in Bucharest. What was Dr. Bayne's impression of the Romanians?
I think it was very deep and it was very positive. Primarily it was his memoirs
of Romanian soldiers . Contrasting with the Romanian soldiers were the Russians
he came in contact with and the Germans."
that the Romanian soldiers fought with more enthusiasm, not just because they
believed they were defending their country, but because they were on home ground,
on the land that, as the American noticed, they were extremely attached to.
(translated by Mihaela Ignatescu)