George Percy Parker Clapham was born in Liverpool in 1868, the son of George and Jane Clapham. By the time of the 1901 census, he had qualified as a physician and surgeon.
In February 1903, George Clapham married Charlotte Emma Binns at Camberwell Parish Church in London. His profession was recorded on the marriage certificate as ‘doctor’. By 1911, George and his wife were living on Station Parade in Harrogate where he now worked as a dentist, running his own surgery.
At some point either before or during the war, George and Charlotte moved to Scotton. The Absent Voters List (AVL) for 1918 shows them living at Langton Lodge in the village, an address confirmed by his medal index card.
As a qualified medical practitioner, George Clapham enlisted into the Royal Army Medical Corps as a doctor with the rank of Lieutenant. He went to France on 1 November 1914 and was attached to the 1/1st West Riding Clearing Hospital. This was located at Merville in northern France , some 15km north of Bethune and 20km south west of Armentieres. The Casualty Clearing Station (hospital) was part of the casualty evacuation chain, further back from the front line than Regimental First Aid Posts and Field Ambulance units and their primary function was to treat the wounded or ill soldiers so that the men could either return to their units or, more usually, to be stabilised for evacuation to base hospital for further treatment. The Casualty Clearing Station was not therefore a place for long term patient care and they were generally located on, or near to, railway lines to facilitate the transportation of casualties. The CCS at Merville was there between December 1914 and April 1917 before moving to Bracquemont. Originally designated as No. 7 Casualty Clearing Station, it was subsequently renamed as the 7th (1/1st West Riding) Clearing Hospital because it was run by medical staff from the West Riding Territorial Force.
A typical CCS was a large unit, with a minimum of 50 beds and 150 stretchers in order to treat a minimum of 200 men at any one time and they were normally situated about 20km behind the front line. They were therefore approximately half way between the front line and the British Base Area and were the first unit to provide surgery (albeit limited) as well as being the most forward unit for nursing staff. Transport to a CCS from the trenches was generally by horse-drawn or motor ambulance.
In normal circumstances, the CCS staff would comprise seven Medical Officers, one Quartermaster and seventy-seven other ranks, together with a dentist, a pathologist, seven QAIMNS nurses and other non-medical personnel. Each CCS would have its own marquees and wooden huts in order to create medical and surgical wards, operating theatres, stores, dispensary, kitchens, incineration plant, ablutions, sleeping accommodation for medical staff and a mortuary. The seriousness of many wounds was a challenge to the rather basic facilities at a CCS and, as a result, their locations today are often marked by large military cemeteries.
Since George Clapham was both a qualified surgeon and dentist, it is not clear what his role would have been at the CCS, although he may have undertaken either (or both) functions.
On 23 April 1915, George Clapham was promoted to the rank of Captain in the RAMC, the promotion being notified in the London Gazette on 26 August 1915. Either then, or at some time thereafter, he was transferred to the 15th Ambulance Train. This was one of the first specially-built ambulance trains which replaced the rather basic standard carriages used to transport the wounded in the early months of the war. The first special train, built in Britain, had arrived in France in November 1914 and several such trains had been provided by contribution from wealthy individuals. Ambulance Train 15 was financed by Princess Christian. Born Princess Helena Augusta Victoria, she was the fifth child of Queen Victoria and had married Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein in 1866. The couple had remained in Britain during the war and the princess had been one of the founding members of the Red Cross. She had also been President of the Royal British Nurses Association and a strong supporter of nurse registration which had been opposed by Florence Nightingale.
Patients would be taken onto these Ambulance Trains from scattered medical units, including the CCS, behind the front line where their wounds had received only emergency treatment. On the train to a base hospital, the wounded began to receive fuller medical treatment, care which continued at the base hospitals themselves and then also on the hospital ships bearing them back to Britain. As a consequence, most patients were in a reasonably stable condition when they were admitted to a British War Hospital. Because of this, the Ambulance Trains were designed so that medical staff of the RAMC and nurses, usually from Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), could continue to treat wounded men whilst they were being transported. The interior of the train would have ward cars, fitted with beds along each side of the carriage, usually in tiers of three.
An anonymous account from the diary of a nurse working on one of these trains states that the wounded ‘were bleeding faster than we could cope and the agony of getting them off stretchers on to the bunks is a thing to forget’(1). This is the nature of the work which would have engaged Captain George Clapham on the journey to the base hospitals.
Some of the ambulance trains were also fitted out with an operating theatre. To ensure better hygiene and the ability to scrub down these theatres would be completely tiled. Emergency operations would be performed despite the movement of the train, the cramped conditions and poor lighting.
George Clapham also served in Italy, which is where he was working as a doctor for the RAMC in 1918, as recorded on the AVL and also on his medal card. He returned to Scotton after being demobilised from the army; the electoral register of 1919 and 1920 shows both George and Charlotte as resident at Langton Lodge. However, shortly after this, the Claphams moved to Harrogate; the electoral register of 1921 shows that the couple were then living at 4 Oak Terrace, Victoria Road, Harrogate..
George Clapham died on 30 October 1929 in Leeds, at the age of 62. Probate details show that he had been living at 17 Regent Park Terrace in Leeds. For his war-time service, he was awarded the 1914 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.