Encyclopedia - Etaples

Postcard of Y.M.C.A. hut at Etaples Sited in the north of France in the departement of Pas-de-Calais, the town of Etaples, on the right bank of the estuary of the Canche, is sited some 4.5km from the Straits of Dover.

Etaple's population in the years immediately prior to the outbreak of war in 1914 amounted to a little over 5,000.  The town was noted chiefly for its small fishing and commercial port which gained brief importance in the middle ages.  The town was also a magnet for pre-war artists.

During the First World War the town became a vast Allied military camp and then a giant 'hospital city'.  Many medical facilities were established by the Australians, New Zealanders and British.  Wounded soldiers were consequently often sent to Etaples to recover or en route for Britain.

The town's medical prominence did not escape the attention of the German military high command, which duly organised a number of air raids on the town.  Four such attacks in May 1918 were launched using incendiary bombs directed against the various hospital sites.

Given that literally hundreds of patients were suffering from fractured femurs many were unable to move to safety during such raids.  They were thus assisted by hospital orderlies - who themselves came under machine gun fire from low-flying aircraft pilots watching out for just such activity.

Aside from its reputation for medical facilities Etaples also hosted a vast military cemetery, containing some 12,000 graves.

An Armlet was a cloth band worn around the arm to identify a particular duty or function.

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