Belgium / Story
Leopoldsburg played an important role during Operation Market Garden. In Cinema Splendid, for instance, the briefing on the operation was given by Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks. Additionally, the American 24th Evacuation Hospital was located on the border between Leopoldsburg and Hechtel. The function of this field hospital was to administer first-line care to wounded Allied soldiers after their evacuation from the corridor to Arnhem.
The US Army used different types of hospitals during World War II. When troops were taken off the battlefield by stretcher-bearers and paramedics, they always ended up in an evacuation hospital first. Here, initial care was administered and emergency operations were carried out. Seriously wounded were then forwarded directly to a station hospital or to a general hospital. Unlike station hospitals, general hospitals had better facilities for special surgical procedures. Additionally, whilst in an evacuation hospital sick bed time was often short-lived as soldiers either returned to their units or were forwarded, in a general hospital, sickbed time could be as long as 180 days.
The men of the 24th Evacuation Hospital described the area where the hospital was set up, along the road from Leopoldsburg to Hechtel, as "a boggy moor". Yet on 18 September 1944, 400 beds were ready to receive the wounded. By 19 September, 512 soldiers, including some Germans were already being treated. From Leopoldsburg, most of the wounded were evacuated towards the British General Hospital in Diest. Although the American 24th Evacuation Hospital was located 10km from the start of the British corridor towards Nijmegen and Arnhem, it sometimes came under fire. On 20 September, for instance, a German fighter plane carried out an attack. This seriously injured 1st lieutenant Agatha Raus Kurth.
At full strength, the hospital consisted of 47 officers, 52 nurses and 318 soldiers. The huge US war economy ensured that they lacked nothing. By the end of the war, the hospital had used almost 7,000 scalpel blades and more than 16km of sutures. More than 14,000 morphine injections had been administered and some 18,000 lab tests carried out. Finally, 177km of plaster bandages had also been laid. That is roughly the distance from Leopoldsburg to Arnhem and back again. On 8 October 1944, having cared for more than 2,500 soldiers during their time in Leopoldsburg, 26 of whom did not survive their wounds, and having operated in Leopoldsburg for more than two weeks, the 24th Evacuation Hospital moved towards the Dutch town of Uden, .