When President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany in 1917 and enter the “war to end all wars,” a group from Cleveland was the first to enter. Thanks to chief surgeon Dr. George Crile, Lakeside Hospital, the forerunner to University Hospitals, set up a 500-bed facility to care for wounded allies. This base, eventually called U.S. Army Base No. 4, was located in the forest just outside of Rouen, France. Crile had been asked by his friend Myron Herrick, U.S. ambassador to France and former Ohio governor and Cleveland councilman, to design an entire hospital deployment plan for Europe that would advance the combat units into war.
A month after the U.S declared war on April 6, the Lakeside Unit would become Cleveland Base Hospital No. 4 with 27 medical officers, 64 nurses and 155 enlistees sworn in for duty to serve for three years or until the war ended.
Major Harry L. Gilchrist administered the oath at Lakeside and U.S. Army Private Maurice Turner of East 99th Street in Glenville recounted the experience in a May 5, 1917, journal entry, “Everyone dashed out of the hospital to streetcars and taxicabs to go home to pack up and bid their families and friends goodbye.” In less than 24 hours, the Lakeside Unit marched from the hospital downtown to the Union Depot on the shores of Lake Erie to catch a train to New York and set sail for Europe. The May 6 entry of Turner’s diary read, “Parents, sweethearts and friends walked beside the parade to the depot where a final goodbye was said, and at last we were on our way.”
On the Seine River on May 25, 1917, Private Turner recalled, “There were courses of voices ringing from one cliff to the other ‘Vive La Amerique.’ The people seemed dazed as our boat drifted up the river flying an American flag… The fragrance of the primroses along the banks filled the air, and it made us feel as if we were in heaven. We could not realize that not 100 miles away, it was raining steel and lead.”
In the days following, Turner recounted air raid after air raid with a short entry dated March 22, 1918, reading, “Receiving 600-700 patients a day.” In 20 months of duty, the Lakeside Unit tended to over 80,000 wounded ally soldiers. After 20 months of service, the best journal entry from Private Maurice Turner was on Nov. 11, 1918 — Armistice Day — when he simply recounts, “This is the day of all days.” After the war ended, this young Private from Cleveland left France on Dec. 20, 1918, but he and the allies were not forgotten by their host city of Rouen.
Today, a plaque on the wall of Rouen City Hall commemorates the role of Base Hospital No. 4, recognizing the Cleveland Lakeside Unit as “The first detachment of the American Expeditionary Forces to arrive in France.” Last November, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, also known as Armistice Day, Rouen Mayor Yvon Robert invited a delegation from Cleveland, now Rouen’s sister city, for a commemorative celebration that included the laying of a wreath near the plaque where Americans of the Lakeside Unit from Cleveland are honored.
In July of 2018, a delegation from Rouen visited Cleveland for the 10th anniversary of its sister city relationship. Mayor Robert and his wife, Joelle, and a delegation of business representatives, chefs, musicians and artists explored Cleveland in July. From University Hospitals, where it all began, to Cleveland Clinic, which George Crile and colleagues William Lower and Frank Bunts established within three years of their return from World War I. As part of the visit, a Rouen artist painted a mural next to the West Side Market, and University Circle hosted Bastille Day Festivities for the delegation featuring the cuisine of their chefs and music from French students that accompanied the delegation. As a capstone, the French national team won the World Cup that weekend.
Our two cities share an extraordinary historical bond that was born in the First World War and lives on today. A Cleveland-Rouen partnership is already underway in conjunction with the University of Rouen at a health care simulation and biomedical training center in Rouen, as well as with Cleveland manufacturing companies that have a stake in Rouen include Lincoln Electric, MTD Products, Tremco and Lubrizol, the latter of which is shipping goods from the Port of Cleveland along the oceanic path taken by the men and women of the Lakeside Unit who bravely first sailed into the Normandy harbor a century ago. What’s next for these sister cities depends on what the two cities make of it and how we celebrate our important bond.