The Swedish ambulance services 1935-1936 of Gunnar Agge
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article
The fact that Sweden has been spared from war on its soil for almost 200 years, has not stopped Swedish citizens from participating in conflicts worldwide during this period. This has been described, especially from the soldiers perspective. The contribution of Swedish physicians has not been written about to the same extent. When Mussolini's Italy in October 1935 invaded the poor and underdeveloped country of Ethiopia (former Abyssinia) an ambulance was immediately organized by the Swedish Red Cross. To lead such an expedition, a great knowledge of Ethiopian culture och maybe most importantly, of the weather and geographical conditions, was undoubtedly demanded. Therefore, the Swedish Red Cross turned to two Ethiopian veterans. Doctor Fride Hylander, a missionary-son who had been working on a hospital project in the Ethiopian province of Harrar and his friend since school years, doctor Gunnar Agge, were assigned the leadership of the ambulance. Dr Agge had also participated in improving the Ethiopian health care both in Harrar and later as civilian and military doctor in the province of Ogaden, where he was medically responsible for the more than 9 000 men strong army that the Ethiopian emperor had stationed there after Italian provocations. Most of the other members of the ambulance were handpicked by these two leaders and many of them had, just like themselves, a stong religious belief. A money-raise was immediately initiated and in less than six weeks 700 000 Swedish crowns had been collected, more then twice the sum the ambulance was calculated to cost. In early november 1935 the ambulance was clear to go. Their primary objective was to travel through British Somaliland and establish a field-hospital in the province of Harrar. However, the Ethiopian emperor had other things in mind. He wanted to reorganize the ambulance and divide it in two and place it closer to the front line. The ambulance decided to go along with his wish. Both groups started eventually their dangerous journey towards the front, in the erratic hands of the weather-gods and the harsh environment. Roads, in a European sense, almost never existed and when the rain turned them into fields of mud, in which the cars constantly got stuck, the prospect of the ambulance did not seem good. For the minor group, for which Dr Agge was the assigned leader, it took more then two months to reach the eastern parts of Ethiopia. The other larger group reached its destination Malka Dida on december 19th. It didn't take long before the Italian airforce started to show an alarming interest for their camp. On December 30th, despite the fact that the field-hospital was marked with the flag of the Red Cross according to the Geneva Convention, Italian pilots dropped more then one hundred bombs over the area and totally destroyed the field-hospital and more or less all medical equipment. This day remains as maybe the darkest in the history of the International Red Cross. The Swedish medical orderly Gunnar Lundstrom later past away due to the injuries he suffered. Doctor Hylander was also seriously wounded but fortunately he could fully recover. The remaing crew of the ambulance was forced to retreat and after spending some time in the capital Addis Abeba they joined the smaller group. In the beginning of May 1936 it was time for the ambulance to try to make its way home. The crew was running out of medical equipment and it seemed just like a matter of time before the Italian pilots would detect them. After a hazardous journey through a nation in complete anarchy after the collapse of the Ethiopian military they could finally put themselves in security in British Kenya. This paper concludes that the ambulance indeed made a great humanitarian effort, by making its way through the harsh environment, establishing it close to the front line and treating thousands of patients, including both civilians and soldiers. This was an extraordinary performance that brought some balance to the view of the Ethiopian people of the "white world" Gunnar Agge was driven by his strong religious beliefs and a great sense of humanism and compassion. This followed him throughout his lifetime an he can without a doubt be compared with another well-known physician, the Canadian surgeon Norman Bethune (1890-1939). His work was characterized by soldarity and a foundamental and honest view of equity with a people living in a different continent, that was in many ways the opposite to the general view held in Europe.
|Research areas and keywords||
Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY
|Journal||Svensk medicinhistorisk tidskrift|
|Publication status||Published - 2006|