The Col. Henry H. M. Lyle Collection of WWI Photos and Documents

A new finding aid for The Col. Henry H. M. Lyle Collection of World War I Photographs and Documents, 1916-1943, was recently published and made available to researchers on-line (http://icahn.mssm.edu/about/ait/archives/collection/henry-lyle). The collection includes 200 photographs from World War I, maps and documents used during the war, some correspondence, and reprints of articles by Lyle.

The heart of the collection is the photographs taken in France during World War I, which depict often dramatic or surprising images of the war. There are views of hospital stations, barracks, and outdoor equipment (some include large defensive weapons), transportation of wounded soldiers, field dressing stations, supply trains, and troops on the battlefields. Interior views document soldiers, patients, operating rooms and special treatment rooms. A number of the images display the effects of mustard gas and other brutal wounds sustained by soldiers, while others capture the unit compound against the French countryside in an oddly artistic fashion. Still others provide a view of everyday life in the compound – washing clothes, unloading shipments of supplies and such, but which brings to life the challenges of a large group of people living in one spot at that point in time. Laundry meant picking lice off of clothes; unloading supplies meant huge piles of boxes; transporting wounded soldiers sometimes meant walking through ankle-deep mud. The collection also captures images of foreign soldiers in national uniforms, some riding horseback, a lifestyle that is very different from the standard U.S. soldier’s, which adds an interesting, and occasionally humorous, side to the war.

Henry Hamilton Moore Lyle, MD, was a noted surgeon and decorated soldier. He was born in Northern Ireland in 1874. His family immigrated to Ontario, Canada when Lyle was a boy. He graduated Cornell in 1896, and went on to Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, graduating in 1900. He took an internship at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children and at New York Hospital and a year’s surgical internship at St. Luke’s Hospital (1901-1902) before joining St. Luke’s surgical staff in 1904 and where he remained on staff until his death.

It appears that Lyle spent the year between his internship and surgical appointment traveling abroad, visiting clinics in Great Britain, France and the German-speaking countries. This familiarity with Europe may have led to his voluntary enlistment in World War I two years before the U.S. was formally involved in the conflict. In 1915 he took leave from his private practice and hospital positions in New York and spent six months as Chief Medical Officer of American Ambulance Hospital B, Juilly, France.

In 1916 he again took a leave and returned to France to serve for several months as Chief Surgeon of Ambulance d’Annel (Longueil, France). In April 1917 when the US entered the conflict, he joined the U.S. Army Reserve and in May was ordered to active service. In June he organized the United States Army Evacuation Hospital No. 2 at Camp Benjamin Harrison, and was appointed its commander when it left for France in January 1918.

In September 1918, Lyle was made Director of Ambulances and Evacuation of the Wounded for the First Army. During the ensuing Meuse-Argonne offensive, over 125,000 sick and wounded were brought to the railhead hospitals under his supervision. In recognition of his outstanding service, particularly during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, where the Evacuation Hospital No. 2 played a major role as one of two front line hospitals established in the Zone of Combat, he was decorated with the Distinguished Service Medal (U.S.). Lyle was also awarded the British War Medal and the British Victory Medal.

When the war ended Lyle returned to New York and medical practice at St. Luke’s Hospital, where his reputation as an outstanding surgeon followed his successes in battle. Lyle retired from medical practice in 1938, though remained a Consulting Surgeon at St. Luke’s until his death from coronary thrombosis on March 11, 1947.