Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

Dutch Diplo Talk

Dutch medical teams in the First World War

19 Sep 2014

During the first World War exceptional women and men provided medical care to the wounded and sick soldiers in Serbia. Medical teams from many countries worked side by side with Serbian ones, coping the best they could with the overwhelming task of caring for the wounded, the maimed, the sick and the dying, healing those who could be healed and comforting those who couldn’t anymore. The commemorations I attended at the Association of Medical Doctors in Belgrade and in Mladenovac vividly demonstrated that these medical teams have not been forgotten and will not be forgotten.

In commemorating the medical teams that reinforced Serbian ones the Dutch teams are remembered in one breath with the Australian, Belgian, Canadian, French, Russian, British, American and other ones. Surgeon Arius van Tienhoven was already well known for his medical work during the Balkan Wars, when Serbia entrusted him the surgery department of the Military Hospital of Valjevo during the first World War. He and his medical team, among whom nurse de Groote and medical assistant A.F. Henken, left an indelible memory of dedication and humanity with their patients, including prisoners of war. Mr. Henken contracted typhoid at his task and died. Professor Jelica Novaković, head of Dutch studies at the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade recently made me aware of the so-called “ambulance” of Dr. H. van Dijk, a physician who dedicated himself to the plight of civilian victims of war. A publication of the Dutch journalist M.J. Brusse, attests to Van Dijk’s work in his book “A Dutch hospital in a bombed city”.

Maartje Abbenhuis quotes in her dissertation “The Art of Staying Neutral” P.H. Ritter, who reminisced in his “The Dark Gate”:“the First World War knocked on our door, it did not step inside”. This neutrality allowed the Netherlands to offer sanctuary to refugees and to intern military personnel from the various armies that straddled unlawfully on our territory. About one million Belgians fled northwards across the Dutch frontier during the German siege of Antwerp in October 1914, increasing the population of the Netherlands by almost one-sixth for a short while.

The Netherlands also assisted in the repatriation of Prisoners of War at the end of the war. Among the tens of thousands of them were also 4316 Serbs. The memory of the medical care that the Dutch provided to Serbian soldiers, struck down by the Spanish flue is alive even today, as e.g. witnessed by the website

Let’s honor the dedication and the humanity of these exceptional women and men of all medical missions during the horrors of the First World War.

This blog was posted earlier in Netherlands Embassy in Belgrade.

Photo: Robert George Dalrymple

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About the author

Laurent Stokvis
Written by Laurent Stokvis

Dutch ambassador to Serbia

Laurent Louis Stokvis was born on 14 April 1950 in Jakarta. He works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands as of 1975. In the period between 2002 and 2006 he was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Slovak Republic. Between 2006 and 2010, he worked as Director in the Directorate for the Western Hemisphere. He has been appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Serbia in September 2010. He is married and has one child.