British ambulances in the Franco-Prussian War

British ambulance stores at Metz during the war[1]

Though the United Kingdom remained neutral during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, it provided ambulances and other medical assistance to both combatants and the civilians affected by the war. The term "ambulance" at this time denoted a medical organisation that provided field hospitals, transport and surgical operations, not the more limited modern use. The British public donated more than £300,000 to provide medical assistance during the war. The ambulances, together with those of other neutral organisations, proved very effective at treating casualties, and following the war all major powers took steps to implement similar arrangements for future wars.


The United Kingdom was neutral during the Franco-Prussian War, but numerous organisations were formed to provide medical assistance to one side or both during the war. More than £300,000 of donations was made by the British public to provide for medical services during the course of the war.[2] Much of the funding went to "ambulances", a term that at the time referred to an organisation providing large-scale medical facilities including transport, field hospitals and surgical facilities rather than the more limited usage of today.[3] Many of the ambulances were staffed by doctors on leave from the British Army with medical students from other nations serving on an ad-hoc basis.[4]

A number of other neutral nations formed their own ambulances to provide medical assistance during the war including the Netherlands, Italy, Austria and Belgium.[4] By the war's end, it had become clear that ambulances and formal medical provision were a key requirement of warfare of the time. All of the major powers subsequently made efforts to establish permanent organised ambulance services for the transport and treatment of their wounded during wartime.[5]

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