Imperial units

Royal Army Medical Corps

The RAMC was formed in 1898 by joining the Medical Staff (officers) and Medical Staff Corps (men).

Each brigade of infantry or cavalry upon a war footing has attached to it a medical section, comprising generally three officers and about fifty-seven men, with fifteen various vehicles, of which ten were hospital wagons. In Battle, the wounded were conveyed to the dressing stations by the ambulances and ambulance men. After receiving treatment they were either returned to their unit or referred to a field hospital for more care. Each division had its own field hospital. An army corps had 10 field hospitals, each with a capacity of 100 men. The personnel of the field hospital consists of five officers, a warrant officer, and thirty-four non-commissioned officers and men, with six horses, and a number of vehicles for provisions, water, medical stores, equipment, and reserve rations. The wounded were retained in the field hospitals and their injuries attended to until they can be transported to the hospitals upon the lines of communication or at the base. The reality of war often meant the provision for the sick and wounded was inadequate. For example, at Modder River, a capacity of two field hospitals had to deal with 800 patients.

In addition to their medical duties, the RAMC had responsibility for hygiene, sanitation and water supplies etc.

In his despatch of 2nd April 1901 Lord Roberts said: "Under Surgeon General Wilson this department has laboured indefatigably both in the field and in the hospitals. Some cases have been brought to my notice in which officers have proved unequal to the exceptional strain thrown upon them by the sudden expansion of hospitals, and in the earlier stages of the war the necessity of more ample preparations to meet disease were not quite fully apprehended. These cases have been fully reported on by the Royal Commission, and will no doubt receive the attention of his Majesty's Government. I am not, however, less conscious of the unremitting services of the great majority of the officers of the Royal Army Medical Corps. There are many instances, indeed, recorded of great gallantry having been displayed by the officers in carrying on their work of mercy under heavy fire, and in the face of exceptional difficulties their duty has been ably performed. My thanks are also due to the distinguished consulting surgeons who have come out to this country, and by their advice and experience materially aided the Royal Army Medical Corps. The services rendered by Sir William MacCormac, Mr G H Makins, Mr F Treves, the late Sir W Stokes, Mr Watson Cheyne, Mr G Cheatle, Mr Kendal Franks, Mr John Chiene, and Sir Thomas Francis Fitzgerald, were of incalculable value. The abnormal demand upon the RAMC necessitated the employment of a large number of civil surgeons, and to these gentlemen the army owes a debt of gratitude. The heavy strain on the Army Medical Department was further much relieved by the patriotic efforts of the several committees and individuals who raised, equipped, and sent out complete hospitals".

Lord Roberts also mentions the invaluable assistance by the British Red Cross Society, who equipped hospital trains, and he also speaks of the value of the hospital ships. As to the nursing sisters he says, "It is difficult to give expression to the deep feeling of gratitude with which the nursing sisterhood has inspired all ranks serving in South Africa".

The outcry raised at the time when the army was posted about Bloemfontein, and enteric was ravaging its ranks, may not have been entirely justified, in that it overlooked some insuperable difficulties; but, on the whole, it is fortunate that public attention was engrossed with a subject of such importance, and the agitation did good, in that it made the path of the reformers more easy. That some reforms were necessary is beyond doubt, and that these have been undertaken is a matter of satisfaction.

Apart from all authorised or Red Book reforms, perhaps the most desirable consummation is that our fighting generals should realise that in a campaign of any duration their own power will greatly depend on the observance of sanitary rules. Medical officers should not be discouraged from urging and compelling the frequent changing of camping-grounds, and, in the selection of these, wholesome water-supplies must ever be a sine qua non (see ' A Doctor in Khaki', by Dr E Freemantle: Murray, 1901. The author was a civil surgeon, and his work is a very valuable contribution to the literature on the subject).

As to the bravery and self-sacrificing devotion of the immense majority of the Royal Army Medical Corps officers there is no possible doubt. The following gained the Victoria Cross:—

Major William Babtie, at Colenso, 15th December 1899

Lieutenant W H S Nickerson, Wakkerstroom, 22nd April 1900

Lieutenant H E M Douglas, Magersfontein, 11th December 1899

Lieutenant E T Inkson, Natal, 24th February 1900

Surgeon Captain Crean of the Imperial Light Horse, and

Surgeon Major N R Howse of the Australian Field Hospital.

The following were, apart from honours bestowed, the mentions in the principal despatches, including officers attached from the Imperial Medical Staff, civilians, and civil nurses: 

  Officers NCOs and men

Nurses

Sir George White - 2nd December 1899 2 1  
Sir George White - 23 March 1900 10 19 29
Sir Redvers Buller - 30 March 1900 61 31  
Sir Redvers Buller - 19 June 1900 3    
Sir Redvers Buller - 9 November 1900 30 5  
Lord Methuen - 26 November 1899 1    
Lord Methuen - 15 February 1900 1 1  
Lord Roberts - 31 March 1900 11 5  
Baden Powell - 18 May 1900 4   7
Lord Roberts - 2 April 1901 62 3 28
Lord Roberts - 4 September 1901 39 56 43
Lord Kitchener - various Despatches 66 26  

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