In respect of preparations, even up to the two army corps standard, the Royal Army Medical Corps was weak in numbers. Barely sufficient in its personnel even for peace requirements, it possessed no organisation for expansion in war. The establishment of officers was designed to provide for the bearer companies and field hospitals of two army corps and a cavalry division, with seven stationary and three general hospitals on the lines of communication. This only allowed for under 3 per cent, of the troops having beds in general and stationary hospitals. Without withdrawing officers from the colonies, (The establishment for India is distinct) the aid of 99 civil surgeons would be required. These gentlemen were to be selected when their services were needed, but as there was no registered list, no claim on the service of anyone could be exacted. When the field army was provided for, the home hospitals were entirely denuded of personnel. The work was carried on by retired officers and civil surgeons. The establishment of non-commissioned officers and men was designed only for peace purposes, and beyond the reserve there was no estimate for additions in case of war. A state of war was to be met by civilian assistance, increased employment of women nurses, and active recruiting. An increase of establishment which had been proposed for the estimates of 1893-4 and successive years had gradually obtained complete sanction by 1898 (An increase of 212 was asked for, and was obtained by successive grants). The increase of the army as a whole and the known weakness in South Africa caused demands for yet larger numbers in the estimates of 1899-1900. The Army Board were not disposed to recommend more than a portion of these additions (The estimate was for 400 of all ranks, and 150 were granted. The balance was granted in November, 1899, and the men were of course untrained). The difficulty of obtaining sanction for expenditure on measures of greater urgency required that that which was considered of less importance should be dispensed with, so the hospital orderly had to be rejected in favour of the soldier to fill the ranks-To provide the general and stationary hospitals that accompanied the First Army Corps with complete personnel, it became necessary to denude the bearer companies and field hospitals of the Second Army Corps. It is not surprising, therefore, that "war having been declared, and practically the whole available personnel having been swept off to South Africa with the first demands, it became necessary to seek for other means of supply." (Statement by Surgeon-General Jameson, Royal Commission on South African Hospitals.). Hospital equipment was dealt with by the Director-General of Ordnance, but with surgical and medical stores the Army Medical Department was itself concerned. Funds to replace the old-fashioned instruments then in use were asked for in 1896, and between that date and the outbreak of war great improvements had been made. The change, however, had not been universally completed, and on the outbreak of war a few instruments of comparatively antiquated type were still to be found in South Africa. A similar argument to that which prevailed against the increase of personnel met the several requests for storage room. It was represented that the indifferent storage available deteriorated the instruments and made the drugs worthless. On the other hand, the perishable nature of drugs renders it inadvisable to keep a large amount in store, besides which, ample supplies can always be purchased in the market. The subsequent experience went to prove that there was no difficulty in this matter. Throughout the war the department was wonderfully well equipped as regards drugs and instruments, and no branch was more successful than that concerned with medical supplies.
Source: 'History of the War in South Africa 1899-1902' by Major General Sir Frederick Maurice, Volume 1
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