Medicine and the First World War
The Great War 1914-18
In 1917, General Sir William Birdwood, commanding the Fifth army, stated that if he had thousands of Victoria Crosses he would award them to the stretcher bearers. His statement was made in recognition of the unstinting bravery of the men serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). These unarmed, non-combatant troops tended the wounded on the battlefield regardless of danger.
Between 1914 and 1918 the British Army expanded greatly in size, not only the fighting units, but also the supporting branches, of which the RAMC was one. In 1914 the strength of the RAMC was 20,000 but by 1918 there were 150,000 men in its ranks and during the war 628 Victoria Crosses were awarded, of which eleven were won by men serving with the RAMC, including the only man to win the medal twice.
As the war evolved so did the medical treatment and we will be looking at the many medical innovations during the war such as the 'Thomas traction splint', along with other treatments such as Marie Curie who introduced mobile X-ray machines for the French army. During this unusual tour, we will not only be looking at the role of the RAMC on the Western Front but also the role of the thousands of women who served as nurses. The units they formed included the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service, the VADs and FANYs along with the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps. You will be told about men such as Lance Corporal A C Smith who won the Military Medal and women like Nurse Margaret Arnold who served with the British Red Cross and died whilst on service at Le Treport.
You will also visit the location where Captain Noel Chavasse won his Military Cross in 1915 and learn about the events which led to him being awarded the VC during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and for the second time during the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. Captain Chavasse succumbed to wounds and is buried in Brandhoek which you will visit and whilst here your guide will tell you about Nursing Sister Nellie Spindler of the QAIMNS who was mortally wounded at Brandhoek and is buried at Lijssenthoek CWGC cemetery.