INTRODUCTION – Journal 37 Medics.
The reason for this issue’s theme of Medics is twofold. Firstly, it is to honour the men and women who served in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and other medical services and institutions during the Second World War, and to thank those who contributed their material to the Centre’s archives.
Equally, it is a tribute to our Chairman Robert Fleming who trained as a registered nurse and clinical teacher, serving for eleven years as an airman and officer in the RAF, home and overseas including the Falklands in 1982.
We begin with a detailed description of the role of the Field Ambulance as told by Corporal Peter Walker whose unit provided medical support for the Somerset Light Infantry. Peter saw action in Normandy at Caen and Hill 112 where the casualty rates were so high his unit existed on ‘tea and cigarettes until we dropped.’ Peter also describes soldiers who suffered from battle fatigue, formerly known as shell shock, and mentions his difficulty in maintaining his faith after the events he witnessed. Major Geoffrey Wooler, pioneer of open heart surgery, generously donated a wealth of material to the Centre, including his diaries, medical log books, and a large collection of photographs. Geoffrey was interviewed by Peter Liddle in 2000. Surgeon in War, utilising Geoffrey’s interview and diary extracts, tells of his experience as a surgeon in North Africa and Italy. His recollection of the casualties at the Battle of Monte Cassino leads us to an account of a German paratrooper Gerhard ‘Gerry’ Kaeppner. Gerry was wounded during the German defence of Cassino town during a major Allied bombing raid in which the town ‘practically ceased to exist.’
Dr Harry Silman, a medic in the South-East Asian theatre of war, treated patients in the hospital camps on the Thai- Burma railroad. Medic in the Jungle details his experience of the Selarang Incident, plus the forced labour and the tropical diseases that claimed the lives of so many Far East POWs. For those who survived the railroad, their ordeals make for emotive reading. In Surviving the Railroad, Mathias ‘Fred’ Seiker reveals the physical and psychological hardships he faced as a Japanese POW, including the difficulties he faced in adjusting to civilian life thereafter. In northwest Germany, Sandbostel POW Camp (Stalag X-B), referred to as ‘Little Belsen’, was liberated in April 1945. It was the conditions in this camp that Major Hindmarsh, Chief Interpreter, believed changed General Horrocks’ attitude to the enemy prior to the surrender of Corps Ems (see Everyone’s War, issue No. 35, p. 68). Less well known in the media than Bergen-Belsen, Sandbostel deserves better recognition to remember the c.300,000 prisoners of war who passed through the camp and the untold thousands who died there. The Sandbostel Report, written by surgical specialist Major Hugh McLaren, is his personal impression of the first chaotic days of struggling to provide medical assistance for tens of thousands of POWs. The Centre holds rare images of the original camp, taken just after liberation. The touching story of a young Dutch girl and her reunion with the medics of No. 1 Field Dressing Station who saved her life, is told in Saving Mary. From the Netherlands we move to Britain’s Home Front where Joan Dillon worked as an ambulance driver in the East End during the London Blitz. To complete our cover theme, we have teenager Mike Barnett in London who was seriously injured during a bombing raid. His story is one of optimism and courage where, despite losing his leg, he achieved many of his ambitions in life. RAF100 This year is the centenary of the formation of the Royal Air Force which has been commemorated with many activities and events across the UK, including a Ceremony of Recognition at Britain’s first operational military air base at Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre. We pay tribute to RAF100 by celebrating the life of Wing Commander Roland ‘Bee’ Beamont with an article focusing on his experience as a Hawker Hurricane pilot during the Battle of Britain. Bee was interviewed by Peter Liddle in 2000 and his recording gives a comprehensive account of his service in which his
skill and enthusiasm in flying the Hurricane is apparent. 1,715 Hurricanes flew during the Battle of Britain, making their mark by proving to be fast, agile fighters and scoring high numbers of RAF victories. A preserved Hurricane from the Battle of Britain can be seen at Shuttleworth, Old Warden Aerodrome, Bedfordshire (www.hurricaneheritage.com).
We would like to thank author and historian James Goulty for his articles on British Army Battle School Training and the Home Guard. Sociologist Bernard Ineichen has contributed an interesting and amusing piece on authors who became motorcycle despatch riders. In our next issue we will see the return of Michael Bully, war poet historian, with a new piece on poetry of the Second World War.
Patients recovering in the splendour of Hatfield House, home of theMarquis of Salisbury, which servedas a military hospital during the war.