Extract taken from 'Our Regiments in South Africa' by John Stirling
published by Naval and Military Press Ltd

Wounded on board the SS Pavonia
RAMC receiving station

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 Fitzgerald, were of incalculable value. The abnormal demand upon the R.A.M.C. 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 Francis 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, C.M.G., at Colenso, 15th December 1899

Lieutenant W H. S. Nikerson, Wakkerstroom, 22nd April 1900.

Lieutenant A. E. M. S. Douglas, D.S.O., Magersfontein, 11th December 1899.

Lieutenant E. T. Inkson, Natal, 24th February 1900.

Surgeon-Captain Crean of the Imperial Light Horse, and Surgeon-Major Howse of the Australian Field Hospital also gained the V C.

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 —


and Men.

Sir George White's despatches-      
  2nd December 1899
  23rd March 1900
Sir Redvers Buller's despatches-
  30th March 1900 (including 6 regimental officers with Volunteer ambulance)
  19th June 1900
  9th November 1899
Lord Methuen’s despatches-      
  26th November 1899 (all arrangements highly praised)
  15th February 1900
Lord Roberts' despatch-      
  31st March 1900
Major-General Baden-Powell's despatch-      
  18th May 1900
Lord Roberts' despatches-      
  2nd April 1901
  4th September 1901
Lord Kitchener (apart from civil hospitals)      
  Various despatches during war
* Civil nurses.   ‡ Includes 4 colonial sisters.
† Army and Army Reserve.   § Includes 10 civil surgeons.

Last updated 17 February, 2009

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