Unit History: (Air Portable) Field Ambulance RAMC
“To the Royal Army Medical Corps, with admiration and high regard to a Corps whose contribution to victory has been beyond all calculation.”
Field Marshal Montgomery
28 September 1945
A Brief Historical Tour of Army Medicine
Following the restoration of Charles II in 1660, the Standing Regular Army was formed. For the first time, a career was provided for a medical officer, both in peacetime and war. The Army was formed entirely on a regimental basis (and continues in that tried and tested way today) and a medical officer with a warrant officer as his assistant was appointed to the regiment which also provided a hospital. The regimental basis of appointment for medical officers continued until it was abolished in 1873.
It was in Queen Anne’s reign that the great Duke of Marlborough instituted what were known as "marching hospitals" and "flying hospitals" (somewhat comparable to the present day field ambulance or medical regiment) to accompany his armies. But it was not until about 1812 when the Duke of Wellington was commanding the army fighting Napoleon’s forces in Spain and Portugal (portrayed in the TV series "Sharpe") that some kind of organised medical service was born.
During the 40 years which followed Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo on 18th June 1815, the British Army forgot the lessons it had so painfully learned during the Peninsular War. This neglect culminated in the disastrous medical scandal of the Crimean War when provision of medical support was entrusted to members of the wealthy and aristocratic classes who regarded soldiering as a hobby, wore highly exotic uniforms and gave no thought to the medical or logistic support to the army. As a consequence the responsibility fell to "Civil Departments" who were largely untrained in war. Emerging from this fiasco was the formation in 1855 of "The Medical Staff Corps" composed of "...men able to read and write, of regular habits and good temper and of a kindly disposition". In 1857 the Medical Staff Corps was reorganised into the "Army Hospital Corps" a title it held until 1884 when it reverted to its former name.
It was in 1898 that all ranks became fused together into a single Corps. Queen Victoria, on the 23 June 1898 added her forthright signature to the top right hand corner of a Royal Warrant which signified her will and pleasure that a "Corps be formed styled the Royal Army Medical Corps". Thus on 1st July 1898 the Corps was born and the Centenary was recently celebrated.
The RAMC has a most distinguished record both in the practice of medicine and in the gallantry displayed by its members. In the 3 major wars (Boer, WW1 & WW2), the RAMC dealt with 14 million casualties, was awarded 14 Victoria Crosses (two with Bars), one George Cross, 630 Distinguished Service Orders, 1,806 Military Crosses, 464 Distinguished Conduct Medals, 2,375 Military Medals and 16 George Medals. The price was not small with our rolls of honour containing 1,180 officers and 8,165 soldiers who died in the service of their country. With such a distinguished history, present and future members of the Corps have an awesome reputation to live up to. Moreover, wherever there is conflict whether it is limited war (Korea), Counter Insurgency (Malaya), Counter Terrorism (Northern Ireland), Task Force (South Atlantic), Coalition Forces (Gulf War) or United Nations and NATO peacekeeping operations (Bosnia, Cyprus, Angola etc) the RAMC is always there.
There have been many changes during the past ten years, so it would be useful to summarise the effects of recent Defence Reviews, which have had (and continue to have) an impact not only on the Army but also on the RN and RAF Medical Services.