18 November 2021
Fighting for life: the experiences of men in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the Second World War
Online talk by Dr Emma Newlands
Organised by UHI Centre for History. See UHI Centre for History website on how to join.
Over 18,000 men served in the ranks of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) during the Second World War, including surgeons, doctors, radiographers, laboratory assistants, nurses and stretcher bearers. Drawn from both conscripts and volunteers, these men came from a range of backgrounds, including army regulars, civilian doctors, conscientious objectors, those with a general interest in medicine, and others who were assigned, often randomly, to medical service. This paper focuses on the experiences of this distinct group of men, who occupied a unique role, as non-combatants in military uniform, whose aim it was to preserve, rather than to take, life.
Drawing on the letters, diaries, memoirs, and archived oral history interviews of RAMC personnel, this paper examines how men in medical service constructed a sense of identity within the armed forces, for example, in relation to male combatants and female medical personnel. Did their experiences challenge traditional gender norms? Given the diverse roles and responsibilities within the medical services, how important were class, education and previous employment? Secondly, this paper will explore the emotional implications of working in the wartime medical arena. It will question whether men in the RAMC underwent a civilian to soldier transformation, like their combatant counterparts and how their changed roles and responsibilities impacted upon their sense of self-worth. This paper will examine how medical staff mediated tensions between the need to preserve manpower and the desire to save lives, how they assessed their own successes and failures, and how they expressed grief and trauma. In doing so, it challenges historical accounts of active service in combat zones and sheds new light on what it meant to be a man, and a soldier, in the Second World War.
Emma Newlands is a lecturer in Modern British History at the University of Strathclyde. She has paricular interests in war, medicine and military culture.more details »