Picture postcards from the Great War

Battle-wounded and the RAMC

During the Great War 1914-1918, the activities of the Royal Army Medical Corps began near the Belgium mining town of Mons. Historian Redmond McLaughlin said, "it was here [on the Western Front] that the steadfast devotion of very ordinary men, doctors and orderlies, mostly quite young, was recognized. The Corps earned a remarkable number of awards for gallantry; although most were a tribute to unremitting devotion day in and day out." Throughout the conflict newspapers and magazines praised the work of the medics and acknowledged the suffering of the wounded. Picture postcards did so too and some are shown here.

 

  

INTRODUCTION

 The vast military medical organisation which cared for sick and wounded servicemen between 1914-1918, grew from small beginnings. At the outbreak of the Great War about 5,000 medical officers and men - which was about half the required strength - were available to go with the British Expeditionary Force to France. However, numbers were quickly made up by giving commissions to civilian doctors who volunteered in large numbers, and enlisting men whose employment in civilian life suited them for work in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) without further medical training.

 

Before 1914, army medical service recruits were trained at the RAMC depot at Aldershot and it was from there that reserves and reinforcements were sent to wherever they were needed. When hostilities began new centres were opened to train the field ambulance units destined for Kitchener’s new armies. One large RAMC centre was in Blackpool where a headquarters was established and an Officers School of Instruction set up, which provided training in ‘the duties of a regimental medical officer, in army sanitation, in tropical diseases, in squad and stretcher drill’, and later in ‘anti-gas conditions’. The centre also trained recruits, mobilised new units and prepared drafts for overseas service.

 

 

 

During the Great War numerous photographic postcards depicting men of the RAMC were produced by camp and local photographers. The pictures - sometimes taken just a day or two before the medics left for France - revealed that their khaki uniforms were indistinguishable from those of combat troops, except for a RAMC cap badge and a circular red cross patch, sewn onto each upper arm. Several cards were released by commercial postcard publishers which incorporated in the design, pictures of medics and the corps emblem. For example, the Art Advertising Syndicate (thought to have been in existence for only two years - 1917-1919) produced a distinctive set of six cards depicting British Army Corps. They were designed and painted by Herbert Bryant. (The RAMC card from the set is shown on the front cover of this booklet.) On a more personal note, a medic could have his portrait incorporated within a suitable RAMC design and reproduced as a postcard. Most of the colourful artist drawn/painted sets and series of cards depicting regimental badges and illustrations of uniforms and the like, contained at least one or two designs connected with the RAMC.

 

 

This card was number 109 in Gale and Polden’s ‘History and Traditions’ series which comprised of 120 cards. In 1908 J. McNeill did the first paintings for the set - they were mainly of foot regiments. A year later Ernest Ibbetson started on the cavalry illustrations. He also painted the picture for this RAMC card. There were at least two editions of the series and over the years many alterations were made to individual cards and several were completely repainted. With the coming of the Great War some of the variations depicted soldiers in khaki uniforms.

 

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