Medicine and Victory: British Military Medicine in the Second World War

Medicine and Victory: British Military Medicine in the Second World War

Medicine and Victory: British Military Medicine in the Second World War

Medicine and Victory: British Military Medicine in the Second World War


Medicine and Victory is the first comprehensive account of British military medicine in the Second World War since the publication of the official history in the early 1950s. Drawing on a wide range of official and non-official sources, the book examines medical work in all the main theatres of the war, from the front line to the base hospital. All aspects of medical work are covered, including the prevention of disease, and the disposal and treatment of casualties.


In 1945 Field-Marshal Bernard Montgomery declared that the contribution of the military medical services to Allied victory had been 'beyond all calculation'. In an age of total war, with manpower at a premium, all resources had to be used to their fullest extent and good medical services were essential if the maximum benefit was to be derived from Britain's forces. But though the importance of medicine was generally acknowledged in wartime, it has been strangely ignored ever since. With the sole exception of the official histories, there have been no books on medicine in any of the British armed services. It is hard to think of any other aspect of military life that has been so poorly served. But the invisibility of medicine in the historical record belies its true significance and masks some of the Army's greatest achievements. Although medical provisions during the early campaigns in Europe and the Far East were far from perfect, the medical services rose to the difficult challenge of caring for the sick and wounded of a retreating army. There was to be no repeat of the medical disasters that had dogged the British Army in earlier campaigns. There were no embarrassing revelations such as those during the Crimean and South African wars and no commissions of inquiry, like those that followed the Mesopotamian and Gallipoli

Montgomery, quoted in Sir Neil Cantlie, 'Health Discipline', US Armed Forces Medical Journal,
1 (1950), 232.

It would be tedious to cite the many volumes of the official histories at this juncture; however,
they are to be found in the Bibliography at the end of this book and in the notes to the following
chapters. Although there are no other book-length studies that examine the armed forces medical
services during the war, certain aspects have recently been examined in detail. Psychiatry, for
example, is discussed in Ben Shephard's War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists 1914–1994
(London: Jonathan Cape, 2000). Attempts to control sexually transmitted diseases in the British
Army are considered in Lesley A. Hall, '“War always brings it on”: War, STDs, the Military, and
the Civilian Population in Britain, 1850–1950', and Mark Harrison, 'Sex and the Citizen Soldier:
Health, Morals and Discipline in the British Army During the Second World War', both in Roger
Cooter, Mark Harrison, and Steve Sturdy (eds.), Medicine and Modern Warfare (Amsterdam and
Atlanta: Rodopi Press, 1999), 205–24 and 225–50. Both of these aspects are developed further in
the present volume.

There is very little historical literature on medicine during the Second World War, but basic
overviews are provided in Richard A. Gabriel and Karen S. Metz, A History of Military Medicine,
Volume II: From the Renaissance Through Modern Times (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992),
252–7, and Mark Harrison, 'Medicine', in I. C. B. Dear and M. R. D. Foot (eds.), The Oxford
Companion to the Second World War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 723–31.

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