Fantastic Finds for Friday: How a 1920s Medical College Remembers the First World War

Our Fantastic Finds for Friday this week brings you the culmination of many months’ research work here in the Archive – our First World War display, together with a Roll of Foundation Fellows and Members who undertook active service between 1914 and 1918. This has been a real labour of love, sparked by the discovery of a medal ribbon in the College safe some time ago (remember that?) and the important national remembrance of the centenary of the outbreak of the war for Great Britain on 4 August.

So what does a College which was not founded until a decade after the end of hostilities, have to offer in the way of wartime memorabilia? Well, the medal ribbon for a start, which we traced back to Foundation Fellow and College Vice-President, Professor Vivian Green-Armytage. Then some letters emerged which were written by 6th College President Sir William Gilliatt during his command of a medical unit in two London hospitals, and a rather nice letter written by the Royal Maternity Charity to congratulate a midwife who had safely delivered a baby during a bombing raid on London. My crowning moment was the receipt of three tiny photographs of Foundation Fellow, Professor Charles Gibson Lowry in RAMC uniform, donated to the Archive by his grandson and Fellow of the College, Jeremy Macafee. The display also covers the practice of obstetrics, gynaecology and midwifery during the war years, and our ever popular midwife is back watching over the Library, dressed in a uniform of the early 1920s and accompanied by her midwife’s bag.

RCOG 1WW display

The RCOG is also joining in with the remembrance of the many lives touched by the war by recognising the role played by many of its Foundation Fellows and Members, whether as medical officers with the Royal Army Medical Corps or among the many services on land, at sea and in the air. Who knows how many bright and aspiring medical professionals who lost their lives between 1914 and 1918 may have gone on to bring their knowledge and skills to the College for the benefit of women’s healthcare? Instead we can remember the 82 men and women who survived and went on to become Foundation Fellows and Members of the new College in 1929. These names have been gathered together through research in the College Archive, by examining membership lists, and researching resources made online by the National Archives. There will be some that we have missed, and we are hoping to hear about any names that can be added. Of the 82 names on the Roll, 54 served with the Royal Army Medical Corps, 3 with the Royal Flying Corps, 9 with the Royal Navy, 2 with the Indian Medical Corps, and 3 with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. 9 Military Crosses were awarded, 12 Mentioned in Despatches, 3 Distinguished Service Orders, and 3 Croix de Guerre, while other awards received include the Serbian Order of St Sava, the Mons Star, the Croix de Chevalier, the Order of the White Eagle of Serbia, and Legion of Honour. The average age of our Fellows and Members was 28 years at the start of hostilities: the oldest being 52 and the youngest only 14 in 1914. Just under half served in France, while the remainder was spread through the Middle East and East Africa, with 10 serving in Gallipoli.

RCOG Roll of Fellows and Members on Active Service, 1914-1918

I hope to bring you more stories of individuals over the coming months, starting off in November with our three female Fellows and Members and their contributions to the work of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals overseas. Meanwhile, the display is open to the public, together with the College’s permanent display which covers 500 years in the history of midwifery and women’s health, Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm by appointment at museum@rcog.org.uk

 

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