Expertise, Authority and Control
The Australian Army Medical Corps
in the First World War
[Australian Army History Series]
Port Melbourne, Vic: Cambridge University Press, 2020
Hardcover 237pp. RRP $59.95
Reviewer: Michael O’Brien, June 2020
The collaboration between the Army History series and Cambridge University Press under the editorship of Professor Peter Stanley continues its production of high-quality books on our military history with this volume.
Dr A.G. Butler’s three-volume official history of the Australian Army Medical Services was completed in 1943. Though extensive and forthright, it voiced little that could be seen as critical of the British Army Medical Corps.
The command structure of a division is designed to be largely self-contained. The role of the divisional staff is often poorly understood. It has two functions: to advise the commander and to serve the soldiers in the division. Advice to the commander is vital to the planning of any operation. This is particularly so for the specialist advisors. In the early part of the Great War much more attention was paid to artillery and engineer staffs than to medical staffs. It was always unsatisfactory for a plan to be made in absence of medical staff advice and all too frequently a plan was imposed and the medical staff were told to get on with it. The initial medical arrangements for the Gallipoli campaign were a good example of this faulty staff planning.
Australian divisions were always subject to integration with the procedures of the British Army. The origins of Australia’s medical corps – whether staff or practitioners – was different to its British counterpart. Australian medical officers leaned far more on their civilian experience and had far less practice of the staff work compared to the Royal Army Medical Corps. There was friction at the interface between these two cultures. One of the chief results of the resolution of these differences was a push for Australian control of Australian casualties and a separation of the AAMC from the RAMC. Perhaps it was a surprise to the British that the Australian approach had essential differences.
This is a welcome and easily digestible volume and an essential tool (alongside Butler) to understand our medical war.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.