I have had now had over a week to assimilate the material I gathered from my week in the Wellcome Library and very useful it is turning out to be too. Of course, I called up a four-volume collection of magazines from the 5th London General Hospital in Wandsworth at 10:30 on my final morning which are filled with stories of hospital life, etchings by C.R.W. Nevinson, who happened to serve as an orderly there until 1915, and the most amazing series of cartoons starring the figure of ‘The Orderlim’ (as opposed to the ‘Orderlette’, female orderlies who were drafted in to replace some male orderlies in 1915). I was only able to finish about a quarter of the collection, so now I am panting to get back, something that unfortunately won’t happen until the summer at the earliest.
There was a lot more material as well, including the memoirs of two nursing orderlies which were slightly unexpected as they were listed in the catalogue as ‘Field Ambulance stretcher bearers’. Similarly a man who was initially enlisted as a nursing orderly trained for work with a sanitary unit before embarking for Egypt, a vital role, but one that made for rather dull reading in his diary records of the repetitive disinfection of ambulance train carriages. I was struck by the extent of this category slippage, which presents me with something of a problem.
The slippage, I suspect, exists not only within roles of within the RAMC but also between combat and non-combat roles. Non-commissioned servicemen in the RAMC were subject to regular comb-outs throughout the war, especially as the manpower shortages grew more acute from 1917. In the other direction, combat servicemen whose injuries left them at a lower medical classification could find themselves assigned to non-combatant (including medical) roles. So for many individuals combatant and non-combatant roles both formed part of their service, something that is going to complicate my analysis. It will also, I suspect, make it harder for me to track down relevant archives as I imagine that most catalogue listings will give precedence to any combat role taken, at whatever stage in the individual’s service. I will just have to hope for as much good fortune with the archive as I had at the Wellcome!