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Formation Of The Association Of Medical Officers Of The Canadian Militia

( Originally Published 1924 )



MY EXPERIENCES in the North-west Rebellion, related elsewhere, impressed upon my mind the necessity for reform in the Medical Service of the Militia, but it was some years later before I saw my way to do anything to bring it about. On April 25th, 1892, I issued the following circular to all medical officers on the Militia list:

" It is proposed to form an association of medical officers of the Canadian Militia having the following objects:

"1. The bringing of medical officers into closer personal relation and the development, of a Departmental esprit de corps.

"2. The discussion of matters relating to the Medical Department of the Militia.

"3. The discusion of military matters from a medical point of view.

"4 The reading of papers on military medicine and surgery, hygiene and equipment.

"If you are in favor of the formation of such an association return at your earliest convenience. If opposed please give your reasons."

I received a large number of replies, some quite enthusiastic, hence it was arranged to call a meeting to take place at the Canadian Military Institute, Toronto, in May.

The organization meeting was held on the 9th, when letters from the Minister of Militia, General Herbert, G.O.C., Surgeon-General Bergin and Colonel W. D. Otter, D.A.G., were read approving of the formation of the association. After the association had been formed, on my motion, seconded by Surgeon Mitchell, a constitution was drawn up to be confirmed at the next meeting.

The first annual meeting was held at the Canadian Military Institute on June lst, 1892. After the constitution had been adopted the following were elected: Hon. President, Surgeon-General Bergin ; President, Surgeon Strange, I.S.C., Toronto; Vice-Presidents, for Ontario, Surgeon V. H. Moore, 41st Battalion, Brockville Rifles; for Nova Scotia, Surgeon Curry, 66th Princess Louise Fusiliers, Halifax; for Prince Edward Island, Surgeon J. Warburton, 82nd Battalion, Charlottetown, P.E.I.; for Manitoba, Surgeon Codd, Canadian Mounted Rifles, Winnipeg; for British Columbia, Surgeon Mathews, Garrison Artillery, Vancouver, B.C.; for Quebec, Surgeon-Major F. W. Campbell, I.S.C., Montreal; for New Brunswick, Surgeon Stephen Smith, Woodstock Field Battery; Hon. Secretary, Surgeon G. S. Ryerson, The Royal Grenadiers, Toronto; Hon. Treasurer, Surgeon Halliday, 57th Battalion, Peterboro. Surgeon Strange having taken the chair delivered an address in which he advocated reform in the Militia Medical Service. The following papers were read: "The Experiences of a Surgeon During the American Civil War," by Dr. William Conniff; "Surgery During the Franco-Prussian War," by Dr. Warren; "Hygiene of Camps," by Dr. McCrimmon, 20th Halton Rifles; "Gunshot Injuries of the Brain," by Dr. Daniel Clark, late surgeon, U.S.A. A discussion took place upon "The Present Condition of the Militia Medical Service and What Should be Done to Render it more Efficient." In the evening the Ambulance Corps of the Royal Grenadiers gave a demonstration of ambulance drill and at the same time the prizes offered by Surgeon Ryerson for the best and smartest detachment of the corps took place. The Association resumed its sittings the following afternoon, when resolutions were passed calling for improvements in equipment and status of the medical service, which up to this time had consisted only of regimental medical officers without cohesion or organization. It was stated that the stores were antediluvian, that there were no stretchers, no ambulances, nor any other equipment such as a modern army medical service was provided with. In the evening a large military smoking party was given by the General Secretary at his residence. We broke up in high spirits, full of hope that a better day had dawned for our branch of the service.

What was our surprise and chagrin to receive notice some time later from the Imperial officer who was then G.O.C. at Ottawa that the Association was forbidden to hold meetings, that the discussion was subversive to discipline and that the medical officer's duty was to obey, not to protest. I was in favor of appealing to public opinion, but the permanent officers in the Association took fright and no further meetings were held until the revival of the society in 1906. In the meantime I wrote articles for the press, lay and medical, got resolutions put through the medical associations and gave addresses, notably one entitled "The Soldier and the Surgeon " at the Canadian Military Institute. In it I advocated the abolition of the regimental system of medical officers, the formation of an army medical corps, instruction of medical officers in their duties, an examination for promotion, the initial appointment not to be to a higher grade than that of lieutenant (and that provisional), the appointment of a principal medical officer in each district, control of supplies for military hospitals, including-medicines, surgical equipment and ambulances and food, that on all field days and in camps of instruction medical officers should he exercised in their special duties, that a reserve of medical officers available for duty in time of war be formed, that the names of nurses willing to serve in war should be registered by the Department. of Militia and Defence, and that knowledge of first aid to the injured should be fostered under the auspices of the St. John Ambulance Association. This agitation began to bear fruit and on the death of Surgeon-General Bergin, Colonel Neilson was appointed Director-General and Drs. Strange, Tobin, Codd, Sewell and myself were appointed Deputy-SurgeonsGeneral. These gentlemen were all medical officers to the permanent corps, but I was never given any duties to perform nor was I ever appointed a principal medical officer of a camp of instruction. With the accession to power of the Laurier Government and the appointment of Surgeon-Lieutenant-Colonel the Hon. Dr. Borden (afterwards, Sir Frederick) as Minister of Militia and Defence, things began to move. The South African War broke out in October, 1899. Canada determined to send a contingent, so a field hospital was formed. H went out as Canadian Red Cross Commissioner. While there I was in constant communication with Colonel Neilson, giving him the results of my observations, especially recommending the Australian system of field ambulances instead of field hospitals and bearer companies, which has since been adopted in the Canadian service.

Under the wise administration of Sir Frederick Borden, ably seconded by Colonel Neilson, a real medical service was inaugurated in the Militia of Canada. This has been continued and improved by successive directors-general until in the Great War we had a medical service equal to that of any other country engaged in the great struggle. I might go even farther and say that in the opinion of good judges we had the finest organization at the seat of war in France. H cannot express too strongly my opinion that Canada owes a great debt of gratitude to Sir Frederick Borden.

having advocated instruction for medical officers I could hardly do otherwise than practise what I preached. Hence in 1896 went to England and enrolled myself as a student in the Volunteer Ambulance School of Instruction and in due course passed an examination and graduated, the first Canadian to qualify as a volunteer medical officer. Through the kindness of Field-Marshall Lord Wolseley, then Adjutant-General at the War Office, I was enabled to see the work of the Imperial Army Medical Service at Aldershot and Netley Hospital.

H have said that thanks to the reactionary and antiquated views held by the General Officer Commanding at Headquarters, the Association passed into a state of suspended animation until it was revived under the auspices of Surgeon-General Carleton Jones, D.G.M.S., at a meeting held in Montreal in October, 1906. The Association did me the honor to elect me president and re-elected me the next year. The meetings of the revived body were largely attended and most enthusiastic. When H left the chair I presented the Association with a challenge trophy for competition among field ambulances. It was first won by the 14th Field Ambulance of Sarnia, under the command of Lt.-Col. Bentley. He afterwards took the ambulance to France, during the war, where he died. During and since the war no meetings have been held.

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