“The old doc” with an MC

Many ancient armies tried to reduce morbidity and mortality on the battlefield through the provision of first aid, the objective of this aid being to prevent further injury and relieve pain until medical help arrived, with the foundation of organised and trained first aid having its origins in this military environment. The most successful were the Romans, under Emperor Augustus (63BC-18AD), who developed advanced military medical services to support their legions2. Included in these services were bandagers called Capsarii. These men, who wore the same combat gear as their fellow soldiers, were essentially combat medics, effective in providing prompt first aid due to their positioning in battle.

Thus the origin of military combat medics, known also as medical technicians or medical assistants, begins. These soldiers, also known as milites medici, had additional training in the art of medicine and were exempt from other duties as their priority was the care of the wounded and sick both on the march and in temporary hospitals.

The tradition stands true today with the military combat medic who goes into battle alongside soldiers of their company aiming to stabilise, give comfort and help evacuate. The availability of persons skilled in the treatment of wounds improves the morale of fighting men, giving rise to a more efficient and motivated fighting force, thus the tradition of the military medics begins and continues today.

From a paper by Kristina Griffin the full text of which is included here. Although a short article it is a review of the literature and as such has an excellent bibliography.

I am gradually working through the command elements of my Australian WW2 New Guinea Bolt Action army. Today I am posting on my Wartime Miniatures medic and casualty figure.

My figure is going to be based on Australia’s most famous medic, Dr (Captain) Geoffrey Vernon. It was far from “physician heal thy self”, as he is the one pictured below with the “cancer stick” in his mouth! Not long after the war Vernon died of malaria exacerbated by the impact that smoking had on his lungs.

Geoffrey Hampden Vernon was born on 16 December 1882 at Hastings, England. By 1914, Geoffrey was living in Winton, Queensland, and had become Medical Superintendent of the Winton hospital.

On 4 March 1915Geoffrey Hampden Vernon was appointed as a captain and posted to the 4th Light Horse Field Ambulance, and was attached to the 11th Light Horse Regiment as a medical officer. On 13 October 1916, Vernon was awarded a Military Cross and mentioned in despatches for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He tended the wounded under heavy fire, displaying great courage and determination. Later he remained out all night with a wounded man”. Vernon was promoted to major on 29 January 1917.

After the war, Vernon spent some time practising medicine in the Cobar region of New South Wales. In September 1921, he was appointed government medical officer on Thursday Island, and visiting surgeon to the Thursday Island Prison. He continued to practice medicine on Thursday Island until 1932, when he moved to Daru, New Guinea.

There, he bought a store and a small kapok plantation and continued to work as a doctor. Vernon sold his property on Daru in 1938, and bought a coconut plantation at Port Glasgow in eastern Papua. There, he attempted to grow kapok and rubber. He was then appointed government medical officer on Misima Island.

Geoffrey Vernon enlisted to serve in the Second World War on 27 February 1942. He was a captain in the Australian Army Medical Corp and attached to HQ 1 Papuan Infantry Battalion as a medical officer. With this unit, he served on the Kokoda Trail and attended to the sick and wounded. Known as “Doc Vernon” or “the old Doc”, he was held in high regard by both Australians and Papuans. Vernon was posted as resident medical officer to the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit on 1 June 1943, and was awarded a mention in despatches on 23 December 1943. On 3 March 1946, Vernon ceased full time duty and retired to his plantation at Port Glasgow.

Vernon became ill, and died on 16 May 1946 at Samarai, New Guinea. Much of the information on Vernon has been obtained from the Australian War Memorial website, which has a copy of his diary in its collection.

Medical outpost in New Guinea

Tomorrow some help for Vernon from another Australian hero of New Guinea and North Africa.

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