Katie Heaton 10/11/2021 17:46:19
Wartime involves extraordinary changes in people’s lives. Normality is suspended and men and women move into different roles. Society eases this change with an evocation of mythical figures – man the warrior and woman the caring helpmate. So, the common image of men at war is the soldier with helmet and rifle and the common image of women at war is the nurse in uniform.
This simple model ignores the complexity of human history and sweeps aside the true stories of many people. Not all women became nurses, many worked in munitions factories making the instruments of war. Not all men became fighters, many spent the war as carers. One group of such men was the Royal Army Medical Corps in the First World War.
Poole Museum, with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, has just completed an analysis of Poole in the First World War and this can be seen as a microcosm of the national experience. The analysis shows the expected enlistment of men into the armed forces but one prominent group were those who joined the Royal Army Medical Corps which was not a fighting force.
149 men from Poole served in the RAMC, that compares to the 231 who served in the Royal Navy. 4 Poole men in the RAMC died while serving.
The story of the RAMC has been highlighted by historian Jessica Meyer as one of the “hidden histories”. In her 2015 paper entitled “The Touch of a Man” she relates how injured men from the front would often prefer the care of men, especially those who had experienced combat*.
Let us commemorate the dead of the World Wars including the fighting soldier and the caring nurse, but let us also remember that human history is much more complex than the simple images.
Words: David Watkins, Poole Museum
Photo: RAMC Men in Poole. Andrew Hawkes Collection