Composition of the Medical Services in East Africa

When the composition of the medical services in East Africa is considered, it is not too suprising that things did not work all that smoothly. The medical services were supplied by:
* Indian Medical Services (IMS) see Seventeen Letters to Tatham – Ann Crichton Harris
* East African Medical Services (EAMS) part of the Colonial Medical Services (CMS) see On Call in Africa in War and Peace – Norman Parsons Jewell
* Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC)
* South African Medical Corps (SAMC)
* Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Services (QAINS)
* South African Nursing Services
* Red Cross, St John Ambulance, missionaries

Initially overall control was with the IMS as India had been given command of the theatre in October 1914. India was responsible for the supply of equipment, material and food. After the defeat at Tanga in November 1914, the War Office assumed control of the theatre but India remained responsible for the supply of equipment, material and food. Present in the country (BEA) was the CMS under the control of the Colonial Office. During the war years, doctors in the CMS, such as Norman Parsons Jewell, were seconded to the EAMS. When South Africa became significantly involved in the campaign in 1916, doctors of the SAMC accompanied the forces. How the Red Cross and St John Ambulance arrived/were managed in the theatre is yet to be determined. We know they had a presence as there is reference to the Red Cross Hospital in Kondoa Irangi being bombed until it was moved about a mile away. Missionaries, by their nature, were involved in the supply of medical assistance and many women took up nursing roles.

Each theatre comprised:
* Field Ambulances: mobile units which followed the troops and often found themselves in the firing line
* Casualty Clearing Stations
* Stationary Hospitals: A bit further away from the front line, providing more stable support before more serious cases were moved to
* General Hospitals which were mainly found in large towns, near depots or close to embarkations points such as harbours. From the General Hospital, men were sent either to a
* Local Convalescent Hospital or house – in East Africa these were generally in British East Africa (Kenya) in the more temperate areas such as the Highlands, or were sent
* abroad to Military Hospitals in South Africa for further treatment and recuperation. The movement of men to both destinations, convalescent homes and South Africa, was invariably by
* Hospital ship which had its own medical teams.

Records were maintained by all these different groups and are found in different locations, for example the reports on men who were hospitalised in South Africa can be found in the SANDF Doc Centre, Irene. War Diaries of Field Ambulances, medical transport, veterinary services and hospitals post 1916 are at The National Archives, London (TNA). General correspondence is found in War Office and Colonial Office files at TNA and in the SANDF GSWA and AG collections. Some hospital returns can be found hidden in the general correspondence files.

To date, little has been found on the convalescent homes such as Lady Colville’s in British East Africa. Another group to significantly impact on the medical services and, more often than not, come to its services was the Royal Veterinary Services (RVS) and South African Veterinary Service (SAVS). The Veterinary Services were often able to provide laboratory services for human purposes where these were not available. Where doctors were scarce, vets treated men as well as animals. Norman Parsons Jewell has some wonderful accounts of cooperation between the wo services.

In addition to doctors and nurses, there were:
* volunteer nurses from the local allied territories
* stretcher bearers who were mainly with Field Ambulances. They also doubled as labour when camps were set up.
* dressers were slightly more qualified assisting with nursing functions and treating wounds etc
* servants (‘boys’) assisted with cooking and cleaning and any other chores which needed undertaking.
* ambulance drivers
Stretcher Bearers, Dressers and Servants were either Indian or local Black men.

Scroll to Top