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The Development of Bacteriology, Sanitation Science and Allied Research in the British Army 1850-1918: Equipping the RAMC for War
  1. Dr Rob Atenstaedt, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, Local Public Health Director for Conwy & Denbighshire1
  1. 1National Public Health Service for Wales and Honorary Lecturer, Institute of Medical & Social Care Research, University of Bangor
  1. National Public Health Service for Wales, Princes Park, Princes Drive, Colwyn Bay LL2 8PL 01492 536709 01492 536587 Robert.Atenstaedt{at}


The recent 90 year anniversary of the end of the First World War is an opportune time to reconsider the important role of the Royal Army Medical Corps in this conflict. One area which has been neglected is the role of the Royal Army Medical Corps in responding to infectious diseases and to understand this properly it is important to consider the development of bacteriology, sanitation science and allied research in the British Army up to the Great War. The context of the home front is also central, with the British population from 1880-1914 increasingly benefiting from improved public sanitation and the new science of bacteriology. Historians acknowledge that the British campaign in the Crimea in the 1850s was pursued with inadequate medical provision and as a result, the Army suffered severely from infectious diseases. Limited changes were introduced after the Crimean War, such as the establishment of the Army Medical School, with its high quality instruction in military hygiene and later bacteriology. Army medics also led the way in various branches of scientific research, through research in the colonies. As compared with the continental powers, however, the application of bacteriology and sanitation to field craft in the British Army was delayed. It took the experiences of the South African and Russo-Japanese Wars for the importance of these sciences to be recognised by the Army as a whole. These subjects began to form part of the education of army Medical Officers, but training was basic and few trainees had specialised in bacteriology by 1914. In spite of these limitations, the Royal Army Medical Corps responded well to the demands placed upon it by World War One, recruiting civilian bacteriologists to its ranks, developing technological innovations such as mobile bacteriological laboratories for them to work in, forming a sanitation service and fostering medical research.

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