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Defence Engagement (Health): a historical perspective
  1. Thomas Falconer Hall1,2 and
  2. K Attridge2,3
  1. 1AMS Support Unit, Army Medical Services, Camberley, UK
  2. 2DMS Centre for Defence Engagement, Research and Clinical Innovation, Birmingham, UK
  3. 3RAF Medical Services, High Wycombe, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Thomas Falconer Hall, AMS Support Unit, Army Medical Services, Camberley, UK; tomfalconerhall{at}


Defence Engagement (DE) (Health) themes are reviewed in this paper through two historical perspectives set in very different contexts. The first-person narrative in Guerrilla Surgeon by Lindsay Rogers outlines the experience of a medical officer building capacity with Tito’s Partisans behind enemy lines in Second World War Yugoslavia. This is contrasted with a more academic evaluation of strategic and medical benefits of DE (Health) delivered by the US military during the Vietnam War in Robert Wilensky’s Military Medicine to Win Hearts and Minds: Aid to Civilians in the Vietnam War. Both texts infer that clear objectives, supported by effective strategic communication, are required for the impact of DE (Health) to be fully realised. Wilensky, in particular, noted that the US military medical effort in Vietnam had no measurable impact on health or political goals in the conflict. Rogers’ experience on a more individual level speaks to the promise of DE (Health) delivery contrasted against the lack of regional objectives and cites the loss of British influence when Soviet propaganda was more cohesive and coordinated, resulting in the shift in Partisan loyalty despite British efforts in supplying the bulk of military and medical material. While neither author offers a definitive guide on DE (Health), they offer clear examples of themes that should be considered and demonstrate the importance of evaluating activity and maintaining the historical record to provide an evidence base for future work. This is an article commissioned for the Defence Engagement special issue of BMJ Military Health.

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  • Contributors TFH wrote the initial draft of the paper, with significant revisions and additions made by KA.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests Both authors are serving officers in the UK Defence Medical Services.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.