Written by Ben Robertson
In the 21st century its important to remember and remind those of the generations whose exposure to World War 2 and D-day are limited to games such as “Call of Duty“ and films such as “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Longest Day” about the realities of war. Whilst there are famous images of soldiers leaving landing craft and the armada of ships there are fewer of those who were there to save the dying and to evacuate those caught up in the terrible bloodshed not just of 6th June but of the following days.
All soldiers were issued with a training pamphlet giving advice and instructions on basic battlefield first aid, as well as this it assured the fighting man that modern medicine can perform miracles. These miracles would be performed, at least for the British and Canadian forces by the men of the Royal Army Medical Corps and the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. Doctors, Surgeons and Orderlies would land with the troops and right from the start provide urgent medical treatment to those injured on the beaches.
It is also important to remember that these Medics, whilst also soldiers, were also unarmed and relied on either their Red Cross armbands or their own wits to protect them as they traversed the battlefield to aid others. Its not as if the medical presence was small either. Each landing craft had at least one RAMC Orderly on board and command units would have the Regimental Medical officer and his team. In addition to this unit based Medical provision, at a larger level there were 70 landing craft earmarked for use as transport back to the fleet and then onto hospitals based on the South coast. On each beach there was a plethora of dressing stations, surgical and transfusion units, as well as pioneers to perform stretcher bearer duties.
Armed members of these units as well as the medical staff attached to fighting units would be carrying heavy kit to enable them to fulfil their role and would have to battle against the sea and wet sand, as well as enemy fire, as they worked their way up the beaches. Whilst commonwealth forces did not face the same heavy and bloody opposition as the Americans did on Omaha beach, those on Sword, Gold and Juno did not have an easy task and the medics job was made harder by both the enemy and the requirement to clear the beaches as soon as possible to allow the second and further waves to land.
What was unusual about those who dropped or landed behind enemy lines that night was that as well as the usual trained medics and orderlies, almost 200 hundred of them were conscientious objectors from the Non-Combatant Corps. They had been approached by senior ranks after a disappointingly low number of RAMC personnel had volunteered for Airborne duties. Captain David Tibbs, A RAMC doctor, had 6 of these volunteers in his 20-man section, called them exemplary and although they were limited to the rank of private, he admired their calm and dedicated treatment of casualties on both sides.
As the invasion progressed and D-Day moved to D-Day plus one and beyond, the men of the medical services began a long journey through France and into the wider parts of occupied Europe where they would see the best and worst of human nature as they continued with their task of healing the sick and keeping the fighting man fit to fight.
As we commemorate the Anniversary of the allied invasion of Fortress Europe it’s imperative that we do not focus only on those brave men who stormed them armed and fighting, or immerse ourselves in the cinematic glory of Spielberg, but to also remember that there were those with the compassion and conviction to land be it from sea or air, with the precise mission to save life where possible.
Whatever colour beret they wore be it Commando green, Airborne marron, or general service khaki, they were united by a red cross armband and a cap badge of a rod and serpent and the words In Arduis Fideles.
For Further Reading;
John Broom – Faithful in Adversity, Pen and Sword, 2019
John Nichol and Tony Rennell – Medic, Penguin, 2010
Stephen Snelling – Commando Medic, Spellmount, 2012
Captain David Tibbs – Parachute Doctor, Sabre Storm, 2012
Nichol J and Rennel T, Medic Puffin, 2009 pp. 109
Broom, J, Faithful in Adversity, Pen and Sword, 2019 pp. 232-235
Snelling S, Commando Medic, The History Press, 2012 pp. 100-103
Broom J, Faithful in Adversity, Pen and Sword, 2019 pp. 234-236
Tibbs David, Parachute Doctor, Sabrestor , 2012 pp. 42-43
Featured image from Wikimedia Commons. Image can be found here. No changes have been made to this image.