War Is the Only Proper School of the Surgeon , Pete Starling

War Is the Only Proper School of the Surgeon , Pete Starling


Herts & Beds Branch



“War Is The Only Proper School of the Surgeon”, Pete Starling

From the medical point of view the war was an entirely different conflict from that fought in South Africa fifteen years previously. The introduction of new weapons resulted in greater severity of wounds, and in France and Flanders the manured soil meant that there was a high incidence of wound infection. Surgery had to change. Luckily there were many young military surgeons willing to operate on wounds that were previously thought best to leave alone and let nature take its course. This talk will outline how the army medical services kept pace with these changes and the advances in surgery and medicine that took place as the war progressed.
Pete Starling served in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and later gained an MA at the University of Birmingham with a dissertation on surgical improvements during the First World War. He holds the Diploma in the History of Medicine, his dissertation being on recruitment, gallantry and death of medical officers during WW1.


Richard Freeman spoke on four principal naval commanders of the war: Jellicoe and Beatty, and opposing them Scheer and Hipper. Not surprisingly, there is far more information available on the first two. As a young officer, Jellicoe was lucky to survive a serious collision at sea, and was wounded in the Boer War. He showed considerable early promise, and had the backing of Admiral Fisher. His tendency to caution was noted early on, and he seems to have been poor at delegating. However, his performance early in the war in the Helligoland Bight battle was judged to be good, and he was the right person to be in command of the fleet at the time of Jutland. Beatty, by contrast, was brash and arrogant. Also wounded in conflict (the Boxer Rebellion), he was also bold and courageous, if lacking in attention to detail. His performance in the Dogger Bank battle in January 1915 showed a command style that gave rise to some concern.

Scheer was the son of a headmaster, and headed the raids on the east coast of England early in the war. He seems to have been rather like Beatty in his aggression, and took command of the German fleet in January 1916, when von Pohl resigned through ill health. Hipper actually started his service career in the army, switching to the navy in 1881. Although of humble origins, his talent was recognised, and he was given command of the important scouting force.

These four men played leading roles at Jutland, which Richard described as an accidental battle. The first mistake was made by Beatty, who opened fire too late. The signalling of his cruisers was defective, and Jellicoe got poor information from Beatty. Nonetheless, the former was able to “cross the T” perfectly and preserved the Grand Fleet. Certainly Jellicoe fought a defensive battle, but that was necessary in order to maintain the blockade of Germany. On the other side, Scheer’s behaviour was reckless, while Hipper was skilful. Nonetheless, the former was regarded as a hero in Germany, which regarded the battle as a victory. On the basis of ships sunk and lives lost, it mayappear so, but Jellicoe’s losses could be replaced, and the German fleet never ventured out again. After the battle, Jellicoe became First Sea Lord, while Beatty replaced him. Jellicoe’s later career was not a success; he opposed the convoy system, and was dismissed in December 1917. As for Hipper, with the war all but lost in October 1918 he conceived a deranged plan for a suicidal naval attack, which Hipper actually approved. This was only stopped by a mutiny in the German navy.


Before the meeting started, the three first prizes were presented on behalf of the branch by our speaker, Richard Freeman. Subsequently, the school’s Head of History, David Waters, forwarded to me a letter sent by the winner, which read: Dear Western Front Association, I would like to thank you for inviting me to your talk on Friday evening, which I found very

interesting indeed. Winning the competition was a great honour for me and I would like to thank you for considering all the entries, and in particular for choosing me, and for presenting me with a super framed certificate, together with my Amazon gift voucher. I enjoyed researching the information and I am enjoying my history studies. Thank you again. Yours sincerely, Charlotte Gass.


The answer to quiz 243 was that Casteau was where the BEF had its first and last clashes with the Germans. Mary Cobb won and sets quiz 244: Who was the only St.Albans born soldier to be awarded the V.C. in WW1?


No bids so far and the final chance to bid is at the April meeting.


On Friday 27th June, 10:00 – 12:00 there will be a meeting at County Hall, Hertford, of various organisations interested in the centenary. The purpose of the meeting is to exchange views and co-ordinate events. It will be a follow-up to the one I attended on 26th February, but I cannot attend in June. So, if anyone can be my stand-in I would appreciate it. Just let me know so that I can tell Dan Hill of the Herts At War project, who is receiving responses to the invitation. Your branch needs you……..


I have received leaflets advertising this self-catering accommodation on the Somme, in the hamlet of Morval, due south of Bapaume, east of Albert. It is

close to Delville Wood and Flers. WFA members who book quoting their membership number get a 10% discount. See Some leaflets will be at the next meeting.


As those of you who attend meetings realise, on entry to a meeting people are asked to sign in on an alphabetical list. This enables me to make a claim through Gift Aid, and over the years the branch has received useful contributions from the Inland Revenue as a result. In order to do this, it is necessary for people to sign a simple Gift Aid declaration, which lasts indefinitely, and most people who regularly attend have done so. However, there may be a few people who have slipped through the net, and you are welcome to check with me whether or not you are on the list.


30 May:“Joseph Joffre and the Miracle of the Marne”, Graham Goodlad

27 June: “Top Secret! British Boffins in World War One”, David Rogers

12 Sept: Members’ Evening and AGM

SEMINAR: Sunday 21st September, Milton Keynes

10 Oct: “In a Hole in the Ground; Tolkien and the Trenches”, John Garth

14 Nov:“Empire, Faith & War:The Sikhs and WW1”, Parmjit Singh

12Dec:“Pyramids Fleshpots: Middle East Campaigns 1914-16” Stuart Hadaway

Venue: Room SP101, 1st Floor, Sports Hall, St George’s School, Carleton Road, Harpenden, AL5 4TD. Doors open 7.30pm, 8.00pm start. Requested donation min. £3.50. Tea, coffee & biscuits at half time. Note: park in the main school car park and walk round to the Sports Hall at the back.


Chairman & Newsletter Editor

Andrew Gould: 01908 643669


Geoffrey Cunnington: 01582 762897


Clive Mead: 01582 508699


Copy by19th May to Andrew Gould, 1 Drovers Way, Newton Longville, Milton Keynes, MK17 0HR.Email: