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Dr Bobby Headley interview: Royal Army Medical Corps

How did you join the Royal Army Medical Corps?

Anyhow, we survived there for quite a long time and I felt I was missing out on the war. Most of my contemporaries had all gone into the army but because I had a job at St George’s I was working there. They had offered me this and I was automatically in a restricted job and they couldn’t push me into anything. But I volunteered professionally. They didn’t think I ought to leave because I was deserting a necessary post. In the end of December 1939 I managed to persuade them to let me join the army – the Royal Army Medical Corps. That’s their tie. I’m still a member actually, a retired member.  The first thing they did was send you to a depot. Aldershot was their number one depot where we had military training. Then we went to another depot not very far away where we did medical hygiene. So after about a fortnight – not very long really – we were then fully trained in military style. The rest of it was up to us really. We were only there for the medical side of it. You had to do all the right things. I remember this lady who was savvy. She had a general who came into the room and said why don’t you get up when I come in the room and she said as [I’m] a lady I would have thought you were the one to get up, not me. Her promotion wasn’t very rapid but she went all over the world. It was marvellous. Even after the war she was looking after leper colonies in the Pacific, I think. Marvellous woman.  Completely deaf, very nearly blind but still going now and as cheerful as you could make it. 

Where were you working to begin with?      

In no time at all on the 1st January I was transferred to the number one casualty clearing station. Sort of medium size place where they were taken early on to deal with what they can. The casualty clearing station was on the Isle of Man. I don’t know if you have heard of it. It’s an island between Ireland and Wales and it has its own laws and was sort of independent. We went to a rather nice little hospital. The Onchan Head Hotel. The army in those days used to just a take a place and use it. The hotel was on a cliff overlooking Douglas. This had been made into a hospital. They hadn’t removed all the luxury stuff so I had really quite a nice time. We had a certain amount of anaesthetic work there with the local soldiers who were on the island. Our job of course was to take care of the sick there but another job I had was going round the Isle of Man soldiers who would come home on leave and would then say they were ill and not return to their units. It was my job to go round in an ambulance and knock on their doors and say I understand he is ill could I just see him. In a fair number of cases there was nothing wrong at all. Others were suitably fit to be put in the back of the ambulance and dragged back to the hospital. Occasionally there was someone who really was ill. But I was there to ensure fair play occurred.

The Isle of Man is a lovely island. A super place. I didn’t have frightfully long there really. We all got to know each other quite well and my wife came over. There were some nice hotels and of course it was away from the war. By that time on the mainland then there was limited rationing but the Isle of Man used to get all of its food and stuff from Ireland which was never in the war. There was very little shortage of food so it was a pleasure to be there but life wasn’t like that for me for very long. I think I had three or four months of glorious life there.