April 4, 2015

Finest Hour 131, Summer 2006

Page 45


Major Philip Carter RAMC, a military medical officer writes: “I would be grateful if you could help me tie down a Churchill quotation:

“The spectacle of a doctor in action among soldiers in equal danger with equal courage, saving lives where all others are taking them, allaying fear where all others are causing it, is one which must always seem glorious, whether to God or men.”

This fine quotation is from Churchill’s first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force 1897 (London: Longmans Green 1898), pages 46-47:

Lieutenant Ford was dangerously wounded in the shoulder. The bullet cut the artery, and he was bleeding to death when Surgeon-Lieutenant J. H. Hugo came to his aid. The fire was too hot to allow of lights being used. There was no cover of any sort. It was at the bottom of the cup. Nevertheless the surgeon struck a match at the peril of his life and examined the wound. The match went out amid a splutter of bullets which kicked up the dust all around, but by its uncertain light he saw the nature of the injury. The officer had already fainted from the loss of blood.

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The doctor seized the artery and, as no other ligature was forthcoming, he remained under fire for three hours holding a man’s life between his finger and thumb. When at length it seemed that the enemy had broken into the camp he picked up the still unconscious officer in his arms and, without relaxing his hold, bore him to a place of safety. His arm was for many hours paralysed with cramp from the effects of the exertion of compressing the artery.

I think there are few, whatever may be their views or interests, who will not applaud this splendid act of devotion. The profession of medicine, and surgery, must always rank as the most noble that men can adopt. The spectacle of a doctor in action… [rest of quotation as cited by Major Carter]. It is impossible to imagine any situation from which a human being might better leave this world and embark on the hazards of the Unknown.

Editor’s note: Finding this was a surprise because I didn’t know there was a precedent to this quotation, which I have always thought first appeared in Churchill’s article, “The Doctor and the Soldier,” published in V.C. for 16 July 1903 (Woods C30, Cohen C223)—an expansion of his account from the Malakand. The article was later collected in a book, The Bravest Deed I Ever Saw: Stories of Personal Experience, A. H. Miles, editor (London: Hutchinson, 1905, Woods Bl, Cohen B4). The essay may also be found in the official biography, Winston S. Churchill, vol. 2, Young Statesman, by Randolph S. Churchill (London: Heinemann, 1967, 64.) A copy of “The Doctor and the Soldier,” is also available by email from editor.

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