I love this museum which tells the story of army healthcare and medicine, both human and animal, from 1642 to the modern day.
The museum is near Aldershot Military town, a major garrison and home of the British Army. Aldershot hosts around 70 military units and organisations and the Museum of Military Medicine is in Keogh Barracks.
In the 1930s, Keogh Barracks became the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) training depot. It was the centre through which most RAMC personnel passed. In exceptional circumstances some WW2 conscripts, like nursing orderly William Earl of the 214th Field Ambulance, by-passed Keogh and went straight into active service.
In the mid 1990s, the barracks became the Defence Medical Training Centre and when it left in 2013, 4 Medical Regiment and 22 Field Hospital arrived. 4 Medical Regiment relocated elsewhere in 2019, leaving 22 Field Hospital as the last remaining RAMC link to the barracks.
Upon arrival, you need to report to the guardhouse, and after signing in, ascend a gentle incline towards the unassuming red-brick building.
The Museum of Military Medicine was originally known as the RAMC Historical Museum. It opened in 1952, but in the 1990s, was amalgamated with three other related museums in the Aldershot area; the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Medical Corps (QARAMC), Royal Army Dental Corps (RADC) and Royal Army Veterinary Corps (RAVC). As a result it was re-named the Army Medical Services Museum. In 2016, its name changed again in recognition of the fact that military healthcare was being delivered in a tri-service environment and it’s now called the Museum of Military Medicine.
The first thing you notice upon entering is the church-like silence. There was a dramatic drop in visitor numbers when the Defence Medical Training Centre left. For this reason, it is now actively looking to relocate to Cardiff Bay in Wales where it can attract a much larger audience.
Lack of footfall is only partly responsible for the library-type atmosphere.
Unlike some museums which have distracting background commentaries or sound effects, this one leaves it to evocative dioramas to tell the story. They are so absorbing that you can become immersed in them and this is one of the reasons why I hold it in such affection.
One can pause in front of this WW1 soldier take in his age and infirmity and wonder what he’s thinking.
In this peaceful scene, you can almost feel the horse’s warm breath as it calmly waits for the RAMC orderly to finish bandaging the soldier’s head.
In contrast, the urgency in this scene is tangible. You can almost hear the hiss of bullets flying around as the Combat Medical Technicians treat their wounded comrade.
My favourite exhibit is tucked away in the Victoria Cross Gallery. Incidentally, the museum has over 20 on display including two double VCs. All awarded to RAMC personnel.
This life-sized resin sculpture depicts the valour of these exceptional men and women. It’s called ‘In Arduis Fidelis. The Corps Man and the Wounded Soldier.’ The smaller original is in the old Headquarters Officers Mess at Camberley and a silver version was given to Her Majesty the Queen Mother as a gift from the Corps when she was Colonel in Chief.
Whilst mine is a visceral choice, the museum’s director, Jason Semmens, favours an item which has had an incalculable impact on the treatment of bacterial disease and post-surgical outcomes.
It is a penicillin culture which was presented to the donor by Alexander Fleming on the day he addressed a consultants’ lunch at the Royal College of Surgeons on his discovery of penicillin. I understand that the sample was taken from the original culture.
Although the museum is quite niche, it acknowledges relatable desires. People want to live. They want to be cured. If they have to wage war, they want to know that they won’t be left to die on the battlefield. This museum speaks to these universal needs.
As an added bonus, 2023 is the 125th anniversary of the RAMC. To mark the occasion the museum will be curating a special exhibition and a series of lectures and podcasts.
I highly recommend a visit to this very special place.
Museum of Military Medicine
Keogh Barracks, Mytchett Place Road, Mytchett, Surrey, GU12 5RQ
You will need some photographic identification to obtain a pass at the main gate.
Opening hours 9.30 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. Monday to Friday.
Accessibility Fully accessible to wheelchair users and disabled parking available.
Please contact the Museum on 01252 523176 if you require further assistance.
Facilities Toilets, baby changing, audio tour, children’s trails, shop, research library, parking
Aver. Length of visit 1-2 hours (I would recommend 2-3)
Researchers Contact the museum on 01252 523176 with details of enquiry.
My thanks to Jason Semmens, Museum Director, for his contribution to this piece.
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Liz is a British author, screenwriter and non-practising solicitor.
Her credits include Blood and Bandages – fighting for life in the RAMC field ambulance 1940-46 (Sabrestorm Publishing), ‘What makes us Human?’ (BBC Radio Two), and Shakespeare’s Sister (Adur Arts Live).
She is a member of The Society of Authors, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, Society of Women Writers and Journalists and Screenwriters Association of Singapore.
Liz currently lives in Singapore with her family. You can find out more about Liz at lizcoward.com