The Army Medical Services in Conflict
While the media is daily filled with news of the current conflict in Ukraine, a new exhibition at the Museum of Military Medicine looks back 40 years at another conflict that similarly dominated the airwaves, following the sudden invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina.
Citing historic claims to ownership of ‘Las Malvinas,’ as the Argentinians call them, the Falkland Islands were the focus of a brief but intense conflict between Great Britain and Argentina in the spring of 1982. Then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government was caught by surprise when Argentina invaded the islands on 2 April 1982, but the British task force that set sail to the South Atlantic just a few days later involved over 28,000 service personnel.
Medical support and casualty evacuation during the Falklands conflict followed a well-established system of first aid and emergency medical response, provided mainly by Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) personnel working with Royal Navy and Royal Air Force colleagues. The plan to retake the Falklands from the Argentinian forces was for an initial landing to take place at San Carlos Water, then a general advance south east to the capital, Port Stanley. The campaign was divided into two assaults: a beachhead was established on 21 May 1982 by 3 Commando Brigade, followed by the deployment of 5 Infantry Brigade two weeks later.
The new exhibition, ‘Falklands 40: The Army Medical Services in Conflict,’ recounts the course of the liberation of the Falkland Islands from a medical perspective, and highlights the many challenges medics faced in difficult circumstances. The bombing of the hospital ship Sir Galahad resulted in 48 deaths and the loss of medical provisions, but even in this carnage medical personnel showed great courage: tending to wounds with what materials they could find in the wreckage. A physical reminder of the perils they faced is the remains of an unexploded shell, dropped on a makeshift hospital, which features as part of the display.
The Argentinian forces were defeated at Stanley on 14 June 1982, ending the conflict that left 650 Argentine and 253 British dead. Their memories are commemorated by the readings by present-day Combat Medical Technicians that add powerfully to the exhibition.
‘Falklands 40: The Army Medical Services in Conflict’ runs from 1 April 2022 to 31 August 2022. Admission Free.