The Care of the Sick and Wounded During the English Civil War

The Battle of Marston Moor, by James Barker

The Battle of Marston Moor, by James Barker

Who attached the highest priority to the care of their sick and wounded – the Royal army or Parliament? Dr. Eric Gruber von Arni will present his paper at our Civil War Conference in September 2015.

From October 1642 until July 1646 Oxford was used as the King’s headquarters; the longest, most active period of open conflict in the Civil War.

Following the first major pitched battle of the Civil Wars at Edgehill on 23 October 1642, most Royalist casualties were transported to Oxford in wagons and deposited in various churches, almshouses, hostelries and private houses. The Royal army and its entourage descended on the city, filling every available nook and cranny. The King’s Court, officers and members of the government, as well as their servants, dependents, soldiers, families and a variety of refugees from surrounding areas all sought accommodation. Eventually, a military hospital was established in the surviving portion of the former St. Mary’s college which stood in New Inn Hall Street.

When Reading fell to the Parliamentary forces on 27 April, some 1,200 Royalist soldiers including 50 casualties withdrew towards Oxford carrying plague with them. The infection spread rapidly.

On 2 May 1643 the Royalist army – which had been feverishly constructing an outer defence for the city – marched out of Oxford into an entrenched and fortified camp or ‘leaguer’ on Culham Hill, south-east of Abingdon (the perceived direction of Essex’s approach). The Culham leaguer was maintained throughout May and into June. Inevitably, poor sanitation, overcrowding, lack of food and suspect water brought disease. A hospital was established at Yarnton Manor – some four miles north-west of the city – specifically designated as a medical or isolation hospital to supplement the existing facilities at New Inn Hall Street and at Sunningwell.

The paper that will be presented in September at the Shrewsbury Conference will discuss the further arrangement made by the Royalist garrison in Oxford up to the eventual surrender of the city to Parliamentary forces in 1646.The logistic, medical and environmental problems that faced Charles I’s army throughout its occupation of Oxford were horrendous. Notwithstanding the disadvantages encountered by the King’s forces, an overall impression remains that the Royal army failed to attach the same high priority to the care of its sick and wounded that Parliament allocated to the needs of its servants.

 Doctor Eric Gruber von Arni

Dr Gruber von Arni served for 31 years as a nursing officer in the medical services of the British army and reached the rank of Colonel before retiring from the service in 1996. His career included service in Germany, Hong Kong, the Sultanate of Oman and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as well as within the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

In 1982 he was decorated with the Royal Red Cross (2nd Class) for his work in the reception of evacuated casualties in the UK during the Falklands War. In 1991, he was decorated with the Royal Red Cross (1st Class) for his work during the 1990/91 Gulf War as the army’s senior nurse in the Middle East. His final military appointment was as the Army’s Director of Nursing Studies at the Royal Army Medical College in London.

He was awarded a Doctorate in Military Medical History at the University of Portsmouth in 1999.

His publications include Justice to the Maimed Soldier which was published in 2001 followed by a sequel, Hospital Care and the British Standing Army, 16601714, in January 2006. He has also contributed chapters to J. Henderson, P Horden and A Pastore (ed) The Impact of Hospitals, 300–2000 (2007); G.L. Hudson (ed.) and British Military and Naval Medicine, 1600-1930.

This entry was posted in Author interviews, Events and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *