Friday, 28 March 2014

Serving the Army in Scotland

My time as cataloguing intern on the Dott case note project is nearing an end with only two weeks to go. The majority of my time has been spent cataloguing. However as part of the internship I have also been involved in a number of other non-Dott related activities which have helped to broaden my knowledge of working both in university setting and in a medical archive, including participation in archive and conservation volunteer taster days, attendance at seminars, visits to other archives and training in reading room invigilation.

Working with the case notes from the Brain Injuries Unit at Bangour General Emergency Medical Service Hospital has been fascinating and cataloguing individual patient case  files has been a great experience. I have been able to gain skills in analysing these highly detailed medical records and honing in on the information required for capture in the catalogue; and have also gained valuable experience and confidence cataloguing using Encoded Archival Description (EAD) and indexing using medical subject headings. One of the many aspects I have found interesting while working with this collection has been realising the hugely important role Dott played as Consultant in Neurosurgery to the Army in Scotland. As well as diagnosing and treating the large number of military personnel sent to Bangour he also had to determine his patient’s suitability for continued service in the armed forces. Dott had to be rigorous in his assessments and on several occasions is quite clear that, despite recovering from the injury or illness which resulted in their admittance to the Brain Injuries Unit, discharge from military service and a return to their civilian occupation would be advisable and in the best interests of either the military or the patient and often both.
Although the information recorded in the catalogue does not include the patients civilian occupation, this and the other additional information about the patients including their background and military career provided in the case notes to supplement their medical details, has been another fascinating aspect of working with these records. This additional information gives an insight into how the war affected the lives of the patients, many of whom were conscripted and were performing very different roles from their civilian life, providing a valuable record of social history within their medical records.

As well as British military personnel the collection contains case notes of several men from the Polish Air Forces. The Polish Air Force was evacuated from occupied Poland to France in 1939, where units were re-established and the Polish airmen served alongside the French. When France was invaded in 1940 many of the Polish units went to Britain and served with the RAF, forming successful Polish RAF squadrons that operated under RAF command.  One particular case I have come across was that of a young Polish airman who was suffering crippling back pain that was preventing him flying. He was operated on by Dott and was flying again within a few weeks of his operation. He wrote to Dott expressing his gratitude for his care and treatment saying, ‘only because of you am I able to serve in the Air Force again.’ Also included in his case file were several Christmas cards to Dott. While it is a bit late/early for Christmas, I thought I would share these images of two of the cards sent by this Polish airman. One is a Polish Air Forces postcard which shows the fin flash insignia used by the Polish Air Force on the tail of the plane and the other is a greetings cards with the inscription, ‘Bog sie rodzi’ (God is being born), which is the title of a Polish Christmas Carol.


Christmas cards from LHB40 CC/2/PR3.644

The continued relationship between Dott and his patients is evident in many of the files, with patients writing to express their thanks, sending updates on their medical condition or asking for advice; and Dott often writing to request information about their progress after treatment. This correspondence displays Dott’s concern for his patients and their continued welfare long after their discharge from his care, with exchanges sometimes spanning 15 years or more.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working with this collection and although I have only catalogued a (very!) small proportion of the vast c.26,650 case files I feel very lucky to had the opportunity to get to know these records and learn about Professor Dott’s career and in particular his and his team's valuable work during the Second World War.

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