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The British Army
In 1972 the British Army comprised some 180,000 men and women spread widely around the world and often accompanied by their families. The RAF and the RN were also much larger than they are now and had large numbers of dependents. The strength of the army when this website was commenced in 2003 was about 100,000 and was largely based in the UK. Current strength is now "X" (Whatever figure I give will change by tomorrow morning) The late 2014 figure is probably somewhere in the region of 94,000 and is deployed over about 80 locations worldwide.

Today there are relatively few families abroad and the huge  system required to support them abroad  is no longer needed. The webmaster worked in BMH Rinteln for four years caatering solely for service families but did have clinical contacts with the local German krankenhaus in Minden. We could teach them about our anaesthetic techniques and they could teach us about their skills with local anaesthesia.

The webmaster is of the opinion that even in the UK there is a need for dedicated wards in local general hospitals for service families where service doctors who have a particular understanding of their needs could care for them. Unquestionably the benefits gained from mixing with a wider range of doctors from across all specialities would benefit both the local NHS doctors and the RAMC doctors.

The experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and the techniques and materials used by the military doctors have  unquestionalbly benefitted NHS doctors in their dealings with casualties that have arisen as a consequence of terrorist activity in the UK.
The Royal Army Medical Corps
In the 1970s the RAMC was a much larger corps which provided doctors to regiments, field ambulances and over fifteen static hospitals. The scale of provision and organisation was entirely different to that found today. That is not to say that there were not shortages in some specialities. The shortage in General Duties Medical Officers (GDMOs) had partly been addressed by the recruitment of Short Service Medical Officers. A paid university cadetship was followed by an obligatory five years Short Service Commission. Whilst sometimes there was the opportunity to sign on for a Regular Commission, the relationship between "regular" and Short Service officers, like that of the National Service medical officers before them, discouraged many and at the end of the five years most left the services.

Short Service Commission officers had the opportunity to train in one of the specialties if a vacancy arose. The webmaster spent two years in the medical centre at Kirkee/McMunn Barracks in Colchester looking after 1RHA, 19 Flt AAC, 8Inf Workshops REME and 19OFP as a GDMO. We had been warned at Mytchett on our basic training course that in many regiments RMOs were tolerated rather than accepted and came very low in the military pecking order.

Some SSC medical officers had very challenging experiences and freely expressed their reservations about life as a GDMO with, for example, some of so-called elite cavalry regiments. The webmaster remembers one former RMO who had a very difficult time on the north German plain and insisted on an immediate posting from that particular regiment.

After two busy years as a GDMO in Colchester the webmaster was given the prospect of training in anaesthesia at Queen Alexandra's Military Hospital at Millbank.  Very reluctantly he left 1RHA for the Queen Alexandra Military Hospital on Millbank. Six months basic anaesthetic training was given culminating with the examination for the Diploma in Anaesthesia at the RCS. This was followed by a posting as a trainee to another military hospital.

The anaesthetic complement varied from hospital to hospital; BMH Rinteln anaesthetic department in BAOR was staffed by a consultant, a specialist and a trainee anaesthetist. At that time there were perhaps twenty seven anaesthetists of various grades  and experience spread throughout the hospitals in the army.

The workload was considerable. BMH Rinteln had about 250 beds, a busy maternity unit, a large childrens' ward and was home to many of the specialist consultants in BAOR. More often than not there were only two anaesthetists available as one might be on leave or providing leave relief in another hospital. The two junior anaesthetists were also only partly trained which meant that if the consultant was away the responsibilities for anaesthesia in the hospital fell on young and inexperienced shoulders. Surprisingly I do not recall any disasters !
The resident medical presence, or FST in Salalah, was not always known as or called '55FST'. Before 1972 there was a '5 FST', a '51 FST' and a '52 FST'. It was only after December 1971 that the name settled down as 55FST. (RAF ORB F540)

55 Field Surgical Team was manned, at different times by contingents from the Royal Army Medical Corps and the Royal Air Force Medical Services. At times RN personnel were present. This website originally largely referred to the RAMC. There have however been valuable contributions from former members of the RAF Medical Services. As time has gone by there have also been contributions from patients and from people who had nothing to do with the FST but just happened to be in Salalah in the 70s

The "Johnston" 55FST was drawn from military hospitals in the UK and in BAOR. The team  assembled near the Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot at 2Fd hospital. Kit was issued, a triple dose of immunoglobulin was given to protect against hepatitis and some time was spent at Ash Ranges for familiarization with the SMG and 9mm Browning Pistol.

Transit to Salalah was via Brize Norton(?) by VC10 to Cyprus, onward to RAF Masirah by C-130 and then down to RAF Salalah by Andover.

Major Joe Johnston RAMC was OIC. A Senior Specialist in Surgery of many years experience from Tidworth Military Hospital. A general surgeon with a wide knowledge and experienced in trauma. The Irish element.

Captain Nick Cetti RAMC performed the duties of resuscitation officer and camp medical officer. He was a Trainee in Surgery from  The "Woolwich" who had previously been RMO to one of the Guards Regiments. Some Italian in there somewhere ?

Captain Bill de Bass RAMC was Specialist in Anaesthesia from BMH Rinteln. Formerly an MO in Colchester in Kirkee/McMunn Barracks, for the last three years he had been an anaesthetist. The Basque element.

(I was not the first choice  for 55FST. This is not surprising as I was inexperienced and had only just been graded as "Specialist". Two other more senior anaesthetists had cited personal family or other reasons for not wishing to be deployed to Salalah. In hindsight I cannot thank them enough. The downside, for them, was that they missed out in what was perhaps one of the most challenging periods for the Salalah FSTs)

The core of the theatre team was made up of four Theatre Technicians. Three worked as operating technicians and one as an anaesthetic technician.

Sgt Gerry Farrell or "Radar" was the senior theatre technician and and had been detached from the hospital at Catterick.

Cpl Bud Holder was, like Joe Johnston, from Tidworth Military Hospital

L/Cpl Pete Starling from Islerlohn was the third operating theatre technician.

Pte Pete Canning from BMH Rinteln was largely employed as my anaesthetic technician.

Sgt Dave Barrow from Munster filled the post of Laboratory Technician and Sgt Roger Hicks from the Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot was tasked with radiography.

"Mac" also from The Cambridge along with Sgt Lim from Akrotiri were responsible for the nursing under the direction of Sgt Mick Pargin of BMH Iserlohn.

Last but not least Cpl Tony Powell was the RAMC clerk who kept all(?) the paperwork in order.

The "owner" of the Station Medical Centre, the RAF interface with 55FST, was present in the form of an RAF WO Chief Tech  Brian Spice, who clearly thought that the RAMC were culturally closer to the adoo than to the RAF. A sentiment which I have no doubt was also shared by the station commander Sqdr Ldr Gerry Honey.

Several other medics passed through in the period that we were there when there was  crisis of one sort or another.

The first crisis was medical and arose when Joe Johnston succumbed to mumps; generally a trivial disease but as luck would have it not this time around. Joe was ordered, by the Station Medical Officer Nick Cetti, to rest in some air conditioning. A surgeon called "Patrick" was sent out to help. Ten days after that the MOD sent Major Peter Craig, arriving in a C-130, to assess the situation. Swellings  reduced, fevers had fallen. Joe was back up to speed. Five days later, following a valedictory curry in the dhobi mens' lines, Peter headed  back to civilisation in his Hercules.

Sitting next door to Joe on the plane out and sharing a room with him in "Pongo Palace" inevitaby meant that as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west twenty days later there was another fortunately lesser manifestation of the disease in myself. Another anaesthetist was shipped in whilst the fever was at its worst. The name "Papworth" appears in an anaesthetic record. His presence is vaguely recalled as is the reluctance to let go of the Haloxair by the sickly incumbent.

In July after "Mirbat" help came down to us in the form of a surgeon whose name is not recalled. The familiar face of an RAF GDMO, Ian Rumfitt,  a former UCH friend, also appeared from Masirah rushed down in a Strikemaster.
FST of Yesteryear