Veteran Stories:
John Kyle Beach

Army

  • Certificate of Commission, 1944.

    John Beach
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"Anybody who was sick, we sent to hospital and usually never saw again really."

Transcript

I was a medical student at Queen’s University. In 1942, the government I suppose decided that, to hustle up the enlistment of medical officers for the services, they would accelerate the medical course. And Queen’s medicine at that point was a six-year straight-ahead thing, rather than doing a separate pre-med and medicine proper of four years. And so at the end of the fourth year, that is when I was finishing fourth year, the decision was that we cut out the summer holidays, the May to September holidays that university people have and we’d have two week breaks between terms. So that we would finish fifth year at Christmastime, come back at New Years and do final year until July. And so that meant that our class, instead of graduating or finishing classes in May of 1944, finished them in July of 1943.

No summer job then being possible and fees being what, all this, you know, university costs, they decided that they would enlist us as privates in the medical corps and because every one of us was of draft age anyway and whatever. So we were enlisted as privates. We took our vows and promises to the queen and - the king I guess in those days. And we were outfitted with uniform. And given $1.30 a day, which was untrained soldier’s pay.

I continued on as just a Regimental sort of Medical Officer, duties. Well, you took sick parade. Unfortunately, I think, they had the sick parade at the beginning at 4:00 in the afternoon, the lowest part of the day for most people. If I may say so, the NRMA [National Resources Mobilization Act] people, draft fellows, most of them weren’t very pleased with the army culture and army thing. And [it was] a little difficult as a medical officer, knowing who was what they called swinging the lead and who wasn’t. You know, swinging the lead is a malingering sort of thing: you’ve got a pain here, a terrible pain, you can’t do this and you can’t do that. And you’re trying to be fair and yet, you had a duty - people were in the army to train.

Another duty had to do with initiating change in people’s categories. Immunization was a big part of it. We gave thousands of needles, they’d bring them into the drill hall, company after company, sometimes you’d run, four of us maybe line up and do several hundred at a time. Another duty was inspecting the ablution rooms, huts and kitchens every week, we rotated that rather unpleasant duty sometimes.

This sort of thing isn’t what you sort of went through medical school for exactly. And when you’re in your 20s, it wasn’t the most thrilling. But I guess it was necessary.

Anybody who was sick, we sent to hospital and usually never saw again really. On sick parade, you had people with coughs, colds, skin rashes. Frequent things in the services, you know, would be lice and scabies and venereal disease. The simple straight ahead problems in venereal disease we treated. Penicillin was very new then and it worked very well against the gonococcus, amazingly well.

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