In arduis fidelis

These are the words of Charles Wilson McMoran (1883–1977), (later Lord Moran), recorded in a diary while he served for two years as medical officer to the 1st Battalion, Royal Fusiliers:

Orders have come from behind to rest everyone who was suffering from gas and the men knew that it was only necessary to report sick to be done with the Somme. A few … came to me but the others insisted on carrying on, they would not leave the battalion while it was waiting to go over the top. ‘What’s the position really, Doc?’ Hill asked when we were alone. I hesitated a moment. If the men were all right we were apparently to do another attack. To say they were fit was like signing the death warrant of two hundred men. And I might be wrong.

Mattioli commentary on Dioscorides, poppy
Illustration of poppy plants by Pietro Andrea Mattioli, Commentarii in Dioscoridis

McMoran was accepted as a member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1913. He concealed his higher medical qualifications on joining the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) to ensure that he was posted to the trenches. He won the Military Cross in the battle of the Somme (1916) and the Italian silver medal for valour (1917), and was twice mentioned in dispatches.

McMoran was one of almost 13,000 British doctors recruited into the armed forces by the end of the First World War, charged with caring for almost 11 million casualties and facing an unprecedented concentration of death and bloodshed.

The RAMC motto, in arduis fidelis, means ‘faithful in adversity’. The RAMC lost 6,873 men in the First World War, many of them killed in action while treating wounded soldiers. Those who returned home were profoundly affected, bearing physical or mental burdens for the rest of their lives.

The vital role of the RAMC in the war is amply illustrated by the large number of awards for gallantry that were received by all ranks, including service women. Noel Chavasse (1884–1917), a member of the RAMC, was the sole recipient of two Victoria Crosses in the entire war, and one of only three individuals ever to be awarded the honour.

Despite often being in great danger, McMoran survived the war. He served as president of the RCP from 1941 to 1950 and had an important role in the formation of the NHS, and was also personal physician to Winston Churchill.

Nora Ni Dhomhnaill, RCP museum volunteer

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