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R.A.M.C. water duties


alf mcm

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According to the organization of a Cavalry Regiment, there were 3 men, a Corporal and 2 Privates, attached from the R.A.M.C. for water duties. What is meant by ‘water duties’?

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I've never noticed this, do you have a link for the organisation chart?

I can't see the RAMC being too happy if their men ended up fetching water for horses.

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I think this means making sure the water is 'potable'.....the last thing any army needs is men and horses going down with dodgy stomachs......in my time in the army (RAMC 1980's) there was a course at the Depot something like Regimental Water Duties.....

I also recall testing kits for poison gases in water.....mustard gas for example can 'survive' in water and wouldn't do you much good if drunk!

Hope this helps.....

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Yep, they were attached to make sure the troops drinking water was OK.

They tried it first and if they died - you did not drink it :lol:

steve m

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Most units had men bourne for "water duties" in 1917/1918 in the East Yorkshire Regiment they were B1/2 men, looks like 2 per company, interesting to see what the duties consisted of.

Regards Charles

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As mentioned above, the RAMC water men were not responsible for the supply of water but of making sure it was drinkable, whether by horses or men.

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Many thanks for all the replies. I am researching a R.A.M.C. soldier who was attached to a Cavalry Regiment. Now I know what he did.

Regards,

Alf :)

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  • 15 years later...

According to the 'Regulations for the Territorial Force, and for County Associations, 1908', there were 5 RAMC men (including 1 Cpl) assigned to each battalion for "Water Duties".

https://www.9thkings.co.uk/TFestablishment1908.html

Did this change throughout the war? Were there later amendments to the establishment after 1908?

And do we know any more about the duties of these men since this thread was last added to?

I have found a mention in "The Story of the Ninth King's" by E.H.G. Roberts, writing about the situation around Guillemont in August, 1916: "The Valley had one great drawback; there were no wells in the vicinity from which water could be drawn. Owing to this shortage, the water-men had a very onerous task as water was obtainable only at Bray, and thither the water carts had to go, making as many journeys as possible during the day, to obtain water for the thirsty troops."

This suggests that the water-men were responsible for sourcing drinkable water. 

Edited by Ken Lees
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On 26/06/2008 at 12:44, alf mcm said:

According to the organization of a Cavalry Regiment, there were 3 men, a Corporal and 2 Privates, attached from the R.A.M.C. for water duties. What is meant by ‘water duties’?

On the outbreak of war the British Army's favoured water purification chemical was their tried and tested chloride of lime. RAMC Sanitation Sections, and their TF equivalents, were trained and responsible (amongst other things) for the safe introduction of this chemical into chosen water supplies.....an understandably specialised technical role. Water Duties involved/involves the treatment of water at the identified source and not the movement and distribution of water within units/sub-units using regimental water carts. 

Chloride of lime produces safe but absolutely foul tasting water. 

As you mention the Cavalry it is interesting to note that in 1914 cavalry units were the first to be offered what was considered a more palatable, but certainly more volatile, alternative in the form of an individual issue of acid sodium sulfate tablets. 

Major H G Anderson RAMC had his article "Purification of water on a small scale" published by the BMJ and describes these tablets and their bizarre chemistry.  

“It was decided also, in August 1914, to issue tablets of acid sodium sulphate (Rideal and Parkes, 1901) for small parties of cavalry, who it was thought might easily get separated from their units. Each tablet contained 16 grains of anhydrous sodium bisulphate and 1/4 minim of oil of lemon. They were issued for emergency use only as they had several drawbacks. Being a powerful metal-solvent they acted on water bottles made of enameled iron if they were chipped forming ferrous sulphate which has a bad taste and colours the water. A very objectionable taste occurred on prolonged contact with aluminium, and if exposed to a moist atmosphere acid was liberated which burnt both clothing and skin.”

In comparison it makes chloride of lime sound positively delicious!

steveem49 rightly mentions the Royal Engineers.  Their developing role in water supply during the Great War is strategic and well described by themselves here: The Work of the Royal Engineers in the European War, 1914-1919. Water Supply- France [British Army] : R. E. Institute, Chatham, England (Publisher) : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive. This is a technical monster of a publication but page 53 gives a slim clue to the divergent but interlocking RE/RAMC roles "37. Purification .—It was a standing rule that all water, not specifically exempted by the medical authorities, should be chlorinated before use. The standard practice was to chlorinate at the water point, and not at the source of supply." 

Water Duties at the tactical level continue to this day but with RAMC Environmental Health Practitioners (EHP) replacing RAMC Sanitary Sections as the professional lead and their former tasks within units now undertaken by Unit Health Duties trained personnel.

Edited by TullochArd
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Thank you TA. That helps enormously.

The man I am currently researching, and who prompted my interest, was a pre-war Chemist's Assistant in Liverpool. He attested in May, 1914 and served throughout the war attached to the 9th King's.

I am trying to establish who the other RAMC men were, performing the same role within the battalion, but I am finding it difficult, other than by stumbling across them.

Ken

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Ken,

Not sure if you've tracked this down but there is a diary available for 55 Division Sanitary Section, these had RAMC chemists who looked for water supplies, tested it and sanctioned it for use if appropriate.

There should be similar for 1st Division for earlier in these at and 57 Division later.

https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C7354873

TEW

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26 minutes ago, TEW said:

Ken,

Not sure if you've tracked this down but there is a diary available for 55 Division Sanitary Section, these had RAMC chemists who looked for water supplies, tested it and sanctioned it for use if appropriate.

There should be similar for 1st Division for earlier in these at and 57 Division later.

https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C7354873

TEW

Thanks TEW, I had missed that diary. I downloaded the three 55th Div Field Ambulance diaries last night, for a little light reading, but didn't think of looking for the sanitary section one.

Ken

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