The Medical

About now, Thursday 7 January 1915, George Calderon went before a Board for medical examination.

It is rather surprising how little concrete information one can obtain now about military medical examination procedures in the First World War. Recurrent themes are how perfunctory they were, the high percentage of young men who were rejected in 1914 as medically unfit, and an obsession with height.

George had no difficulty with the basic demands of the Army medical, as he had satisfied them back in August 1914. He was five foot nine and a half inches tall (the minimum was five foot three), had an expanded chest measurement of forty inches (the minimum was thirty-four), reasonable teeth, excellent vision, and ‘Good physical development’. Obviously, though, the question was how well, at the age of forty-six, had he recovered from his smashed fibula of two months ago? Did he mention the trouble he had had with his prostate gland? Was the latter cured, or was it something more sinister?

Without a doubt, if he had not worked on his physical condition with the exercises, professional massage and private medical care, he would not have been passed for active service in the Corps of Interpreters. This was because since George went to Windmill Hill Camp in September 1914 interpreters had become essentially orderlies. They had to run, and they had to be able to run fast. The group of young interpreters who superseded George around Colonel Gordon Wilson at Zillebeke in November 1914 were so active that they were nicknamed ‘the football team’.

Conversely, by January 1915 the Corps of Interpreters had become part of the nascent British Intelligence Service, and George could have found work in that. His linguistic, analytic, mathematical and cryptographical skills could have been invaluable. This is in fact what the ‘Godfather in War’, George’s friend at the War Office Sir Coote Hedley, wanted him to do: to ‘work away from the firing line’.

But Calderon had taken every step to pass the medical for active service. In Kittie’s view, ‘his strength of purpose was such that he simply hypnotised the Medical Officer into believing him fit’…

Next entry: 9 January 1915: Commission


About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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