RAMC

Medical Officers of the Malta Garrison
McCombe John Smith

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Colonel John Smith McCombe
DSO (1917) MB BCh (RUI) BAO (1907)
9 Apr 1885 [Edinburgh] – 19 Oct 1959 [Dublin]

Introduction

Colonel John Smith McCombe was educated at the old Queen's College Belfast, graduating MB BCh from the former Royal University of Ireland in 1907. He was commissioned Lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps in February 1908. He passed the examination held in London for commissions in the Royal Army Medical Corps, for which 64 candidates entered, but only 30 were selected. The highest mark was 614 scored by Dr John James MB BS (Lond) MRCS (Eng) LRCP (Lond) from King's College, who was killed in action on 8 October 1918. Dr John Smith McCombe came 30th with 495 marks.

Shortly after joining the RAMC in 1908, he was awarded the Royal Humane Society's vellum certificate and Arnott Memorial medal for attempting to save the life of a boy in the Thames off Millbank while wearing his best suit. He reached the semi-finals of the Army and Navy boxing championships as a heavy-weight in 1910. In 1917, he was appointed to the Distinguished Service Order for bravery in the field. He served in India, in Mesopotamia, in both World Wars, and was Deputy Director of Medical Services in the Malta Command from 1937 to 1942, retiring as Brigadier in 1944.

Colonel John Smith McCombe bought and presented a special group of medals of famous and prominent officers which he presented to the RAMC HQ Mess. These included Surgeon-Major Thomas Egerton Hale's Victoria Cross. He died at his home in Dublin on 19 October 1959, aged 74 years.

Service Record — John Smith McCombe

4 Feb 1908 Commissioned Lieutenant RAMC on probation. Posted to Netley in August 1908.

May 1909 Change of Station from Netley to Durrington Camp.

June 1909 Change of Station from Durrington Camp to Windmill Hill Camp.

July 1909 Change of Station from Windmill Hill Camp to Tidworth.

Sept 1909 Change of Station from Tidworth to Bulford.

Apr 1910 Change of Station from Bulford to Bangalore.

Mar 1911 While serving in India was successful at the March examination for promotion of Majors of the Royal Army Medical Corps in technical subjects,

4 Aug 1911 Promoted Captain RAMC.

June 1912 Change of Station from Malappuram to Secunderabad.

28 July 1914 Start of the Great War.
4 Aug 1914 Britain declares war on Germany.

1914–1917 Served in Mesopotamia. For the last twelve months of his service in Mesopotamia he was Deputy Assistant Director of Medical Services of a base force.

1916 Awarded the Royal Humane Society's Bronze Medal for rescuing a soldier suffering from cholera who fainted and fell off a launch into shark infested waters off the Shat-el-Arab.

15 Aug 1917 One of a number of officers brought to the notice of the Secretary of State for War by Lt General Sir Stanley Maude KCB, Commander-in-Chief, Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force, as deserving of special mention.

1917 Made a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for bravery in the field.

1917–1918 Stationed at Army Headquarters in India.
Granted the Acting rank of Major from 25 February to 15 December 1918.

1919 Served at York (Northern Command).
Married Mrs Doris Leach (died 1946).

Jan 1920 Relinquished the Acting rank of Major.

4 Feb 1920 Promoted Major.

1920–1925 Served in India.

1925–1930 Served in Egypt.

1933–1934 Assistant Director of Medical Services Southern Command.

4 June 1933 Promoted Lieutenant Colonel RAMC.

1934–1935 Returned to India where he remained until embarking for Malta in 1937.
Commanding Officer BMH Mhow.

1936 Commanding Officer BMH Calcutta (invalided).

1 Mar 1937 Promoted Colonel L/RAMC.

Malta 9 Apr 1937 Arrived from England as Deputy Director of Medical Services (DDMS) Malta Command. In 1937, Malta had 15 medical and dental officers, 78 Other Ranks RAMC and 13 QAIMNS nursing sisters. By 1941, his staff had increased to 127 medical and dental officers, 1128 ORs RAMC and 46 QAIMNS.

Malta 3 Aug 1938 Home leave.

Malt 1938 Submitted a number of proposal to the War Office to improve the medical facilities in Malta. Among these were: a new Reception Station for St Andrew's Barracks, a casualty reception block for Mtarfa General hospital, a blast proof reception block with operative and x ray facilities at Mtarfa, a new Families Hospital and a new Families Isolation Block at Mtarfa, and bomb proof building for medical stores.

Malta 29 Sept 1938 Returned to Malta. Elected Captain of the Royal Malta Golf circuit for the 1938–1939 season.
His predecessor, Lt Col David Carmichael Monro, held the captaincy in 1936–1937 and was re-elected for 1937–1938 season.

Lamented that his pre war efforts to improve the medical capabilities in Malta had always been thwarted.

I was fobbed off with the statement that work of a prior tactical importance are occupying all labour. When I look around and see some of the buildings which have been erected in the past two years I consider that the medical services has not had a square deal.

Malta 8 July 1939 Home leave.

Malta 28 Aug 1939 Returned to Malta. DDMS Malta Command.
Was responsible for establishing and organizing the military hospitals in Malta during the Blitz. Complained that the medical services in Malta were given the cold shoulder and that his planning was often impeded by lack of co-operation from the heads of the other military departments.

Malta 1940 DDMS Malta Command. The office of the DDMS was a small house on top of the bastion at Lascaris Barracks. Was on an accompanied posting with his spouse also present in Malta. His quarters was at Britannia Street Valletta.

Malta 23 Oct 1940 Complained that he had only been informed after he had selected the houses for use as Advanced Dressing Stations, that in the event of an invasion a considerable number of roads would be blown up to act as anti– tank traps. This necessitated a good deal of rearrangements in his medical plan for casualty evacuation.

He was in a constant tug of war with the War Office to get what he perceived were the required medical personnel and facilities appropriate for a large garrison. On 7 December 1940 he stated:

I feel very bitterly indeed that in spite of all the lessons of history I still have to create the greatest unpleasantness in order to obtain even a small portion of proportionate medical requirements which should, in all reason, be conceded without question. It is derogatory to the dignity of the Medical Services that they should be treated by a staff which does not properly appreciate their necessity, with a nonchalance which involves a fracas every time an endeavour is made to obtain even a modicum of their requirement for efficiency.

12 Oct 1940 Resubmitted his plans of 1938 for the construction of a new Families Hospital and Families Isolation Hospital at Mtarfa to be used as an officers and warrant officers hospital during the war.

Malta 1941 DDMS Malta Command. On 28 February 1941, the windows of his house at 9 Mint Street were damaged by a parachute mine.

Malta 18 Feb 1942 DDMS Malta Command. Received news that he was to proceed to Mid East en route to England. Colonel Frederick Whalley OC No 45 General Hospital acted as DDMS until his relief arrived.

Colonel McCombe left Malta at midnight on 26 February 1942.

1942–1943 Assistant Director of Medical Services (ADMS) HQ Northern Ireland.

6 May 1943 Acting Brigadier.

1943–1944 DDMS HQ Northern Ireland.

6 Nov 1943 Temporary Brigadier.

1 Dec 1944 Reverted to retired pay on ceasing to be employed; was granted the honorary rank of Brigadier.

Apr 1945 Ceased to remain on the Regular Army Reserve of Officers having attained the age limit of liability to recall.

1951 Married Joyce, widow of the sixth Baron Talbot de Malahide.

1958 Endowed a series of lectureship in Military Surgery at the University of Edinburgh.

Bibliography