Health – the Hidden Enemy

British Army 16 Medical Regiment in a training simulation, 2016 (Source: Wikipedia)

This project aims to highlight one of the least known campaigns of the First World War, carrying out additional research into medical issues and placing these against the experiences of FWW and current serving soldiers.

East Africa and the ‘Pike Report’

Captain Gardner and three other medical officers of the Nigerian Field Ambulance during the East African Campaign © IWM (Q 15405)

The war in East Africa was one of the longest of the First World War. It started on 8 August 1914 and officially ended on 25 November 1918. During that time men, women and children from across 177 micro-nations (ethnic/cultural backgrounds) were involved. Exact numbers are difficult to confirm – ball-park figures suggest 250,000 uniformed and over a million non-uniformed were directly involved. However, there is greater consensus over the numbers lost – 75% are believed to have died from malnutrition, dysentery, typhoid, blackwater fever and malaria than war wounds.


As news trickled into London about the horrors and conditions of the campaign – one notable author wrote ‘I’d rather die in France than live like a pig in Africa’, it was eventually decided to launch an enquiry into the medical services. This led to what has become known as the ‘Pike’ report – an overall damning account.


The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment was one of only two British regiments involved in the East Africa Campaign – it was so badly affected by disease that after 18 months the whole regiment was withdrawn to South Africa to recuperate.



We are working with the Great War in Africa Association (GWAA), whose members will carry out research into the ‘Pike’ report. For years this report has been out of the public eye, but with the growing interest in the East African theatre of the First World War, in particular around the social and non-military aspects, the medical corps is coming to the fore. Bringing the Pike Report into the public domain will provide a core for exploring a range of aspects concerning the war in Africa. There is a background to the report’s origins to be documented as well as pre-, during and post-war careers of those mentioned in the report, the role of stretcher bearers and others in the African theatres and how these differed to the Western Front, the diseases and other ailments medical specialists had to deal with alongside looking after the local population when many of the doctors had been seconded from the Colonial Medical Service.


Additional research will be carried out with serving military staff at 3 Medical Regiment in Fulwood Barracks, Preston, in order to assess the impact of medical advances for soldiers serving in similar environments today. This will comprise interviews with relevant staff identified by Lancashire Infantry Museum, carried out by GWAA volunteers.


In order to provide additional context for the research, volunteers at the Lancashire Infantry Museum in Preston will research and supply detailed health records relating to particular soldiers who joined the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and fought in East Africa.



Four camel ambulances attached to the Imperial Camel Corps, Egypt, colour tinted AWM PO3631.002

Four camel ambulances attached to the Imperial Camel Corps, Egypt, colour tinted © AWM (PO3631.002)

We will be running an interpretive project using this research, as well as research into other campaigns away from the Western Front – particularly Salonika, Egypt and Mesopotamia – which were beset by medical problems.

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