Guest Collection Highlight by Colonel (Retd) Jim Duffus (BSc 1976)
Author of Town, Gown and Gun - A Centennial History of AUOTC 1912-2012
In the summer of 1914, a few weeks before the outbreak of World War One, Aberdeen University Officers' Training Corps (AUOTC) was at its second Annual Camp. Students and instructors were living under canvas on Salisbury Plain and were supported by Regular Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) staff, horses, wagons and other equipment. Training involved: the treatment and evacuation of casualties; stretcher drills; first aid; the setting up of field hospitals; the proper loading of medical wagons; and testing and treating drinking water. The importance of good sanitation and hygiene was stressed throughout their training in light of the tragic impact experienced in previous British Army campaigns as a result of disease, infection and bad water. Indeed the unit's first Commanding Officer was Dr George Williamson, an Aberdeen graduate, former member of the University's Volunteer Medical Unit, and Lecturer in Hygiene at Aberdeen Teacher Training Centre.
Annual Camp was the climax of the University session's programme of drill nights and limited weekend exercises. AUOTC had, on formation in 1912, acquired some office and storage space in Marischal College. The use of the Territorial Force hall at the Hardgate had been negotiated for stretcher drill and other training requiring lots of space.
Cadets wore cap, jacket, breeches, long puttees, brown leather boots and a greatcoat. Their cap badge at this time was the University Crest and shoulder badges indicated membership of AUOTC. Cadets worked towards the award of certificates of competence and efficiency. These qualifications would assist any graduates seeking commissions in the Regular or Reserve RAMC, and would also probably help them compete for General Practice and other civilian posts.
At the other end of the country, some of their fellow students, from other faculties but including some medics, were also at Annual Camp. From Tain, University Company, 4th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders, was mobilised and moved off to Bedford to train for the Western Front.
AUOTC returned to Aberdeen where staff and cadets began to absorb what the coming War would mean for them. Some volunteered immediately, applying for commissions or serving as private soldiers. The increasing demand for manpower and the steady move towards universal conscription soon had the authorities declaring that OTC membership did not count as military service. Those in the senior years of their medical course would be allowed to complete their studies. Their more junior colleagues would receive no such special treatment and would, as they became old enough, be called up to eventually fight in anything from the infantry, through artillery and cavalry, to the Royal Flying Corps. They would serve in all theatres of the war: Western Front, Gallipoli, Italy, Palestine, Macedonia, Mesopotamia and Africa. AUOTC continued its programme of training throughout the War, greatly supported by the University Principal, George Adam Smith, who also acted as Unit Chaplain.
AUOTC's contributions to Victory were acknowledged by the War Office with the arrival of a captured German artillery piece as a War Trophy. AUOTC itself survived, just, the post-war shock of the early 1920s. It went on to thrive as a University institution through the turmoil of the 1930s, the tragedy of the Second World War, and the many adjustments in the British Army from then to the present day.