Samiksha Jaiswal (Editor)

1 Medical Battalion Group

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Active  1895–2007
Type  Reserve Force
Country  South Africa
Allegiance  Republic of South Africa
Branch  South African Military Health Service
Part of  South African Department of Defence SAMHS Conventional Reserve

1 Medical Battalion Group (1 Med) is a Medical Battalion in the South African Medical Health Services (SAMHS), part of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). As a reserve unit, it has a status roughly equivalent to that of a British Army Reserve or United States Army National Guard unit. It is based in the city of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.



1 Medical Battalion Group can trace its roots back to the Militia units of old Natal, dating back to 1895, when the Ambulance detachments of Durban Light Infantry, Natal Mounted Rifles and Natal Carbineers were merged to form the Natal Volunteer Medical Corps (NVMC).

Anglo-Boer War and early years – 1914

1899 saw the first active mobilisation of the Natal Volunteer Medical Corps in the Anglo Boer War where the Corps served with distinction with Imperial forces including the Seaforth Highlanders, their first association with the Highland Tartan.

The Militia Act of 1904 saw the change in name to Natal Medical Corps and as such they saw active service in the Bhambatha or Poll Tax Rebellion of 1906. The Natal Medical Corps was called up again in 1914 at the outbreak of the Rand Strikes until released from service in 1915 with thanks from the Government.

The Great War 1914–1918

The Natal Medical Corps was mobilised in 1914 and served in the South West African Campaign where they formed the 6th Stationary Hospital at Swakupmond and manned the hospital ship 'Ebani'. Another section took part in the battle for Gideon against German forces. At the conclusion of the SWA Campaign the Field Ambulance was attached to the 1st Infantry Brigade and departed aboard HMT Kenilworth Castle from Cape Town for training at Royal Army Medical Corps Twezeldown on 10 October 1915. Following training the unit was shipped to Egypt aboard HMT Corsican, reaching Alexandria on 13 January 1916.

As the 'Natal Corps' of 1st South African Field Ambulance the unit was involved in most major battles including the Somme, Deville Wood, Ypres and Menin Road.

The Natal Medical Corps was again mobilised with other Natal Regiments and sent to the Reef during the Rand Strikes of 1922.

In the 1935 the Natal Medical Corps was designated 1st Field Ambulance and in 1939, and following the motivation of the Officer Commanding, Col. G.D. English, authority to wear the Mackenzie Tartan was granted to the unit. This unique honour was authorised by the Surgeon General and the Union Defence Force, after approval by the British War Office, The Countess of Cromach (Cromartie) as Head of Clan, and the Seaforth Highlanders.

World War II

All medical units were pooled and new units numbers from 10 upwards. The members of 1st Field Ambulance formed the major component of 10 and 11 Field Ambulances wearing the Mackenzie Tartan behind their cap badges to maintain their identity. 10 and 11 Field Ambulances saw service in the Western Desert and Italy. 17 Field Ambulance which was formed during the war saw service with the Australians and was captured at the fall of Tobruk in 1943.

After the war, the Field Ambulances reverted to their original numbering.

Internal unrest in South Africa

The Unit was mobilised in 1959/60 as part of Ops Duiker during the Cato Manor Riots. During Ops Letaba in Voortrekkerhoogte in 1961, helicopters were used for casualty evacuation for the first time, and members of 1st Field Ambulance were told they were in the 'forefront of modern warfare'.

The Border War and the formation of 1 Medical Battalion Group

After the Second World War the activities of the Unit were confined to reorganisation and training camps. The reinstated 17 Field Ambulance did Border duties and conventional operations in Angola in the late 70's. 1st Field Ambulance members were involved in detached duties in Northern Natal along the Mozambique border, and deployed in full strength in 1978 to test the new Field Ambulance system in Thabazimbi.

On 1 July 1979, the South African Medical Corps (SAMC), until that time a Corps of the Army, became the South African Medical Service (SAMS), the fourth arm of the South African Defence Force (SADF). On 6 July 1979, 1 Field Ambulance was awarded the Freedom of the City of Durban and in this year also provided the Guard of Honour for the first Durban Military Tattoo.

In 1980, the new Medical Battalion concept was tested during Ex Jumbo with the formation of 11 Medical Battalion, an amalgamation of all field ambulances. This concept was approved and adopted, and in November 1981, the two Durban Field Ambulances, 1 and 17, were merged into 1 Medical Battalion Group.

Inherited traditions

All the traditions and history of both units were inherited by the new battalion, including the wearing of the Mackenzie Tartan behind the head dress badge. 1 Medical Battalion is considered one of a small number of traditional regiments in the SANDF.

In 1990, 1 Med adopted traditional Scottish regalia (or became kilted) for Officers, Warrant Officers, the Colour Party and The Pipe Band. The Battalion changed from the SAMS Beret to the Glengarry, a unique head dress in the SAMS and adopted a Tartan stable belt for day ceremonial wear. The Battalion reverted to the beret in 2006.

Additional Reading

  • Ladysmith Municipality Heritage Commemorative Brochure – 2 July 2011
  • 1 Medical Battalion Group 1895– 1990 (brochure published in 1990)
  • The Scottish Connection- Based on an original article written by Ken Gillings, Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal, 29 October 2007. Adapted and *shortened by Graeme Fuller.
  • 1 Medical Battalion Group. The Citizen Soldier: History of the Reserve Force Units.
  • References

    1 Medical Battalion Group Wikipedia