Haig’s Medical Officer

Haig’s Medical Officer
The papers of Colonel Eugene ‘Micky’ Ryan CMG DSO RAMC
by Eugene P Ryan
published by Pen & Sword Military, October 2013
ISBN 978 1 78159 316 5
cover price – £19.99
Hardback, 213pp. Illustrated, bibliography, index.
reviewed by Chris Baker

Eugene ‘Micky’ Ryan probably knew Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig as well as anyone. They appear to have met while both were serving at Aldershot in 1912 and developed a close professional and personal relationship. Ryan, an officer of the Royal Medical Corps, not only acted as senior MO at Haig’s First Corps and later First Army HQ in France, but returned after a period commanding Casualty Clearing Stations in 1915 and 1916 to become Haig’s doctor at British General Headquarters. Ryan also came to know Haig’s wife well, through acting as a family doctor at times. This book, edited by Ryan’s grandson, is based on his private papers: mainly letters to his wife and a diary.

I found “Haig’s Medical Officer” a good and very interesting read. It is well illustrated with copies of extracts from the diary and other documents, together with many portrait photographs and images of places both contemporary and modern. In particular there are some very good images of 18 Casualty Clearing Station at Lapugnoy when Ryan was there. Inevitably an editor of a diary has to explain some background and context, and grandson Eugene does this well, without swamping the original text. Ryan’s personal background and his military service up the Great War is covered in an opening chapter: he is perhaps not a man that we would readily associate with Haig, for he was Irish and a Roman Catholic. His position with regard to Irish nationalism and the stirring events in Ireland before, during and after the war appears rather ambivalent – at least, we do not pick up too much of his thinking on this subject from the papers and diary. By 1914 he was an experienced military medical officer and had seen service at the sharp end during the Second Boer War.

Ryan’s papers certainly give a good account of his war with many incidents and individuals mentioned, although he rarely offers a glimpse into the practicalities and details of his day to day work at a senior MO. He is clearly a Haig “fan” and while there is much mention of the British Commander-in-Chief in France, I am not sure we gain too much fresh insight into the Field Marshal. There is certainly a warm personal relationship between the two and that in itself destroys any notion that Haig was an aloof cold fish. That personal relationship was based on professional trust: Haig is generally believed to have taken his health very seriously, and there is much evidence in the book that he relied upon and took seriously Ryan’s professional expertise. Haig’s staff officer Brigadier-General John Charteris would later write “DH – who believes that the medical profession comprises only Ryan and a few learners”: an interesting insight from a man who knew both and a compliment to Ryan. Their relationship remained until Haig’s death in 1928.

Very nicely edited, well produced and well worth reading.

Review first posted 24 December 2013