The medical services during World War II were very cognisant of the danger disease posed to men on operations. Traditionally more men had died from disease than combat during wartime and so there was a strong emphasis on hygiene and prevention to avoid men becoming unnecessary casualties. One of the key ways this could be achieved was by inoculation. Not every disease was preventable by inoculation in the 1940s (just as today), but there were many that were and medical officers in all three services often spent much of their time before a unit was deployed overseas ensuring the men had received their correct vaccines and the paperwork was in order to ensure that this could be tracked and no one was missed.
Men would have the details of their inoculations written down in their paybooks or issued as a separate certificate and it is one of these from the RAF we are looking at today. The certificate comes in a small envelope that indicates what it’s purpose was and which service had issued it:
Here we can see that this is an RAF form and so the recipient of this inoculation was an airman. The certificate inside the envelope gives particulars and here shows that it was a Corporal Wheeler who had received his yellow fever inoculation on the 8th November 1943:
Yellow fever is a disease transmitted in the tropics by mosquitos. In most cases, symptoms include fever, chills, loss of appetite, nausea, muscle pains particularly in the back, and headaches. Symptoms typically improve within five days. In about 15% of people, within a day of improving the fever comes back, abdominal pain occurs, and liver damage begins causing yellow skin. If this occurs, the risk of bleeding and kidney problems is increased.
It was not just troops going overseas that received inoculations. Neville James Brooks joined the army and recalls his first days:
I arrived at Canterbury Barracks and met up with volunteers from all over the British Isles and it turned out that quite a few had also put their age up to join. A drill sergeant took over our squad and told us we would be trained for 6 weeks with drills and route marches of 5 miles and upwards to 20 miles with all our equipment on. Also the next morning we would have our teeth inspected and injections given for various diseases i.e. Tab-tet-tox and typhus. Also we would be fitted out with our uniforms and army boots which we would be breaking in on our route marches. We were marched down to receive our injections the following morning. There were four medical orderlies doing the injections. I had my four jabs, also one tooth removed and in the evening my arm swelled up to twice its size. I felt quite miserable. Welcome to the Army.