A medium-sized market town in the medieval period, Birmingham grew to international prominence in the 18th century at the heart of the Midlands Enlightenment and subsequent Industrial Revolution, which saw the town at the forefront of worldwide advances in science, technology, and economic development, producing a series of innovations that laid many of the foundations of modern industrial society. By 1791 it was being hailed as “the first manufacturing town in the world”. Birmingham’s distinctive economic profile, with thousands of small workshops practising a wide variety of specialised and highly skilled trades, encouraged exceptional levels of creativity and innovation and provided a diverse and resilient economic base for industrial prosperity that was to last into the final quarter of the 20th century. Perhaps the most important invention in British history, the industrial steam engine, was invented in Birmingham.
Birmingham was visited in 1964 (Guy and Janet Baines) with papers at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Further papers were heard in 1974, on a variety of subjects including Arnold Gourevitch’s account of his experiences in the 1973 Yom Kippur war (on 6 October – the Day of Atonement) in which forward resuscitation was followed by the rapid air evacuation of casualties to base hospitals in Israel.
In 2013, for the third time in its history the TSS visited Birmingham, and again the venue was the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. This time, however, our destination was the new Royal Centre for Defence Medicine (RCDM) which combines on a single site the facilities for advanced surgical care of all three Armed Forces, together with research activities overseen by our local host Air Commodore Alasdair Walker who with his wife Christine ensured we had a superb couple of days. Staying in the heart of Birmingham at the Copthorne Hotel on Paradise Circus, we were linked by a pedestrian bridge to the station and other inner city amenities. We could thus walk to Birmingham’s acclaimed Art Museum (it has 5000 works all told) where the collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings was outstanding, and here also was to be found a portrait of Dr Ash, founder of Birmingham’s first General Hospital.
The scientific programme was held within the RCDM in a modern lecture theatre with card-controlled access. The day began with an overview of the organisation by Air Marshal Paul Evans, Surgeon General of the Armed Forces, and was then devoted to audit and research around severe trauma, for which our troops in Afghanistan were at serious risk, from Improvised Explosive Devices especially. The seriously injured were taken as quickly as possible, usually by helicopter, to Camp Bastion where major surgery (such as amputation) could be life-saving and resuscitation allowed evacuation back to the UK for urgent care and subsequent rehabilitation, the latter at Headley Court. We had the unique experience of hearing the personal testimony of a Royal Marine who survived triple amputation (both legs and his dominant right arm) and now had a normal family life: no, a supra-normal life for he has been travelling the world as a speaker and personal trainer, unaided and without a wheelchair. Mark Ormrod’s most moving matter-of-fact account of all he had been through, delivered without notes whilst ramrod upright on his pylons, was a unique ‘guest lecture’ well deserving the first ever standing ovation from the TSS. He embodied all that the Armed Forces aspire to, concluding a day of research results and audits of military surgical care which is benefitting the civilian management of major trauma. The Registrar Prize was won by plastic surgeon Major Mark Foster for his presentation on the inflammatory response. Our scientific meeting around military medicine was most apposite in this year preceding the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, which gave rise to the TSS in 1924.
The social activities included an excellent curry on our first evening, tours by our partners to the Jewellery Museum and the Birmingham Botanic Gardens, and a superb formal dinner at stately Hagley Hall on our last night. The next day we made our way north-east of Birmingham to the National Memorial Arboretum on 150 grassed acres. Here a visitor centre, chapel and multiple monuments, trees, woods and gardens commemorate the deaths and severe disability inflicted since 1945 by armed conflict, terrorism or natural disasters on British subjects, and those who served Britain, honouring everyone who has suffered thereby, whether or not this was in the course of duty. This vast area – shortly to be doubled – is dominated by the hundred foot wide circular Armed Forces Memorial, which has a vertical slit in its wall through which sunlight passes to alight on the sculptured wreath in the edifice’s centre at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month each year – Remembrance Day.
The images above show the Birmingham Library (Left) and the Canals (Right)