History of Army Medical Corps


Very little is known of the medical organisations that existed in the various Armies in this country in the ancient times. However, Kautilya’s Arthashastra shows that during battles, physicians with surgical instruments (Sastra, medicines and drugs in their hands besides women with prepared food and beverages) used to stand behind the fighting men. Similarly, from Sushruta Samhita, it is seen that a physician fully equipped with Medicines would live in a camp not remote from the royal pavilion and there the persons wounded by arrows and other war projectiles, or those who had imbibed poison used to be treated. A physician in the King’s service used to adopt certain measures to protect the life of his royal highness from secret poisoning. The physician well versed in technical sciences and with knowledge of other allied branches of study was held in high esteem by the King and others.

The Army Medical Corps came into existence as a homogeneous corps of officers and men on the pattern of the Royal Army Medical Corps on 03 Apr 1943 by the amalgamation of the Indian Medical Service, the Indian Medical Department and the Indian Hospital Corps. The Corps was formed as a wartime necessity for attracting suitably qualified men for service in a rapidly expanding army.

Indian Medical Service

The history of the Indian Medical Service (IMS) dates back to 1612 when on the formation of the East India Company into a joint stock business, the Company appointed John Woodall as their first Surgeon General. Under him, medical Corps officers (mainly civilians) were recruited more or less on individual contracts. The company expanded activities in various part of the country which necessitated the formation and maintenance of regular bodies of troops in India. As a consequence, they commenced employing Military Surgeons from 1745 onwards. It was not until 1764 that these Surgeons were made into regular establishment of the company’s armies. Thus the Bengal Medical Service was formed in 1764, the Madras Medical Service in 1767 and the Bombay Medical Service in 1779 for the three Presidency Armies of Bengal, Madras and Bombay respectively. Three medical services were in due course combined into one Indian Medical Services (IMS) in Apr 1886 under a Surgeon General to the Govt of India. The designation was later changed into the Director General, Indian Medical Service. In 1913, the appointment was designated as the Director of Medical Services in India.

Until the First Word War the IMS was pre-dominantly civil in character, but gradually from 1912 onwards those employed in civil duties became less and less in number. Indianisation of this service commenced from 1915 onwards. Sarjoo Coomar Goodeve Chauckerbutty was the first Indian to enter the service as Assistant Surgeon on 24 Jan 1855.

Until Burma was separated in 1935, the IMS was catering for the civil and military needs of Burma also. During this period, the IMS was assisted by the members of the Indian Medical Department (IMD) and Indian Hospital Corps (IHC).

The idea of re-organising the medical services into a separate Medical Corps exclusively for the Defence Services was first conceived in 1939 with the out break of World War II and with the formation of Indian Army Medical Corps in 1943, the extinction of the IMS as such was merely a matter of time. On 14 Aug 1947 the service was finally wound up.

Indian Medical Department

The history of the Indian Medical Department (IMD) dates back to 19th century. Initially starting as compounders and dressers in the three Presidency Medical Services they became Sub Surgeons and later on as Indian Medical Assistants in Indian Regiments. In 1868, they were redesignated as Hospital Assistants. In 1900, the Senior Hospital Assistants were granted the rank of Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers and in 1910 the designation was finally changed to Sub Assistant Surgeons of IMD. They were primarily for work with the Indian troops.

Indian Hospital Corps

The Indian Hospital Corps was formed on 01 June 1920 by combining the Army Hospital Corps and Army Bearer Corps and the subordinate personnel of Indian Station Hospitals, comprising persons of categories then considered necessary for hospitals, field ambulances and other medical units.

Army Hospital Corps

In the days of the East India Company there were no regular formations or units charged with the task of looking after the health of troops. In 1881 the British Regimental Hospitals gave way to British Station Hospitals and they needed subordinate persons. So in 1981, the Army Hospital Native Corps was formed of menials of the disbanded British Regimental Hospitals, Compounders, dressers, ward coolies, barbers, shop coolies, cooks, bhistis and sweepers and were designated as, Hospital Attendants. With the abolition of the Presidency Armies by the Government and the evolution of the Army into 10 Divisions, the Army Hospital Native Corps was re-organised into 10 Companies as Army Hospital Corps.

Army Bearer Corps

It was not until 1901 that the necessity for a proper corps of bearers was accepted by the Government and in this year, Dooly Bearers and Kahars were enlisted in the newly formed Army Bearer Corps, which came under the Medical Department. The Army Hospital Corps persons did the menial service in British Station Hospitals and the Army Bearer Corps provided persons for the carriage of the sick and wounded. In 1903, the Army Bearer Corps was re-organised into 10 Division Companies and the duties of these Companies in war were to carry stretchers and doolies, and in peace for general work in hospital.

Station Hospitals

Indian troops had no station hospital facilities until 1918, and had to depend entirely on their regimental hospitals. In October 1918, Station Hospitals for Indian troops were sanctioned. Ward orderlies and followers came from Army Hospital Corps and bearers were provided by the Army Bearer Corps.

The IHC initially was divided into 10 Division Companies corresponding to the 10 existing Military Divisions in India and Burma and they were located at Peshwar, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Quetta, Mhow, Poona, Meerut, Lucknow, Secunderabad and Rangoon. The whole corps was re-organised on command basis during the year 1929-32 and thus there were five companies of the IHC in 1932, No 1 Company at Rawalpindi, No 2 Company at Lucknow, No 3 Company at Poona. No 4 Company at Quetta and No 5 Company at Rangoon. On separation of Burma in 1935, No 5 Company of IHC was formed as Burma Hospital Corps and this left four companies of IHC.

Indian Army Medical Corps

World War II was responsible for rapid developments. The idea of having a homogeneous corps by amalgamating IMS, IMD gradually took shape and Indian Army Medical Corps (IAMC) came into being on 03 Apr 1943. On the formation of the IAMC, the IHC HQs at Poona became the Administrative Headquarters of the IAMC in May 1943.

After Independence of the country, the Corps has made a steady progress. The men enjoy combatant status. The post of Director General Armed Forces Medical Services was created in 1949 as coordinating head of the med services of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Army Medical Corps

The IAMC was re-designated as Army Medical Corps with effect from 26 Jan 1950.