Renkioi: Brunel’s Forgotten Crimean War Hospital

Author: Christopher Silver
Publisher: Valonia Press (2007)
ISBN-10: 978-0955710506

The Crimean War is today most remembered for its blunders and disasters. Yet there were also some successes, and one is described in Renkioi: Brunel's Forgotten Crimean War Hospital by Christopher Silver. Dr Silver qualified in medicine in 1942, served in the RAMC from 1943 to 1946 in Italy and India, worked postwar in the East End, and retired in 1985. Researched largely from Victorian official and other publications, his Renkioi is an attractively- produced book with maps, monochrome illustrations, statistical tables, full endnotes, and six appendices, including a chronology and ‘Renkioi for the visitor '. However, its subtitle is misleading. Renkioi is hardly forgotten: the book cites 1991 and 2000 publications which describe it.

Renkioi Hospital was one of the responses to the revelation of the appalling military hospitals in the first phase of the war. Designed by Brunel, it was prefabricated in England, mostly of wood, and assembled in Asiatic Turkey, near Troy, some 500 miles - then three or four days' journey - from the Crimea. With a clean water supply, an outstanding medical superintendent, Dr Edmund Parkes - formerly professor of medicine at University College Hospital, and later professor of hygiene at the new Army Medical School, Netley - and good staff - including Dr John Kirk, later of Zanzibar fame - Renkioi was a civil hospital, under the War Office but independent of the Army Medical Department. It was a model hospital and functioned well, ‘demonstrating the best practices of the age'. However, its life was short. It received its first army casualties in October 1855, after the fall of Sevastopol, closed in July 1856, and was sold in September 1856. Today almost nothing survives from it. Renkioi tells its story, in the context of military-medical history. There is much significant data. For example, the entire Crimean army was supplied with two clinical thermometers and one ophthalmoscope. Despite the Navy's f success in preventing scurvy by fruit juice, the army failed to learn from it so Crimean soldiers suffered from scurvy. Well-researched and interesting, though not for the squeamish, Renkioi: Brunel's Forgotten Crimean War Hospital is a welcome addition to the studies of a definitely unforgotten war.

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