« PreviousContinue »
EXAMINATION OF RECRUITS.
The complete consideration of the subject of Recruiting would require more extended notice than is consonant with the intention of these remarks. Setting aside, therefore, the investigation of the system of recruiting in this and other countries, the effect of locality, the influence of trades, and many other important and interesting relative considerations, it is purposed, with but a few preliminary observations on some general questions that could not be judiciously omitted, to proceed at once to the examination of recruits; the perfect or imperfect performance of which duty must materially influence the efficiency of an army, inasmuch as, that muscular, symmetrical, and sound men, carefully selected, are better calculated to endure fatigue and bear privation than those in whom a less guarded selection has been instituted. That our source of supply admits of care in selection is explicable, when the physical proportion and the small rate of mortality of the inhabitants of this
country are contrasted with other nations in Europe, and still more so when it is recollected that the population of the united kingdom exceeds twentynine millions, to which our standing army bears but a moderate proportion. The same fact is likewise, in a great measure, practically shown by a reference to the statistics of recruiting, where it can be seen, that of the men brought forward for medical inspection, the number rejected exceeds half the number of those approved. Circumstances might nevertheless, at any time, temporarily alter the relation between the supply and demand for voluntary service, such as a sudden augmentation of the regular army, or the creation of any supplementary force, or other causes of a purely civil character affecting the resources of the country. Yet the conclusiveness of an argument founded on the relation between the population and its employments, is not a feature that can be directly connected with the province of a medical officer; as, after all, the incentive to circumspection in selection is, that freedom from certain conditions established as disabilities is absolutely necessary, and no circumstances can invalidate the conclusion that certain attributes are essential in a soldier, and that care is requisite in determining their existence.
The experience of years has provided a code of instructions enumerating the disabilities to be guarded against, and the mode of procedure in investigation, though most explicit as far as it comprehends, is in intention little more than a code of enumeration, granting discretionary power. Upon this foundation, following it in detail, it is meant to form these remarks almost exclusively.
By the adoption and trial of different arrangements, influenced occasionally by circumstances which render slight alterations convenient, the height most expedient and advisable for soldiers can be easily ascertained and concisely defined. Not so, however, as regards the discrimination of the man fit or unfit for the duties of a soldier. No rules could be made definite, no directions explicit enough, to include the numerous contingencies that daily arise. The best instructor is experience; yet, as this cannot be available for all, the only other source of information can be the published experience of others. The honest and complete performance of his office is the duty of every hired servant, still I conceive a higher feeling should influence every man assisting materially in so great a national work. The military legislature, however, have wisely placed a far surer and more effective barrier to the admission of non-effective soldiers when enlisted by district recruiting parties; since when district recruits are passed by a private practitioner, or by a medical officer under the rank of a staff surgeon, it is necessary that they shall undergo a second examination by a district staff surgeon, and obtain his approval, before they are conclusively deemed fit for service.
When men are enlisted at places not in a district, or in the case of head-quarter recruits for a regi
ment, many other circumstances conduce to effect the same object. A surgeon, for his own sake, for his regiment's sake, and in deference to the authority of his commanding officer, will take such precautions that no delicate or otherwise inefficient men are admitted; his length of service and opportunities of contrasting individual power and capability in numbers will always have afforded sufficient experience to determine satisfactorily the eligibility of a recruit.
The case is different when a young assistant surgeon on the staff, or in a regiment, is placed in the position of examining officer. The resources of a previous good professional education do not alone directly provide the necessary information. I do not from this wish to be understood that there is any abstruse acquirement or peculiar intelligence requisite in the examination of recruits, but that it requires either some experience, or else that the mind of the examiner should be decidedly directed to the comprehension of the subject; that reflection upon the duties of soldiers in comparison with their physical capabilities, and in connection with derangements and peculiar conditions, is a necessity. I conceive these points are not at first sufficiently appreciable by medical men unless the attention is drawn by some detail to the consideration, and even then they will constantly have to exercise their judgment upon circumstances that no descriptive statements could include. The subject ranges over such an extent that an attempt at a very minute investigation would be tedious, voluminous, and, in the end, imperfect. There can be no ques
tion but that the ordinary causes of reflection and discrimination for the surgeon and physician, as the nature of diseases, their types, their symptoms, their lesions, the physiological effects of medicines, the prognosis, and other numerous features, are beyond comparison more difficult; still this does not affect the principle, that the examination of recruits can hardly at first be efficiently performed by a medical man without special attention to the question. Yet that thus correctness of decision can in a great measure be acquired by those who have not experience, is easily understood from the fact that the discrimination for the most part involves plain and recognizable considerations; the detection of diseases is most usually the rule for rejection, the necessity for estimating their amount the exception. For these plain features plain means alone are necessary; the detection, by physical signs or otherwise, of a disease of the heart is sufficient without discriminating its nature. When recruits are passed by a medical officer and subsequently rejected by a staff surgeon, the objections to the man are communicated to that officer, and his reasons for passing such a man required : the censure that generally follows is most unpleasant, as the purport usually implies carelessness or misconception, and to an educated man this is most galling,* in addition, no doubt, ascertained omis
* It does not follow that invariably such fault rests with the medical officer who first passed the recruit, as the fitness or the reverse is frequently a matter of opinion, and the most experienced and intelligent surgeons have had recruits approved by them afterwards rejected.