CWD-LMHG Lecture: Dr Frances Houghton, ‘"Healthcare Heroes" of the War at Sea: The Royal Naval Medical Service in the Second World War'

Tuesday 29 November 2022, 5:30pm to 7:00pm


FUR - Furness LT 2, Lancaster, LA1 4YW - View Map

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All Lancaster University (non-partner) students, Alumni, Applicants, External Organisations, Families and young people, Postgraduates, Prospective International Students, Prospective Postgraduate Students, Prospective Undergraduate Students, Public, Staff, Undergraduates


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Event Details

Dr Frances Houghton (University of Manchester) will deliver the first joint lecture of 2022-23 for the Centre for War and Diplomacy and Lancaster Military Heritage Group.

Eighty years before the British media attached the label ‘Healthcare Heroes’ to National Health Service workers battling the Covid-19 pandemic, a similar identity as medical ‘heroes’ had also been imposed upon the Royal Navy’s medical branch. Throughout the Second World War, images of the naval surgeon as a heroic figure fighting to save life under unthinkably dangerous conditions captured the imagination of the wartime British press.

Yet the public language of medical heroism was – and remains – deeply problematic for healthcare workers. For the wartime British naval surgeon, his public identity as a hero masked the scale and intensity of the obstacles he faced in performing his professional duties of care afloat.

This lecture discusses areas in which wartime naval surgeons experienced particular challenges, including their ‘volunteer’ status; bioethics and international law; and tensions with the Navy’s executive branch. It uses the wartime RNMS as a case study to reflect on lessons that might be learned in framing contemporary public responses to healthcare workers on the frontlines of global health crises in the twenty-first century.


Dr Frances Houghton is Simon Research Fellow in History at the University of Manchester and has taught Modern British History at the Universities of Edinburgh and Manchester.

Her research and main publications focus on wartime British military culture and the experiences and memories of Second World War servicemen and veterans from all three Services. Frances’s first monograph, The Veterans’ Tale: British Military Memoirs of the Second World War was published in 2019 by Cambridge University Press. Her first book has won two awards, including the Society for Army Historical Research’s Templer Prize for Best First Book, and was shortlisted for the Royal Historical Society’s Whitfield Prize.

Frances’s research has recently taken a naval turn and she is currently researching the Royal Navy’s systems and delivery of healthcare afloat between 1939-1945 for her second book. Her recent article, ‘The Trial of Convoy PQ17 and the Royal Navy in Post-War British Cultural Memory’, can be found here.

Her next article, ‘“Alien Seamen” or “Imperial Family”? Race, Belonging and British Sailors of Colour in the Royal Navy, 1939-1947’, will be published in The English Historical Review this winter.


Contact Details

Name Dr Thomas Mills

Directions to FUR - Furness LT 2

Furness Lecture Theatre 2 Lancaster University Lancaster LA1 4YW