Patriotism ran through Banting’s veins; it took him three attempts to enlist in the forces during the First World War. When they finally accepted him, he was given the rank of private and was then promoted to sergeant soon after in the Canadian Army Medical Service. That summer (1915) he trained in the Niagara Falls camp and was then stationed in Toronto at an army hospital for returned soldiers. He worked the night shift while studying and taking classes during the day. This was his fourth year. In those days they required five years of schooling but because the war was going on, they offered his graduating class a condensed version of the fifth year through the summer of 1916.
From his surviving notes, we can see that the course material had a significant amount to do with what they would be encountering overseas. There were some theories and advanced therapies presented, like the Allen treatment, but a large amount of attention was placed on gangrene, shock, and (at the time) the advanced practice of blood transfusions. The graduating class of 1917 finished their exams in October of 1916 and formally graduated on December 9th. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario held an early set of exams to allow the students of this year to get their formal certification before heading overseas. On the 10th of December, all the able-bodied men (not the 4 women who had graduated as part of his class- they were not allowed to) reported for military duty. He was then promoted to lieutenant and spent several months in Canada before getting shipped off to Britain. From May 1917 to June 1918 he was in Britain. During this time, he practiced his trade and worked under C.L. Starr, a specialist in orthopedic surgery.
Banting complained about how much time was wasted in the army and so he went on to try to upgrade his credentials. He was quite successful in this and was even working towards a Fellowship in the Royal College of Surgeons of England when he was transferred out of Britain to France. He sent a note home to his mother stating “that he would sooner win the Military Cross than [the fellowship].” The 27th of September was the day his joke was no longer funny but the basis for him actually receiving the Military Cross.
Source: Bliss, M. (1992). Banting: A Biography [Print]. (pp. 33-41).
This post was written by Juliana van Gaalen, intern at Banting House NHSC. Juliana is currently completing her BHSc in Health Studies with a Major in Museum and Curatorial Studies at Western University.