Last updated: 27 January 2012
To commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, this medical kit, used to aid survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, has been kindly donated to the National Army Museum.
The medical kit belonged to Major Grice of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), who was sent to the recently liberated concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen, near Hanover in Germany.
Belsen was the first concentration camp to be liberated by British troops, on 15 April 1945. When soldiers of the 11th Armoured Division arrived they found the camp littered with dead and dying prisoners, many of whom were recent arrivals from Auschwitz and other camps in the east. The camp was overcrowded and around 60,000 starving people, many suffering from typhus, tuberculosis and dysentery, required immediate aid.
Brigadier Llewelyn Glyn-Hughes, the Deputy Director of Medical Services of the 2nd Army, took command of the relief operation. Despite the best efforts of his staff, including Major Grice, hundreds of prisoners died in the days after the liberation. In the weeks that followed, British troops also buried over 10,000 bodies in mass graves.
Here, over an acre of ground, lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which... The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them... This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.
Richard Dimbleby's BBC Report from Belsen on 15 April 1945
Following the liberation, the British made the remaining Schutzstaffel (SS) personnel collect and bury the bodies of their victims. Eventually however the British had to resort to bulldozers to push the thousands of bodies into mass graves.
Evacuation of the camp began on 21 April and the last hut was burned to the ground on 21 May 1945. German civilians living near Belsen were taken there to see what had gone on inside the camp in their name. Photographs and film taken at the camp and published in the media brought home to British people the full horror of the Nazis’ crimes. An estimated 70,000 Jews, Slavs, political prisoners, homosexuals, Jehovah’s witnesses and criminals died at Belsen during its two-year existence.
John Russell Grice was born in 1918 in Holytown, Lanarkshire and studied medicine at Glasgow University (1936-41). He was Resident House Surgeon in the Glasgow Royal Infirmary for eight months before commencing service with the Royal Army Medical Corps in December 1942.
John Grice loved life. He was, first and foremost, an enthusiastic, dedicated GP (general practitioner) and family man. For all his professional life, he was a driving force in his local community, giving freely of his time in a variety of ways. He was well known for his sense of fun, charitable fundraising exploits and never lost his Scottish roots of which he was so proud.
The family of Major John Grice
Grice served in Britain as a Medical Officer (MO) with 143 Field Ambulance and then 34 Casualty Clearing Station before being deployed with the latter to North West Europe in the aftermath of the D-Day landings in June 1944. From August 1944 he worked as a Regimental MO with 109 (Royal Sussex Regiment) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment in the Netherlands. In January 1945 he was appointed to 24 Field Dressing station, eventually becoming its commanding officer.
During service with the latter he was sent to the recently liberated Belsen concentration camp in April 1945 to assist with the relief effort. Post-war service in Germany followed, including the treatment of German prisoners of war and displaced persons as well as British military personnel.
On demobilisation in May 1946 Grice was the commanding officer for 174 Highland Field Ambulance. After the war Major Grice became a GP in Rochdale. Married twice with two daughters, he died in December 2009.