Austrian military pharmacy once and now: from the First World War to the present time

Thomas Rehor


Up to now, military pharmacy has taken an exceptional position within pharmacy, and it can look back to a long tradition. Its natal hour is the Rescript of 15th January 1794, with which Emperor Franz II. transferred the supplying of the Habsburg army with medications from civilian pharmacies to a military institution. Up to 1918, the centre of the army’s sanitary supply was the so-called Military Medication Directorate, which became a k. u. k. institution in 1867, with its principal office at Rennweg No. 12 in Vienna. In the course of the 19th century, the military medical service was reorganised several times, and with it the pharmaceutical area as well. This also concerned training and further education, which were performed in the chemical laboratories of the k. u. k. Military Sanitary Committees in the Viennese Josephinum. These laboratories were amply equipped for medical-chemical, forensic-toxicological, hygienic-bacteriological analyses and food assays. Here, the military apothecaries, together with the military physicians, received one part of their training. Soon afterwards, they had to apply this knowledge in the salubrity commissions and field laboratories during the First World War. Until the relocation of all pharmaceutical university institutes (1994) into the new University Centre II, the Institute for Pharmacognosy and the Institute for Pharmaceutical Technology had been located in the Josephinum, where generations of pharmacists received one part of their training. In comparison with 1914, military pharmacy of today has not only become more civilian, but also more international. In the strategic-operational alignment of military pharmacy, within the framework of sanitary goods logistics, the scale of the provisioning of sanitary equipment for home and abroad is determined. This means that because of the international alignment of military pharmacy, the sanitary equipment in the Austrian Armed Forces increasingly has to adapt to international standards, such as Standardization Agreements (STANAGs) of NATO. Until the end of the First World War, the k. u. k. Military Medication Directorate had been directly subordinated to the 14th Division of the Ministry of War, and was led by the director, who was appointed by the emperor himself. In the former Ministry of War, pharmacists were represented in inferior positions only. This situation, however, has changed as well. Today, military pharmacists are much more intensely integrated into the decision making processes of the Federal Ministry of Defence. Their relative importance is evident, among other things, from the fact that the military pharmacist serving in the Federal Ministry of Defence, with the military rank brigadier, now has achieved the rank of a general, whereas the director of the former k. u. k. Military Medication Directorate as a pharmacist major 1st class could rise to become colonel in the VI. rank class only. Additionally, last but not least, nowadays female pharmacists can become military pharmacists as well, as has been demonstrated with the female military pharmacist in the Military Hospital of Vienna.