Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Book Review:  Wounded: A New History of the Western Front in World War I  

By Emily Mayhew, ISBN 0199322457

I was fortunate enough to be able to read this book before its official release as an Ebook, which for some reason did not have the illustrations working properly. Nevertheless I found it an easy to read, fascinating, and important book on the western front and the great war in general.

It is not a typical history book. The author does not use much in the way of official documents, manuals and after action reports as I would normally expect. Instead, she pieces together the route a wounded British serviceman would take from the front line to the British Hospitals by telling the stories found in memoirs of men, and women, who served in the various jobs along the evacuation route. Unlike the work of Lyn McDonald, where the quotes are offset, Mayhew has written the participants of each chapter into a very readable and coherent narrative.  

It's unusual in that each chapter deals with a different 'type' of jobs: stretcher bearer, orderly, hospital train nurse, chaplain, field hospital staff, and even the volunteers who moved the wounded from trains arriving in London onto ambulances that took them to the Blighty Hospitals. Even the medical services to POWs are mentioned.  Normally, this type of book I find relies too much on direct (and often erroneous quotes) but pardon the pun when I call it 'ripping well done.

It opens up a while new area of the war that is not often talked about, and portrays chaplains (well, the good ones) in a whole new light. It's not a technical history of medicine in the war by any means, but a view from the ground up of what wounded soldiers went through, and what their caretakers went through.   When you read of the endless hours on their feet during a push, and the sometimes scarce resources they had to work with, you will not look at a nurse, or bearer, or doctor, or orderly, or ambulance driver the same way again.

Why is this book about the British medical system of special interest to those interested in the Americans in WW1? The book makes little mention of the vast medical support supplied to the British by the Americans; the large numbers of doctors and specialists who volunteered before 1917, and the even larger number of medical personnel who were attached to British medical units to gain experience while waiting for their A.E.F. components to get overseas. Thus the British medical system had a great influence on how the Americans developed their own.

Very Highly recommended. Not only for those interested in military medicine, but WW1 in general, and for how people can, and do, rise to the occasion to help their fellow man.