The British Army entered the Great War in 1914 with one of the world’s most professional medical corps, one which had learned hard lessons in South Africa, 1899-1902, and which relied upon a close relationship with civilian specialists in medicine and surgery. Even so, the massive casualties inflicted by modern weapons, and especially machine-guns, shells and gas, challenged the Royal Army Medical Corps in every theatre.
Contrary to popular belief, one of the characteristics of the British Army of the Great War was its capacity to reflect on and learn from its experiences; if not always as swiftly or effectively as it might have. The War Office had published a manual of medical ‘lessons learned’ in 1915 and three years later, in what would be the war’s final year, it revised the manual.
Injuries and Diseases of War summarised what we would call ‘best practice’ in dealing with the millions of cases of wounds and sickness that British military doctors treated on the Western Front especially. It dealt with a great array of wounds, the evacuation of wounded from the battlefield and treatment of casualties, the consequences of trench warfare and complications such as ‘trench foot’ and ‘gas gangrene’. A notable omission, compared to modern medical practice, is the absence of any ‘psychological’ wounds, though the war accelerated their recognition and treatment too.
The manual illuminates not just the trauma inflicted by warfare on the Western Front, an experience shared by millions of combatants (on both sides) but also demonstrates the ingenuity and innovation that medical practitioners and personnel brought to the terrible responsibility to respond to the consequences of war unprecedented in its scale and impact.
Digital Collections | Library (2nd Mar 2020). Injuries and diseases of war : a manual based on experience of the present campaign in France. In Website Digital Collections | Library. Retrieved 27th May 2022 15:44, from https://digitalcollections.library.unsw.edu.au/nodes/view/3079