Academic journal article Military Review

Wounded: A New History of the Western Front

Academic journal article Military Review

Wounded: A New History of the Western Front

Article excerpt

WOUNDED: A New History of the Western Front

Emily Mayhew, Oxford University Press, New York, 2013, 288 pages

The Great War centennial is here, and so is the usual onrush of mass market histories bred by such anniversaries. Many consist of the usual cast of czars, kaisers, generals, or doughboys, and are illustrated with the typical stock photos and symbol-saturated maps. Emily Mayhew's Wounded: A New History of the Western Front breaks rank from this lockstep approach to the war and provides one of the most gripping, humanized histories in recent scholarship. Her history of the war ignores the political elite and military hierarchy in favor of telling the story of the most common yet least understood way of experiencing the war--that of being wounded.

While roughly 8.5 million soldiers died in the war, their suffering did end and their memory was enshrined in national glory. Civilians tried to forget the war and resumed their lives. Yet over 21 million men suffered wounds during the conflict, beginning a searing, painful journey that often began in no-man's land and continued throughout the rest of their lives as they sought healing for both body and soul. Their story has largely gone untold until now.

Mayhew focuses on the British experience along the Western Front, examining the lives of wounded soldiers, chaplains, stretcher-bearers, nurses, medics, surgeons, and other medical auxiliaries. Even though the British medical system processed millions of wounded men, later government workers disposed of much of the documentation, leaving Mayhew to piece together this story from personal journals and letters combined with remaining official papers. While that is a regrettable loss of historical knowledge, the sources ensure that the story is told with the voice of the wounded man and not that of the government statistician. …

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