The Politics of Wounds: Military Patients and Medical Power in the First World War


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As a consequence, despite the change of name from hospital to clearing station in to better reflect their role in the evacuation process, CCSs in fact developed into increasingly static sites of care, a fact which influenced their relationship with the landscapes in which they sat.

The growing size and stasis of the CCS meant that the landscape increasingly had to accommodate the unit rather than the unit altering to fit the landscape. This was in contrast to the stationary field hospital, the equivalent unit from the Second Anglo-Boer War, which, as Frederick Treves noted in The Tale of a Field Hospital , followed Headquarters, in the case of No. While the mobility and flexible structure of the Field Ambulance, formed of three sections, each divided into a bearer and tent subsection, enabled, to some extent, the use of the extant landscape in the setting up of dressing stations, the RAMC increasingly found itself manipulating the landscape to enable it to undertake its dual duties of evacuation and care, the imperatives which coalesced around the role of the CCS.

While railheads were necessary, navigable roads were equally important, as they allowed men to be brought down from dressing stations by ambulance wagon, and later ambulance car, as well as being transported on further down the line, either by the same method or via ambulance train or hospital barge. The quality of these roads was particularly important for the care of the wounded, with the jolting of poorly-sprung ambulances over badly-maintained roads often proving lethal to men at risk of haemorrhage.

Thus, one of the jobs undertaken by men serving with the RAMC was that of construction.

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General arrangement of No. In Egypt, drainage was a necessity in an effort to combat mosquitoes. As Pt. In Egypt and Palestine, as on the Western Front, the work of RAMC servicemen in static sites of caregiving was defined by the need of the units to adapt to the landscape as well as by the labour of shaping the landscape to suit the unit.

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As Rob Thompson has argued, the work of the majority of British servicemen on the Western Front was that of the labourer rather than the soldier. Such service, and the physical labour on which it was based, formed one way in which RAMC servicemen viewed their war work as an appropriately masculine form of service, equal to that of the combatant. The equivalence of service between combatant and medical service men has also been identified in the shared experience of trauma that both encountered.

Yet, as we have already seen, movement was central to the work of RAMC rankers on all fronts. The work of men like Upton in constructing roads and turning places was intended to ease the flow of traffic across the landscape.

The process of clearing the battlefield that this enabled was as important a military priority as the movement of troops and supplies. This relationship was, above all, one of negotiation. The syllabus laid out for training camps in the RAMC training manual included five hours of drill, exercises and lectures related to the removal of the sick and wounded from battlefield to base.


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The carrying track was nothing more than a single line of duckboards winding its way along through a veritable sea of mud, and one false step might well have proved fatal, as was evident from the numbers of drowned men and horses who could at intervals be seen almost completely submerged in that dreadful swamp. Nor was it only wet that caused problems for stretcher bearers trying to negotiate the landscape. The visualisation of landscape was thus an important element to the process of medical evacuation.


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While the development of these skills in officers via staff training might suggest that these were general medical skills, the ability to evaluate and negotiate landscapes often developed into a specialist one over the course of the war. Delays in the evacuation of the wounded, caused by problems of negotiating landscapes, had significant consequences both for individual wounded men and battlefield logistics.

Bearers used damaged buildings, groups of trees and even dead and rotting corpses as landmarks for their journeys. Lost bearer units were not uncommon, delaying the speed with which a wounded man was collected and transported successfully to a point where he could be treated, thereby affecting the ultimate success of such treatment. If the problems of negotiating landscapes for RAMC servicemen on the Western Front were defined primarily by rain and damage, those in Egypt were similarly shaped by sand and distance.

The slipperiness of muddy duckboards was nothing compared to the difficulties of walking through sand with a wounded man as a burden.


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Brown and R. While shelling constantly altered the visual landscape of France and Flanders, making negotiation difficult for stretcher bearers, the featurelessness of the desert had a similar effect in Egypt. The dangers of bearers becoming lost in the landscape were just as great. RAMC servicemen of the First World War served within a variety of landscapes which shaped the nature of the work they undertook. In all these landscapes, however, their work was underpinned by the dual priorities of military medical care, to heal the wounded in order to return them to service and to evacuate the battlefield of wounded to facilitate combat.

Hospitals where care could be undertaken had to be placed within a landscape which then needed to adapt to the requirements of these sites to expand.

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The road and rail networks, along which these hospitals were placed, had to be created and maintained to enable the movement of men along the line of evacuation. However, this movement often had to adapt to the landscape, as medical servicemen learned to negotiate mud, sand, ditches and distance without getting lost in order to evacuate their patients. The labour involved in both manipulation and negotiation was often intense and, for many RAMC servicemen, memorable. Close mobile search navigation Article Navigation. Volume Oxford, Oxford University Press, Department of History. DM, Modesto A.

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For permissions, please e-mail: journals. Issue Section:. You do not currently have access to this article. Generally spoken, she is not the first to do this, as she is not the first to look at the platonic or not erotic encounters coming from hospitalization, but instead of focusing on the history of the sick and wounded patients and their dealings with doctors and nurses and vice versa , she looks at the history of the wounded body, and what impact being wounded had on the men and their families.

The result is a very welcome attribution to the medical history of war in general and the First World War in particular, wholeheartedly recommended to all interested in the matter and everyone else. Although it is a pity her book as is so often, too often, the case when regarding the history of World War I is on Britain and other Anglo-Saxon countries, this is a logical consequence of the sources used and of course not her fault.

Scholars in France or Germany should take up the challenge she has presented, follow in her footsteps and make up for this omission. As the title of her book betrays, wounds are politics, and politics differ.

The Politics Of Wounds Military Patients And Medical Power In The First World War

Related Papers. Nurses In World War One. By Brent C Cook. By Dianne Baskevitch.

The Politics of Wounds: Military Patients and Medical Power in the First World War The Politics of Wounds: Military Patients and Medical Power in the First World War
The Politics of Wounds: Military Patients and Medical Power in the First World War The Politics of Wounds: Military Patients and Medical Power in the First World War
The Politics of Wounds: Military Patients and Medical Power in the First World War The Politics of Wounds: Military Patients and Medical Power in the First World War
The Politics of Wounds: Military Patients and Medical Power in the First World War The Politics of Wounds: Military Patients and Medical Power in the First World War
The Politics of Wounds: Military Patients and Medical Power in the First World War The Politics of Wounds: Military Patients and Medical Power in the First World War

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