The First World War: trauma and memory
The First World War: trauma and memory

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The First World War: trauma and memory

1.1 Injuries of the First World War

Start by watching a short video in which a historian of the medical history of the war explains the kinds of injuries a soldier might have sustained and the treatments available at the time. As you watch, note if there’s anything unexpected or surprising in what is being discussed.

Download this video clip.Video player: ou_futurelearn_ww1_vid_1004.mp4
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Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

MICHAEL PALIN
What sort of injuries were you seeing coming into Queen Mary’s at the very end of the war, the armistice time?
DR ANDREW BAMJI
I’ve got a set of notes here of a chap who was admitted here just before the armistice, in fact. And his name is Thomas, of the First Cheshires. And you can see that the whole of the side of the face has been literally just taken off.
MICHAEL PALIN
Just ripped out.
DR ANDREW BAMJI
Yes,
MICHAEL PALIN
And yet he was alive and conscious.
DR ANDREW BAMJI
He was still alive and conscious.
MICHAEL PALIN
I wouldn’t have thought that was possible, both alive and conscious.
DR ANDREW BAMJI
Well as long as it doesn’t take off a major artery, then he’s not going to bleed to death.
MICHAEL PALIN
When were these pictures taken? How soon after the injury?
DR ANDREW BAMJI
This was taken about two weeks after the injury. And this is actually dated the 6th of November. And so we knew he would have been here at the time of the armistice itself. And as you go through, looking at the reconstructions, then just watch the dates. We’re now in 1921. And a whole series of tubes and flaps are being raised. And then when we get to August 1922, we’ve recreated the upper lip, and then you bring down a last flap to recreate the nose. And the very end. This is what you end up with. Our guy is now presentable.
MICHAEL PALIN
Push his face back, right? It’s just …

[MUSIC PLAYING]

MICHAEL PALIN
What do you feel about the way the wounded and that side of the war is seen?
DR ANDREW BAMJI
It’s neglected. Perhaps one of the things that really bothers me about the way that we look at war, and perhaps even the First World War in particular, is we only focus on the glorious dead. And in a sense, we’re not allowed to see the people who have been disfigured in the way that Private Thomas was disfigured. And if we don’t look at that sort of thing, how can we possible understand what war was really about?
End transcript
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Discussion of the First World War often highlights the appalling death toll. But there were many casualties, often horribly disfigured. Many of them led very reduced lives after the war and plastic surgery to make them look presentable was a process that could take years.

Even once the treatment was finished, the outcome was far from perfect. It is easy to understand why so many facially disfigured soldiers never lived a full life in society again, preferring to hide away with other similarly injured men.

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