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Two Book Reviews with a Common Theme for Remembrance

Book Reviews:

The Long Journey Home from the Great War by Emily Mayhew

A Heavy Reckoning: War, Medicine and Survival in Afghanistan and Beyond by Emily Mayhew

By Canon Mike D Williams

In November we remember those who have paid the ultimate price in both World Wars and more recent conflicts. We also pay our respects to those injured both in mind and body. Emily Mayhew writes about those who survive injury on the battlefield. She focuses on the efforts of medical and nursing teams and all the logistical support needed to get causalities lifesaving treatment.

Emily is unusual – a military medical historian working in the bioengineering department at Imperial College. She works alongside scientists, engineers and medics who seek to understand, prevent and treat blast injuries resulting from modern warfare.

The Long Journey Home delves into the huge scale of death and injury in the First World War. It is a story about the wounded soldiers and their journey from the trenches to the aid post, casualty clearing station, base hospital and ambulance train home to Blighty. Stretcher bearers, regimental medical officers, surgeons, nurses, orderlies, and chaplains all play a part in the journey. Their role and impact are rarely told in the history books. The sheer numbers regularly overwhelmed the systems and people trying their best to save as many as possible. The lucky ones were those who survived the journey home on the slow-moving train.

A Heavy Reckoning is a powerful tale of courage and healing. Explosive blasts blow holes in the body that bleed profusely. Tourniquets save many lives on the battlefield. The ability to quickly evacuate the injured by helicopter equipped with lifesaving equipment and medical response teams meant that people like Mark Ormrod, the Royal Marine who lost three limbs in a blast, were saved. Mark’s story of injury, lifesaving intervention in the helicopter, surgery and transfer back the UK is featured throughout this book. The long journey faced by Mark and many others is explored as their bodies fight to recover and then adjust to the new reality.

Many skilled doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, engineers and others, who work so hard to find ways of improving the treatments and rehabilitation, is a significant part of the story of war. The physical injury is there for all to see. Often hidden is the psychological harm. PTSD treatment has also improved for veterans. Emily Mayhew draws attention to the many who dedicate themselves to saving and treating the wounded. The psychological impact on them as medics and nurses can be equally profound and they develop ways to cope when they come home.

The constant of all warfare is the wounding of bodies and minds. Medical science and practice have evolved to make survival more likely. Yet survival has consequences. These books are not an easy read but provide real insight as we take time to remember the fallen and wounded on the eleventh of the eleventh at eleven o’clock.