cover image Wounded: A New History of the Western Front in World War I

Wounded: A New History of the Western Front in World War I

Emily Mayhew. Oxford Univ., $29.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-199-32245-9

In this singular work of “historical rediscovery,” Mayhew aims to relate the “central experience” that a wounded British soldier on the Western Front between 1915 and 1918 would have had, from the blasted trenches to the ambulance trains and on to “Blighty” (a sentimental nickname soldiers used for Britain). The Imperial College researcher gives voice to those who braved the bullets, as well as those who risked their lives to save and comfort the injured. Relying on archival documents, Mayhew develops her unconventional history like a novel, beginning with soldier Mickey Chater as he’s dragged from the battlefield “drenched in blood” in March 1915. “There would be no great victory for him to remember, only this pain,” the author writes. She then interweaves the heart-wrenching accounts of stretcher bearers, preachers (who showed “that even on the corpse field there is room for love and the gift of service”), and doctors, nurses, and orderlies at frontline aid stations and hospitals who tried to keep the wounded alive, or at least record their final words: “Before he died he thought he was with you all and put out his hands... with such a glad smile,” one nurse wrote to a mother. Mayhew’s exceptional presentation brings to life unforgettable struggles from a long-ago war, when common men and women rose to uncommon heights of bravery and compassion. Maps and 20 photos. (Oct.)