Jane Potter

This chapter considers how two important review publications, the Times Literary Supplement and the Bookman, characterised, debated and recorded both the Armistice itself and its consequences in the 1920s and 1930s. It explores what the editorials, advertisements and reviews featured these journals that tell about the ways the silence of 11 November 1918 was communicated to and interpreted for a reading public. The chapter provides how the hopes and disillusions of the peace were expressed in these journals and whether they bear out Eric Hobsbawm's later assertion that there was, in effect, a thirty-year war between 1914 and 1945. The Bookman contained reviews, advertisements, editorials on book trade issues and articles on literary subjects. Early on, in 1915, the Bookman canvassed the opinions of prominent writers about 'Life and Literature after the War'. The Times Literary Supplement was described as 'the surest guide to military and general literature'.

in The silent morning
Trauma and resilience in the narratives of medical personnel in warzones
Authors: Carol Acton and Jane Potter

Working in a World of Hurt uncovers and analyses the range of responses to psychological trauma by male and female medical personnel in wartime in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Until now, academic and popular studies have focused on the trauma experienced by soldiers and civilians, saying very little about the mental strain endured by their healers. Acton & Potter seek to understand the subjective experiences of British, American and Canadian doctors, nurses, and other medical workers by studying personal accounts contained in letters, diaries and memoirs, both published and unpublished, and in weblogs. Offering an interdisciplinary understanding across a large chronological sweep of both the medical experience and the literary history of war, Working a World of Hurt demonstrates that while these narratives are testaments to the suffering of combatants, they also bear witness to the trauma of the healers themselves whose responses range from psychological and physical breakdown to stoical resilience and pride in their efforts to assuage the wounds of war.

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Carol Acton and Jane Potter

In the history of war, and especially in discussions of the psychological trauma that can result from constant exposure to war induced injury and death, the experience of medical personnel is strikingly absent. Historically, the focus on combatant trauma has obscured the trauma of those who care for the injured and dying. The introduction examines the historiography of trauma and resilience, of wartime medical care, and theories of life-writing in order to contextualise the chapters which follow. An analysis of memoirs by medical personnel from the Second Anglo Boer War (1899-1902) is also included here.

in Working in a world of hurt
First World War writings by medical personnel
Carol Acton and Jane Potter

This chapter considers how nurses and doctors on the Western Front during the First World War negotiated and represented their experiences in terms of what they constantly define as ‘strain’. It discusses way these men and women articulate the psychological stresses of their situation with a range of responses, from the heightened language of sacrifice and duty and the desire to endure, to utter despair at the apparent futility of the war manifested in the thousands of dead and wounded that pass through their aid posts, casualty clearing stations, ambulances and hospitals. The discussion shows that the conditions themselves can have contradictory effects in that they may lead to breakdown on the one hand, but on the other can reinforce the need for endurance.

in Working in a world of hurt
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American confidence and the narrative of resilience in the Great War
Carol Acton and Jane Potter

American military deaths in the Great War, which totalled 116,708, can be considered minor, in comparison to the millions lost by Germany, France, Britain, and other nations. Yet the comparatively small number of American wounded and the vast number of the wounded of the other nations were treated by a not insignificant cohort of volunteers from the United States who attached themselves, even before America’s entry into the War, to the French and British Red Crosses and after April 1917, to the American Expeditionary Force and American Red Cross. This chapter focuses on accounts not only by doctors and nurses, but also by male ambulance drivers, whose gendered identities are particular challenged by this aspect of medical care. Published books catered to an avid American commercial readership, while private correspondence was directed to loved ones equally eager for tales of adventure The patriotic confidence in America’s mission ‘over there’ is a significant feature of these carers’ narratives where resilience dominates in spite of or, even in opposition to, the graphic descriptions of blood and anguish with which they were faced.

in Working in a world of hurt
Medical personnel and the invasion of Europe in the Second World War
Carol Acton and Jane Potter

The focus in this chapter is on front-line medical personnel, many of whom had volunteered to work with combat units and specifically examines the experiences of nurses and doctors who accompanied the invasion of Europe. Their writing played an important role in sustaining their resilience when confronted not only with mass casualties, but with being bombed and shelled themselves. Important to this discussion is the extent to which some medical personnel recorded private responses in their diaries that they themselves considered transgressive, as indeed was the very keeping of a diary. Diaries allowed them to articulate responses to the war and their immediate experience that did not fit the prevailing construction of it as a ‘good’ war. We examine these accounts in the context of a cultural environment that repressed emotion and affirmed an external show of resilience.

in Working in a world of hurt
British POW medics’ memoirs of the Second World War
Carol Acton and Jane Potter

Medical personnel taken as prisoners of war were no longer on the sidelines, bound up with the usual medic-combatant binary. They faced the same privations and brutality as those who witnessed and took part in the fighting. This chapter analyses the ways in which British medical personnel in both European and Far East camps articulated their experiences in published and unpublished memoirs writing after their repatriation. In addition to their own physical and psychological struggles, P.O.W. medics often carried the primary administrative as well as medical burden for others’ survival. An examination of their writings shows the extent to which resilience rather than breakdown became crucially important not just in the camps, but also in the way these men construct their experiences after the war.

in Working in a world of hurt
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Women in the Vietnam War
Carol Acton and Jane Potter

Unlike representations of military doctors and nurses in the First and Second World Wars as working heroically against all odds, returning medical personnel from the Vietnam War were seen as an integral part of a vilified military machine. The negative reception on their return home profoundly affected the psychological trauma they carried in the war’s aftermath. In the particular instance of nurses they were even denied the support of veterans groups, since, being women, they were not considered to have a legitimate claim to belonging to these organisations. This chapter focuses on writing (and some interviews) by Vietnam nurse veterans and their importance as the first medical personnel in the 20th Century to claim the legitimacy of their experience as traumatic. As important as their political action, their memoirs paved the way for a broader understanding of what was beginning to be diagnosed as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the recognition that it was induced not only by combat, but by constant witnessing of and medical response to the violent consequences of war.

in Working in a world of hurt
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Doctors and medics in the Vietnam War
Carol Acton and Jane Potter

The Vietnam nursing experience has received more attention than that of doctors and other men serving in a medical capacity. To redress this imbalance, this chapter considers a range of accounts by doctors and medics to explore the diverse range of their experiences during the Vietnam War. Some doctors worked under enormous mental and physical pressure in field hospitals that took in mass casualties; others worked in the Vietnamese community, part of the American ‘hearts and minds’ campaign. While on the surface it might appear that mass casualty surgery was the most psychologically difficult work, doctors accounts of treating Vietnamese civilians record how they bore an equal psychological burden of working in very poorly supplied facilities, treating a huge range of diseases, many of which were incurable or where treatment resulted in death from post- neglect. They also had to confront the consequences of their own military’s actions on civilians. For both doctors and medics, these accounts show that they had difficulty finding resilience in a sense of achievement as their counterparts had done in the two world wars, since, on a personal level, they were unable to screen out the sense of the futility of their work.

in Working in a world of hurt
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Carol Acton and Jane Potter

This chapter examines how medical personnel memoirs from the Iraq war construct and reconstruct injury, particularly what is euphemistically called 'fatal injury' as their writers respond to the injured and the dead. Particularly, it focuses on the doctors’ and nurses’ response to the deaths of combatants and to civilian casualties. Although in the larger context of publishing accounts postwar this is a very recent conflict, published memoirs by American medical personnel are rapidly appearing. The much greater cultural awareness of various forms of traumatic response to war is important to this discussion, especially as it is represented as contentious. What we find in these accounts is that even though the number of casualties these individuals treat are fewer than in other wars, they carry the same burden of remorse for those they could not save. The accounts show that writing is both a therapeutic means of finding resilience and an entrapment in remembering as they grieve for the dead.

in Working in a world of hurt