The Life of a Medical Officer in WW1 documents the experiences of Captain Harry Gordon Parker and provides a rare insight into the conflict that engulfed Europe from 1914-1918. Having joined the Naval Medical Service as a Royal Navy Temporary Surgeon, Parker's first taste of war was aboard a hospital evacuation ship, which regularly crossed the English Channel, from Southampton to France, picking up casualties from the battle grounds. Somewhat disillusioned with the whole experience, he requested a transfer to the Royal Medical Army Corps and soon found himself transported to the trenches in France. It was here, first serving with the Lancashire Fusiliers and then later as permanent Regimental Medical Officer with the 2nd Manchester’s Regiment, that he spent the remainder of the war, witnessing first-hand the horrors of Passchendaele, Arras and the Somme.
Parker's account not only reveals a record of the conflict, but also encompasses a totality of military life as it impacted on the medical fraternity. From bureaucratic red tape, lack of medical supplies, lice infestations, trench foot and absurd missions where the incompetence of his own side was as dangerous as the enemy, his thoughts are penned with sincerity, the utmost compassion as well as a certain degree of sardonic humour: ‘We went into the trenches for the first time at Givenchy. It snowed heavily, and our rations did not arrive. The Royal Welsh, however, generously shared their rations with our men, who repaid the kindness by (accidentally) shooting one of the Sergeants through the stomach!’. With endorsement from family members, author Lorraine Evans has revised Parker’s notes and scribblings for clarity and added complementary text to provide historical background. What transpires is a lasting and classic chronicle, an extraordinary human account of history as it ensued.
'At the beginning of the war, a certain famous daily paper loudly proclaimed that there would be ‘better doctoring after the war’, as the result of the experience gained. It did not take much imagination or foresight to realise that, for the ordinary doctor, experience useful in civil life would be practically nil, except at the base hospitals. But even at the base this hope proved to be illusionary. Cases when fit to travel were transferred to England, and the surgeons were unable to follow them up and know the results of their work. One surgeon told me that he had taken much trouble to ascertain the whereabouts of certain of his patients in England and had written imploring letters begging just a little information as to the progress of this or that case, but that he had never had one single reply to any of the communications.'
Captain Harry Gordon Parker
What they say......
This book was VERY informative. History isn't normally my go-to genre of book, but I do love the topic of medical careers / medical stories. So I figured why not!
And I'm so glad I did!
Keep in mind that this is a memoir, so it is a tad difficult for me to review this in some ways. I often feel like leaving a less than amazing review for memoirs is in a way discrediting the person's life experience / story.
This book was indeed well-written and kept my interest quite easily. I left this book feeling like I learned quite a bit about this era / time period / war in general. I felt for Parker's experiences and hardships.
NetGalley, Kade Gulluscio
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The author has done a terrific job of translating an account from the time into an ordered and engaging representation of a conflict which we must never forget. Some of the information seems unfathomable now, with modern medicine advancing so much since then, and this makes the book more than a memoir of war but also an important social and medical history. Really well written and with plenty of useful reference material to delve into.
NetGalley, Louise Gray
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Heartbreaking, inspirational, it tells of a doctor at war and is all the more shocking for the quiet way he tells of young men who were injured and died. No dramatisation or exaggeration, just the facts as he saw them. We also see the role of medical personnel, some good, some not so, and their endless struggle with the nonsensical red tape in the army.
If I may quote from his conclusion 'Tending the wounded, in the abstract, is a valiant occupation, but the reality is far from idea, as shown on the battlefields of the Western Front. It is a trade with no romantic side, a business of dirt and sorrow, of danger from fire with no chance of retribution, such as the ordinary soldier has against his enemy. It is work not suddenly of heroic deeds, but of stolid endurance in the face of great and unrelenting adversity'.
Mr Parker was an exemplary, kindly and modest doctor, who did his utmost for the men in his care. I felt privileged to read his service record which has been produced in a sympathetic style, with a minimum of abbreviations so that it is very readable, but also using the language of the day which makes it very authentic..
NetGalley, Sue Andrews