I’m delighted to be part of the Wellcome Book Prize Book Tour hosted by @wellcomebkprize.
2019 marks the 10th anniversary of the prestigious prize that over the last decade has been dedicated to celebrating everything from novels, to memoirs, to popular science.
The anniversary Book Tour aims to celebrate and showcase a range of titles, that have over the years, been recognised by the Wellcome Book Trust for illuminating our relationship with health, medicine and illness.
I chose to focus on a book that was shortlisted for the 2014 prize- ‘Wounded’ by Emily Mayhew.
In the introduction, the author chooses to highlight the voices of the innumerable wounded soldiers that were casualties in the Western Front during the Great War.
Just as the words of war poets told us about the pain and suffering of war, those that have been rendered wounded and their caregivers have an important story to tell too.
Gathering testimonies of individuals from archives or hastily scribbled letters sent home to loved ones, Mayhew assembles these neglected stories and weaves them into a social history.
The first story traces the history of a young soldier, Mickey Chater, injured at the Front in the battle of Neuve Chapelle.
After working and waiting in the trenches for many days, responsible for digging relief trenches, the guns crash into life one morning at 7.30 am. What follows is a barrage of artillery that made them stop work in the trenches because ‘ both air and earth became one quivering jelly’.
Squadrons of aircraft flew over head but what Chater vividly remembered was the frantic song of the larks who were rudely disturbed in their hundreds from the fields surrounding Neuve Chapelle. The town was decimated within half an hour of shelling – blasting the town square, tossing trees hither- thither into the air- hitting the brewery and scattering wooden barrels into the streets.
Though Chater survives – his well-being is short lived. In a subsequent attack the following day Chater is hit by enemy artillery – hot metal clawing away at his cheek, teeth and jaw bones. Blood streaming into his eyes and pain bringing him to the edge of consciousness – he is later rescued due to his pleas of help and taken to an abandoned farmhouse. Here a Regimental Medical Officer slips morphine tablets into his mouth to numb the pain so that he can be transferred by a jolting ambulance ride to the nearest hospital – sixty miles along the Boulogne road.
He is scheduled for surgery once there. As he falls asleep he is filled with wonderment for his personal war.
“Months of waiting and then just minutes of fighting. There would be no great victory for him to remember, only this pain. But also something else: the faces of all the men and the women who had appeared before him, determined to fight for his life. Those were the memories worth saving.”
‘Wounded’ is a gripping, raw and very personal look at the stories of the casualties of war and their struggle to overcome their injuries.