Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The following is a transcription of an entry from Sister Lantz's fourth record book by Private J Boon of the 20th Middlesex Regiment. All spelling/grammatical errors are Boon's own and have been maintained to preserve the authenticity of the entry.

My experience of a night raid on the german[sic] trenches
It was about 7.30 on the night of Sunday the 8th of October 1916 when we were preparing to make a raid on Fritz a party started out towards their wire but as it was very light they were spotted by Fritz who started Bombing them so much that they were obliged to retire for a little while and about 8 oclock[sic] they had another try with the same result but on the third occasion they decided to stick to it at any cost well they started Bombarding on both sides and it was the most awful noise ever I heard in my life this lasted for about 2 hours there was Shrapnel Rifle and Machine gun Bullets flying about all over the place there was four of us holding a Sap[?] when all of a sudden I stopped a Shrapnel Bullet in my right leg which stopped my career then the first thing I could do was to get out of it as soon as I could but having Trench Boots on and being only about 3 sizes too big for me it was a job for me to get about 200 yards down the trench when I heard someone else behind me and when I looked round I saw some more fellows carrying some more wounded down on their backs so one of them said to me whats[sic] the matter with you chum so I told him and he said sit down on those steps for a few minutes and I will come and fetch you in when I have taken this chap and when I got to the Dressing station I found there was about 20 more of our Company there wounded there was a young Officer there leaning over his orderly who had got a bad wound simular[sic] to my own only his had gone right through his leg and his Officer was so much upset about him that he followed him to the next Dressing station and that was the last I saw of him
Written by 40218
Pte. J. Boon 20th Middx Rgt
While staying for a short period at A.9. Ward. 22nd General Hospital
B.E.F France
Wishing Sister Lantz and the other Sisters long life and real Happiness for their kindness to me during my little stay here

We don't know much more about Private J. Boon. Although he remains faceless, his experience with wartime medical care was shared by countless other servicemen during the Great War. Wounded or ill soldiers were carted from dressing stations to casualty clearing stations to base hospitals by field ambulances, train, or foot, and, if their injury or sickness was bad enough, they would go to "Blighty," which meant that they would be sent home (to England, specifically). During their journey from place to place, the servicemen encountered nurses, doctors, and makeshift hospitals (The Long, Long Trail). But it wasn't quite that straightforward.

Carol Acton, author of “Negotiating Injury and Masculinity in First World War Nurses’ Writing” notes that soldier patients walked a fine line between strength and weakness. A wound was at once a badge of masculine honor and a sign of weakness; the very act of being helpless and in need of care was emasculating for soldiers who had been trained to remain stoic and entirely ‘manly’: “pain endurance was built into military and civilian codes of masculinity.” Being wounded automatically put them in a place of helplessness and fragility. Some entries in Sister Lantz’s record books state the wound the authors received, but very few mention pain or weakness, and only one is rife with obvious emotional stress (the author writes of his desire to forget the whole ordeal, and mentions an ‘inability’ to describe his wartime experience due to trauma or psychological pain). Professionals in the field warned doctors and nurses against any emotions other than “stoicism and cheerfulness” in order to preserve wounded men’s sense of dignity as well as their mental stability during times of such intense mental and emotional strain. (Source: First World War Nursing "Negotiating Injury and Masculinity in First World War Nurses' Writing," 162).

Official sources and newspapers, too, glorified the injury and even death of soldiers, as in the below article from The Boston Post, April 21, 1917, Page 14. The small article focuses on the sentiments of one of the leaders of the Harvard Surgical Unit, which worked out of the 22nd General Hospital, and to which Sister Lantz belonged.

"Dr. Cabot Envies Harvard Men Who Are Facing Death in France." The Boston Post, April 21, 1917. Accessed March 16, 2017.

This article and others like it sensationalized and glorified the suffering and injury of servicemen for propaganda purposes, either to encourage enlistment or to bolster morale. It was useful in that way, but the concept was much different in practice than in theory.

Carden-Coyne, Ana. The Politics of Wounds: Military Patients and Medical Power in the First World War. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.
"Dr. Cabot Envies Harvard Men Who Are Facing Death in France." The Boston Post, April 21, 1917. Accessed March 16, 2017.
Lantz, Birdie Genevieve. Record Book Number 4, June-August 1918. Diary. Camiers, France. Western Oregon University Archives. Sister Lantz Record Books.
"The evacuation chain for wounded and sick soldiers." The Long, Long Trail. Accessed March 16, 2017.

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