The joy of primary research

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Fascinating and strangely emotional day @nationalarchivesuk looking at #WW1 #GreatWar medical records. It’s one thing to read in a text book about the German Spring Offensives of #1918; it’s quite another to see the evidence in a battered Field Ambulance Admissions book. March 20 is occupied with the usual scabies, boils and impetigo, plus the odd kick from a horse. March 21-23 is page after page of “gassed” and GSW (gun shot wound – with body part indicated by neat Roman numerals). The handwriting stays steady as the deluge continues but the details get sparser. One can only imagine the crowds, the noise and the growing exhaustion as the wounded are admitted, triaged and quickly dispatched to a Casualty Clearing Station. Many CCSs were overwhelmed – or overrun by the advancing enemy – so for some definitive treatment came only after a slow and painful train journey to a base hospital on the coast. #amwriting #amwritinghistoricalfiction #amresearchingformynovel

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Immersive afternoon reading medical sheets #WW1 #GreatWar @nationalarchivesuk My box full of abdominal wounds (I’m going back next week to look at shells hock neurosis and septic). Each sheet a story – not only of the wounded man, but the people who cared for him. Doctors’ handwriting better back then, but the language hasn’t changed. “Had a bad night. Stump painful.” “Good progress.” “Would Mr X kindly take an X-Ray?” (Some patients were quaintly “enfeebled” – but what a great word!) The detail of the injury: “GSW sustained July 12 whilst inspecting barbed wire near Ypres. Pt crouching, facing the enemy”. Details matter – not just because that’s how the soldier would tell and retell his story – but because posture dictates the path the bullet took through the body; crucial information for a surgeon. Lots of pus and discharge, lots of fistula and sinuses, lots of smelly, chronic wounds foreshadowing years of sub-optimal health and personal misery. Some of the sheets had observations charts (“TPR” – no blood pressures); neat and careful, the conscientious contribution of the VAD nurse. And, in amongst the sheets, a forgotten scrap of paper on which some long-forgotten nurse noted the results of a urine test: “urine clear, normal colour, albumen nil, blood nil”. It could have been written by any nurse or midwife today. #amwriting #amwritinghistoricalfiction #amresearchingformynovel

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About Hannah

Author of literary historical fiction set in the First World War. Revising my first book, writing the next, seeking representation. Mountaineer, gardener, traveller, off-road runner. Africa, modern history, coffee, roses, films, book and unrealistic romance. NHS midwife in a former life.
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