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The nearest run thing you ever saw: the Battle of Waterloo

Observations made in military hospitals

Title page of bookTitle page of the ReportThe scenes of the unfortunate wounded and dying men on the battlefield of Waterloo have been described in some of the most vivid and tragic terms by witnesses. It is estimated that the battle left some 40,000 men dead or wounded. 

The book featured here is however concerned with the care received by those transported after the battle to British military hospitals in Belgium. Though they were fortunate to escape the battlefield, their treatment compared to modern standards appears basic, with antisepsis and general anaesthetic still nearly half a century away.

Like military tactics, military medicine also advances more quickly in war and this book, written ‘at the suggestion of the Army Medical Board’ supplies a contemporary professional perspective on ‘the condition of the wounded in the engagements of 16th and 18th June.’

The British military hospitals of Belgium provided a multitude of wounds and scenarios for analysis, and both these and the medical care the soldiers received is relayed to contemporary medical practitioners through this book.

The damage inflicted by musket balls on all areas of the body is described in particular detail. In relation to impact on the head and neck areas they were seen in one incident to have ‘not only fractured the upper jaw, but also destroyed greater or less portions of the palate’. In wounds of the neck, however, some ‘remarkable escapes’ were observed, with balls which had ‘entered by the side of the face, passed within or through the body of the lower jaw, and had come out on the side of the neck’.

In passages presaging the work of the great sanitary reformer Florence Nightingale, the environment in which soldiers are cared for in Belgium is analysed. This includes reference to the labours of the overworked and traumatised hospital officers, as well as to the diseases patients are exposed to within the damp and low-lying environment of Belgium.

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