Alongside the New Zealand soldiers who fought in World War I, there was a large team of dedicated medical (and veterinary – New Zealand also sent about 10,000 horses) personnel who did everything they could to save lives and treat the injured. Anna Rogers has painstakingly researched the history of the medical services and tells their story in all its gory detail, right from the early days when female doctors, nurses and volunteers had a battle on their hands just to be allowed to serve overseas.
With Them Through Hell is an extremely comprehensive book on the medical services, more of a history textbook than a book you would sit down and read in one sitting. It certainly isn’t a jolly hockey-sticks tale of what went on – it’s a far more sobering and factual account, and anyone reading it will be shocked at the challenges they dealt with on a daily basis, both in the lead-up to their dispatch to the war zones and also during the conflicts.
Divided into four sections – Feeling the Heat; From Chaos to Care; Unexpected and Unsung; and Maimed and Mended, which are then further divided into a total of 16 chapters – the book goes into great detail about the part these medical personnel played in the war. There are numerous photographs (predominantly black and white, apart from reproductions of oil paintings) and also copies of letters and cartoons. The photographs illustrate the conditions they worked under, but the text carries far more detail about the hardships they endured during the war.
It must be hard to tell the story of so many people over many years without using quotes from both published and unpublished sources, but I found the quoted material tended to slow my reading of much of the book. This was particularly noticeable in some sentences that contained more than one partial quote, as there was no attribution alongside. The book is substantial, so flicking to the footnotes at the back was not something I wanted to keep doing, and often the source would just be given as a newspaper article.
I read the introduction and then dipped in and out of the book, reading chapters that particularly interested me rather than reading from start to finish in sequence. As each chapter is comprehensive in itself, this is a reasonable way to proceed.
It is great that the medical services’ dedication to duty has been recognised and given its own tribute in With Them Through Hell. For historians and those who work in the medical services today, this book will be a fascinating history of the work carried out by medical personnel and the pioneering advances in treatment they made under extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances.
With Them Through Hell: New Zealand Medical Services in the First World War
by Anna Rogers
Published by Massey University Press