Book Review: With Them Through Hell: New Zealand Medical Services in WW1, by Anna Rogers

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_with_them_through_hellAlongside 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It must be hard to tell the story of so many people over many years without using quotes from both published and unpublished sources, but I found the quoted material tended to slow my reading of much of the book.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
ISBN 9780995100190

 

A Novel Relationship and The Stars are Out Tonight, at WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers festival, Friday 29 August

Sarah Jane Barnett is a poet, creative writing tutor, and reviewer from Wellington. Matt Bialostocki is a writer, photographer, and bookseller from Wellington. Together they went to a full day of festival events at the WORD Writers’ & Readers Festival 2014 in Christchurch. After each of the sessions they recorded their conversation. This is what was said in their final two sessions.

A Novel Relationship
Friday, 29 August 4pm
Owen Marshall and Laurence Fearnley discuss their new novels, and their experience working with editor Anna Rogers, with Chris Moore.

M: I think we need to open by telling everyone that Rogers said of split WORD-Author_OwenMarshallinfinitives, ‘mercifully, the world has decided we can boldly go, which has made everything so much easier’.
S: She was fascinating, and the close relationship between the two writers and their editor was clear.
M: They were funny, too.
S: Did you not expect that?
M: Well, Fearnley said that she gets nervous about being edited to the point where it can ruin her Christmas. She did say, ‘I once received an email saying I’d used the word “just” 146 times’.
S: What stuck out for me was when Rogers said her editing should be invisible, and that she ‘helps the writer say what they want to say, the best way they can’—
M: And that the best writers were always the ones that valued the editing process. Both Marshall and Fearnley saw it as a positive application to their work.
WORD-Author_AnnaRogersS: It seems we were lucky to hear from her—that there are fewer full-time working editors in New Zealand.
M: While Rogers (left) wants to be invisible, she did say it was noticeable when editing is skipped in the book-making process.
S: I like that, the ‘book-making process’. They did see themselves as a team, the writer and editor. Both Marshall and Fearnley said the editing process helped them see the ‘blind spots’ in their own writing; Marshall said he appreciated an editor with expertise who could ‘interrogate’ his work. Fearnley talked about how there would be parts of her novel that would niggle at her, but that she was resistant to revise because of the domino effect on the novel. A good editor saw those parts too.
M: Towards the end of the session Marshall read us an excerpt from his novel, Carnival Sky, and Fearnley read us a section from an untitled book that’s due out later on in the year.
S: Do you know what that is?
M: I’m not sure. It’s about Quinn, a young artist, and it’s set in fictional Wellington. Something to look forward to!

The Stars are out Tonight
Friday, 29 August 7.30pm
John Campbell introduces Eleanor Catton, Diane Setterfield, Damon Young, NoViolet Bulawayo, Anis Mojgani, Meg Wolitzer, Kristin Hersh. The sold out session was held in the Transitional/Cardboard Cathedral. (all names link to the authors’ other sessions)

S: Holy shit! I mean—can I swear? That was incredible.
M: John Campbell closed with ‘I can’t think of any event in the world that would have been like this’.
S: It’s 10pm.
M: Time to go home.