But then I recall Dr Arthur Wakefield, a medic and member of the Mallory team of 1922 and the attempt to scale Everest. He had travelled to Newfoundland in 1908 to help with the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen. For six years there he lived a tough life, treating all and sundry as one of only two medics in the land. With the outbreak of war in 1914 Wakefield was at the forefront of encouraging young Canadians to join up fight. Wakefield didn't stay in Canada himself and soon was soon at the western front, working in the Royal Army Medical Corps.
Wakefield was eventually stationed behind the lines at the Somme towards the end of 1915. An avid diary writer, the only day he missed was July 1st 1916-a date well known to us now as the first day of the Somme offensive in which nearly 30000 British and Colonial troops were killed. Writing on July 2nd 1916 he noted,
Never in the whole war did we see such a terrible sight. Streams of motor ambulances waiting to be unloaded...the wounded had to lie not merely in our tents and shelters, but in a field of five or six acres, which was covered in stretchers placed side by side, each with its suffering or dying man on it. Orderlies went about giving drinks and food, and dressing wounds where possible. We surgeons were hard at it in the operating room, a good hut, holding four tables. Occasionally we made a brief look around to select from the thousands of patients, and those fortunate few whose lives and limbs we had time to save. It was a terrible business. Even now I am haunted by the touching look of the young anxious eyes, as we passed along the rows of sufferers.
Abdominal cases and others requiring long operations simply had to be left to die. Saving of life by amputation, which can be done in a few minutes, or saving of limbs by the wide opening of wounds, had to be thought of first. There, all around us, lying maimed and battered and dying, was the flower of Britain's youth-a terrible sight if ever there was one.*
It's very humbling to read this and perhaps gives me some perspective on my working life. Of course war brings unique circumstances to bear, and in someways the wearing down of dealing with relatively minor problems has a different set of stresses. But still, hats off to these doctors of a bygone generation.
*This quote taken from, Into the Silence:The Great War, Mallory and the conquest of Everest.