Guthrie's War: A surgeon of the Peninsula and Waterloo, Michael Crumplin

Guthrie's War: A surgeon of the Peninsula and Waterloo, Michael Crumplin

George Guthrie was one of the most distinguished British military surgeons of the Napoleonic Wars, serving with Wellington's army in Portugal and Spain before going on to become President of the Royal College of Surgeons on three separate occasions, in 1833, 1842 and 1854. 

This book has two main strands. The first is the familiar history of the fighting in Spain and Portugal, at least as far as it involved Guthrie, but this is really only the framework for the second and more important strand, which looks in detail at some of the medical cases Guthrie dealt with during the wars. Guthrie published an account of his work after the war, the Commentaries on the Surgery of the War, which ran to six editions. We thus get to read about many of his cases in Guthrie's own works. What impresses here is both Guthrie's matter of fact style of writing and the apparent stoicism of the patients, many of whom underwent quite extensive surgery without the benefit of anaesthetics.

Some of the accounts of surgery are rather gruesome, serving to remind us of the reality between the bland figures of 'wounded' given at the end of most accounts of battles. It also becomes clear just how badly overwhelmed the very limited medical services became after the major battles of the period, with thousands of wounded soldiers and only a handful of surgeons, often with no transport and limited accommodation.

This biography gives us a glimpse into one of the hidden worlds of Napoleonic warfare, and is a very valuable contribution to the literature on the Peninsular War and on the history of medicine.

1 - A Flying Start
2 - Actions and Sojourn in Portugal
3 - Striking Out
4 - 'All the Fiends in Pandemonium' - Albuera
5 - Bloody Sieges
6 - Breakout
7 - Retreat, Lisbon and on to Santander
8 - Toulouse
9 - Peace and War - Waterloo
10 - Guthrie's Combat Legacy and Post-War Efforts

Author: Michael Crumplin
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 194
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2010

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