A Doctor on the Western Front - The Diaries of Henry Owens, 1914-1918, ed. John Hutton

A Doctor on the Western Front - The Diaries of Henry Owens, 1914-1918, ed. John Hutton

Henry Owens was a British Army doctor who volunteered in August 1914, and arrived at the front in time to take part in the period of mobile warfare that lasted from Mons to the Marne and ended on the Aisne. He survived the war, serving at Ypres in 1915, the Somme in 1916 and Passchendaele in 1917. During his time in the army he kept a diary recording his experiences.

This diary makes it clear just how dangerous the life of a doctor was during the First World War. While some did serve at the big hospitals well behind the lines, many others spent most of their time much nearer the front. Jones was often under shell fire, and spent large periods of time in the front lines, coming under rifle and machine gun fire on occasions.

There is surprisingly little mention of Jones's medical activities, possibly because they didn't strike him as out of the ordinary while his wartime surrounding were much more noteworthy. Most of the more detailed medical sections record work done on someone who was wounded in front of him (including on occasion members of his own medical party).

Most of the entries are quite short, but there are some longer descriptive passages, most notably for the First Day of the Somme and describing his arrival on the Cambrai front and the experience of crossing the area devastated by the Germans as they retreated to the Hindenburg Line. 

One unusual feature of this diary comes in 1918. In most accounts news of the armistice comes as a surprise, but here Jones and his colleagues had some idea of what was coming several days in advance, perhaps a benefit of spending some of their time behind the front.

This is a fascinating account of the life of a medical officer during the First World War, covering a wide range of their experiences, from the big base hospital to operating under shell fire or attempting to treat the wounded right on the edge of the front line.

1 - Baptism of Fire, August-December 1914
2 - Trench Warfare, Ypres 1915
3 - Calm Before the Storm? January-June 1916
4 - The Battle of the Somme, July 1916
5 - The Year of Passchendaele and False Dawns, 1917
6 - Victory, 1918

Author: Henry Owens
Editor: John Hutton
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 224
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2013

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