By Penny Hoffmann
Through statistics, technology, psychology, citizens reactions, and personal accounts, the reality of World War One is defined. It has been one hundred and four years since its beginning, and throughout those years the truth and of the war in general public conversation has been partially lost.
From April to July 1915, the number of people enlisting to fight in World War One increased exponentially. The monarchy was calling for unification, and patriotism was encouraged as seen in propaganda posters. Too many tried to enlist, thus many were turned back.
The first attempt of legalising conscription was narrowly defeated. Then, after July 1915, enlistment numbers dropped dramatically due to the large scale of casualties from war. This discouraged those initially wanting to enlist and there were less men able to fight because they had died.
Before repatriation, of the 331,000 who served overseas, 61,720 were killed and 155,000 were wounded. Of the 272,000 who returned, 170,000 suffered from wounds or illness from the war. 3,300 returned without arms of limbs.
Then, the second attempt of conscription occurred due to the number of casualties. Australia needed replacements, but conscription was defeated more than the first attempt. 70-80,000 soldiers received a full or part repatriation pension. Over 38,000 ex-servicemen died between 1918 and 1933, and right up to the Second World War, two to three ex-servicemen were dying every day. This is a byproduct of the unhygienic and highly stressful environment in the trenches as their feet were constantly wet, regular sighting of dead or dismembered bodies, the sound of their mates dying, and disease. There are 23,000 missing soldiers.
The war of 1917 resulted in the greatest technological and medical advancements to combat many types of wounds, but specifically head wounds. Because of how quickly someone can die from wounds to such a sensitive area, the medical team were located as close to the war-front as possible.
Teams were efficient with handling approximately twelve severe head wounds during twelve hours on duty that in total, two hundred and twenty to two hundred and fifty patients could be served a day. Confusion, signs of mental and physical exhaustion, acute fears, phobias, amnesia, tremor, deafness, speechlessness, visual defects and others were just some of the other issues the medical team dealt with.
The stressful war environment altered the soldiers for life and reprogrammed many into war machines, even during the repatriation process. Some were more dangerous than others to themselves or other people. Domestic violence, alcohol addictions, suicide or suicidal thoughts, shame, and labels were byproducts of the shift of environment from warzones to normal life, and many of these byproducts were due to the difficult healing process of the transition.
Consulting surgeon Sir William Arbuthnot Lane stated that “nothing was more painful than the sense of loneliness of those mutilated, since these deformities repelled even their wives and children. I understand that many, faced with the horror of the situation, committed suicide.”
An author states that “the peace following a war is worse than the war… when they returned to peace, as when they had gone to war, the soldiers were asked to adapt to accustomed ways. But the war had taught them a new system of values – mateship, the worth of the individual, courage, humor, straightforward action, generosity, determination, integrity and patriotism – which they could not easily apply to peace… it seemed to some that the war in Europe had created ‘a nation within a nation’ in the far antipodes”.
Those who suffered from head injuries and had facial reconstruction arguably felt worse when it came to social stigma; a face is where people look to for communication and feel attraction. Because of this, there were no mirrors in the medical rooms to prevent fainting.
Though not all soldiers faced the same level of difficulty adjusting to their new appearance.