Working in a world of hurt

Trauma and resilience in the narratives of medical personnel in warzones

By Carol Acton and Jane Potter

Working in a world of hurt


  • Hardcover

Book Information

  • Format: eBook
  • ISBN: 978-1-7849-9242-2
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Published Date: July 2015
  • BIC Category: Medicine / History of medicine, History, Military history, History of medicine, HISTORY / Military / General, Humanities / Military history
  • Series: Cultural History of Modern War


Working in a world of hurt fills a significant gap in the studies of the psychological trauma wrought by war. It focuses not on soldiers, but on the men and women who fought to save them in casualty clearing stations, hospitals and prison camps. The writings by doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and other medical personnel reveal the spectrum of their responses that range from breakdown to resilience. Through a rich analysis of both published and unpublished personal from the First World War in the early twentieth century to Iraq in the early twenty-first, Acton and Potter put centre stage the letters, diaries, memoirs and weblogs that have chronicled physical and emotional suffering, many for the first time. Wide-ranging in scope, interdisciplinary in method, and written in a scholarly yet accessible style, Working in a world of hurt is essential reading for lecturers and students as well as the general reader.


'Acton and Potter have embarked upon a refreshing interdisciplinary approach to reading wartime narratives, by focusing on those whose history 'lies concealed', those who served as medical personnel in warzones (p. 2). It chronicles the writings and memories of medics, largely British and American, including nurses, field medics, ambulance drivers, doctors and surgeons. The chapter structure chronologically traces their experiences from the First World War, through the Second World War, the Vietnam War, and concludes with a nod to the memoirs of Iraq War veterans. The authors have adeptly communicated the ways in which medical narratives of 'trauma' and 'resilience' are distinct from those of combatants and directly related to the medical duties they performed. Despite identifying some universal characteristics in medics' narratives, the authors have also firmly grounded their analysis in specific historical, cultural and medical contexts.Overall, the prose is fluid, sophisticated and confident throughout.'
Nicole Cassie, University of Glasgow, War in History, Vol. 24, No. 3


1. 'These frightful sights would work havoc with one's brain': First World War writings by medical personnel
2. 'Over There': American confidence and the narrative of resilience in the Great War
3. 'You damn well just got on with your job': medical personnel and the invasion of Europe in the Second World War
4. 'It was a tough life and I did all I could to lighten the men's burden': British P.O.W. medics' memoirs of the Second World War
5. Claiming trauma: Women in the Vietnam War
6. Crying silently: doctors and medics in the Vietnam War
7. Fatal Injury


Jane Potter is Senior Lecturer in Publishing at Oxford Brookes University

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