Surgery on the battlefield: Mobile surgical units in the Second World War and the memoirs they produced.
In the Second World War, there was a flowering of the battlefield surgery pioneered in the Spanish Civil War. There were small, mobile surgical units in all the theatres of the War, working close behind the fighting and deployed flexibly according to the nature of the conflict. With equipment transported by truck, jeep or mule, they operated in tents, bunkers and requisitioned buildings and carried out abdominal, thoracic, head and neck, and limb surgery. Their role was to save life and to ensure that wounded soldiers were stable for casualty evacuation back down the line to a base hospital. There is a handful of memoirs by British doctors who worked in these units and they make enthralling reading. Casualty evacuation by air replaced the use of mobile surgical units in later wars, throwing into doubt their future relevance in the management of battle wounds. But recent re-evaluations by military planners suggest that their mobility still gives them a place, so the wartime memoirs may have more value than simply as war stories.