Stephens, David: Commemorating the survivors

Stephens, David

‘Commemorating the survivors’, Honest History, 24 February 2014

This is an Appendix to Michael Piggott’s review of the Australian War Memorial’s exhibition ANZAC Voices. It contains some confronting images. See also Kerry Neale’s paper.

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The photograph above is of an unidentified United States soldier, the victim of an improvised explosive device (IED) in Iraq or Afghanistan. The photograph is from Barry Reed, Robert G Hale, Michael Gliddon & Mark Ericson, ‘Maximising outcomes for maxillofacial injuries from improvised explosive devices by deployed health care personnel’, ADF Health Journal, 9, 1, 2008, and is reproduced by permission, Department of Defence, Australia. The article appears on the website of ADF Joint Health Command but ADF Health Journal is no longer published.

While survivors with horrendous injuries like this have been a part of war for centuries the attention paid to them has been limited by comparison with that paid to dead soldiers. The public display of such photographs tends to be avoided, presumably for reasons of public sensibility, although in the United Kingdom the Gillies Archive is an important exception. The Archive was featured in an exhibition at the UK National Army Museum in 2007-08.

In Australia, a volume of the Official History of World War I (published 25 years after the end of the war) has some pages of photographs of facial injuries and surgical reconstruction techniques as well as extensive text on these matters (AG Butler, The Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914-1918: Volume III: Special Problems and Services, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1943, between pp. 320 and 321). See also the photographs at http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P06131.001/ to http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P06131.011/ (eleven images altogether; source: Australian War Memorial, public domain). Also Google Ernst Friedrich war against war.

Commemoration focuses particularly on the dead and the heroic deeds some of them performed; a balanced view would incorporate increased coverage of the survivors, the injuries they suffer in body and mind, and the lives they lead after the war. The Australian War Memorial should follow the lead of the UK National Army Museum and mount an exhibition honestly revealing war injuries.

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