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13 July 1916 - Aftermath

In the aftermath of the taking of Mametz Wood, it became clear that the 38th and the other divisions involved in the battle suffered a great number of casualties. For those who were not killed instantly, there was no guarantee of death from bleeding, further injury, or disease. Many soldiers were sent from dressing station to dressing station in the trenches, before reaching a field hospital, and then if necessary, being sent to a hospital for further treatment. Due to the poor conditions in the trenches, it was important for the dressings of injured soldiers to be changed regularly to prevent infection.

A set of dressings dated 1917. These would have been found in dressing stations and field hospitals across France and Belgium.

For some, long term treatment could mean returning home for treatment in a British hospital, and possible discharge from the army. For many returning to England there was a sense of joy and relief, as seen by the writing of J.H. Hughes.

[Photo of J.H.Hughes Account]

J.H. Hughes’ Account

“…the Dr. said “Do you think you can stand a journey”? The journey I had in view was one to England. “Of course” I said I was sure I could stand it. He considered a minute and consulted the remaining three doctors, and then came to me and said, “alright lad, they can take it out on the other side”. The joy of going to Blighty made me forget my pain half my time. They returned me to my bed. That night I slept in thinking of the meeting I should have home. Next morning the Doctor marked me for England. We were taken in cars to the quay at Rouen and there were thousands of French people watching our departure. They cheered us and gave us a hearty send off. It was 7:30 when we started on the St George, down the river. The sight of our Journey’s courting French girls did not take up our interests; we thought of home.”

However, others were not so lucky, the journey could be dangerous for those severely injured and some would not survive the journey. Those suffering with shell shock further struggled, the illness was unlike anything doctors had seen at the time, and treatments were often violent and painful, including electroshock therapy. Additionally, many of those discharged from service had to wear the Silver War Badge. This badge marked the wearer as a current or former member of the military, this was to prevent the wearer from being “White Feathered”. During the First World War, women would give men of fighting age who were out of uniform white feathers, to shame them for cowardice.

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