A Doctor on the Western Front
By Henry Owens, Edited by John Hutton
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Published: 31st July 2013
This is a very well written and interesting book from a medical officer in at the start of the war. The book is a diary of Henry Owens who was present at nearly all battles of WW1 on the western front. The source is Henry Owens' diary stored at the Imperial War Museum. It gives a lot of notable information, I was surprised our man was just able to join up when he heard the war announced and could be at the front for the first shots and the retreat from Mons, he travelled to Curragh in Ireland to join a Cavalry Field Ambulance in early August 1914 with no previous military experience. His love of horses and hunting features several times in his account, even trying to form a hunting pack with local French hounds.
He writes calmly about his duties. He is mainly concerned with the Field ambulances and therefore reports dealing with dressings and evacuations of the wounded for the most part. He does reveal the deaths of RAMC personnel and wounding of medical officers he is serving with. He details his brief hospital service. He describes several incidents. In the retreat from Mons he sees a Staff Officer who takes his own life because of the devastation of the retreat. He attempts to snipe and tries to shoot his own German but as a non Combatant it is good that he fails. He records observing artillery wire cutting tests in preparation for the Somme. The pace and danger of the final advance and his meeting of the French civilians is especially poignant. His diary covers his relative discomfort in the line and elsewhere, occasionally a bed is available. There are a last few paragraphs after his demobilisation when he is back to hunting. John Hutton's introduction deals with the war and the RAMC and Henry's brief post war career. Sadly Henry Owens dying of sepsis in 1921.
Added commentaries clarify what went on a at all points including the danger our man would have been in. Summaries are also given by John Hutton about the battles, losses and leadership. They are concise and enhance the text.
I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it wholeheartedly.