THE WAR OF THE WARDS

MILITARIA

Anticipated mass casualties and staff shortages were expected to push Britain’s wartime medical infrastructure to breaking point

The British public were reminded of the heroic deeds of medical staff in Hospitals Under Fire, edited by George C Curnock (George Allen & Unwin, 1941). Although the dates of the air raids were censored out, the names of the hospitals and personnel were revealed. Rare, £20
ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF AUSTIN J RUDDY UNLESS NOTED OTHERWISE

Over worked, understaffed and under pressure: hospital staff have it tough at the best of times – but World War Two brought Britain’s lifesavers a whole new level of challenges to overcome.

The threat of air attack had been theorised since the 1920s and exemplified in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War. Cities were huge and unmissable – a conglomeration of thousands of vulnerable ‘soft targets’ – and the ensuing mass casualties could cause medical services to collapse. If Britain’s cities were bombed, ARP number-crunchers calculated horrific statistics: there could be 250,000 casualties in the first ten days of war, and they expected 100,000 tonnes of bombs to be dropped on London alone; some 300,000 new hospital beds and staff would be needed to treat the wounded masses.

Want to read more?

This is a premium article and requires an active subscription.

Existing subscriber? Sign in now

No subscription?

Pick one of our introductory offers