Surgery on the battlefield: Mobile surgical units in the Second World War and the memoirs they produced

Venables, Katherine M. 2021. Surgery on the battlefield: Mobile surgical units in the Second World War and the memoirs they produced. Journal of Medical Biography, ISSN 0967-7720 [Article] (In Press)

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Abstract or Description

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.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


Second World War, mobile surgical units, medical memoir, literature

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


3 June 2021Published Online

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

10 May 2022 09:11

Last Modified:

10 May 2022 09:12

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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