This grim satirical caricature conveys something of the deeply divided emotional response experienced by soldiers who were surgical patients in the Edgbaston Southern General Hospital. Although wounded men sometimes experienced their time of treatment, care and recovery as a haven from the hell of combat (as it was intended to be), at other times it was for them a place of terror. It is not only the administration which is perceived in this negative way; doctors are also frequently represented as an enemy. The sentiments in the caricatures 'A Patient’s Nightmare',1 "Shallus – Let’s!"2 and 'What the MO looks like'3 derive from a similar fear and suspicion of the medical profession, all representing surgeons as sadists (eager or casual) ready to operate on waking patients. In addition the implements to be used are represented not as sterilised medical instruments but as weapons, butchers’ knives or carpentry tools, such as saws, hatchets, pliers and hammers, imagery which reveals how the wounded felt themselves to be valued: as broken inanimate objects in need of repair.
Although they are mostly viewed favourably with respect and gratitude, nurses also are subjected to sarcasm, particularly with respect to rules and regulations which undermine their few pleasures or freedoms, such as those affecting smoking or time-keeping, as in 'The return of the prodigal'.4 However, those who appear to be most resented are well-meaning visitors, especially affluent women who bring more irritation and annoyance than comfort, as in 'Visiting Day at Dudley Road Section'.5 One caricature, portraying a woman thoughtlessly encouraging a wounded soldier whose mouth is bound with bandages to ‘chatter away and tell me all about it’, suggests an appropriate means of defence against such attacks: 'People who ought to be “strafed”'.6 Worse still are their obtuse or insensitive questions: such as, ‘And what were you before you were a soldier?’ – ‘A civilian, Ma’am’ ('Obviously');7 or ‘Were you wounded?’ addressed to a soldier in ‘blues’ with crutches ('Sympathiser').8
These caricatures show that soldier patients harboured fraught ambivalent feelings about their healers and carers and that they were even conflicted about the people for whom they had fought and would most likely fight for again. In consequence, they often experienced military hospital negatively as a space where they underwent painful treatment and were subjected to discipline and control. These caricatures are one expression of a deep critical response to the official representation of the hospital as a peaceful environment for the healing of passive sick and wounded men.
['A Patient’s Nightmare', Caricature by Will Adams, The “Southern” Cross, Vol.1 No.10, October 1916]
1 'A Patient’s Nightmare', Will Adams, The “Southern” Cross, Vol.1, No.10, October 1916 2 “Shallus – Let’s”, Henry Laxton, The “Southern” Cross, Vol.2, No.20, August 1917 3 'What the MO looks like', Will Adams, The “Southern” Cross, Vol.2, No.16, April 1917 4 'The return of the prodigal', HMW, The “Southern” Cross, Vol.1, No.8, August 1916 5 'Visiting Day at Dudley Road section', Will Adams, The “Southern” Cross, Vol.1, No.12, December 1916 6 'People who ought to be “strafed”', B. Howells, The “Southern” Cross, Vol.1, No.8, August 1916 7 'Obviously', D Binns, The “Southern” Cross, Vol.2, No.22, October 1917 8 'Sympathiser', [unsigned], The “Southern” Cross, Vol.3, No.25, January 1918
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