Caring for the sick and wounded in the Great War was one of its greatest challenges. It involved not only the mobilisation of existing trained doctors, nurses and orderlies, but the training of new staff, including civilian women who volunteered in their thousands to work in different capacities in dressing stations and hospitals. The new circumstances of trench warfare, and delays in transporting soldiers to hospitals, led some hospital equipment to become mobile for the first time: Marie Curie developed mobile X-ray units for the Western Front, and some blood transfusions were performed on the battlefield. The large numbers of amputees and facially disfigured soldiers also led to innovations in plastic surgery and prosthetics. Disease remained the biggest killer on some fronts, and troop quarters and movements helped the deadly influenza epidemic of 1918 – 1920 to spread.
The war also saw the coining of a neologism – ‘shell shock’ (or ‘neurasthenia’) – to refer to a range of physical and psychological symptoms triggered by the war. In the decades after the Armistice, the millions of wounded veterans acted as living embodiments for civilian populations of the physical and mental consequences of conflict, and the wounded or shell-shocked veteran still functions in contemporary culture as a powerful emblem of the suffering of war.