Getting cold feet in the First World War: leaky boots, trench foot and vernacular medicine among British soldiers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

During the First World War, trench warfare spurred the onset of various medical conditions. Yet, when soldiers fell ill, it was not immediately recognised that some maladies stemmed from contamination—soiling, infestation and poisons—in their uniforms. With a new focus on preventive medicine, doctors and medical scientists investigated numerous medical conditions that spread through contaminated uniforms. It is well known that these medical professionals developed a body of knowledge on the prevention of uniform contamination. It is far less known that soldiers also developed a set of medical ideas. Different ‘systems of medical ideas’ developed simultaneously during the Great War, and this is demonstrated through the study of trench foot. This article employs soldiers’ voices not only to highlight their reliance on vernacular medicine in the trenches but also to reformulate the boundaries of medical practice and ask who can be considered a medical practitioner.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial History of Medicine
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Nov 2020

Keywords

  • vernacular medicine
  • trench foot
  • uniforms
  • First World War
  • Britain

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