Exploring World War I through the lens of a historic journal

In Endeavour, scholars explore death and bereavement, the development of airplane technology, and the conflicts of nurses

Elsevier Connect Contributor

John Waller, PhDDr. John Waller has been the Editor of Endeavour since 2009. He is an Associate Professor of the History of Medicine at Michigan State University. He has degrees in history, human biology, and the history of science from Oxford University, Imperial College London, and University College London. He has authored six books on various aspects of the history of science, medicine, psychology and child labor, and is currently completing a book on attitudes to class and ethnic difference since classical antiquity.

Here, he writes about a special issue of Endeavour on science, medicine and technology during World War I. The articles referenced here are freely available for three months until December 15, 2014.

Endeavour occupies an important niche in the history of science, technology and medicine. The journal publishes historical research for an audience that spans the disciplines of the humanities, social sciences, and the natural and physical sciences. It attracts this wide readership because its articles score highly on relevance and readability and low on jargon and obscurantism. The five papers that make up the June issue focus on science, medicine and technology during World War I and exemplify everything that makes Endeavour so distinctive. They are written by experts who convey their research in an accessible manner, they illustrate the enormous power the past exerts over the present, and they are skillfully written and beautifully illustrated.

Death and Bereavement in the First World War

France, August 1916: Picardie, Somme, Albert, Becourt Wood – A chaplain reads the burial service beside the grave of a fallen Australian in a cemetery in a wood, near a chateau that housed a casualty clearing station. (Australian War Memorial Collection EZ0064).In her article "Death and Bereavement in the First World War," Dr. Patricia Jalland, Emeritus Professor of History at Australian National University, argues that the experience of the 1914-1918 conflict had a profound effect on how Australians subsequently mourned. The crape dresses for women and black suits and gloves for men so familiar during the Victorian era were seldom to be seen, she points out, after the nation had borne the loss of 60,000 war dead.

Although communal rituals were devised to honour those who had fallen in France, Turkey and other combat zones, postwar civilian deaths were no longer felt to warrant the overt mourning practices of old. Instead, writes Dr. Jalland, post-war generations of Australians mourned their loves ones with far greater reticence. Grief became increasingly "privatized," and the bereaved experienced a heightened degree of loneliness in their loss.

Dr. Jalland's analysis applies far beyond the shores of Australia, as she points out that the cultures of other combatant nations underwent similar changes over the same time period. Her research is extremely important not only because it draws our attention to the terrible scale of death during World War I. It also suggests that we have neglected another enduring casualty of that horrendous war: the capacity to allow the grieving the cultural space in which to mourn openly without embarrassment or shame.

Read the full article.


World War I: An Air War of Consequence

The Zeppelin's size and elegant form masked terrible vulnerabilities; here is L 57, wrecked in a storm in 1917, fortunately without any loss of life. (Courtesy National Museum of the US Air Force, for Endeavour, Volume 38, Issue 2)Dr. Richard Hallion is a retired aerospace analyst and historian for the US Air Force. His article, "World War 1: An Air War of Consequence" charts the transformation of aircraft manufacturing from a "craft-and-artisan-rooted specialty into a mass-production enterprise" in the context of a war during which the rival armies came to appreciate the enormous potential of the airplane. The intense competition for marginal military advantage, Dr. Hallion shows, led to a breathless increase in the pace at which designers, engineers and manufactures improved the technical sophistication, performance and uses of the airplane.

Many senior officers at the outset of the war, he explains, were oblivious to the potential of aircraft. Within a short period of time, they had changed their minds. Marshal Ferdinand Foch had casually dismissed aircraft as inconsequential. "Victory in the air," he proclaimed in November 1916, "is preliminary to victory on land."

Italian designer Gianni Caproni (lower right) poses proudly with four of his huge Ca 4 triplane bombers, 1918. (Courtesy National Museum of the USAF, for Endeavour, Volume 38, Issue 2)Dr. Hallion also traces the emergence of new martial strategies that set European powers on the path to causing mass civilian deaths. Within hours of the start of the war, airmen were experimenting with dropping bombs from their planes, and the major combatant nations were soon fitting aircraft with bomb-carrying racks. In the summer of 1917, attacks on civilians escalated with the first of appearance of German Gotha planes in the skies above London. The first mission alone killed or injured 588 Londoners. Many more casualties were to follow.

Like Dr. Jalland's account of the impact of the war on grief, Dr. Hallion's article explores in some depth the long-term effects of the rapid development of airplane technology in World War I. With the exception of air transportation, virtually every significant future use of the airplane had "come of age" above the fields and oceans of wartime Europe. The exposure of civilian populations to bombing raids also spurred the development of anti-aircraft strategies. In particular, hundreds of deaths in London encouraged the British government to establish a series of fighter bases that were later accompanied by radar stations. These advances, the author notes, "saved Britain when Nazi bombers entered British skies."

Read the full article.[divider]

Shell Shock, History, and the Memory of the First World War in Britain

Ex-Services' Welfare Society advert, <em>Times</em>, 11 November 1927, p. 20. This appeal aimed to raise money for the care of those still suffering from war neuroses many years after the war. The Ex-Services' Welfare Society was committed to presenting the men as mentally wounded but still respectable. (Reproduced with the kind permission of the Veterans' Mental Health Charity, Combat Stress, Leatherhead, England. for <em>Endeavour</em>, Vol. 38, Issue 2.) Dr. Fiona Reid's article, '''His Nerves Gave Way': Shell Shock, History, and the Memory of the First World War in Britain," examines perceptions of the traumatized soldier of the Great War from the war years to the present. Dr. Reid, a historian at the University of South Wales, charts the conflicting theories and therapies with which physicians in Britain responded to the alarming number of men being sent from the front with the symptoms of psychological breakdown.

While many regarded shell shock as evidence of cowardice, others implored the authorities to provide sympathetic care, while a number of writers tried to distinguish between those who allegedly broke down due to bad heredity and those who suffered nervous collapse because they had experienced levels of horror from which even the finest pedigree was of no protection.

Dr. Reid argues that class prejudices often shaped attitudes towards the psychological casualty and the treatment that he received: only officers, for instance, were admitted to the now-famous Craiglockhart Hospital in Scotland, which offered far gentler and more sustained approaches to rehabilitation than were usually available to the common infantryman.

Although we might like to think that an appreciation of the horrors of the First World War eventually promoted a more mature understanding of shell shock, Reid explains that we should not be so sanguine. The stigma of having been shell shocked proved hard to live down for both offers and infantrymen.

Moving to the present, Dr. Reid argues that we continue to inadequately empathize with ex-soldiers suffering from what is now called PTSD. Now, like then, she says, the "psychologically-damaged soldier is the most demonized" casualty of war and pity is still largely denied to those who fail to integrate smoothly back into civilian life.

Read the full article.[divider]

The conflicts of nurses in World War I

The final two articles look in different ways at the role of nurses in the First World War.

Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland receiving a visit from King George V and Queen Mary at her hospital near Calais (Endeavour, Volume 38, Issue 2)Dr. Christine E. Hallett's "'A very valuable fusion of classes': British professional and volunteer nurses of the First World War" looks at the fascinating relationships between upper class volunteer nurses and professional nurses in military hospitals. Dr. Hallett, Professor of Nursing History at the University of Manchester, argues that there is plenty of evidence to substantiate some of our stereotypes about how these nurses interacted; some headstrong ladies from the social elites did treat highly-skilled professional nurses with snobbish contempt, while some trained, salaried nurses scorned the services of well-meaning but unqualified and sometimes effete lady volunteers.

Dr. Hallett also demonstrates that our understanding of what it was like to be a World War One nurse has been excessively shaped by the memoirs of a highly educated and literate few. She seeks to redress this imbalance by drawing on the recollections of professional nurses. One of the great virtues of Hallett's article is that she shows how conventional social barriers were often eroded by the exigencies of coping with the horrific injuries of the soldiery. She tells of one well-heeled volunteer who described a hospital matron as "human, perceptive, discriminating, the lot." Nor did all volunteers have the strutting self-confidence nurtured by their elite upbringings. Many knew themselves to be deeply indebted to "fully-trained nurse-supervisors" who provided them with kind and understanding instruction.

Dr. Kirsty's Harris's "New horizons: Australian nurses at work in World War I" seeks to recover the daily experiences of wartime nurses. Drawing on her own extensive database of the over 3,000 Australian nurses who served overseas, she provides a valuable portrait of how nurses were trained, what they had to endure, and how they adapted to nursing in contexts so utterly different from hospitals at home. Harris, an expert in military history at the University of Melbourne, describes nurses working in hospitals so close to the front line that entrances had to be piled high with sandbags; trying to heal men with "battered human frames" and injuries quite unlike they had seen before; participating in surgeries in which enormous ingenuity was required to maintain adequate standards of hygiene; and having to implore the crews of supply ships to procure sufficient food.

Sister Kitty McNaughton working in operating theatre in France (Photo courtesy of Dorothy Ryan, for Endeavour, Volume38, Issue 2)

Some of these nurses, "mentally and physically exhausted from their military service," found it hard to adjust to civilian life and abandoned nursing. But many others returned with such high levels of knowledge and experience that they assumed a key role in training the next generations of nurses. Nursing trainees at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, says Dr. Harris, quite rightly regarded wartime nurses "with a mixture of admiration and awe."

Read the full articles:


All of these articles are models for what we look for in submissions to Endeavour. They have new things to say about topics of considerable historical and contemporary relevance, and they reflect the belief that historical scholarship is at its best when it can tell powerful stories that give us insight into the human condition.

A worthy endeavour

Endeavour — science and scholarship over 70 years

By Christopher M. Tancock

A sample of Endeavour covers
This is an abridged version of the article that appeared as an introduction to the World War I special issue of Endeavour.

The theme of this Endeavour issue is apposite as the journal was itself born in a period of world conflict. In the context of World War II and encroaching German "scientific" dominance, the public relations manager at Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), Sidney Rogerson, envisioned a periodical to illustrate and emphasize, as he put it: "… that British scientific resource and British scientists were very much alive …". He managed to sell the idea to an enthusiastic ICI, and an editor was duly appointed.

Sidney Rogerson by Howard Coster (1953)Marshalling popular and logistical support was but one of the trials facing Rogerson and his colleagues. Another hurdle was that of seeking approval from the British government, especially during a period when paper was strictly rationed. Happily, the government consented to the launch and permitted an allowance of paper.

A panel of experts was established to assist with the reviewing of articles, which included various distinguished scientists, among them members of the Royal Societyand the British Council as well as representatives of leading universities.

The name Endeavour was settled upon, after a suggestion from Lord Melchett recalling Captain James Cook's voyages in the barque Endeavour in 1768.

The journal's first issue was published in January 1942 despite the exigencies of the ongoing war and the limitations of the technology. This first issue, printed in four editions (English, French, German and Spanish), numbered a staggering 22,000 copies. Copies were despatched to the leading scientists as well as university libraries, governmental research groups, laboratories and learned societies. By the 1950s, circulation had risen to some 40,000 copies, half of which were in English.

After almost four decades of publishing the journal, ICI at last decided that that Endeavour must sail under a different master. Thus in 1977, the journal was transferred to the Pergamon Press, the model of sponsored dissemination moving to one of paid subscription.The prohibitive cost of translation, typesetting and printing meant that the foreign language editions had to be abandoned, but the rise of English as a scientific lingua franca lessened the impact of this decision. Furthermore, as the then-Editor Trevor I. Williams noted in 1977: "the English language version has always been carefully edited to avoid complex sentences, idiomatic phrases, and unfamiliar allusions," a hallmark of the journal that continues to this day.

After Pergamon was acquired by Elsevier in 1991, the journal's focus moved firmly away from primary scientific research towards history of science, technology and medicine. The journal now enjoys a cherished place among history of science journals and will continue to sail on "to record the progress of science and technology in the service of humankind," as Williams eloquently stated nearly four decades ago.

Read the full article.

Elsevier Connect Contributor

Christopher TancockChristopher Tancock has nine years' experience in STM publishing. He joined Elsevier in 2006, initially managing social science book projects before moving to journals. He is now Senior Publisher for Linguistics and History, managing some 20 journals including the prestigious Journal of Pragmatics and Lingua. He has degrees in European studies and linguistics and is based in the Oxford, UK office. In his "spare" time, he manages the Oxford City Division of St. John Ambulance and is qualified as a Patient Transport Attendant.

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