War Wounds Logo

War Wounds: Medicine and the Trauma of Conflict, a volume of collected papers from the conference, is now available to purchase

BAE Systems Theatre,
Australian War Memorial, Canberra
Thursday 24 and Friday 25 September, 2009

The history of warfare and the history of medicine have been closely linked. War has often been an accelerator of advances in medical treatment and surgery as doctors and nurses struggled to cope with the human cost and suffering of mankind’s most destructive acts.

The major wars of the last hundred years—from the First World War to more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan—have driven advances in treatments for wounds and pain management, the use of antibacterial agents and more effective prophylaxis against disease and infection, as well as the development of radical new approaches to evacuating, treating and healing the injured.

Nevertheless, war continues to inflict its toll of carnage and human misery on not just combatants but also civilians who are, too often, either the intended or accidental targets of modern conflicts. The relationship between medicine and the military can also produce challenges and conflict.

For veterans and their families the post-war legacy of combat experience can sometimes seem as severe and persistent as the effects of wounds and injuries. War-damaged veterans are reminder of the enduring impact of war on Australian society.

The Australian War Memorial convened this two-day conference to bring together eminent historians specialising in the medical and demographic consequences of warfare, medical practitioners and researchers in the field of military medicine, former and serving medical officers, surgeons, nurses and veterans. They explored the impact of war, wounds and trauma through the historical record and personal experiences.

Conference themes

Major themes addressed by speakers included:

  • Casualties in war, treatment in the field and medical evacuation, surgical teams and field hospitals
  • Soldiers’ and doctors’ perspectives (personal accounts) of wounds and treatment
  • Mine casualties, fear of wounds and acute trauma on the battlefield
  • Shell shock, self inflicted wounds and combat fatigue
  • Illnesses and diseases of war (malaria, dysentery, venereal disease, etc.), maintaining soldiers’ health, the evolution of service medicine
  • Facially disfigured soldiers, advances in surgery, rehabilitation of wounded veterans
  • The cost of war and veterans’ health studies, the aftermath and post mortems, including the debate over the effects of ‘Agent Orange’ in Vietnam
  • Living with the effects, triumph over disabilities
  • The lighter side (doctors’ and veterans’ memories)

Participants found this an absorbing, stimulating and, at times, confronting exploration of the interaction of medicine and war.

This conference was convened by the Australian War Memorial.  The support of the Australian Government through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is gratefully acknowledged.

Department of Veterans' Affairs logo

Health and history at the frontier conference

Australian and New Zealand Society of the History of Medicine (ANZSHM) will be holding its 11th Biennial Conference in Perth, Western Australia from 28 September to 01 October 2009.

AMMA/CCMT Joint Conference

The Australian Military Medicine Association and Controversies in Civilian and Military Trauma joint conference will be held at the Gold Coast, Queensland, from 30 October to 1 November 2009.