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World War II: bodies beyond the battlefield
  1. Hannah Simpson1,
  2. Megan Girdwood2
  1. 1 University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  2. 2 University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Hannah Simpson, London, UK; h.e.a.simpson{at}

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The destructive action of World War II extended far beyond the traditional battlefield arena, the more familiar trench-and-no-man’s-land zones that had typified World War I. This special issue investigates the impact of medical crisis and treatment on non-combatant bodies: civilian women, evacuated children, interned prisoners, spies and double agents, and, in the long aftermath of the war, medial patients affected by chronic physical injury, mental trauma, and changes to national healthcare provision and policy. In drawing attention to these multiple sites of non-battlefield suffering and medical practice, this issue seeks to disrupt what we have termed here the ‘single-body narrative’ of the war’s impact: the subsuming of all particularities of various bodily wartime experiences into the figure of the white male military body. The articles in this issue foreground the specificities of various lived bodily experiences of the war, rather than attempting to fuse them into any more easily assimilated but deceptively discrete narrative of single-body suffering.

One example of World War II destruction beyond the battlefield that has gone down in both military and literary history was the French town of Saint-Lô, which would acquire ‘the unenviable distinction of being the most heavily destroyed town in France’ during the war.1 The civilians of Saint-Lô were spared the worst of the war’s violence for most of the conflict, but in early June 1944 Allied bombers began a week-long series of air raids on the town, attempting to liberate it from German occupiers in order to open up crucial routes to and from the Normandy beaches. Over 1000 civilians were killed in the bombing, and more than 90% of the town’s buildings were obliterated. The municipal hospital and the town’s six pharmacies were also destroyed, leaving the town’s doctor to perform amputations with a scavenged butcher’s saw.2 In a …

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