The Great War: Exploring Medical Realities with Dr. Tim Cook

November 20, 2023

Last month, the Canadian War Museum hosted an exclusive lecture featuring Dr. Tim Cook, Chief Historian and Director of Research at the Museum. The evening offered members a unique opportunity to engage with Dr. Cook as he discussed his latest book, Lifesavers and Body Snatchers: Medical Care and the Struggle for Survival in the Great War.

In this captivating new volume, Dr. Cook delves into the remarkable medical experiences and heroic actions of the doctors and nurses who helped save lives during the First World War. Dr. Cook transported attendees back to that tumultuous time through rare historical images, while also revealing some of the groundbreaking emergency surgical techniques and battlefield innovations that emerged amidst the challenges of war. Despite being faced with an array of unimaginable wounds, doctors discovered new ways of mending torn and shattered bodies, combatting infection, healing gas-scarred lungs, and easing traumatized minds.

Three Wounded Canadians on Battlefield

Three cheery wounded Canadians at an Advanced Dressing Station on battlefield of Cambrai – CWM 19930012-770 – George Metcalf Archival Collection – Canadian War Museum

One of Dr. Cook’s most intriguing discoveries was an unsettling collaboration between Canadian medical personnel and their British counterparts. The clandestine program involved harvesting the body parts of fallen soldiers for medical research. Attendees were shocked to learn that, although the program was aimed at advancing medical knowledge, there was little informed consent or communication with soldiers and their families. Dr. Cook’s book is the first to reveal this macabre side of the war and has been the focus of many media stories.

Lifesavers and Body Snatchers is the result of more than a decade of meticulous in-depth research, spanning multiple archives across Canada. Drawing upon letters, diaries and memoirs from soldiers, doctors and nurses, Dr. Cook shines a light on the human side of war, battle and combat.

Each book, letter and archival document that Dr. Cook examined has contributed to our growing understanding of the past. Without generous supporters like you, groundbreaking research like this would not be possible. With your help, we are able to deepen knowledge of Canada’s military history. Thank you.

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