The majority of the stories about the impact of the First World War relate to men, yet women had critical roles within warfare both at home and closer to the front. The effects on both women and men were profound, but some of the most significant consequences only came to light when the conflict ended and people and the nation tried to rebuild their family lives. How do we recover and present these stories?
In the exhibition, Wounded: Conflict, Casualties and Care, the Science Museum explores the impact of the First World War on changes in medicine and vice versa. It is a story of medical and technical innovation, coupled with the human cost of such large-scale warfare.
Some of the effects on women were direct, and many were positive. They took over occupations traditionally staffed only by men and rapidly established themselves as indispensable in professions and the working life of Britain. While men on the front were exposed to new terrors of warfare - including chlorine, phosgene and mustard gas, and new forms of powerful military hardware - women "kept the home fires burning" way beyond the home.
Much has changed since the days of the First World War. Women are now actively serving on the front line in a context almost unthinkable a hundred years ago. However other women connected with the military are often overlooked. For men who return from service suffering with PTSD, home life can be incredibly challenging, and these difficulties often manifest in destructive ways for families.
It is important to recognise that PTSD has effects far beyond the battlefield. It can be destructive for military families, but it also affects civilians. In September 2016 the NHS published the results of a major survey into mental health among young women. They showed that 12.6% of women between 16-24 screened positive for PTSD, showing just how prevalent it is in the wider population. The Wounded exhibition presented PTSD as an almost exclusively military issue, but it is important to realise that it can affect any of us.