Author(s): Ellen N. La Motte
* An inspiration for the BBC One Drama 'The Crimson Field' *'The classic account of a First World War Field Hospital 'War, superb as it is, is not necessarily a filtering process, by which men and nations may be purified. Well, there are many people to write you of the noble side, the heroic side, the exalted side. I must write you of what I have seen, the other side, the backwash.' Ellen LaMotte, Volunteer Nurse, 4 May 1916 The 'backwash' of Ellen La Motte's controversial book are the dirty, smelly, lice and disease ridden bodies of wounded French soldiers brought into her field hospital, 10 kilometres behind the Western Front of the First World War. They compose the 'human wreckage' of highly organised and industrialised warfare. Arranged into fourteen vignettes, The Backwash of War paints a picture of that conflict which seems so familiar to modern readers with nearly a century of writing about it to draw on. Yet, even with the passage of time, Ellen La Motte's first hand observations and comments, sometimes cynical, sometimes poignant, retain a freshness and continue to make for compelling reading.
Her graphic and highly vivid studies of how modern weapons of war can truly wreck the human body and mind remain a potent reminder of the true costs of conflict. No wonder the American Government banned The Backwash of War in 1918.
Ellen Newbold La Motte became one of the first American nurses to volunteer in Europe during World War One, serving in a field hospital In Belgium. "The Backwash of War" is based on a diary she kept during that time. Because of its graphic nature, US publishers refused to release it and the book was censored for years. In later years, La Motte traveled to Asia, where she wrote several books about the opium trade and addiction that were rampant at that time.