Blood, Guts and Gore: Assistant Surgeon John Gordon Smith at Waterloo
Edited by Gareth Glover
Pen & Sword Military (2022)
Illustrations: 17 colour
This book is a condensed version of part of Dr Gordon Smith’s life, commencing with the account of his role during the Waterloo Campaign and life after the war as a junior surgeon in the 12th Light Dragoons. Gareth Glover, the experienced editor, has reduced the original narrative from c. 135,000 words, omitting much irrelevant travelogue. Smith’s experiences in the Peninsular and later civilian career are not addressed. After return from Europe, Smith pursued a tenuous career then a potentially successful practice in medical jurisprudence, but died in a debtor’s prison, aged just 41, presumably of some infectious disease.
There are plenty of helpful footnotes from editor and author. Day-to-day events, relationships, lodgings, horsemanship, and the travels of a junior surgeon are described in some detail and occasionally, even in the Georgian dialect, descriptions can be a trifle obscure. Smith is well-read, educated and reading between the lines, a committed and capable doctor.
He gives us a unique and valuable view into the 1st Corps dressing station at Mont St Jean during and after the 18 June 1815. He has a minor bȇte noir in the form of his junior surgical colleague in the regiment, who often stimulates criticism from the author. Smith comments widely on the characters witnessed during his sojourn in the Army of Occupation. The text is littered with regimental anecdotes.
Sadly, for the medical historian and in the way of several other similar accounts by Georgian military medical men, the book omits useful medical and surgical detail, which would perhaps have given the book title more relevance. This snapshot into Smith’s experiences seem remarkably well recalled after 15 years, give an engaging insight into the life of a junior surgeon in Wellington’s army.