'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 La Motte, 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, ten kilometres behind the Western Front of the First World War. They compose the 'human wreckage' of highly organised and industrialised warfare.
Arranged into 14 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.