The greater good: agency and Inoculation in the British Army, 1914-18

Simon H. Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

As the First World War progressed, rates of typhoid diminished. This was heralded as a triumph of sanitary improvement and disease protection; yet as to how the British military achieved this remains a contentious issue. Objections arose around the danger of inoculation and the unpleasant and potentially deadly side effects. Between the unaffected and the sufferers of the vaccine’s side effects are the unexplored stories of the refusers. Often bizarre, their accounts include stories of unsanctioned cajoling, arrests, suspension of privileges, and even physically forced inoculation. Soldiers could be encouraged, convinced, and, in rare cases, even forced to undergo inoculation. For others, the opportunity to refuse was often not made clear, as inoculation became part of routine military life. Despite the fact that soldiers were supposed to have complete autonomy over their own inoculation, the reality was often different. Penalties for noncompliance and a lack of clarification about soldiers’ rights demonstrated that throughout the war a clash developed between individual autonomy and an authoritarian regime determined to ensure the health of its fighting force.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-157
Number of pages27
JournalCanadian Bulletin of Medical History
Volume36
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2019

Keywords

  • inoculation
  • agency
  • British Army
  • First World War
  • disease

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