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Podcast Episode 12

Lifesavers and Body Snatchers

with Tim Cook
Hosted by CBC’s Laurence Wall

Lifesavers and Body Snatchers

with Tim Cook
Hosted by CBC’s Laurence Wall
Tim Cook - Photo by Marie-Louise Deruaz

Please note: Due to issues with SoundCloud, this episode has been delayed and will now premiere on Friday, December 9th.


CBC’s Laurence Wall leads the conversation with Canada’s top war historian, Tim Cook, about his latest publication, Lifesavers and Body Snatchers: Medical Care and the Struggle for Survival in the Great War .


Lifesavers and Body Snatchers is a definitive medical history of the Great War, illuminating how the carnage of modern battle gave birth to revolutionary life-saving innovations. It brings to light shocking revelations of the ways the brutality of combat and the necessity of agonizing battlefield decisions led to unimaginable strain for men and women of medicine who fought to save the lives of soldiers.


Medical care in almost all armies during the Great War, and especially in the Canadian medical services, was sophisticated and constantly evolving. Vastly more wounded soldiers were saved than lost. Doctors and surgeons prevented disease from decimating armies, confronted ghastly wounds from chemical weap-ons, remade shattered bodies, and struggled to ease soldiers’ battle-haunted minds. After the war, the hard lessons learned by doctors and nurses were brought back to Canada. A new Department of Health created guidelines in the aftermath of the 1918–1919 influ-enza pandemic, which had killed 55,000 Canadians and millions around the world. In a grim irony, the fight to improve civilian health was furthered by the most destructive war up to that point in human history.


But medical advances were not the only thing brought back from Europe: Lifesavers and Body Snatchers exposes the disturbing story of the harvesting of human body parts in medical units behind the lines. Tim Cook has spent over a decade investigating the history of Canadian medical doctors removing the body parts of slain soldiers and transporting their brains, lungs, bones, and other organs to the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) in London, England. This uncovered history has never been told before and is part of the hidden legacy of the medical war.


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