Millions of soldiers as well as civilians fell victim to diseases caused by the First World War. The conditions in the trenches turned out to be ideal breeding grounds for vermin such as rats and lice and for infectious diseases, in particular typhoid, influenza, and leptospirosis. Furthermore, new, horrific symptoms such as “trench foot”, “shell shock” or “trench mouth” spread at the frontlines on a massive scale. As the war drew to a close, the most devastating flu pandemic in history hit the entire globe from early 1918 on, mainly spread by soldiers and sailors. Within two years this influenza killed more people than the war itself.
Film audiences rarely encountered these elements of the war on screen. Diseases like influenza or typhoid were topics difficult to portray on film, and the military did not want to circulate images of victims suffering from shell shock or trench mouth. However, in order to meet the massive public interest in the fate of sick and wounded soldiers, film production (be it directly or indirectly state-controlled) had to cover this issue in some way. Thus, a considerable number of hospital films were produced – most of them newsreel items – depicting slightly wounded men in neat and sometimes even idyllic military hospitals. The propagandistic message of these films is to show how thankful the country is for the loyal service of its soldiers.