British Army Syringe

The syringe is an essential medical tool used to inject fluids into the human body and to extract them from the same. Today most syringes are single use plastic devices that are thrown away after one injection to prevent the spread of infection. During the Second World War though they were made of glass and metal and were designed to be reusable, having to be sterilised between each use. Tonight we are looking at a military example of one of those syringes. It is housed in a small stainless steel box:imageThe lid of the box is marked ‘JJEFF’ and has a /|\ War Department ownership mark engraved on it:imageThe lid comes off to reveal the syringe itself, in this example the glass part is missing, presumably broken at some point in the object’s history:imageThe syringe and its accessories are mounted on a sprung steel tray that is a tight push fit into the outer box:imageThe syringe is made of stainless steel, with a large plunger running down the centre:imageIt is marked up as being a ‘Plimm Product’:imageAlso included is a small metal tube, but quite what this is for I don’t know:imageThe syringe and all the components unscrew for cleaning, it being much easier to sterilise in little parts than as a whole unit where elements might be hidden under other surfaces:imageSterilisation was not always followed strictly in a busy army setting, as recalled by Percy Bowpitt:

Next came the introduction to Army medical care. In the medical room stood the MO and his orderly, the orderly with a list of names, a swab, a dish of spirit, and a tool that we later found out was for inoculating us. Next to him stood the MO with a huge syringe that contained a cocktail of vaccines against Tetanus, Typhoid, and probably all the diseases known to man. The procedure was quick and efficient but hardly hygienic. First the orderly would give each man a quick wipe on the arm with his swab then a smart dab with his inoculating tool that looked like a miniature branding iron. Then quickly onto the MO. Again a quick dab with the swab, this huge syringe was then inserted into the arm, a squeeze, another dab with the swab and you were sent on your way. The same syringe and needle would be used on every man with the occasional wipe with a swab dipped in spirit.

Alf Wilson was another who endured an injection in the army during World War Two:

Every so often we had to have injections for T.A.B, Tec Tox and Typhus. You lined up in a long line, a medical orderly wiped your arm and then a medical officer gave you a stab. On one such occasion, I moved up in line and had just been stabbed by the officer when someone called to him. He left me with the syringe stuck in my arm for quite a while. The fellow behind me must have been worried about injections, because he fainted. The medical officer didn’t realise what he had done and after the parade we went for dinner and rested up in our tents as normal.

The next thing I knew was a sergeant shaking me. I hadn’t turned up for parade. I was out with a temperature and my arm had swollen up. I explained about the episode with the M.O. and they rushed me to hospital for a day or so.

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