Army Blood Transfusion Service Card

The British Army had a sophisticated system set up early in the war to gather blood and blood products from volunteers to be used in the treatment of injured servicemen and women at home and abroad. Those who donated blood were given a small, but rather natty card as a token of thanks:

The Army Blood Transfusion Service is almost forgotten now, but I have found a very interesting and informative article in a 1943 copy of the British Medical Journal that deserves to be included in full as it’s a very interesting read:


The Army Blood Transfusion Service is unique. No other army, Allied or Axis, has a distinct transfusion service with its own source of supply and its specially trained mobile resuscitation units. The headquarters of this Service were established six months before the war, and the plasma-drying plant, which was presented to it by the Silver Thimble Fund of the Women of India, was erected in 1941.

Scope of the Service

The Service now operates from Reading to Penzance in some 850 different centres. It has a staff of about 350, of whom more than three-quarters are women (either V.A.D.s or A.T.S.).

The original technical staff was drawn largely from the laboratory staff of the Royal College of Surgeons and the Middlesex Hospital. The Service supplies with transfusion fluids and equipment the whole British Army- over-seas, from Iceland to the Cape of Good Hope and from Tunis -to Burma. It supplies the basic requirements of the Forces at home and the civilian population in a Ministry of Health Region. It trains and equips units for service over-seas, and trains all ranks of the R.A.M.C. in resuscitation work. Since the beginning of the war blood has been taken from more than a quarter of a million donors. The 20 members of the staff of the Donor Registration and Publicity Department have to keep up to date the records of the three to four thousand donors who are bled each week.

The bleeding is done by 15 mobile, self-contained, fully equipped teams, each consisting of a medical officer, 4 V.A.D.s, 2 A.T.S. drivers, and an A.T.S. orderly. The teams are detached, and quartered in the large towns, from which they ” bleed ” the surrounding area for a distance of 25 to 30 miles. Since 1939 two women doctors have between them bled more than 35,000 donors.

Transport of Transfusion Fluids

Whole blood is transported to any theatre of war within air distance of England, and in order to reduce shaking in transit the bottles are, by means of a special apparatus, filled to the top with glucose solution. Large insulated boxes are, by means 50,000 of dried plasma. Apparatus for administration assembled at the home depot is sent with all transfusion fluids, the apparatus being packed in tins, sterilized and ready for immediate use. The Service has also devised and issued special boxes of equipment to meet the transfusion needs of military hospitals, field ambulances, and troopships, as well as complete apparatus for full resuscitation by mobile field transfusion units and by airborne medical units. Another of the jobs of the depot in the South-West of England is the preparation of crystalloid solutions (glucose and saline) for all units at home and over-seas which are unable to prepare these themselves. The Service also supplies dried grouping serum.

Oversea Units

In every theatre of war over-seas the home service is linked to a base transfusion unit, which obtains from the headquarters at home the supplies required op the spot. These base transfusion units are also equipped for the production of crystalloid solutions, for the assembly of apparatus, for servicing and repair of refrigerators, and for obtaining blood locally. For example, the M.E.F. base unit has been able to maintain a service of whole blood to the 8th Army to supplement the of ice-inserts, kept at a temperature of 4′ C. for a period of 8 hours. But most of the blood taken by the Service is separated, clarified, and filtered to make fluid plasma, which is sent out as such for military use at home and in temperate climates. That sent to the Army in tropical and subtropical regions is dried, and some twelve to fourteen hundred bottles come off the drying plant each week. Distilled water for reconstitution is sent with each bottle of dried plasma. Already some 56,000 pints of fluid plasma have been exported, and getting on for dried plasma sent from home. Serviced by the base unit are mobile field transfusion units, fully equipped for the performance of resuscitation in the field. In North Africa these units have operated mainly in co-operation with field surgical units to form complete advance surgical centres with field ambulances, field dressing stations, and casualty clearing stations.

It has been said that the work of the doctor serving with the armed Forces has in this war been facilitated by three main innovations: (I) intravenous anaesthesia; (2) local application of sulphonamides to wounds; and (3) transfusion of blood and of plasma. Blood transfusion was, of course, used in the last war, but refrigeration and the use of fluid and dried plasma have revolutionized the application of blood transfusion in the field. That the fullest scope has been found for these new blood-transfusion techniques is due to the energy, wisdom, and brilliant organizing abilities of those who have built up this magnificent Service.

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