Category Archives: Medical

Shell Dressing Haversack

The shell dressing haversack was a small webbing satchel issued to troops to carry shell dressings in in the field to allow stretcher bearers to perform first aid on casualties before they were passed back down the line to the Royal Army Medical Corps. These bags had originated in the First World War, where the edges had been bound in leather and the securing straps made of leather with brass buckles. By the Second World War this design had been updated to a completely web based design:imageThe satchel is a simple design, with a pair of weather flaps and a box type top flap to protect the shell dressings from the elements:imageThe lid itself is secured with two web straps and a pair of brass Twigg buckles:imageAlthough the main body of the bag is made of woven cotton webbing, the carry strap is of a lighter weave, sewn to the rear of the haversack:imageA brass buckle allows the length of the strap to be adjusted, in the same manner as the respirator haversacks of the period:imageThe front of the haversack has a large red Geneva cross on a white circle to indicate that the contents are for medical use:imageThe designation “Shell Dressings” is stencilled on the front, together with the number ‘2’:imageThe markings inside indicate that this haversack was made by M&Co in 1942:imageThe haversack would hold a dozen of the standard shell dressings and can be seen being carried in the field by medical personnel:imageThese packs lasted in service for decades and even today they lurk in various reservist units as a haversack for general first aid supplies during exercises.

I do not currently have enough shell dressings to fill this pack, however it does serve as a useful place to keep all my other medical related equipment.

Indian Army Molar Extractors

I am never surprised at the wide variety of equipment that was taken into military service and marked as such. If I can find something weird and wonderful that is marked for the Indian Army as well then so much the better. Tonight’s object definitely falls into this category and is a pair of Indian Army marked molar extractors:imageThis dental tool has a large pair of jaws to clamp around the tooth for extraction:imageThe handles are deeply grooved to aid grip and this tool is specifically designed for the left upper molars, as marked on the inside of the handle:imageNote also the /|\ over ‘I’ mark showing it was accepted into Indian Army service. The tool appears to be dated 1929, If I am interpreting this mark correctly:imageA circular maker’s mark is stamped onto the inside of the opposite side and indicates that this instrument was manufactured in England, before being shipped out to India:imageThis is typical for the interwar period where manufacturing in India was not sufficiently developed to allow these items to be sourced in the sub-continent. The Second World War would see a massive increase in the capacity of the region to produce high quality medical equipment and by the time of independence India would be self-sufficient for this type of simple tool.

Visiting the dentist could be traumatic in the early twentieth century, as described by trooper Tom Canning:

Whilst in training with the Royal Armoured Corps in Barnard Castle, I broke a tooth which necessitated a visit to the Dentist.
Now I have disliked all forms of dentistry as it appears to be filled with people who enjoy hurting other people when there have been many ways of preventing pain of all sorts for many years past.
There was no escape however, and I started the trudge towards the 59th regts. camp some two miles away along the road to west Auckland, hoping that some strange disease had overtaken the Dentist, and that the appointment would be cancelled.
No such luck as I was ushered into the torture chamber. Sure enough I was now one tooth short of the establishment for fighting an enemy. ” I can rectify that” said the chief torturer ” I shall give you a new tooth”, and he proceeded to level off the offending left front incisor.
When he was finished he then suggested that I reappear – same time – same place next week.
The walk back to Streatlam camp was spent in musing how this Dentist could grow another tooth in my head, with no full understanding of how he was to achieve this miracle.
The next visit made it abundantly clear when he started drilling – upwards to-wards my brain ! After six weeks of this torture he then, like a third rate magician, produced this tooth on what appeared to be a very long spike. He then glued this “tooth” into my head – remember that this was way before the advent of “crazy glue” and other forms of adhesives.
On completion of this task he then handed me a mirror. ” but the tooth is blue” I remarked – ” not a problem ” he replied – ” it will be white as snow very soon”!
This I thought, was a ‘porkie” of great dimension which after four years overseas without the benefit of another dentist – the tooth remained blue.
Finally attaining civilian status, this blue thing finally fell off leaving this spike unadorned, much to the amusement of my Dentist who then established that in the course of my wanderings through Europe this spike had moved and affected many of my top teeth. The consequences of this were a complete overhaul of my mouth which left me in the position that should anything stressful occur in my mouth, all I have to do is to mail my dentures to the nearest dental mechanic for his attention and return mailing! No more Dentists for me!

Webbing Stretcher Yoke

Over three years ago we looked at a simple stretcher strap from World War Two here. That design of strap was literally just that, an adjustable strap with a loop at either end to put the handles of a stretcher into. As the Second World War progressed it became clear that a better design was needed, one that better distributed the weight of the casualty around the bearer’s body rather than having it all pressing down on his neck. The design that was developed was a yoke, that transferred the weight to the shoulders and not the neck. This design was originally produced in the natural tan colour of cotton webbing, but the design remained in use into the post-war era and later production was made of pre-dyed green cotton. It is one of those later stretcher yokes we are looking at tonight:imageThe yoke measures 66 inches in length and like the earlier straps has a loop on either end to put the handles of a stretcher into:imageNote the heavy duty stitching around the adjustment buckle to prevent the webbing separating under the weight of a casualty. The yoke splits into two parts to create two large loops that each arm goes through, the two sections being joined over the wearer’s back with a sewn on webbing loop, much like a pair of 37 pattern shoulder braces:imageThe sewing required to split a single strap into two loops and still maintain the strength needed to carry the weight of a stretcher and casualty was clearly not easy. This results in some complicated folding and sewing of webbing with one strap wrapped and sewn around the other:imageThis particular example is stamped up with a manufacture date of 1952 and a stores code of CC8765:imageThese yokes remained in service for many years and were added to the NSN system with a number of 6530-99-428-0697. Presumably they were pretty effective considering how long they were used for, today though lightweight stretchers and bashas often come with built in support straps and with most casualties evacuated by helicopter, the need to carry stretchers for long distances is greatly diminished.

ARP Triangular Bandage

Anticipating large numbers of civilian casualties, the Government began stockpiling large quantities of medical supplies to treat those injured in the aftermath of aerial bombing in the months leading up to the outbreak of World War Two. These medical supplies were marked up as being the property of the Air Raid Precautions Department and ranged from shell dressings to bandages and tourniquets. We have looked at a number of these items on the blog over the year and tonight we have an example of a triangular bandage to look at:imageA triangular bandage is exactly what it sounds like, a large piece of triangular shaped cloth that could be used for a variety of different things, but predominantly as a sling or to immobilise a fractured limb. These bandages were compressed to remove all the air so that they did not take up much room in a first aid box, wrapped in blue sugar paper and then had a label applied around the outside with details of their contents. A cloth tab is included on this packet to allow it to be quickly ripped open in an emergency. The front of the packet indicates the contents and that it was manufactured by R Bailey & Son of Stockport:imageThe rear dates this bandage to March 1939 and shows that it was procured by the Air Raid Precautions Department of the Home Office:imageThese bandages were used for training as well as for actual incidents and one small boy recalls their use during one exercise when he played a casualty:

A group of us boys were taken along Stone Road and placed in front gardens as casualties. I had a large label hung round my neck that said “broken right arm”. The exercise started and rescue workers came: my arm was splinted then placed in a large triangular bandage hung from my neck. I was then taken to the “Casualty Clearing Station” on the Common. When the exercise was over, our reward was a cup of tea and a bun at the big green refreshments van.

There were many uses for a triangular bandage, as indicated here in an article from the 1940 edition of First Aid Journal:CaptureCapture1

World War 2 Tin of Vaseline

When we looked at the ARP first aid kit a few months back it included a tin of Vaseline. We did not look at it in any great detail at the time, but since then I have picked up another example and I felt it was worthy of a further look. The humble tin of Vaseline was seen extensively both in civilian’s first aid and beauty cupboards and in the field with armed personnel. The petroleum jelly had a number of uses including treating minor cuts and scrapes, moisturising dry skin and even as part of an improvised hearing defender for use in air raids! Sir John Anderson advised householders to:

Keep a tin handy with some pieces of cotton wool in it, each smeared with a little Vaseline…Stuff one of them firmly but not tightly into each ear when the noise begins. You will find it a great help.

Vaseline had been invented in the 1860s in the US by a man called Robert Augustus Cheesborough who found a way to purify the by products of the oil drilling process to create what he originally called ‘Wonder Jelly’. The name quickly changed to ‘Vaseline’ and in the 1900s production spread globally with manufacturing in England dominating the European market.

This tin dates from the 1940s and is typical of those used in wartime:imageThe company used round metal tins, with large yellow printing on them to make it clear what was inside the tin. Despite being an American brand, the tins are marked up as ‘London’, presumably because consumers at the time preferred locally produced products to overseas imports. The Vaseline was clearly only packaged in the UK though, as small writing round the edge of the tin indicates the jelly itself was refined in the US:imageThe tin the Vaseline is stored in was made by the Metal Box Company who we have met many times before on the blog. Their manufacturer’s code can just be made out on the edge of the lid:imageThis tin is still filled with the petroleum jelly it was first filled with and looks like it would still be serviceable today (although I am not about to try it):imageVaseline was advertised as a suitable product for female war workers and those involved in work where dry skin could be a hazard, as seen in this advertisement from the Daily Mail:CaptureIt was also sold as a suitable gift for servicemen, with tins being small enough to be easily carried and the Vaseline useful for a multitude of things on active service. Indeed its healing properties were such that the US government ordered Vaseline impregnated gauze to help treat front line soldiers who had suffered severe burns.

Schedule of Infectious Diseases Card

At the outbreak of World War One it was recognised that there would not be enough professionally qualified nursing staff in the country to support the number of casualties that might be expected from the front. To help boost the numbers of medical staff available civilian groups were rapidly set up by concerned citizens to teach themselves the basics of first aid and nursing to assist those who were already qualified. This assistance was not always appreciated at first by the professionals but as war went on was to become increasingly important as medical services were pushed to breaking point. Some local authorities did encourage these enthusiastic amateurs and London County Council published some aide memoires for those learning nursing at home. Tonight we have an example of one of these, being a ‘Schedule of Infectious Diseases for Home Nursing Classes’:SKM_C284e18062612550This trifold card was first issued in October 1914 at the very start of the great War, however there must have been a subsequent print run as we can tell by the printer’s code that this copy was one of a batch of 10,000 printed on the 23rd June 1915:SKM_C284e18062612550 - CopyInside is a list of common infectious diseases, how long it takes for symptoms to be seen, what early indicators are and how long the patient needs to be in isolation depending on whether a disease is suspected or confirmed:SKM_C284e18062612551The range of diseases listed is very wide and most are today vaccinated against or treatable with antibiotics. This was not an option in 1914 so isolation became far more important to prevent the spread of the disease and stop an epidemic which could take the lives of many, especially the young. This risk was all the more prevalent in wartime with troops moving around the country and thus able to spread the diseases much more quickly than would have normally been the case.

An article published in the Daily Mail in September 1915 entitled ‘Woman’s Part in the War’ set out the importance the country placed on nursing and how it was seen as a suitable outlet for women’s patriotic fervour:

No able-bodied woman is the worse for some knowledge of the common sense elements of nursing. It is not known at what moment that knowledge may be turned to account. It may be useful at any time and now particularly.

As the war proceeds many homes may have convalescents from wounds and disease to care for.

Whatsoever may be the cause of his invalidism, the returned soldier will need good nursing and skilful care: the nurse must know just the right thing to do or otherwise she will retard her patient’s recovery.

British Army Emergency Bandage

We have looked at a number of post war first field dressings over the years on the blog and these served the British military well for many decades. However once serious combat operations started in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s it became clear that it was time to look for an alternative dressing. The British Army settled on the ‘Emergency Bandage’ also commonly called the ‘Israeli bandage’. As its name would suggest, this bandage was developed by an Israeli medic in the 1980s who had noticed that the bandages used to0 control bleeding all dated form the 1940s and that his training was to use a rock to help increase pressure if a wound would not stop bleeding with just a bandage. He felt there had to be a better solution than this and began developing a bandage with a built in pressure bar in 1990/1991. Today the bandages come both with and without a pressure bar, indicated on the package. Large sales really began in 1998 and today they are a common sight with militaries around the world.

The examples produced for the British Army come in a plastic pouch that keeps them completely sterile:imageOn first aid courses British military personnel are taught how to use this packaging to make an improvised flapper valve for sucking chest wounds. Note the British NSN number printed just above the use by date sticker. The back of the package gives instructions on how to apply the bandage:imageThe Emergency Bandage is an elasticized bandage with a non-adhesive bandage pad sewn in. The bandages can have a built-in pressure bar, which allows the soldier to twist the bandage around the wound once, and then change the direction of the bandage, wrapping it around the limb or body part, to create pressure on the wound. Aside from this, the pressure bar also makes bandaging easier. A closure bar at the end of the bandage means that it clips neatly into place and will not slip.military-green-emergency-bandage-with-mobile-padThe bandages come in three different sizes: 4, 6, and 8 inches wide. They are similar to elastic bandages that are used to treat sprain injuries, but they have three unique features:

  1. the sterile non-adherent dressing that is designed to allow removing the bandage without reopening a wound.
  2. the pressure applicator or the pressure bar that is placed directly over the wound to stop the bleeding by applying pressure. It facilitates wrapping in various directions. This is a useful feature for stopping bleeding in groin and head injuries.
  3. the closure bar that is used to secure the bandage and to apply additional pressure to a wound. The closure bar can be used by a “simple sliding motion with one hand.”

The British examples delete the torsion bar, the decision being that the elasticated nature of the bandage was sufficient, but were otherwise were the same as the standard Israeli design. Here we see instructions for applying one of these bandages, again please note that British examples do not have the torsion bar depicted below:CaptureHere two British Army medics treat a wounded Afghan National Army sergeant in the back of a Chinook. The Emergency bandage can be seen on the patient’s leg, interestingly this bandage does seem to have a torsion bar suggesting that they might be using US issue bandages rather than British ones:Capture2A few years ago these bandages were very expensive and fetched up to £15 on the surplus market. Today they are far easier to find and this one cost me just £1. I now have a pair of them and they accurately fill out part of my individual first aid kit on my Osprey Mk IV set.