What we say

Remembering those lost in war, remembering the medical advances that result from it

Deborah Corcoran

November 11, 2019

When I was young, my Dad told my sister and I about our great uncles, William (Billy) and Peter. They were two of seven brothers who enlisted to fight in WW1, and sadly didn’t make it home, dying from their injuries on the battlefields of France. Another brother, Edward (Teddy), was invalided out, only to die later on at home from his injuries. It wasn’t easy to find out where Billy and Peter were buried. Dad had to write letters to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, make lots of phone calls and look for news clippings about their deaths on microfilm in my home town library. I’m very glad he persevered and as a family, we’ve been to visit the graves a number of times over the years.

To say war has benefits – in addition to the freedoms that are so hard fought for – feels crass. However, the tragedy of the Somme and the industrial slaughter of millions in war across the years and the world, means medicine makes huge strides. It has to. As our ability to kill and maim advances, so does our ability to respond and try and save lives through battlefield medicine. In civilian life, there are medical practices and communications that we use today, that we may not have gained without war.

These are just a few of those innovations, born in response to the horrors of war, that we continue to benefit from.

Lest we forget.

Plastic surgery

Due to the advance in weaponry in the First Wold War, there was a huge rise in the number of soldiers coming home with facial injuries and head wounds. Facial injuries were not easily treated on the front line. As a result, jaw injuries could leave men unable to eat or drink. Some were blinded or left with a gaping hole where their nose used to be. Surgeon Harold Gillies developed a new method of facial reconstructive surgery in 1917, and established The Queen’s hospital in Sidcup.

This was the dawn of plastic surgery as we know it today.

https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/birth-plastic-surgery

Triage

First used in the Napoleonic wars to find some sort of order in the chaos of sheer number of casualties that arrived at a field station, modern triage system was developed in the First World War.

https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/objects-and-stories/medicine-war-zone

Data communications

Close to all our hearts at CHC is effectively communicating health data. Florence Nightingale was the first to create an incredibly effective chart to show how people had died from July 1854 to the end of the following year. In terms of lives claimed, the enemy fell far behind cholera, typhus and dysentery.

https://www.uh.edu/engines/epi1712.htm

Industrial production techniques for medicines

It’s a very familiar story; Alexander Fleming, the petri dish, the mould and the discovery of penicillin. But, the sequel that many of us are less familiar with is Pfizer’s role in its mass production so that it would be available in the quantities needed by the Allied soldiers.

https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/penicillin.html

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