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:On 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:The 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.The 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:
- the sterile non-adherent dressing that is designed to allow removing the bandage without reopening a wound.
- 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.
- 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:Here 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:A 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.
In the run up to World War Two British companies were quick to take advantage of the growing worry about air raids and produced a wide variety of goods that householders could buy to help protect themselves, their loved ones and their property in the event of bombing. This page from the Daily Mail in early 1939 shows some of the products advertised to the general public as being needed if the bombers came:Many of these products would be of limited use when bombs finally came, but first aid kits were a sensible purchase and although advertised as for ‘ARP’ use, they were also functional for more general accidents round the home. One such first aid kit was the ‘First Aid outfit number 4, which came in a stout cardboard box:A large label was pasted to the front with details of the boxes title, manufacturer etc.:Inside was a variety of first aid supplies:And the underside of the lid had some basic first aid instructions. These have been tailored slightly for ARP use by including advise on treating gas casualties:I am unsure if all the contents of this box are original, or how complete it is, but I suspect it is at least representative of what the outfit originally contained. Amongst other items, the box contains cotton wool, crepe and triangular bandages, a box of Elastoplast brand adhesive plasters, pins, a tin of Vaseline, an eye bath and a thermometer:There is also a small vial of insect repellent which I suspect is not original to the box, but is period so was probably added by the original purchaser.
A wide variety of first aid kits were sold to households in this period, at varying prices and with different contents. Some were far smaller than this set, with just a few bandages and slings, others were far more comprehensive and contained many more items. They were usually sold based on the size of household they were purportedly designed for, but often the retail price was a more pressing factor and a poor family with many children, if they could afford a first aid kit, would have purchased the cheaper sets regardless of the fact that they were marketed as being for a smaller number of people.
Update: My thanks to Richard Aixill for providing some more information on these trousers which has allowed an update.
Most militaria collectors tend to focus on combat clothing or other distinctly military items of clothing. Alongside these though, are a large number of pieces of work clothing that look very similar to their civilian counterparts, but are purchased for military use. Items such as specialist clothing for medical use are normally identical to their civilian counterparts but have labels and markings that indicate they were part of the military stores systems. Tonight we have an example of just this sort of item with a pair of medical technician’s trousers:These are made of heavy duty white cotton and are simple, loose fitting trousers. The waist and fly are secured with white plastic buttons:And a metal slider is included for waist adjustment:Simple slash pockets are included at each hip:And a buttoned rear pocket is fitted to the seat of the trousers:The label in the waistband of the trousers shows they are military issue as they have an NSN number and gives details of sizing:The 22G code indicates they were issued to the RAF and they date from around 1979. They were manufactured by Remploy, a government owned factory that offered employment to disabled men and women and a firm that won many contracts from the military in the post-war period.
I have struggled to find much information on medical technicians in the Army during this period, I have got a description of what an ‘Operating Theatre Technician’ was expected to do in 1979:
Operating Theatre Technicians are selected from RAMC trained soldiers. They prepare operating theatres and assist surgeons, anaesthetists, and hospital sisters during operations in hospitals and field units both at home and abroad…
A medical technician though was a more general term for any other rank member of the armed forces in a medical role and these trousers were probably worn by both these and those with a more specific role in military healthcare of the period: the white colour indicating their use in a ward or hospital rather than in front line service.
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:The lid of the box is marked ‘JJEFF’ and has a /|\ War Department ownership mark engraved on it:The 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:The syringe and its accessories are mounted on a sprung steel tray that is a tight push fit into the outer box:The syringe is made of stainless steel, with a large plunger running down the centre:It is marked up as being a ‘Plimm Product’:Also included is a small metal tube, but quite what this is for I don’t know:The 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:Sterilisation 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.
Tonight we have an example of the ‘Large Mine Dressing’, a field dressing used for the immediate treatment of wounds:This example is covered in blue paper (sadly now rather damaged) and has instructions printed on the front for its use, along with a large /|\ mark indicating government ownership:I have struggled to find out exactly why this type of dressing was called a ‘mine’ dressing. I suspect it was first developed to deal with accidents in coal mines, but I have found out nothing definite. In form though a mine dressing is much like a shell or first field dressing, consisting of a sterile absorbent pad attached to a bandage that allows it to be drawn tight against a wound. A tape is provided at the rear of the dressing to allow the paper packet to be ripped open in an emergency:The following instructions come from a RAMC training pamphlet and are about changing dressings in a hospital- in the field things were seldom this clean and organised, but the general principles would remain the same:
The assistant opens the dressing package, or, if large drums are used, places the necessary dressing material in a sterile dish.
Using two pairs of forceps, the dresser cleans the skin around the wound; he then performs the necessary toilet (removal of stitches, drains or packing and irrigation), and covers the wound with a sterile dressing. Great care must be taken to fix the dressing so it cannot slip.
All sterile material needed by the dresser is passed to him by the assistant with the forceps (Cheatle forceps) which never touch anything that is not sterile. Particular care must be taken that the forceps of the dresser never touch those of the assistant.
The dresser then discards his forceps for re-sterilisation and applies the outer dressings and bandages.
Details of procedure will vary in different hospitals, and on active service in the field modification may be inevitable. But it is important that everyone concerned in the dressing of wounds should understand the general principle.
This type of dressing was certainly issued in ARP first aid kits and it is possible it was for military use as well although any information on this type of dressing seems to be sadly limited. Unfortunately this example is rather battered, but it will suffice until I can find a nicer example for my collection.
Over the years we have covered quite a few items related to medical services in the military, tonight however, I think I am right in saying, is our first object related to military dentistry. The Royal Army Dentistry Corps looks after soldiers’ teeth in the army, and the official British Army website describes the role as:
The Royal Army Dental Corps has taken care of the Army’s dental health for nearly a century and continues to provide high-quality dental care to the Army both in barracks and on operations. Wherever in the world the Army operates, you will find the Dental Officers and Dental Nurses of the RADC.
Whilst the army’s dentists are commissioned officers, the dental nurses (both men and women) are enlisted personnel and whilst working in a dental surgery they wear medical scrubs, with different roles having different colours assigned to them. Tonight we have an example of trousers from these dental scrubs for a ‘Dental Support Assistant’:These are incredibly simple trousers, made in a blue-grey shade of cotton. Dentists wear blue and dental hygienists green. There is a simple drawstring at the waist:And a pair of elastic tucks in the side to help hold them up:They have a single pocket on the seat:As ever a label gives sizing and NSN numbers:The stores catalogue indicates that these trousers are issued as part of a two piece set with the matching top (sadly I have not found this item yet):The Army’s website gives more insight into what a dental assistant can expect from their career:
Army Dental Nurses are dually-qualified Dental Nurses and Army Soldiers, who are responsible for providing Dental Nursing support in barracks and on operations all over the world. Both qualified Dental Nurses and unqualified applicants looking to train as a Dental Nurse can apply…
After you qualify, you promote to Lance Corporal and your first posting will be at a military dental centre, providing Dental Nursing care. Our dental centres are all equipped to a high standard and you are given clinical support and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to help you provide clinical care to the highest standard.
As you gain experience and promote, there are lots of opportunities for Dental Nurses to develop within the RADC. More senior Dental Nurses can gain additional qualifications such as Specialist Dental Radiography, fluoride application or Oral Health Education (OHE). Many work as dental practice managers, doing the everyday management of Army dental centres. Some Dental Nurses are sent to Medical Regiments, which are specialist medical units providing medical and dental care on exercises and operations overseas. The same opportunities exist for Reserve Dental Nurses, including providing Dental Nursing support in remote locations such as Kenya.