Caring for casualties

Casualties had to be taken from the field of battle to the places where doctors and nurses could treat them. They were collected by stretcher-bearers and moved by a combination of people, horse and cart, and later on by motorised ambulance ‘down the line’. Men would be moved until they reached a location where treatment for their specific injury would take place. Where soldiers ended up depended largely on the severity of their wounds. Owing to the number of wounded, hospitals were set up in any available buildings, such as abandoned chateaux in France. Often Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS) were set up in tents. Surgery was often performed at the CCS; arms and legs were amputated and wounds were operated on. As the battlefield became static and trench warfare set in, the CCS became more permanent, with better facilities for surgery and accommodation for female nurses, which was situated far away from the male patients. Wounds to the extremities were so severe that many thousands of soldiers had to have limbs amputated. In France, a guillotine, a variation on the one used to cut off heads in the French Revolution, was used to amputate limbs. As traumatic as it was, amputation saved the lives of many men as it often prevented infection. Infection was a serious complication for the wounded. Doctors used all the chemical weaponry in their arsenal to prevent infection. As there were no antibiotics or sulphonamides, a number of alternative methods were employed. The practice of ‘debridement’ – whereby the tissue around the wound was cut away and the wound sealed – was a common way to prevent infection. Carbolic lotion was used to wash wounds, which were then wrapped in gauze soaked in the same solution. Other wounds were ‘bipped’. ‘Bipp’ (bismuth iodoform paraffin paste) was smeared over severe wounds to prevent infection. – See more at:

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