*** World War I -- World War I medical care and science

World War I: Medical Care and Science

German horse-drawn ambulances
Figure 1.--Important advances were made in medical care and science during World War I. One of the most significant was the importance of time, treating the wounded as quickly a possible. The Allies benefitted by ambulances and ambulance drivers provided by the American Red Cross. The Germans had few motor vehicles or the gasoline to operate them. They used horse-drawn waggons. This is a 1914 postcard sold by the German Red Cross to help finance the care of wounded soldiers. On the back it says, "Sammlung zu Gunsten der freiwilligen Krankenpflege im Kriege," meaning "Collection for the benefit of voluntary nursing during the war". Click on the image to see the back eith a message written from Bavaria.

Artillery and to a lesser extent machine guns were the major killers in World War I. Even if a soldier wasn't instantly killed the dirt of the battlefield meant wounds often became infected. As penicillin was not yet available, many died from even minor wounds. Millions did die and millions more were left disabled which created vast new challenges for medical professionals. The numbers of wounded was unprecedented. The solders that fought in World War I for the most part received better medical care than ever before in history, but this depended on the particular country, affecting the resources devoted to medical care. Wounded American, British (including the Dominions), French, and German soldiers got excellent care. Russian soldiers less so. Turkish soldiers got very poor care. We are not sure at this time about other countries. America was neutral for much of the War, but from an early point, the American Red Cross provided ambulance services to the Allies--both drivers and motor vehicles. The Allied and German medical system during World War I was very well organized. There were different levels of care for the wounded soldiers. Each level was increasingly less mobile the farther the wounded were removed from the front. The first level was battlefield aid by a stretcher bearer and the medical officer. The wounded were next evacuated to a main or field dressing station where emergency surgeries might occur. The Allies would then evacuate the wounded by motorized convoy to a Casualty Clearing Station (CCS). The Germans had very few motorized ambulances and used horse-drawn carts. The CCS were typically located close to railway lines, still within a few miles from the fighting and served to treat patients quickly so they could be returned them to the front. Those severely wounded men requiring more involved treatment were evacuated by rail to a base hospital. After treatment there were convalescent hospitals for long-term recovery. The advanced weaponry of World War I, such as chemical weapons, created new trauma challenges for World War I doctors. Soldiers suffered terribly. Men were blinded and suffocated by the various chemical agents. The Allies and Germans had gas masks. The Russia had few, There were a huge number of terrible disfiguring facial and jaw injuries. Trench warfare protected one's body from damage, but the face and upper body were exposed. Many soldiers suffered from facial injuries, such as lost eyes and/or missing portions of the face. One of the ironies of war is that advances in medical science and care often come from war. And this was the case of World War I. Major advances were made in orthopedics, such as the Thomas splint. There was widespread use of treatments and vaccinations for deadly diseases like typhoid. The Allies introduced mobile X-ray units. New antiseptics were used to clean wounds. Soldiers were taught to be more disciplined about hygiene. Armies become better organized in looking after the wounded. A better understanding of the importance of time developed. Doctors were brought closer to the front line. Hospital trains evacuated casualties. Medical staff were able to successfully treat injuries that were once life threatening, primarily by immobilizing the wounded to prevent blood loss. New techniques in facial surgery and burns were developed. There were important advances in prosthetic limb technology because of the vast number of amputees. This all led to a much better organization of healthcare systems in major countries.


Navigate the Children in History Website:
[Return to Main World War I page]
[Aftermath] [Alliances] [Animals] [Armistace] [Causes] [Campaigns] [Casualties] [Children] [Countries] [Declaration of war] [Deciding factors] -------[Diplomacy] [Economics] -------[Geo-political crisis] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[Military forces] [Neutrality] [Pacifism] [People] [Peace treaties] [Propaganda] [POWs] [Russian Revolution] [Signals and intelligence] [Terrorism] [Trench warfare] ------[Technology] ------[Weaponry]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War I page]
[Return to Main war essay page]

Created: 11:16 AM 4/3/2021
Last updated: 8:22 PM 4/3/2021