As part of a major project supported by the Wellcome Trust, I catalogued some of the IWM’s medical collections which had hitherto been largely unavailable to researchers. A major dividend from making these newly catalogued collections more accessible is that some are now on display in the new exhibition at IWM North, Saving Lives: Frontline Medicine in a Century of Conflict (13 October 2012 to 1 September 2013).
The papers of William Davey who served in the ranks with the Dragoon Guards and the Labour Corps on the Western Front, record the effects of his service on his health. He was awarded a War Badge in December 1917, having received an honourable discharge due to ill health. On display are his Discharge Certificate releasing him from the Army as ‘no longer physically fit’ in November 1917; a Ministry of Pensions Notification of Final Award dated 1930, providing a full ‘a pension for life’ and a Ministry of Pensions letter dated 17 March 1933 informing his widow after his death (from the effects of gas) that she would not be eligible for a widow’s pension (but could apply for one).
Mrs Iris Tomlinson records her service as a nurse at Langton Hall, a convalescent home for soldiers, sailors and airmen during the Second World War run jointly by the Red Cross and St John’s Ambulance under the Commandant, Lady Zia Wernher (a member of the Romanov family and an aunt of Prince Philip). Of particular interest is the Admissions and Discharge Record Book which gives details for each patient who was treated there between August 1943 and July 1945, noting their rank, unit, diagnosis, and next of kin.
Serving as a young officer during the First World War, Sir Lionel Whitby was decorated with the Military Cross for gallantry in 1917 but his leg was amputated after he was badly wounded by shell fire in March 1918. Despite his disability, Whitby completed his medical studies becoming a clinical pathologist and surgeon of international renown. He treated King George V in 1928-29 and Winston Churchill in 1943-44 and was knighted and appointed as Regius Professor of Physic at Cambridge University in 1945. Having joined the Territorial Army, Whitby developed along with his wife, Ethel (a ‘formidable lady’ who was also a doctor serving as an officer with the Royal Army Medical Corps), the Army Blood Transfusion Service, becoming its Director in 1939. The Service supplied over three quarters of a million donations of blood to both British and Allied armies during the Second World War. The development of blood transfusion was one of the major medical advances of the twentieth century saving many lives and providing a model for future peacetime services.
These collections then provide an insight not only into the personal experiences of soldiers who served on the front line and the effects of that service on them and their families, but also highlight the importance of the work carried out by medical staff which saved so many lives shattered during conflict.