World War One produced a host of innovations in medical technology, record-keeping, understanding of diseases - their causes, spread, and treatment, surgery, psychiatric conditions, dentistry and the importance of sanitation. Big improvements in sanitation and cleanliness saw a decrease in disease and spread of infections. In most previous wars the lack of sanitation meant more people would die of disease than fighting. World War One changed this and the majority of these changes were made and implemented on the home front.
The First World War caused upheavals in many areas of life, but evoked the development of new technologies and research to assist the war effort. This was especially the case in medicine, where it acted as a giant field trial. A new feature amongst the many problems caused by great and widespread conflict was the medical administration and sanitation of vast armies. Typically the medical inventions and innovation of the war period seemed clever and respectable, but not particularly brilliant.
The administrative achievement was, however, truly remarkable. There was a general lack of preparedness (except Germany) for war and following the outbreak of hostilities the medical services of the allied nations were expanded on an unprecedented scale. The United Kingdom drew 11,000 civilian practitioners, France mobilized the whole of the medical profession and the United States expanded the medical services 20 fold, enrolling nearly 30,000 doctors as reserve officers. This had great implications on the home front as many doctors had to leave their home towns to work in large hospitals and accommodation had to be provided for those who were transferred to various locations. The medical advances had a significant effect on the home front.
The improvements made in weapons in World War One resulted in a massive increase in injuries and casualties. This increase presented the need for improvement in medical technologies however many of these were still experimental during World War One. One of these technologies was blood transfusions, but specifically blood banking. Although there have been recorded cases of blood transfusions as early as the 15th century they had to be performed immediately and often failed. It was not until 1916 that the first successful blood transfusion was performed with blood that had been stored for an extended period of time. The discovery of blood storage had a significant effect on the home front it terms of that it created the need for employment. Storage facilities had to be built and doctors had to supervise the processing and storage of the blood. Another impact that it had on the home front was that soldiers who were wounded on the front line were able to be sent home and return to battle quickly due to the supplies of blood and other medical advances.
Prior to World War One there were more fatalities due to illness than there were due to warfare. This was primarily due to a lack in sanitation and cleanliness. World War One saw big improvements in these fields and this triggered a decrease in disease and spread of infections. This affected the war in numerous ways; however the most important of these was the ability to heal soldiers and get them back to battle as quickly as possible. Depending on the severity of the injury or infection the injured person was either treated on the front line or sent back to the home front. This had massive implications on how medical facilities were staffed and operated as well as employment opportunities for many people. This impacted greatly upon the home front.
Chlorine gas released from canisters set along the front was introduced by the Germans in World War One. The deadly gases sank down into the trenches causing initial symptoms of watery eyes and an irritated throat. Panic soon resulted. Protective masks and respirators containing filter pads soaked with chemicals were developed to protect troops against these gasses. Soon additional chemical agents, such as mustard gas, were used. Mustard gas was usually not noticed at first, but soon caused inflamed eyes, vomiting, and blisters on exposed skin similar to burns which became infected. Approximately 97% of all gassed soldiers survived, but evacuation, decontamination, and treatment placed a severe strain on medical treatment facilities and evacuation resources. This seriously affected the home front as there was a sudden need for more trained nurses and larger, more advanced medical facilities. However at the end of the war the home front was rewarded with modern medical facilities and technologies. It was also difficult for the home front to organize sufficient evacuations for the soldiers affected by the gasses.
During war there are countless types of injuries that can occur, however the most common injury in World War One was wounds produced by shrapnel, shell, and grenade fragments. These weapons were destructive to large areas of the body and they were almost always infected by pieces of dirty clothing. There became a need to locate the shrapnel quickly without causing further harm to the patient. This need for technology saw the implementation of new X-ray and magnetic applications. This new technology provided the opportunity for employment for a range of people on the home front. As X-rays were a relatively new technology they needed to be further developed and researched and this created work for researches. The X-ray machines also had to be built, maintained and operated which required skilled employees.
A major problem in World War One was that of early discharge from hospitals without proper rehabilitation. Robert Jones, a notable surgeon, tackled this in 1915 by opening a hospital of 250 beds for rehabilitation near Liverpool. This experiment was followed by others. In the early months of World War One fracture of the thigh bone had a mortality rate of 80% - mostly from infection. Jones' primary concern was the usage of splints, employing the Thomas (his uncle) splint. In 1917 a group of 20 carefully selected American orthopaedic surgeons came to Liverpool to help him. It became clear that special clinics were needed to carry out reconstructive surgery of bones and joints. Fracture clinics were set up in general hospitals where orthopaedic specialists could control the whole course of the patient's treatment and recovery. This created a demand for orthopaedic surgeons as well as builders and engineers to construct and plan the facilities. This demand for employees affected the home front as trained workers would have left their home towns in order to be able to work at the large hospitals. The medical advances made throughout the war had a benefit for the general population of the home front in the treatment of, for example, orthopedic, burns and sanitation and sterilization procedures.
World War One saw a myriad of medical inventions which helped improve the performance of the soldiers on the front line however their impact did not stop there. The medical advances had a significant effect on the home front by creating a need for employment, medical facilities and trained staff in hospitals. The home front felt the burden of researching and implementing these new medical technologies, however they were rewarded with state of the art medical technologies and facilities. The medical advances in World War One did have a significant effect on the home front.
Bibliography:"Blood Bank." Wikipedia. 27 Apr. 2009.
"Medical History and World War One." Google Answers. 24 Apr. 2009.
"Technology during World War I." Wikipedia. 26 Apr. 2009.