Medical Aspects of the Anglo Boer War 1899-1902


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Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association (HBSA) Annual Bisley Lecture 20th August 2011
Robert Davidson
“Medical Aspects of the 2nd Anglo Boer War 1899-1902”
given at the Artists Rifles clubhouse, Bisley Camp, Surrey, England.

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  • South Africa
  • Medical Aspects of the Anglo Boer War 1899-1902

    1. 1. Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association Annual Bisley Lecture 20th August 2011 Robert Davidson “Medical Aspects of the 2 nd Anglo Boer War 1899-1902” given at the Artists Rifles clubhouse, Bisley Camp, Surrey, England.
    2. 4. Boer Afrikaner Dutch-speaking South African
    3. 5. Facts and figures Boer population 220,000 Boer burghers 46,000
    4. 6. New medical organizations <ul><li>Royal Army Medical Corps 1898 </li></ul><ul><li>Red Cross </li></ul><ul><li>Nursing services </li></ul>
    5. 7. Medical progress <ul><li>antisepsis </li></ul><ul><li>Anaesthesia </li></ul><ul><li>bacteriology </li></ul><ul><li>X-rays </li></ul>
    6. 8. British: when wounded… “ the immediate symptoms in many patients were amazingly slight” <ul><li>company had 1 medical N.C.O. and 2 stretcher bearers to take wounded to dressing station (= Medical Officer + medical N.C.O.) </li></ul><ul><li>From the dressing station taken by stretcher bearers, from the bearer company under the care of a M.O. and two medical N.C.O.s, to a collecting station </li></ul><ul><li>Then they were transported by ambulance to a field hospital. </li></ul>
    7. 10. “ The erect position and small group necessary to bear off a wounded man at once draws a concentrated fire, if fighting is still proceeding”.
    8. 11. “ it is necessary to gather up the wounded before nightfall if possible.”
    9. 12. Volunteer stretcher bearers at Spion Kop
    10. 13. Volunteer stretcher bearers at Spion Kop
    11. 14. Coming down from Spion Kop
    12. 15. Natal volunteer stretcher bearers
    13. 17. Dressing station, Modder river
    14. 18. “ The one period of danger is that of transport”
    15. 20. “ A stretcher party in my experience easily outstripped the wagon. Both the Indian dhoolie-bearers and the hastily recruited Colonial bearer companies were most successful ..”
    16. 22. British Army organization <ul><li>Field Hospitals - mobile - ground sheets for ~100 patients. </li></ul><ul><li>Stationary Hospitals - along the lines of communication - ~100 patients on stretchers (expanded if necessary). </li></ul><ul><li>General Hospitals –initially at bases - later moved forward. Like civilian hospital; 250 -500 patients. </li></ul><ul><li>Private Hospitals </li></ul>
    17. 23. Field hospital, Natal front
    18. 24. Field hospital, Natal front
    19. 25. Australian ambulance
    20. 26. British ambulance
    21. 27. British ambulance, Magersfontein
    22. 28. “ Each train was provided with accommodation for two medical officers, two nursing Sisters, orderlies, a kitchen, and a dispensary, and each carried some 120 patients”
    23. 29. Stationary hospital
    24. 30. Stationary hospital
    25. 31. Stationary hospital, Bloemfontein
    26. 32. General hospital
    27. 33. General hospital
    28. 34. General hospital
    29. 35. Hospital Ships
    30. 36. Medicine in the Boer Republics – before the war <ul><li>Low standards </li></ul><ul><li>Few GPs </li></ul><ul><li>Only one military doctor (Dr Lillpop) </li></ul><ul><li>1896 Transvaal Red Cross </li></ul>
    31. 37. Red cross armbands
    32. 39. Medicine in the Boer Republics - when war broke out: <ul><li>Official field ambulances </li></ul><ul><li>Local Volunteer ambulances e.g. medical students, Jewish, etc… </li></ul><ul><li>14 Foreign volunteer ambulances: </li></ul><ul><li>French, Dutch, Netherlands Indies, Russian, Belgian-German, Irish-American, Swiss, Scandinavian… </li></ul>
    33. 40. Dutch and Russian ambulance
    34. 43. Boer field hospital <ul><li>Boer field hospital </li></ul>
    35. 46. Boer Hospital Train
    36. 47. In the guerilla phase <ul><li>Initially, Boer wounded cared for in farm houses </li></ul><ul><li>Later, left for British to capture and care for </li></ul>
    37. 49. New types of war injury: <ul><li>THE MODERN RIFLE </li></ul><ul><li>Smokeless </li></ul><ul><li>Rapid fire </li></ul><ul><li>Long range </li></ul><ul><li>THE MODERN RIFLE BULLET </li></ul><ul><li>Small calibre </li></ul><ul><li>High velocity </li></ul><ul><li>jacketed </li></ul>
    38. 50. <ul><li>Each soldier was issued with a first field dressing </li></ul><ul><li>“ It was early recognised that the drier the dressing the better, and hence anything like a mackintosh layer was carefully avoided”. </li></ul>
    39. 53. <ul><li>“ We may fairly assume … 90 per cent. of the wounds to have been produced by bullets of small caliber”. </li></ul>
    40. 54. .303 .577/.450 7X57 7X54 8X60R 6.5X55
    41. 57. Makins: <ul><li>“ The opportunity of observing large numbers of injuries from rifle bullets of small calibre has not previously been afforded to British surgeons.” </li></ul><ul><li>  </li></ul>
    42. 59. <ul><li>“ The effect of the diminution of calibre … allows the production of very 'neat' injuries - also the production of remarkably prolonged tracks (which) were impossible with the older and larger projectiles. “ </li></ul>
    43. 67. Humerus, 50 yds
    44. 68. Humerus, 100 yds
    45. 69. Humerus 250 yds
    46. 70. Humerus 1000 yds
    47. 71. Femur, 100 yds
    48. 72. Femur, 500 yds
    49. 73. Tibia/fibula, 1000 yds
    50. 74. “ Retained bullets sometimes give rise to unexpected surprises …”
    51. 75. Makins: <ul><li>“ The employment of bullets of small calibre is all to the advantage of the men wounded, except in so far as the increased possibilities of the range of fire may augment the number of individuals hit.” </li></ul>
    52. 76. The dum-dum controversy <ul><li>“ Re: so-called expanding bullets of small calibre: I believe that a great number of the injuries which were attributed to the employment of these missiles were produced either by ricochet regulation bullets of small calibre, or by large leaden bullets of the Martini-Henry type.” </li></ul>
    53. 81.   Ratio killed to wounded 1815 Waterloo 10 killed to 33 wounded 1854 Crimean War 10 killed to 44 wounded 1899-1902 Boer War 10 killed to 47 wounded
    54. 82. <ul><li>“ The increased distance which for the most part separated the two bodies of men, a feature no doubt accentuated by the mode of warfare adopted by the Boer, and his strong sense of the folly of close combat on equal terms, tended to efface one of the chief characters, velocity of flight, on the part of the projectile. The want of effectiveness of the small calibre bullet as an instrument of serious mischief also kept down the mortality.” </li></ul>
    55. 83. Wounds from shells
    56. 84. Shrapnel shell
    57. 85. Lyddite
    58. 86. Lyddite
    59. 87. Lyddite
    60. 90. Civilian Surgeons <ul><li>~300 civilian surgeons appointed consultants to the army served in South Africa - Sir Anthony Bowlby, Sir George Makins, Sir Lenthal Cheatle, Watson-Cheyne, Cuthbert Wallace, Sir William McCormack and Sir Frederick Treves. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle … </li></ul>
    61. 92. “ Without unceasing passage of the hand across the part, it was impossible to keep flies from settling, and during operations the nuisance was much greater.”
    62. 93. Typhoid Among 557,653 British soldiers, there were 57,686 cases of typhoid 8,225 died from typhoid 7,582 died from wounds.
    63. 94. <ul><li>“ Water was often muddy, and the soldiers would take very little care what they drank unless under constant supervision; hence a great quantity of very undesirable water was drunk. </li></ul><ul><li>The men would often go and fill their water-bottles amongst the animals' feet rather than take the trouble to walk the few necessary yards round. ” </li></ul>
    64. 97. typhoid
    65. 99. Intombi hospital, Ladysmith
    66. 100. Intombi hospital graveyard, Ladysmith
    67. 101. British superstition about disease “ Sunstroke was not common, and, considering the heat, it was very remarkable how little the men suffered from this condition. This was no doubt in part attributable to the absence of the possibility of getting alcoholic drinks”
    68. 102. cholera belt
    69. 103. Sun exposure
    70. 105. Spinal pad
    71. 107. Boers
    72. 108. Boers?
    73. 110. Cordite - eating
    74. 116. Acknowldgements : For a full account of this subject, please consult Prof J C (Kay) De Villiers’ definitive book “ Healers, helpers and Hospitals - A History of Military Medicine in the Anglo-Boer War Volumes I and Volume II” 
 ISBN: 9781869192777
Publication year: 2009
 Pages: 772 (Volume I) and 324 (Volume II) 
 Publishers: Protea Book House, Pretoria
    75. 117. Thank you.
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