57,000 casualties were sustained by British Forces on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, creating huge and unprecedented medical challenges. Wounded: Conflict, Casualties and Care, a new exhibition opening at the Science Museum on 29 June, will commemorate the 100th anniversary of this battle and the remarkable innovations in medical practices and technologies that developed as a result of this new kind of industrialised warfare.
During the First World War ten million combatants were killed, but double that number were wounded and millions were left disabled, disfigured or traumatised by their experiences. The challenges were immense. For medical personnel near the front line treating blood loss and infection was the immediate priority in order to save lives. However medics also encountered new forms of physical and mental wounding on a scale that had never been seen before, creating huge numbers of veterans returning home with serious long term care needs.
At the centre of the exhibition will be a remarkable collection of historic objects from the Science Museum’s First World War medical collections, illustrating the stories of the wounded and those who cared for them. From stretchers adapted for use in narrow trenches to made-to-measure artificial arms fitted back in British hospitals, medical technologies, techniques and strategies were pioneered or adapted throughout the war to help the wounded along each stage of rescue and treatment. Visitors will also see unique lucky charms and improvised personal protective items carried by soldiers on the frontline alongside examples of official frontline medical equipment.
Exhibition curator Stewart Emmens said, “The Science Museum’s First World War medical collections provide a fascinating insight into the way medical practices and technologies were adapted and developed to cope with the unprecedented scale and severity of wounding between 1914 and 1918. Visitors to Wounded will also have a rare opportunity to see important art works from the period that help us understand the experience of the soldiers, includingfamous pastel drawings of facial injuries by Henry Tonks, from the Royal College of Surgeons, and a painting by John Lavery in 1914 that captures the arrival of the first British wounded soldiers at the London Hospital.”
Beyond the battlefields and field hospitals, Wounded will look at developments in the longer term treatment and care of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers back home who had suffered life changing physical and mental wounds. By the end of 1918, over 30,000 war pensions had been awarded for shell shock, a figure that rose dramatically in the years to come as the huge psychological cost of the war was recognised by military and civilian authorities. As exhibition visitors will discover, the post war period saw the creation of new medical and welfare institutes and organisations, and gradual improvements in the specialist forms of care and rehabilitation available. However treatment and attitudes towards mental wounding varied greatly, with many returning soldiers reluctant to seek outside help or dependant on charitable support.
Warfare has changed dramatically over the last one hundred years, but similarities remain with the military medical challenges faced today, both through the experiences of the wounded and in their treatment and care. The Wounded exhibition team has worked closely with two UK charities that were formed during the First World War, Combat Stress and Blind Veterans UK, to draw out these parallels and share the personal experiences of soldiers wounded in more recent conflicts.
Sue Freeth, Chief Executive of Combat Stress, said: “We are extremely grateful to the Science Museum for giving six of our veterans the opportunity to participate in developing the Wounded exhibition. They all developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and have shown great courage in sharing their experiences with the Museum to create a personal display that represents their trauma. I believe the exhibition will raise awareness about PTSD and create greater understanding of the impact war can have on the mental health of service personnel.”
Wounded: Conflict, Casualties and Care will be free to visit and opens on Wednesday 29 June 2016 until early 2018. The exhibition has been made possible by a £100,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional support from The Eranda Rothschild Foundation.
Notes to Editors
About the Science Museum
As the home of human ingenuity, the Science Museum’s world-class collection forms an enduring record of scientific, technological and medical achievements from across the globe. Welcoming over 3 million visitors a year, the Museum aims to make sense of the science that shapes our lives, inspiring visitors with iconic objects, award-winning exhibitions and incredible stories of scientific achievement. More information can be found at sciencemuseum.org.uk.
About Discover South Kensington
Discover South Kensington brings together the Science Museum and other leading cultural and educational organisations to promote innovation and learning. South Kensington is the home of science, arts and inspiration. Discovery is at the core of what happens here and there is so much to explore every day. discoversouthken.com
Heritage Lottery Fund and support for First World War heritage
- Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk @heritagelottery
- To date, £70million in HLF grants has been awarded to projects across the UK so they can mark the Centenary and explore all aspects of First World War heritage that matters to them. Through its First World War: then and now programme, HLF is providing grants between £3,000 and £10,000 enabling communities and groups right across the UK to explore, conserve and share their First World War heritage and deepen their understanding of the impact of the conflict. To find out how to apply for funding visit www.hlf.org.uk/thenandnow If a group needs a grant of more than £10,000 for a First World War project, it can apply to HLF through its open programmes www.hlf.org.uk/firstworldwar
- To join the conversation on social media please use #understandingww1
About The Eranda Rothschild Foundation
Founded in 1967 by Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, The Eranda Foundation is a UK grant-making trust which prioritises support under the headings of medical research, education, the arts and social welfare. The Foundation distributes mostly to registered charities in the UK, but significant support is also given to charities in other countries, where there are trustee connections.