The experience of a battle casualty in the Second World War was not radically different to that of the First World War. The most common injuries were caused by shells and bullets, and a casualty was evacuated through a similarly-organised chain of medical posts, dressing stations and hospitals.

But during the Second World War, many medical developments of the First World War were further refined and improved. It also saw some of the most significant developments of the last century come into common use.

At the fighting fronts, a Second World War casualty received specialist treatment more quickly than during the First World War. Specialist surgical facilities were closer to the front line and transport was by motor vehicle, sometimes even by air.

For those who experienced psychological trauma, psychiatrists were closer to the front line. The ‘shell shock’ of the First World War had become ‘battle exhaustion’ – a reflection of the better understanding of the complexity of mental trauma.

Art

Scene in a Regimental Aid Post

Interior of a cellar being used as a dressing station with wounded lying on stretchers attended by an orderly. A doctor examines another soldier upper background.
© IWM Art.IWM ART (LD 4575)

Scene in a Regimental Aid Post: In a filthy cellar at Sallenelles, France, after an action 1944, by Leslie Cole.

A Regimental Aid Post was the first post in the medical chain during the two world wars. They were often set up in buildings and cellars close to the fighting. Casualties would be given basic treatment before being sent further back for more thorough care. This scene was witnessed by the official war artist Leslie Cole as fighting continued in Normandy following the D-Day landings. 

Blood transfusions became commonplace, with the Army Blood Transfusion Service providing expertise and large quantities of blood across the globe. Penicillin was developed from Alexander Fleming’s accidental discovery into a mass-produced medicine, transforming the treatment of infection. Diseases were combatted more effectively, with DDT sprayed over large areas to lessen incidences of malaria and typhus amongst troops and civilians.

Specialist treatment on the home fronts also improved, with more advances in plastic surgery and the treatment of burns.

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