The Riddle of Shock

The Great War saw unprecedented numbers of casualties arriving at Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS) close to death from shock. The cause was haemorrhage from gunshot and shell wounds, compounded by shortage of fluids and intense cold after soldiers had been transported by stretcher bearers working in intolerable conditions.

If badly damaged tissues weren’t excised within a few hours, gas gangrene could develop and the situation would become  hopeless.

The appearance of a soldier suffering from shock and close to death with a pale skin, feeble pulse and beads of sweat was well known but poorly understood. Clearly the blood wasn’t in the skin, but where was it?

This exhibition explores the equipment and techniques developed during the First World War to treat the wounded, and how doctors coped with overwhelming numbers of casualties to solve the riddle of shock…


Q2858 a German prisoner attending a wounded comrade on a stretcher during the Battle of the Merin Road Ridge 20 Sept 1917
A German prisoner attending to a wounded comrade during the Battle of the Merin Road Ridge, 20 Sept 1917. IWM Q2858

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