The Riddle of Shock: Surgery

Many of the wounded in the First World War were taken to Casualty Clearing Stations [CCSs], medical units close to the front lines with space for up to 1,000 casualties. There surgery could be carried out and the more seriously wounded could be transferred to base hospitals on the coast or taken back to the UK.

© IWM (Q 26636) Operating theatre of a Casualty Clearing Station RAMC
Surgical team in the operating theatre of a RAMC Casualty Clearing Station, 1917

Surgical teams in CCSs were made up a surgeon, an anaesthetist, a nurse and an orderly. There were few specialist anaesthetists during the War and nurses, dentsits and chaplains ciould be called upon top provide anaesthesia during surgery.

© IWM (Q 33441) Operating theatre suite at No 23 Casualty Clearing Station in France
Operating theatre suite at No. 23 Casualty Clearing Station in France

The operating theatres in CCSs were in 60ft by 10ft marquees and the surgical teams rotated between four tables, working a minimum of sixteen hours per day.

Surgical Set

Minor surgical set

This set contains scalpels, forceps, clamps and suture needles.


Singer’s tourniquet in a case

Tourniquets were used to stem the flow of bleeding. They were widely criticised because if they were left on for too long the limb could be lost.

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