Medicine Through Time: Twentieth Century

Twentieth century medicine evolved extraordinarily quickly because of World War One and Two. New methods of fighting and new warfare technology forced medicine to develop quickly. For the first time, wounds were more common than diseases and infections. But, wounds were not always physical. The understanding of psychological wounds began to emerge too. The advance of prosthetic limb technology also expanded as the war progressed. Prosthetics began to include lighter, stronger materials.

New and explosive weapons resulted in quick developments in plastic surgery.  Following the Battle of the Somme (1 July to 18 November 1916), the need for facial reconstruction became more common. While early plastic surgery began to emerge from the fifteenth century, it wasn’t until the twentieth century that real development in this area of medicine was made. Older techniques were published from 1460 where the arm was strapped to the face for ten days. This allowed new skin to grow. The skin from the arm was then used to reconstruct the nose after the arm was cut away from the face. It wasn’t until after the war that pioneering skin grafts were developed to treat the terrible facial burns for soldiers in the Somme.

1889-1895, Bradford Infirmary Casualty Book (C501/6/128)

Injuries include: bruise of the forearm, cuts and bruises of the hand, a cut finger, lacerated wounds on the face, a wrist sprain, a burnt hand, crushed fingers, a fractured clavicle, a wound on the eyeball, abrasion of the nose and the retention of urine.

1902-1904, Bradford Infirmary Casualty Book (C501/6/129)

Injuries include: a cut hand, a cut head, a cut finger, a bruised shoulder, a fractured forearm, dog bites on the hand, a ruptured knee, dislocation of the jaw, a breast abscess, a septic elbow wound, and a burnt chin.

1902-1904, Bradford Infirmary Casualty Book (C501/6/129)

Injuries include: a scald, crushed fingers, bruised ribs, a sprained ankle, an amputation of the little finger, a cut chin, a cut head, a wound on the wrist that needed to be stitched.