Disease ridden outfits: contaminated uniforms and British preventative medicine in the First World War
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 10:21 authored by Georgia McWhinney
During the First World War, a war of attrition and the dirty and mud-filled environment of trench warfare spurred the onset of various medical conditions. Yet, when soldiers fell ill, it was not immediately recognised that some maladies stemmed from contamination – soiling, infestation and poisons – in their uniforms. With a new focus on preventative medicine, doctors and medical scientists investigated numerous medical conditions that spread through contaminated uniforms. It is well known that these medical professionals developed a body of knowledge on the prevention of uniform contamination. It is far less known, however, that soldiers also developed a set of medical ideas. Two separate ‘systems of medical ideas’ developed simultaneously during the Great War, and this is demonstrated through the study of lice, trench foot, and mustard gas poisoning. While the voices of medical professionals have received ample attention, the voices of the soldiers who also discussed medicine have been neglected. This thesis employs these soldiers’ voices to highlight their reliance on ‘folk medicine’ in the trenches.