14th February 1916 Monday

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Douglas describes how he endures an amount of personal suffering during the month.

“The usual duties were carried out of attending to the sick and wounded in hospital and looking after the interests of our own men. Censoring the letters was a tremendous task, which the orderly officer for the day got to do. We had several visits from senior officers and ‘big-bugs’. Their inspections always passed off well, as our place was always exceedingly spic and span. Colonel Davies had the knack of getting the best out of his officers and men. Captain Anderson a good sort and one of the best was a general favourite too.

Suffering from acute toothache one day I got one of our sergeants, – a dental student- to remove the offending tooth. It was an upper bicuspid and he got it out very skilfully, without any anaesthetic. The agony was awful”.

(Field Marshall Sir Douglas) Haig called for dentists to attend the BEF in France in 1914. The BEF ranked vets and blacksmiths higher than dentists in their list of priorities, and when Haig developed toothache in the autumn of 1914, the BEF did not have a dentist on hand to treat him. His toothache had to be treated by a French surgeon, Charles Valadier. Charles Valadier, or Sir August Charles Valadier as he later became, was a dental surgeon from Paris to whom Haig was sent. By the end of the year, there were 11 dentists treating the BEF, an average of one for four divisions. It was not until 1917 that mobile dental treatment units were introduced. – See more at: http://westernfrontassociation.com/the-great-war/great-war-on-land/casualties-medcal/1037-haigs-toothache-dentistry-bef-1914-18.html#sthash.oxlM4Y5r.dpuf

Having cured his toothache with rudimentary treatment Douglas then gets himself into a hospital bed for a fortnight.

“One day whilst playing football in gum-boots and on a muddy pitch, I slipped and injured my right knee (cartilage torn). I had to be taken to hospital for treatment as the knee was very painful and swollen. A splint was applied and hot fomentations. I was in bed for a fortnight altogether and hobbled about with sticks for another week. I got all the letter censoring to do and was kept cheery with visitors and some of my fellow officers who came in for a game of cards with me. The famous specialist Lyn Thomas, the bone specialist, who invented ‘Thomas’s splint’** came to examine my knee, but ordered rest, although an operation was suggested at one time.”

A football game during the First World War

© IWM (Q 1109)

**In fact Thomas’s Splint was not the invention of Lyn Thomas but had been invented in the middle of the 19th century by Hugh Owen Thomas (1834-1891), who is considered to be the father of orthopaedic surgery in Britain. He was one of five brothers all sent by their father, who practiced as a bonesetter, to study medicine.

During the First World War from 1916-18, Thomas’s nephew Sir Robert Jones applied the use of the splint in cases of compound fractures, reducing the mortality of compound fractures of the femur from 87% to under 8%.


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