Medical Supply and First Aid

All warring nations faced the challenge of providing rapid treatment in the field. Initial care focused on stopping bleeding, preventing infection, treating pain and shock, providing warmth and nourishment, and immobilizing fractures for safe transport to the next level of care. Medical supplies had to be easy to apply and transport. Tracking wounded soldiers was equally important—the medical record-keeping began with diagnosis tags attached to soldiers at the time of initial treatment. 

Regulation equipment for U.S. Hospital Corps, around 1918
Courtesy of National Museum of Health and Medicine, Otis Historical Archives

American Expeditionary Forces combat artist George Matthews Harding drew this image of wounded soldiers returning to advanced aid stations after the Battle of Verdun, France, October 1918.

Diagram of the system for evacuation of wounded soldiers from battlefront to base hospital, 1925
From The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War, Field Operations

German medical orderly’s belt, around 1917
The belt includes sterile bandages, medicines for pain and digestive relief, antiseptics, needles, and soap.

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U.S. Hospital Corps belt, 1917
The medical belt included pockets for sterile dressing packets, iodine swabs, and antiseptic gauze. The corpsmen often carried an extra canteen of water for wounded soldiers.

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Medical backpack, Turkish Army, 1914–1918
The Turkish Army used the Red Crescent symbol to signify medical services on the battlefield. The Ottoman Empire introduced the symbol in the 1870s as a Muslim alternate to the Red Cross symbol.
Gift of the Government of Turkey

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Medical chest for first-aid ambulance, Italian, around 1916
The chest includes sterile bandages, splints, morphine, antiseptics, and diagnostic tags.

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U.S. Army First Aid Packet, 1916
Every soldier carried a small first-aid packet with two sterile bandages. The American packet was in a protective metal case. Many wounds required larger dressings such as the Front Line Parcel (American Red Cross) and Shell Dressing (British).
Gift of Mary G. N. and Whitney Ashbridge

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Front Line Parcel No.1

First Field Dressing

Shell Dressing

Introduced by a British orthopedic surgeon, the Thomas splint immobilized fractures of the femur (upper leg) and greatly reduced fatalities from shock and hemorrhage.
Gift of William P. Evans

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Diagram showing method of applying the Thomas splint in the field, 1919
From The Early Treatment of War Wounds

Hypodermic syringe kit, U.S. Medical Department, around 1918
U.S. medical officers carried hypodermic syringe kits on their belts with potent drugs such as morphine, strychnine, and cocaine to combat pain and shock.

Diagnosis tags, U.S. Medical Department, 1916–1918
Medical staff recorded initial diagnoses and treatments on tags attached to a soldier’s jacket. The dark blue border, when left attached to the tag, indicated that the patient was unable to walk.

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American soldier assisting wounded British soldier wearing diagnosis tag, Montmirail, France, May 31, 1918
Courtesy of National Archives