The best medicine?

The Science Museum's Exhibition 'Wounded: Conflict, Casualties and Care' explores medical developments made as a consequence of WW1 and the treatment of those wounded in action on the Western Front. However, the exhibition creates some surprising juxtapositions...

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A selection of lucky charms carried by soldiers during the First World War.

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One of the first exhibits to greet visitors to the exhibition is this display of lucky charms carried by soldiers during the First World War. For me, it raised questions about where we place our faith during times of great crisis. In scientific innovation, or elsewhere...?

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A blood transfusion set.

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The Science Museum's exhibition could be read as a history of medical advancement in the wake of WW1. For instance, this blood transfusion set was made available in the later stages of the war but presented a major medical advance and paved the way for practices which are now commonplace.

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An advertisement for Bovril.

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However, some of the exhibits which stood out most were those which presented the human side of war and the emblems of normality which became so precious. For instance, the potentially life-saving provision of comfort and warmth to those risk of going into circulatory shock (a major killer) was recognised. For those at risk of going to shock, the provision of basic yet scarce and highly sought after commodities which reminded soldiers of home, such as tea, Bovril and tobacco, were sometimes just enough to help them pull through. Manufacturers, naturally, seized this opportunity to market products to worried families, as this advert shows...

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A monster toy which became the personification of one modern-day soldier's PTSD.

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The final case in the exhibition contains a number of items added by modern day veterans, though a collaboration between the Science Museum and the charity Combat Stress. The testimony of one soldier describes how this monster toy, bought by his fiancee as a funny gift, became almost a personification of his PTSD symptoms and a way to channel negative feelings during the course of recovery. Although medical approaches to military PTSD have come a long way from early understanding of 'shell shock' and a range of therapies are now available, many soldiers and their families struggle to access the help they need. The toy exhibited here seems to represent a combination of support accessed through Combat Stress, a personal coping mechanism and family support.