Brodie Helmet

At the outbreak of the First World War, soldiers went into battle with non-metal headgear. This differed depending on where they were stationed. Head injuries from shrapnel and debris increased, and the need arose for a stronger and more resilient helmet for soldiers on the front line.

In September 1915 a design patented by John Brodie was selected as the British Army’s standard head protection. The design meant the helmet could be cut from a single sheet of steel, and then pressed to form a ‘soup bowl’ shape. This made the helmet stronger, and easier to produce. The design featured a brim 5cm wide, which protected the head and shoulders from above. It was made of ‘Hadfield steel’, which could withstand the impact of some shrapnel. Unfortunately, the design lacked protection to a soldier’s neck and lower head, and also reflected light. The helmet was later modified to a light green, and covered with sawdust and cork, giving it a dull and non-reflective surface.

The first one million Brodie helmets were distributed in the summer of 1916. It was the first helmet given to all serving soldiers in the British and Commonwealth armies, regardless of rank.

1945 US Army Entrenching Tool

We have a 1945 US Army Entrenching Tool in our History of Medicine Collection. 

These were digging tools used by the military for a variety of purposes, including digging latrines (trench toilets) and graves, as well as as weapons. In World War One, these were generally two part designs, with a metal head and separate wooden handle. in World War Two, a folding design, like the one in our collection, became increasingly popular.

Trench toilets were usually pits which were about five foot deep. There were two people assigned at any time to keep the latrines in good condition. In many units, officers gave this duty as a punishment for breaking army regulations. Before a change-over in the trenches, the out-going unit was supposed to fill in its latrines and dig a new one for the new arrivals.

World War One Shrapnel

We have World War One shrapnel in our History of Medicine Collection.

Shrapnel consisted of a hollow shell which was packed internally with small steel balls or lead, together with an amount of gunpowder. It was the most common form of artillery used in 1914.

It was designed to cause maximum casualties with minimal effort. The wide use of shrapnel as a weapon meant that the light cloth caps worn by infantrymen in 1914 were replaced by steel helmets which brought more protection.

Listen to Dr Emily Mayhew, military medical historian at Imperial College London, talking about our object here:

Thomas Splint

We have a World War Two Telescoping Thomas Splint in our History of Medicine Collection. 

The Thomas splint was introduced by Hugh Owen Thomas in 1875, a Welsh physician who specialised in the study and treatment of diseases like tuberculosis, polio, and rickets. 

The first design was used for treatment of tuberculosis affecting the knee. The design included a metal ring, wrapped in leather, fitted around the groin and  attached to a smaller ring around the ankle. This simple design could be widely accessible and affordable so that even the poorest patients can benefit from its use.

During the first World War, Robert Jones – consultant orthopedic surgeon to the British Army and nephew to Thomas – advocated the Thomas splint’s superiority in the treatment of femur and tibia fractures. Jones also recognised the splint’s ability to provide adequate exposure of the lower extremity for surgical procedures, and to transport patients from the battle front.


Portable Blood Tranfusion Kit

We have a portable blood transfusion kit in our History of Medicine Collection.

Blood transfusion was attempted throughout history but usually failed, mainly because the blood would quickly clot. Blood could not be stored and needed to be administered as quickly as possible. By 1900, transfusions generally involved connecting blood vessels of donor and recipient using rubber tubing. These direct transfusion methods meant cutting through the skin to expose blood vessels. Severe and often fatal reactions occurred due to blood group incompatibilities.

The biggest step forward came in 1914 with the discovery that sodium citrate was effective to stop blood from clotting. Geoffrey Keynes of the Royal Army Medical Corps designed and pioneered a portable blood transfusion kit, with a special device in the flask for regulating flow.

Listen to Dr Emily Mayhew, military medical historian at Imperial College London, talking about our object here: