Surgical dressing substitute, Europe, 1914-1918


Block of sphagnum moss used as a surgical dressing substitute, First World War

During the First World War, there was a great demand for surgical dressings. At one time demand outstripped the supply and therefore any spare materials were used as dressings. The greatest shortages developed in Germany after an effective naval blockade prevented supplies of materials reaching German ports. Surgical dressing substitutes were made from a range of textiles, including curtains, cotton muslin and cotton used for petticoats.

Perhaps the most unusual material in this group is sphagnum moss. It was first used on a large scale by the Japanese during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Sphagnum was actually an ideal material as it was good for absorbing and keeping hold of liquids, and it had a cooling and soothing effect. Most importantly sphagnum had antiseptic properties which would help prevent infection and gangrene.


Object Number:
surgical dressing

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