Recovery? From Flanders to Afghanistan

Thackray Museum surgical tools

How far can technology and medicine heal the body and the mind? Can recovery ever truly be achieved? To find out, we head to the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds where a new exhibition explores the relationship between medicine and conflict.

Making use of photography, art work, medical exhibits and video, this small but perfectly formed gallery will engage with every type of learner. The building itself has its links to World War One. Built in 1858 as the Leeds Union Workhouse, it became known as the ‘East Leeds War Hospital’ during World War One as soldiers were sent for treatment.

The exhibit looks at surgery, considering the many physical ailments of the war wounded. From medical kits carried by soldiers, to prosthetic limbs and the advancements in surgery developed in response to the horrific injuries of modern warfare; you’ll see all sorts of medical creations were developed to repair the shattered bodies of our soldiers.

The gallery makes it clear that recovery is about far more than repairing just the body of the soldier. The true impact of war is also visible in various forms of mental illness which can still affect our soldiers today: shell shock, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are commonly witnessed in those who partake in the activities of war, yet only 100 years ago, at the outbreak of WWI, our knowledge was only just unraveling.

Conditions such as tinnitus, partial or even full deafness plagued men upon their return to ‘normality’, preventing recovery as men struggled to forget.  You’ll see how treatment for these conditions developed, including forms of therapy designed to help our courageous soldiers deal with their hidden demons.

For such a small space, this gallery covers a wide range of medical topics, and looks at how procedures that are now common procedure in our world, developed to help to repair the damage of war. It’ll leave you feeling grateful for the treatments that we are so fortunate to have in our day and age. Will you be checking it out? (and the skeleton of the “Yorkshire Witch” whilst you’re there!)

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Written by Sarah Ashbridge

Office monkey by day, forensic archaeologist by night, Sarah Ashbridge is a jack-of-all-trades and the master of one: the forensic identification the War Dead. She trained originally as an Egyptologist, but interests in the history of death and burial saw her make the step into archaeology, completing an MSc in Forensic Archaeology and Crime Scene Investigation at the University of Bradford. Armed with an ever-increasing library of books, a handful of illustration pens and a brand new trowel, Sarah writes our regular #WWWednesday column, working towards her PhD in Forensic Archaeology.

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