Wartime realities...

This week, our Project Archivist, Louise, talks about how Norman Dott’s case notes reflect the harsh conditions of the Second World War for those on the home front…
At present, I am cataloguing case notes created by neurosurgeon Norman Dott during the Second World War. During this period, Dott split his time between the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and Bangour General (Emergency Medical Service) Hospital in West Lothian. Dott had two surgical teams working to assess and treat military cases in Bangour whilst still working at the Royal Infirmary with civilian cases. Civilians would be assessed at the Infirmary and then transferred to Bangour for operation if one was needed.
The Royal Infirmary civilian cases might seem to be less gripping than the casualties of war treated by Dott at Bangour, but nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, they chronicle life on the home front and the unintended results of wartime necessity – they represent a different kind of wartime casualty.

For example, Dott commonly faced injuries sustained during the blackout, when a lack of street lighting could make a step off a tram hazardous and crossing the road after dark into a real undertaking. Inexperienced military drivers also created accidents and injuries. In this period, Dott treated a great many patients from reserved occupations, such as miners who suffered head and back injuries through accidents in the course of their dangerous work.
The war also had a clinical effect since even previously common medicines suffered from wartime shortages, and hospital staff members were stretched to the limit. In one 1944 case, a woman was described as “an indirect victim of the Second Front invasion” when her operation to reduce the pressure in her brain caused by hydrocephalus went disastrously wrong.  The Second Front invasion began on 6 June 1944, when Allied troops launched their invasion of occupied France in Normandy (the D-Day landings). The hydrocephalus operation also took place on this date. Half of Dott’s staff had left to meet expected military casualties on the previous day, and so the operation was left under-resourced. The patient died from pentothal poisoning, which had been administered as an anaesthetic for too long a period since the operation had been delayed by hours due to inexperienced theatre staff not making correct preparations for the procedure.
In these wartime case notes, the ways in which conflict touched people’s lives are ever-present, from mothers contacting Dott to urge him to write letters exempting their children from being called-up to accounts of evacuations, bombings and wartime home service. These details demonstrate the value of Dott’s case notes as records of strained social and economic realities – which could not help but effect clinical ones.
Image: GB237 Coll-32/A14 Dott (left) and Manchester neurosurgeon Sir Jeffrey Jefferson (centre) meet a Canadian medical officer at a meeting of the Society of British Neurosurgeons, 1944.

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