Monday, 8 February 2021

Lawrence Bruce Robertson (1885 – 1923) and Oswald Hope Robertson (1886 – 1966) – pioneers of blood transfusions in WW1

I was fascinated to discover that the two pioneers of blood transfusion had the same surname

Lawrence Bruce Robertson was born on 6th September 1885 in Toronto, Canada. He was the third son of Alexander James Robertson, a manufacturer’s agent, and hi wife, Julia Dalmage, nee Carry. Educated at the Toronto Model School, Upper Canada College, University College (BA 1907), and the faculty of medicine of the University of Toronto (MB 1909), Lawrence became an intern in surgery at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, of which his uncle John Ross Robertson was board chairman. Lawrence then trained for a year and a half in paediatric and orthopaedic surgery at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, then spent six months as house surgeon at the Children’s Hospital in Boston. In 1913 he returned to Toronto as an assistant in both clinical surgery and pathology at Sick Children’s as well as a demonstrator in clinical surgery at the university.

When war broke out, Lawrence enlisted in November 1914 in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and was commissioned a lieutenant.  He was posted to the hospital at the training camp on the Toronto exhibition grounds. The Canadian Army Medical Corps’s No.2 Casualty Clearing Station was being organized with area officers and medical students from the university so Lawrence enrolled for overseas service and embarked from Halifax with the Unit on 18 April 1915.

Indirect blood transfusion, which Lawrence had learned in New York and applied in Toronto, helped save thousands of patients in military hospitals at the front. Lawrence was the pioneer who introduced the technique to the British army’s medical personnel, and through former colleagues also on military service, to other Canadian hospitals overseas. 

Lawrence first applied the technique during the Autumn of 1915, while working at No.14 Canadian General Hospital, on soldiers who had received severe shrapnel wounds. The results were published in the British Medical Journal (London) some months later. His work in 1916 and 1917, most of it with his original unit, No.2 CCS, was reported in other papers. One, in 1917, included an appreciative note by the consulting surgeon to the British Expeditionary Force, Colonel Charles Gordon Watson, who, confident that the methods of transfusion would improve even more “under the stimulus of war,” urged “other surgeons to increased activity in the practice of this life-saving device.” Robertson’s major paper, “A contribution on blood transfusion in war surgery,” was published in Lancet (London) in June 1918.

In October 1917, due to a shortage of surgeons at the Hospital for Sick Children back in Canada, President Sir Robert Alexander Falconer* of the University of Toronto requested that Robertson, who by then was a Major in the CAMC, be sent home. Following his return in February 1918, he resumed his work at Sick Children’s and the university and accepted a posting to the CAMC’s Dominion Orthopaedic Hospital in Toronto. At Sick Children’s, where he was part of a group of brilliant young surgeons which included William Edward Gallie and David Edwin Robertson, he continued his clinical research, using blood transfusion as a treatment for toxemias in children caused, in many instances, by severe burns. In addition, he followed up on two cases of heavy carbon monoxide poisoning in soldiers he had treated at the front in 1916. 

Lawrence married Enid Finley, who served with the Volunteer Aid Detachment on 17th April 1920 at Hart House at the university. In early February 1923 he contracted influenza and was hospitalized. Apparently recovered, he returned to his home and family on Foxbar Road, but on 17th he developed pneumonia. A week later, at age 37, Bruce Robertson, soldier and surgeon, died.

WW1 Blood Transfusion set

 Oswald Hope Robertson (1886 – 1966

Oswald Hope Robertson was born on 2nd June 1886 in Woolwich in south-east London, UK. When he was a baby, his parents went to live in California, settling in the San Joaquin Valley. Oswald attended local schools in Dinuba and the Polytechnic High School in San Francisco.

His plan to study basic biology was changed by a meeting with an American medical student while on holiday in Germany. After attending some lectures on anatomy, he decided to study medicine and enrolled at the University of California in 1906, going on to study at Harvard Medical School, the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.  His studies were curtailed during the First World War when he was called up to join medical teams in France. While working in France,Oswald experimented with preserving human blood cells for use in blood transfusions, and became recognised as the inventor of the blood bank.

When the war ended, Oswald accepted an associate professorship at the Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, China. He became a Full Professor at the institution in 1923. In 1927 he returned to USA, and accepted a position as head of the Department of Medicine at the University of Chicago.

Oswald remained at Chicago until retiring to Emeritus status in 1951. Lawrence then went back to California where he died in Santa Cruz on 23rd March 1966.  His work is commemorated with the Robertson Blood Center, Fort Hood TX. 


Sunday, 20 December 2020

Robert Julian Yeatman MC (15 July 1897 – 13 July 1968) - a British humorist

Have you read the book “1066 and all that”? It was written by Robert Julian Yeatman MC (15 July 1897 – 13 July 1968) - a British humorist who wrote for “Punch” magazine. 

Robert was born in Oporto, the principal city and port of northern Portugal, where his father was a wine merchant in the family business connected with Taylor's Port.  His parents were Harry Oswall Yeatman and his wife, Benedicta Katherine, nee Page.  Educated at Fonthill Lodge School, East Grinstead, Robert was gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery in 1914, the rank being confirmed in January 1916. He was awarded the Military Cross and m ust have been wounded for he spent time at Polsden Lacey Convalescent Hospital.  After the war, Robert went up to Oriel College, Oxford University.  He went on to work in the advertising industry, advertising manager for Kodak Ltd.

With thanks to Janet Durbin for her research into Polesden Lacey, an Edwardian house and estate, located on the North Downs at Great Bookham, near Dorking, Surrey, UK, which became a Convalescent Hospital for Officers during WW1. In 1915 Mrs Greville was asked to take in wounded officers at Polesden Lacey. Large parts of the house became a convalescence home, staffed by military and volunteer nurses and Mrs Greville’s domestic servants.

Sources: Wikipedia, Find my Past and

Friday, 23 October 2020

Fascinating WW1 facts in this book "An Unladylike Profession: American Women War Correspondents in World War 1" by Chris Dubbs

One of the most amazing things I learnt from Chris Dubbs fascinating book "An Unladylike Profession: American Women War Correspondents in World War 1" (Potomac Books, Nebraska, 2020) concerns the Italian electrical engineer Guglielmo Giovanni Maria Marconi, 1st Marquis of Marconi FRSA (1874 – 1937).

Marconi pioneered research into long-distance radio but that nearly didn’t take place.   Find out what happened to him during WW1 on pages 168 – 171.

"An Unladylike Profession: American Women War Correspondents in World War 1" by Chris Dubbs (Potomac Books, Nebraska, 2020).

For a full review of the book, please see Inspirational Women of WW1 weblog.


Saturday, 12 September 2020

BOOK REVIEW: "Bloody Red Tabs: General Officer Casualties of the Great War 1914 - 1918" by Frank Davies and Graham Maddocks, published by Pen & Sword Military, an imprint of Pen & Sword, Barnsley, UK, 2014

“It is our most earnest hope that when the poppy petals fall at the Service of Remembrance in the Albert Hall each November, people will realise that some of them fall for generals.” (p. xii)

This book firmly knocks on the head the often-quoted phrase referring to the British troops of the First World War as “Lions led by Donkeys” and tells us about the many ‘top brass’ who lost their lives during the conflict, “putting the record straight and doing justice to the memory of the senior officers who have been unable to fight back for so many years.”   

I was particularly interested in reading this book because my Grandfather was an “Old Contemptible” with the Royal Field Artillery.  Having joined the British Army as a Boy Soldier when he was 16, by August 1914 Grandfather was a Sergeant and was married with two children.  Due to the very heavy losses among the Officer ranks of the British Army in the early days of the war, Grandfather was actually commissioned as an Officer in November 1914 - that would never have happened to a working-class man during peacetime.

Frank Davies and Graham Maddocks have drawn on a wide variety of resources to put together this excellent book.   You will find out that, contrary to popular modern belief (it seems the myth about officers may have come from comments made by David Lloyd George in his “War Memoirs” – Chapter 2), many senior officers were killed in the line of duty during the course of the war.  I must admit I was surprised to find out that in 1915, British Army Officers were actually ordered to remain behind the lines as much as possible.  "...Haig had decreed in 1915, as GOC 1st Army, "That no staff officer was to go nearer to the trenches than a certain line" This was because of the danger involved for difficult-ro-replace Staff officers". (page 6).  Nevertheless, many were killed.  You will also discover just how 'safe' the chateaux used as headquarters really were and how many Generals were awarded the Victoria Cross (V.C.).

I found an enormous amount of extremely interesting material in this book and I don’t want to give too much away as I really want you to read it.  Following two chapters setting the scene are two further chapters listing the Generals who were killed, wounded, gasses and/or taken Prisoner of War.  Appendix 1 lists the cemeteries where the Generals are buried;  a comprehensive list of abbreviations is in Appendix 2 and Appendix 3 has a comprehensive Bibliography.  With copious photographs and a painting by WW1 artist Gilbert Holiday, who served with the Royal Field Artillery Western Front as a Forward Observation Officer and was later appointed Reconnaissance Officer on the front cover, this is another must read for anyone with an interest in the history of the First World War.

For further information or to order a copy of the book, please see the Pen & Sword website

NOTE:  Eddie Bon tells me that the artist who painted the painting featured on the cover of the book  was Gilbert Holiday, about whom you can find out more on Lesser Known Artists of the First World War.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

BOOK REVIEW “Walking Gallipoli” by Stephen Chambers, Pen & Sword

Written by Stephen Chambers, who is the webmaster of the Gallipoli Association, this book is from the Battleground series published by Pen & Sword and is one of several books Stephen has written about the Gallipoli Campaign of The First World War.

Due to the fact that none of my family members were involved in that theatre of WW1, I only recently became interested in the Gallipoli Campaign.  The main reason for my interest being because the WW1 soldier poet Rupert Brooke died on his way there and one or two other WW1 soldier poets were also involved.  And, although I knew about the British and Anzac involvement, I only recently became aware of the French Army and Navy’s involvement in the Campaign.  Over the years, I have read a great deal of criticism about the Gallipoli Campaign, however I feel it is unfair to criticise unless we have all the facts. In this book, Stephen Chambers sets the record straight about Gallipoli, before guiding us through a detailed walking tour of the battlefields in Turkey. 

There is so much of interest in this book that I could write reams but I was particularly interested to read about the “Evacuation Trail”, featured on page 226.  Sub Lieutenant Ivan Heald of the Hood Battalion, Royal Naval Division (RND) was one of the poets featured in an exhibition of WW1 Aviator Poets held at Cosford Air Show in 2018.   I was fascinated to read that his poem “Evacuation” which you can read on page 227, was published in the “Liverpool Echo” newspaper on 19th February 1916.

I also appreciated the “Dangers” mentioned on page 244 as a warning for anyone visiting Gallipoli – “A lot of the area is still farmland and private property.” And “It is strictly forbidden by the Turkish authorities to remove any artefact from the battlefield”.  There is also a warning about ferocious dogs, wild boar and snakes.

This fantastic book really helps us to understand the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915 in WW1.   With wonderful photographs and maps, a detailed Bibliography and an Index listing the incredible number of different forces involved and the Victoria Crosses (VCs) awarded, it is another ‘must read’ for anyone genuinely interested in the history of the First World War and definitely for anyone planning a visit to Gallipoli.   For further information, or to order a copy, please see the Pen & Sword website

“Walking Gallipoli” by Stephen Chambers (Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2019).

Monday, 24 August 2020

General Louis Auguste Adrian (1859 - 1933) – French soldier and designer of the Adrian Helmet used by French troops during WW1

Louis was born in Metz in eastern France on 29th August 1859. After Germany took the town in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, the Adrian family left the city in order to ‘stay French’.  Metz was returned to France at the end of the First World War. This disruption to his education caused by the move did not stop Louis wining the ‘Grand Prize’ in 1878, awarded annually to the very best students in France. He studied Engineering then Applied Engineering before being commissioned as a Lieutenant with the 3rd Arras Regiment.  By 1885, Louis was a Captain and in Cherbourg, working on the construction of barracks and coastal defences.

In 1913, Louis took early retirment due to health problems but when war broke out in August 1914, he asked to serve again and was appointed Assistant Director of Stewardship for the Ministry of War, with responsibility for clothing and equipping France’s new armies. He acted quickly, liberating 4,000 tons of cloth and wool from Lille, just before the German army marched in on 14th October 1914. The liberated fabric was soon being worn as uniform to replace the previous French Army uniform of bright red trousers and polished mess kits that made ‘le Poilu ‘ easy targets against the countryside they would be fighting in.  As well as the helmets Louis designed temporary barracks for the front line troops.

Then General Joffre commissioned Louis to design a helmet that offered both increased protection and comfort. It had to weigh as little as possible, yet be strong and easy to manufacture in large quantities. The ‘M15’ design was approved at the end of April 1915 and production began immediately at the Japy factory for 529,000 by 1st August 1915 but they only managed to supply 141,000.  Encouraged by Louis and the needs of war, production began to speed up.  By September of that year, 52,000 helmets were produced every month and millions of soldiers’ lives were saved.

On 18th December 1918 a decree was made to award each French officer and solder a ceremonial Adrian helmet and with it a brass plaque that fitted over the visor inscribed ‘Soldat de la Grande Guerre 1914-1918’ (Soldier of the Great War 1914-1918).

Louis’ barracks were used as temporary housing after the war and still in use during the Second World War.

The Adrian helmet remained standard military issue in the French army, evolving slightly into the even stronger M26 for World War II, and was also used by the French police into the 1960’s.

Louis died  on 8th August 1933 in Paris.  There is a memorial to him in Genets in north west France.


Friday, 31 July 2020

Commemorative First World War Exhibition Project

This self-funded project is in memory of my Grandfather, who was an Old Contemptible  with the Royal Field Artillery who survived, and my two Great Uncles who lost their lives in WW1.

I began researching WW1 in 2012 for an exhibiton of Female Poets of the First World War, requested by Dean Johnson, founder of the Wilfred Owen Story museum (The WOS), Wirral, UK.   Once the exhibition was on display, I just continued researching, adding other headings. Inspirational Women of WW1 came about when I stumbled on the story of Canadian artist Mary Riter Hamilton, commissioned in early 1919 by the Canadian Amputees Association to go and paint the aftermath in France and Belgium.  Philip Gosse, MD, a General Practitioner in Britain was the Official Rat Catcher Officer of the British Second Army on the Western Front, which brought about Fascinating Facts of the Great War.  Realisation that Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves were not the only male soldier poets of WW1, prompted me to start researching Forgotten Poets of the First World War.  I am now researching lesser-known artists of WW1.

Exhibition panels are e-mailed free of charge to anyone wishing to host an exhibition.  Exhibitions have been held in a wide variety of locations throughout the UK, as well as in Cork University, Ireland and in Delaware University, USA, and panels have been sent to schools.  If you know of a venue that would like to display panels, please ask them to contact me and I will send them the list of panels researched so far. 

If you are interested in exhibiting any of the panels researched so far, a full list of panels available will be sent on request.  Some of the panels have been put into book form – please see for details.

Commemorative First World War Exhibition Project

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