Stan Cohen, WW1 soldier in the tanks corps and burns survivor, injured during a battle and treated by plastic surgery pioneer Sir Harold Gillies who grafted new eyelids onto his burnt face.
Stan Cohen was born in 1894 and the son of a schoolmaster in Winchester. Stan trained at the Christ’s Hospital Officer Training Corps prior to the war, then after infantry service in the 23rd London Regiment, took a commission as a Lieutenant in the Tank Corps.
Stan sustained severe burns to his face and hands, plus serious leg injuries during battle on 9th August 1918. His life was in immediate danger due to blood loss from his leg injuries, and severe shock caused by the pain and trauma from his burns. To survive he required evacuation from the battlefield as quickly as possible for his wounds to be treated and condition stabilised.
However, evacuation from the battlefield in the First World War could take a long time, as high numbers of casualties often overwhelmed medical teams and the level of fighting made it too dangerous for stretcher-bearers to retrieve the wounded. Basic field dressings (which were often dirty and contaminated) covered Stan’s wounds whilst being carried to a regimental aid post. Morphine injections managed his pain and splints put on for his badly damaged leg. Fortunately, the widespread introduction of hypodermic needles massively improved the administration of painkillers.
Stan was then transported to an advanced dressing station 5 miles from the battlefield, most likely by horse drawn cart or a wheeled handcart pushed by men, and where his injuries and condition are assessed and possibly redressed, (by which point he would most likely have become extremely weak and delirious). From here, stretcher-bearers took him to a larger field hospital several miles further back from the front, where his severe injuries were treated. Journeys to field hospitals regularly took between a day and a week. This, combined with a lack of sterile dressings and the fact that antibiotics had not yet been discovered, meant that many injured men had died or started to develop severe infections from which they would not recover by the time they had reached a main field hospital. After failing to save soldiers suffering from blood poisoning during the First World War, a young Scottish doctor called Alexander Fleming came home determined to discover a cure for septicaemia, and in 1928, he succeeded – he discovered penicillin.