Surgeon’s Case of Instruments, 1917

As lovers of historical artefacts we are always captured by the unusual and rare, so when this beautiful surgeon’s case of instruments came to our attention through Mr Brad Manera, Curator at Sydney's Anzac Memorial, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to bring something new to you for this blog post.

This set was used in British and Commonwealth Field Ambulance and Casualty Clearing Stations during the Great War and such complete examples are rarely found today.

It is compact and robust to make it portable under service conditions and contains a wide variety of instruments that would equip a surgeon to treat a range of life-threatening battlefield injuries.

The casket contains three layers of stainless steel instruments and a tourniquet (top right).

The casket contains three layers of stainless steel instruments and a tourniquet (top right).

The timber case with brass mounts is constructed in the style of British campaign furniture of the 19th and early 20th century. The instruments are held in place by leaf springs in fitted trays with handles. The trays and instruments are made of stainless steel to allow them to be sterilised in a portable autoclave.

The bone saw can be seen at the centre of the top left-hand tray. Looking at this you can imagine the hellish pain the diggers had to endure out in the field hospitals all in the name of saving what lives could be saved.

An escutcheon on the lid includes the maker’s details an ‘I’ and the broad arrow War Department acceptance stamp. The ‘I’ may indicate that this set was considered suitable for service in British Imperial India, although we understand it never saw service there. Two centuries of campaigning in India had taught the British much about making durable, practical and functional military equipment.

The maker

'J. H. MONTAGUE of 69, NEW BOND STREET. LONDON', is engraved on ivory panels and set into the rim of the case. Montague was a highly regarded maker of surgical instruments from the mid-1890s. Like so many companies at the time, it sadly disappeared in the economic downturn that followed the Great War.