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Colt's stretcher for narrow trenches, United Kingdom, 1915-1918

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Imagine you’re a stretcher-bearer on the Western Front in the First World War. You have been given this new stretcher – why is it better than the old one? Will it be easier to use? Your job is to go out onto the field of battle and collect the wounded. It is terrifying, but you can plan the quickest and safest route, and it gets easier with experience. What’s worse is carrying the stretcher through the trenches to an aid post or dressing station. Ammunition, soldiers and the wounded are all being moved at the same time – who do you think gets priority? Ammunition and soldiers both come before the wounded. The zig-zag pattern of the trenches makes your job even more difficult. The shape is designed to prevent attack from the sides, and the spread of shrapnel from exploding bombs. But every corner is an obstacle around which you have to manoeuvre the rigid wooden stretcher. Survival of the injured soldier depends on getting him to medical care as quickly as possible. It can take hours, sometimes days, to reach. A flexible stretcher like this will be easier to use. Trench corners will be easier to navigate, and you and the other bearer will be able to move more freely – and quickly. So you might find you have extra work on your hands, with time to go back to the battlefield and collect more casualties.

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Glossary: stretcher

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Glossary: shrapnel

Fragments of shells, bombs or bullets.