Among surgeons at the 1815 Battle of Waterloo ‘when in doubt amputate’ was pretty much the catch-cry. What did this mean?

Answer: The Battle of Waterloo between Napoleon Bonaparte and an alliance led by Britain’s Duke of Wellington was one of the most decisive battles of modern history.

Wellington won, but lost twenty nine percent of his army.

In this one day of battle 47,000 casualties occurred on a tiny 4 kilometre front.

The British Army had just 52 staff surgeons on the day. In the field, each battalion of 600 men was theoretically allocated one regimental surgeon and two assistant surgeons.

The surgeons’ instruments included bullet forceps to grope for missiles, a punch to knock out teeth and a pair of strong nippers for trimming the ends of bones.

Fought mostly over open country, there were three types of injury at the Battle of Waterloo.

Firstly, heavy wounds from six, nine and 12 pound shot.

Secondly, injuries from low velocity musket fire.

Thirdly, cutting, chopping or piercing wounds from swords or bayonet.

About 500 amputations were carried out during the battle. The surgeons’ motto was, ‘when in doubt, amputate.’

After enduring amputation of an arm without the benefits of an anaesthetic, young British officer Lord Fitzroy Somerset called out cheerfully, “Here, don’t take that arm away until I have taken the ring off the finger.”

Source: Waterloo by Andrew Roberts; The Destruction of Lord Raglan by Christopher Hibbert

More at: History

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