Medicine

Having a reaction to shellfish saves soldiers' lives

‘Celox’ brand haemostatic dressing, c2008

Saving lives with shellfish

In 2004, the Army adopted a new kind of bandage to treat blast injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan. Haemostatic granules inside these bandages helped to clot the blood and reduced the risk of soldiers bleeding to death.

Originally, the bandages contained an artificial blood-stemming agent. But this was found to have dangerous side effects, especially if it came into contact with people’s eyes. In 2007, they started using chitosan, a natural substance made from shellfish that becomes sticky on contact with blood. 

Chitosan is made from the shells of prawns and shrimps

Chitosan is made from the shells of prawns and shrimps

Officer’s sword with fish skin grip belonging to Lieutenant Benjamin Buck Hawley, 1809

Getting to grips with fish skin

Fish skin, sometimes known as rayskin, was often used on British officers’ sword grips in the 18th and 19th centuries. It had several properties which made it a much better choice than leather or wire.

Rays and sharks naturally possess beaded skin with round, close-set scales. The rough texture of these scales makes them easy to hold onto. Leather manufacturers attempted to replicate the texture of the scales, but couldn't find a way to do so.

Another benefit of fish skin was its water resistance. Unlike leather, it didn't become slippery when wet, and it was less likely to deteriorate, shrink or break over time.

Fish skin was commonly taken from stingrays or sharks, although dog fish and skate skins were also used.

Fish skin was commonly taken from stingrays or sharks, although dog fish and skate skins were also used. 

Officers of the 90th (Perthshire Volunteers) (Light Infantry) Regiment, photographed by Roger Fenton, 1855

Putting the army in the picture with cuttlefish

Fish have also been used to help report on the army's activities.

Sepia, or cuttlefish ink, was widely used in 19th-century photography. The process, which became known as sepia toning, made the photographs more durable and added a warm, brown hue. Many felt these images gave a more realistic impression than early black and white photographs.

Roger Fenton, one of the first war photographers, made use of this process in many of his pictures of the Crimean War (1854-56).

Sepia is the latin name for cuttlefish ©Hans Hillewaert

Sepia is the latin name for cuttlefish

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