Research Finds: Unusual Stiches and a Little-known Battle

One thing about writing historical fiction—you have to do a lot of research. Good thing I like learning new things. A lot of tidbits I come across won’t appear in one of my novels anytime soon, but they’re dang interesting. Here a two recent examples:

Is that sanitary?

When the US Army invaded Oran, Algeria, in November 1942, female nurses went with them, on d-day, in the landing crafts, through smoke cover and shell fire. That was the only invasion where the nurses were sent in with the first wave, because it’s hard to send your sons off to die, but it’s even harder to send your daughters off to die. Once landed, the nurses were kept busy caring for casualties.

For a few days it was difficult to get supplies from the fleet onto the beach and into the hospitals because the French (yes, the French) wouldn’t stop shelling the American ships. Medical staff at forward hospitals ran out of suture material. So what did they do? Rather than letting wounded soldiers bleed to death, they stitched them up with hair: nurses’ hair, soaked in alcohol before it was used. Kind of gross, but better than bleeding to death, right?

Since reading about this, I’ve found myself playing with pieces of my hair almost daily. I guess if it was doubled up through a needle, it would hold alright. I wonder how long it would take to dissolve . . .

Rumors of a Japanese-French Alliance

When I think about WWII and Africa, I picture tanks rolling across sand and think of El Alamein, Kasserine, Rommel, Patton, and Montgomery. I don’t think of Madagascar. But did you know there was a battle of Madagascar? I didn’t, until I was looking up info on Lysander airplanes and noticed the caption in a photo mentioning Madagascar.

Madagascar was a French colony, so when the French surrendered to the Nazis in 1940, it became part of Vichy France. Its location made it a great spot for Japanese submarines wanting to attack British shipping. So in May 1942, the British attacked with a naval barrage and an amphibious landing. The main port of Diego Suarez was captured within two days, but the French and native forces didn’t surrender until November. As far at WWII battles go, casualties were low, but I was still surprised I’d never heard of it before.

I’m curious, other than this post, have you ever heard of the battle of Madagascar? And what do you think about nurses donating hair to stitch up their patents?

5 Comments

  1. Wow! Hair? I never would have thought of that. It’s probably a lot stronger than some of the thread I buy though. And I’ve never heard of the battle of Madagascar. I only think of talking zebras and lions when I hear Madagascar.

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    1. They did use sewing thread after they ran out of the normal stuff and before they got out the hair (one of the nurses had a spool).
      Yeah, Madagascar, I think of the penguins. They’re my favorites in those movies!

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  2. I had actually heard of using hair before to stitch up wounds but not in context of WWII. However, I’ve never heard of this battle & am now curious & will have to do some research. So thanks for sharing this random factoid as I’m always looking for new battles to study.

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    1. I’m always happy to share random factiods with history-lovers. Let me know if you find anything interesting in your research! The Battle fo Madagascar looks unique if for no other reason than in involves Vichy France and Japan fighting on the same side. Or maybe that’s not so unique–you’ll have to give me the run-down on what happened with French colonies in the Pacific.

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