The First World War conspired for men to produce many heroic deeds but it was intriguing to read what prompted such hyperbole in the Wellington Journal, in October 1918. The article goes on to explain that he gave one and a quarter pints of blood.

This gallant soldier, who stands over six feet, is of splendid physique… has been twice wounded in action, the last occasion being very recently, when he was taken to a clearing station in France. While lying there a British officer was brought in who was very badly wounded and had lost a considerable quantity of blood from wounds and subsequently operating, which included amputation of the left arm, right foot, and two fingers on the right hand. To save his life volunteers were asked to give him part of their blood, and Cpl. Reade at once consented to make the sacrifice and one and a quarter pints of blood were taken from him and transferred, the operation being successful and the officer’s life saved. A certificate acknowledging the sacrifice of this brave Shrewsbury soldier signed by Gen. Rawlinson, commanding 4th Army, under date Oct 7, reads as follows: “I have been informed of your self-sacrifice in giving your blood to save the life of a wounded comrade, and wish to express my appreciation”.

How common were blood transfusions?

Early experiments were largely unsuccessful but in 1900 Karl Landsteiner identified the different blood groups and Ludvig Hektoen noted the benefit of matching blood groups for compatibility in 1907, however blood transfusion  remained an extremely high risk procedure. Because of the natural tendency for blood to clot, transfusions required a donor to be alongside the patient, which greatly limited its application.

The enormous number of casualties and severity of injuries sustained during the First World War accelerated the development and implementation of many new medical techniques. The desperate need ensured that blood transfusions were no exception.

A Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Lawrence Bruce Robertson, experimented with unmatched blood transfusions on casualties using a syringe-cannula method. He published his findings in the British Medical Journal in 1916 and was able to persuade the Royal Army Medical Corps to establish the first blood transfusion apparatus at a casualty clearing station on the Western Front in the spring of 1917.

Developments in the introduction of anticoagulants enabled further advances to be made. US Army officer, Oswald Hope Robertson, pioneered the first blood banks. By adding sodium citrate as an anticoagulant, he was able to test for blood type and store blood for front line use.

It is unclear if the blood given by Lance-Corporal Alfred Reginald Reade, KSLI, (seen here on the right) was banked or used immediately but his generosity in volunteering evidently saved the life of an officer and contributed, in some small way, to advancement of this medical procedure.


Wellington Journal & Shrewsbury News, 19th October 1918, page 3