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Uncle George

Anzac skull

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John_Hartley
52 minutes ago, Auimfo said:

pretty sure no one had any intention to cause family or descendants any grief. 

Presumably that would account for consent not being sought or the family later notified of what had happened.  But I really do struggle with the ethics that says it's OK to remove a dead patient's head to add to a museum collection. Surely it cannot really have been ethical 100 years ago?  The battlefields would have been littered with "unknown" bodies with skulls badly damaged by trauma.

 

But, I do agree that the museum was simply a recipient of the collection and, whilst displaying the skull might be considered tasteless, it is no more than that. And they've acted properly and in a timely fashion once the matter was raised with them.

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spof
13 minutes ago, John_Hartley said:

But I really do struggle with the ethics that says it's OK to remove a dead patient's head to add to a museum collection.

 

John

 

From what I gather is that the skull was originally sent to a medical school (presumably training Army doctors) for teaching purposes. After the war and the scaling down of armies, the training school closed down and the skull was returned to the Dr who supplied it. He then donated it to the museum. I could be wrong though.

 

Glen

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Auimfo

If that's not how it happened Glen, then it's something close to that.  Whether the item was actually returned to Shoemaker to donate or whether it was simply forwarded to the Museum on his behalf, I'm not sure.  

 

There may be a case to argue that this act was ethically wrong, but given the years and scale of things ethically wrong occurring all around them, I would think this falls within the 'excusable' category.  :-)

 

Cheers,

Tim L.

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John_Hartley
56 minutes ago, Auimfo said:

scale of things ethically wrong occurring all around them, I would think this falls within the 'excusable' category. 

Tim

 

We may have to disagree over this, mate.

 

Had this been related to a "frontline" medical unit, such as a CCS, I might have understood that ethical shortcuts were taken. But this is a base hosptal, where one should reasonably expect medical ethics to be pretty much unchanged from a civilian hospital. Furthermore, the extract given at post #7 is clear that this was intended as a museum collection. As such, I remain convinced that Shoemaker's action were, at best, questionable.

 

John

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Auimfo

That's fine John.  We can't always agree about everything.  I understand where you're coming from and in normal circumstances would probably agree.  But thinking about the times, conditions, war, etc., perhaps I'm just willing to be a bit more forgiving on this occasion.

 

Cheers,

Tim L.

 

Or perhaps now I've retired from the Police Force, I'm just going soft :lol:

Edited by Auimfo

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John_Hartley
37 minutes ago, Auimfo said:

perhaps now I've retired from the Police Force, I'm just going soft

Yeah, I spotted that in the newspaper article.  You've also moved quite a ways, if memory serves. Big changes - but I hope life is going well.

 

John

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Auimfo

Living the dream........or so I like to imagine.

 

 

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voltaire60
On 10/5/2017 at 18:58, Auimfo said:

Living the dream........or so I like to imagine.

 

 

 

     Tim-  May I ask if it was possible that the other Hurdis was one of the Fromelles unknowns?  Or if any current living relative was contacted re. ID and DNA. It would be a good outcome if the brother was identified by DNA from the Thomas Hurdis skull but has Hurdis already been eliminated.

 

         I would hope that the Mutter would  disclose if they hold other materials about Thomas Hurdis, which I suspect they have. Personally, I would rather have the pictures of the Hurdis skull retained online- war is Hell so there is little point in being over-delicate in the matter-Quite the reverse- the war has been over-sanitised. 

    I suspect that no-one asked the dead British soldiers featured in "Battle of the Somme" for family permission-wonder if any of them were identified by grieving relatives?

 

Edited by voltaire60

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PhilB

It seems there was an assumption, if not an instruction, that all specimens would be "anonymised". This clearly didn't happen in Hurdis' case, presumably Shoemaker's mistake, and one wonders how many other specimens have associated detailed information on the casualty.

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Auimfo
15 hours ago, voltaire60 said:

 

     Tim-  May I ask if it was possible that the other Hurdis was one of the Fromelles unknowns?  Or if any current living relative was contacted re. ID and DNA. It would be a good outcome if the brother was identified by DNA from the Thomas Hurdis skull but has Hurdis already been eliminated.

 

 

V,

 

John HURDIS remains one of the Australian missing after the battle at Fromelles in July 1916.  Unfortunately there is no Red Cross file to provide us with an idea of the circumstances of his death and nor are there any of the key signals we look for in his service file to indicate he was buried by the enemy, i.e. German documentation, ID Disc sent back from Germany etc.  So we cannot be at all certain that his remains are among those recovered from Pheasant Wood.

 

That being said, of the 150+ successfully identified, more than 30 were in the same position - we had no indication from any records that they were likely to be found among the recovered remains.   Going by those figures I'd have to say that although less likely, there's about a 20% chance that John HURDIS is among them.
 

I believe a descendant may have been contacted but I am not aware whether they are in the correct family line to have matching DNA nor whether any has been donated in the past (it's not a name that's come up very much during the years of research so I'm thinking possibly not).  If that's the case, then if the skull has any viable DNA - most likely from a tooth - it may be able to help identify John.

 

Cheers,

Tim L.

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Guest
On 10/5/2017 at 17:20, John_Hartley said:

Tim

 

We may have to disagree over this, mate.

 

Had this been related to a "frontline" medical unit, such as a CCS, I might have understood that ethical shortcuts were taken. But this is a base hosptal, where one should reasonably expect medical ethics to be pretty much unchanged from a civilian hospital. Furthermore, the extract given at post #7 is clear that this was intended as a museum collection. As such, I remain convinced that Shoemaker's action were, at best, questionable.

 

John

 

I agree with you John. It's difficult to read the letters of Harriet Hurdis without feeling pity for her. I don't know if she ever knew part of her son had been an exhibit in a Museum but one can only imagine her pain if she ever had found out? Click

 

Mike

Edited by Skipman

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voltaire60

   Could  GWF colleagues  over in Oz post anything further on this that comes up in the local media, especially print media that we might not pick up through Mr. Google's Apparatus?     The initial story was by an Oz journalist and campaigner for the return of Aborigine/First Australian skulls and other remains and made a good complementary story in "The Grauniad" . The latter is unlikely to feature the subsequent projected return as much as the  original article.- I will be looking out for reports of the meeting between the Oz Military Attache in the US with the  Phildadelphia Museum people.

 

       We have, of course, Ladies and Gentlemen been played by the journalist. Rather coincidental that he managed to put together an article AFTER the Oz Military had started looking into the matter (from information provided by the journalist in the first place?)  Most likely that Oz already knew who the man was-it wasn't rocket science to work it out-and I'm pretty sure that the Oz Military knows a fair amount about the records of, well,............. the Oz Military.  So we have provided a bit of a stir that just helps put a bit of adverse publicity on what seems to be a wholly respectable museum in Philadelphia. And enables a journalist to contrast how the remains of Thomas Hurdis are dealt with when compared with those of others.

 

        2)  Having been to the nice-and-tidy  Imperial War Museum  this week -lots of old kit all painted and in tip-top condition, nary a picture of human suffering in the place, then  personally I believe there is a good case for the story  of Private Thomas Hurdis to be promoted-and high resolution copies of the pictures of his skull to be kept permanently on display and online. The doctors and surgeons  who have built up the collections of the Mutter Museum reflect more the truth of the realities of warfare. Good for them-OK,I'm squeamish and the subject matter is pretty horrible.  Ergo, there should be MORE  display of  mangled remains like Thomas Hurdis, not less. 

 

         3)   I hope the Mutter Museum may be able to publish all materials that it has for Thomas Hurdis.  It will probably be difficult reading  but, I regret, there are 2 matters that still concern me greatly with this troubling story-  let alone that it is troubling as having literally been but one of hundreds of thousands of similar cases of pain and suffering. 

 

        i)   Was poor Hurdis left out in No Man's Land for one or possibly two days?   His admission to hospital was comfortably after the Australian attack

 

        ii)  The poor man has a coincidence of wounds that I hope are just that. Severe damage to his face from splinter wounds. A terrible  set of wounds -wonder if the folks who do facial reconstruction with plasticine would be  keen on showing us the full horror of what happened to him?  Or does the Mutter have photographs? (I suspect it does- the skull by itself would be of limited use as a teaching aide without them)  

       And-cat among pigeons here- when I look at the picture of the man's skull, then I cannot exclude the possibility that the large hole in the middle of his forehead was the result of a failed coup de grace  to put the man out of his agony.  

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helpjpl
1 hour ago, voltaire60 said:

  

 Was poor Hurdis left out in No Man's Land for one or possibly two days?   His admission to hospital was comfortably after the Australian attack

 

 And-cat among pigeons here- when I look at the picture of the man's skull, then I cannot exclude the possibility that the large hole in the middle of his forehead was the result of a failed coup de grace  to put the man out of his agony.  

 

A WW2 forum discussed this 28-29 September. 

 

JP

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voltaire60
1 hour ago, helpjpl said:

 

A WW2 forum discussed this 28-29 September. 

 

JP

 

    Thanks-  Could you tell me which one?   This is the only site I ever have anything to do with.

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Seclin

The fact that this bullet above the left eye only just penetrated the skull, would that not just be a ricochet bullet?

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voltaire60
18 minutes ago, Seclin said:

The fact that this bullet above the left eye only just penetrated the skull, would that not just be a ricochet bullet?

 

     Anything is possible.   As I say, I hope the Mutter Museum has more of the medical case notes from the time.  If the projectile was exiting, then poor Hurdis would have had substantial brain injuries, as well as the destruction of his teeth, jaw, eye socket, at least one eye, internal structure of nose and sinuses. If on the way in-spent for whatever reason-then slightly curious as to why it was not removed  Perhaps a "best guess" at the round might establish whether it was rifle or pistol.

 

        This is not macabre after-the-event  guessing -   the respect for the remains of Thomas Hurdis embraces 2 main elements-the respect for his physical remains, their reunification and interment in the same grave at Le Treport.  -and  his image?  That is out there for good.  To me, the retention of his skull would only have made sense if there were more detailed notes about the exact extent of his injuries and the treatment he would have received at the time. As a teaching aid, that makes sense to me.  The horrific extent of injuries should be made more known-  a sanitised record (such as the censoring of most pictures of British dead at the time)  is a distortion of the historical record at the distance of a century.  I can switch on TV and watch (Sir) Tony Robinson discoursing on "Time Team"  about battle casualties from the Wars of the Roses (Towton?) with horrific injuries-all carefully reconstructed.  Yes, respect for the family and memory of Thomas Hurdis  but is  part of that respect really politely looking the other way about the horrific injuries that me sustained?   That most men-certainly by that stage of the war- went into action knowing that these were the types of wounds that could be received the next  second by the caprice of ordnance trajectories and the power of velocity only increases my respect for them.  Is there any real point  in learning the minutiae of cap badges, etc and quietly turning away from the  more graphic realities of the war?

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helpjpl
1 hour ago, voltaire60 said:

 

    Thanks-  Could you tell me which one?   This is the only site I ever have anything to do with.

 

The Anzac Skull Controversy, WWIIForums.

 

The Mutter Museum used an image of the skull to promote/advertise the museum online - admission fee $18 - and explained:

This Australian soldier’s skull has extensive damage caused by bullet wounds sustained in the Battle of Passchendale (or Third Ypres, Battle of Polygon Wood) in the First World War. He was shot on September 28, 1917. Most of the damage was caused by a lead bullet that entered the mouth and passed through the palate and right eye. Shrapnel destroyed the ascending ramus of the right jaw, and another bullet, visible here, struck the left frontal sinus.

 

 JP

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voltaire60
9 minutes ago, helpjpl said:

 

The Anzac Skull Controversy, WWIIForums.

 

The Mutter Museum used an image of the skull to promote/advertise the museum online - admission fee $18 - and explained:

This Australian soldier’s skull has extensive damage caused by bullet wounds sustained in the Battle of Passchendale (or Third Ypres, Battle of Polygon Wood) in the First World War. He was shot on September 28, 1917. Most of the damage was caused by a lead bullet that entered the mouth and passed through the palate and right eye. Shrapnel destroyed the ascending ramus of the right jaw, and another bullet, visible here, struck the left frontal sinus.

 

 JP

 

    Thanks JP-  Will look.  When I read through his file on Anzacs and then what the Mutter had to say, then it grew more disturbing- 2 separate bullet wounds and splinter wounds all to the same small area of his face??????     His record says he was also wounded in the right arm as well- the letters "SW" are on the record, rather than "GSW"  which suggets that the right arm wound and severe damage to side of face were "Shrapnel(orShell) Wound, rather than "GunshotWound(GSW). A little disconcerting- to be hit by 2 separate bullets as well was quite possible  - to have 3 separate wounds in the same few square inches of body surface and only one other wound to right arm seemed inconsistent-I would have expected much more injury to the rest of his body from fragment or bullet.

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helpjpl
3 minutes ago, voltaire60 said:

 

    Thanks JP-  Will look.  When I read through his file on Anzacs and then what the Mutter had to say, then it grew more disturbing- 2 separate bullet wounds and splinter wounds all to the same small area of his face??????     His record says he was also wounded in the right arm as well- the letters "SW" are on the record, rather than "GSW"  which suggets that the right arm wound and severe damage to side of face were "Shrapnel(orShell) Wound, rather than "GunshotWound(GSW). A little disconcerting- to be hit by 2 separate bullets as well was quite possible  - to have 3 separate wounds in the same few square inches of body surface and only one other wound to right arm seemed inconsistent-I would have expected much more injury to the rest of his body from fragment or bullet.

 

His case notes should have more information and the Mutter Museum may provide copies when it returns the skull to the Australian authorities.

Presumably they will issue a statement when they have the skull.

 

JP

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trajan
On 10/4/2017 at 13:25, PhilB said:

Is it the considered opinion of contributors that a Museum of Military Pathology (containing specimen examples of injuries, presumably for the training of military doctors in the treatment of casualties of war) is a good or bad thing?:unsure:

 

Speaking as an archaeologist, who has excavated a fair number of (admittedly) pre-modern skeletons, then yes. Only way to understand the types and causes of traumatic injuries. 

 

On 10/5/2017 at 06:48, Chasemuseum said:

... "Head hunting" from the fallen where neither the soldier nor next of kin have given consent - that was just as improper then as it would be now. ...

 

A point to bear in mind here is that it was not 'head-hunting' in the usual sense of the term (in the ancient Celtic norm) but 'specimen collecting' (to be blunt). The GW period followed so soon after the last days of the Age of the Enlightenment that we now, in the 21st century, cannot understand the motivations of those in the 19th and early 20th century who collected medical and anthropological 'specimens' for purely 'scientific' reasons. We have the privileged status of decrying what they were trying to do, but in one way or another we have learnt from their efforts. I am not defending what was done, just trying to place it into perspective as one who has in the past had to deal with similar issues. I doubt very much that Shoesmith passed this unfortunate chaps' skull around as a conversation piece as in 'head-hunting'...

 

On 10/5/2017 at 19:20, John_Hartley said:

... Furthermore, the extract given at post #7 is clear that this was intended as a museum collection. As such, I remain convinced that Shoemaker's action were, at best, questionable. ... 

 

Yes, the manner in which he appropriated the head (and of course the necessary boiling off of the flesh, etc., afterwards) are reprehensible. But, as something for a private or museum collection to illustrate just what modern warfare was about, well, not questionable - just as with that collection of horror photographs in the the 'Nie Wieder Krieg' book... I certainly do not condone Shoemaker's actions, but I can understand his reasoning and motives.

 

By the way, one thing that nobody has touched on here, these days we can make wonderful 3D images of skeletal parts for teaching and other purposes (e.g., reconstructing 'faces' from skulls). I trust the poor chap's skull will be reunited with the rest of his remains (always hoping, of course, that the grave does contain a headless skeleton!): but the ability to have the actual specimen to study and handle is far more precious. 

 

I hope I don't sound too callous in the above. That is not my intention. I deplore the way in which the post Shoemaker museum used this as 'crowd drawer' - with its 'Ouch' factor, etc. - but I am also attuned to the needs of research. And bearing in mind that some are now asking about the possibility of DNA testing of this skull as a means of identifying his brother, well, in a sense, isn't it possibly a good thing that the skull of Thomas Hurdis is still around, no matter the way in which it came to be so, to aid us modern researchers?

 

Trajan

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helpjpl
1 hour ago, trajan said:

 

Yes, the manner in which he appropriated the head  …….  etc

 

Well put. Thank you.

 

JP

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John_Hartley
1 hour ago, trajan said:

always hoping, of course, that the grave does contain a headless skeleton!

Indeed. The alternative would raise further ethical issues.

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Chasemuseum
On ‎16‎/‎10‎/‎2017 at 00:34, voltaire60 said:

 

    Thanks JP-  Will look.  When I read through his file on Anzacs and then what the Mutter had to say, then it grew more disturbing- 2 separate bullet wounds and splinter wounds all to the same small area of his face??????     His record says he was also wounded in the right arm as well- the letters "SW" are on the record, rather than "GSW"  which suggets that the right arm wound and severe damage to side of face were "Shrapnel(orShell) Wound, rather than "GunshotWound(GSW). A little disconcerting- to be hit by 2 separate bullets as well was quite possible  - to have 3 separate wounds in the same few square inches of body surface and only one other wound to right arm seemed inconsistent-I would have expected much more injury to the rest of his body from fragment or bullet.

 

If you look at the photo of the skull, the bullet lodged above he eye is a "shrapnel bullet". All of the wounds reported appear to be shrapnel bullet wounds.

 

Shrapnel shells made up a huge proportion of all field artillery shells in WW1. The shell (projectile) can best be described as being like a shot gun, which fires forward a spray of lead balls about 10mm in diameter as a lethal cloud, from the projectile when the time fuse has reached its setting. If caught in the open, soldiers typically received multiple injuries to multiple parts of the body. If caught in a trench, wounds were more likely to be to the head, upper torso, shoulders and arms. If the gun was a German 77mm LFK, this is a relatively flat trajectory gun and even at maximum ranges a shrapnel shell is not likely to be descending at more than 40deg from horizontal. So troops in limited cover such as shallow trenches are most likely to only have wounds to the upper areas, particularly the head.

 

With the general use of helmets in 1917, his wounds to the face and arm are very consistent with all of the injuries being from a single shell burst from a "whiz bang".

 

Cheers

RT

 

 

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voltaire60

  RT- Thanks indeed for the illumination on this, over and above my general background about shrapnel bursts.   I hope the Mutter has more on this-  However gruesome it might appear to a modern reader or viewer, this sort of information only serves to highlight the "realities" of the war-and no bad thing for that. With respect to the  memory of Richard Caton Woodville, I would rather have the Thomas Hurdis skull continue in "use" as an exhibit, by way of photograph, as an illustration rather than the stylised art so frequently encountered.  

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PhilB

One bullet/ball is reported to have entered through the mouth and travelled through the sinus and right eye - a tricky trajectory to explain!

After seeing the Towton wounds, my first thought on the upper right jaw wound was that it might have been from a bayonet.

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