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PhilB

Post Mortems on SS Leviathan

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PhilB

This excerpt is from The Great Rescue by Peter Hernon and describes events on the Leviathan (ex-Vaterland) in 1918. It raises a few questions. Did similar rules on embalming and post mortem examination apply to British transport ships? Why would their entrails be piled on their chests and what reasons for such use of string? (No schoolboy humour, please)

IMG_2777.JPG

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Ralph Currell
Posted (edited)

To the best of my knowledge, burial at sea was the norm on British ships.  On passenger ships there were often a couple of caskets carried in the event of the death of a saloon passenger (i.e. a higher class of passenger whose relatives could pay for the embalming), but generally the dead were consigned to the deep.

 

I cannot say what the rules were on American troopships. The provision of 40 caskets mentioned above suggests that they intended to bring any deceased to land.

 

Regards,

   Ralph

Edited by Ralph Currell

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seaJane

Entrails out first either for investigation or to avoid internal putrefaction. On chests as the only available flat temporary surface (packed inside again post-post-mortem and buried at sea a.s.a.p.). First piece of string to keep position dignified as rigor mortis came and went, second piece of string to prevent unseemly leakage.

 

Or that's my guess.

 

I've seen 19thC anatomy engravings of dissections, and string / other tying material features a lot, presumably to help someone carrying out a post mortem solo.

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PhilB

Good thinking SeaJane! Thanks.

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seaJane
Posted (edited)

Thank you. It also occurred to me that it is probably easier to empty the intestines (which decay sooner when full) if they are outside. 

 

Plenty of buckets aboard.

 

I'll stop there.

 

 

Edited by seaJane

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depaor01

The second piece of string is puzzling though. Everything else makes sense.

Dave

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seaJane

On further thoughts, not quite sure if the second was for the containment of fluid or for the prevention of air intake/ expulsion (with accompanying uncouth noises) as bodily cavities were manipulated during post mortem. To be honest I'm theorising here, not working from direct experience.

 

 

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GreyC

Hi!

Here is a not so common photo of the launch of the VATERLAND in 1912.

GreyC

xStapellaufVaterland1912.jpg.e1cb720f602a91e2bb3bfbe7f7ddee2f.jpg

 

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PhilB

I imagine that, in the ersatz conditions of a DR aboard a passenger ship crammed with soldiers, the containment of body fluids would be a prime consideration?

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seaJane

Quite. 

I'm going to stop researching this one - there's some weird stuff out there ...

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depaor01
31 minutes ago, seaJane said:

Quite. 

I'm going to stop researching this one - there's some weird stuff out there ...

I'll take your guidance on that and not pursue!

Dave

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seaJane

Sensible man!

sJ

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PhilB

Thanks folks, I think the practical medical aspects have been adequately covered! I note that the requirement for PMs was a USN requirement. Was it also a US Army rule? Was the ship operating under naval or army rules? Did the British navy and/or army have similar rules aboard ship? Or, as I suspect, could a death certificate there be simply signed off by a doctor? 

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seaJane

Still named SS rather than USNS so does that mean she was taken up from trade by the US Army rather than USN? 

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PhilB

But with a USN crew.:unsure:

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seaJane

& the medical corps - army or navy?

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MrSwan
18 hours ago, seaJane said:

On further thoughts, not quite sure if the second was for the containment of fluid or for the prevention of air intake/ expulsion (with accompanying uncouth noises) as bodily cavities were manipulated during post mortem. To be honest I'm theorising here, not working from direct experience.

 

 

 

I had the experience of assisting at a number of post mortems during my service in the RAMC and although I found them absolutely fascinating they were gruesome and extremely messy, and I shall leave out the details (although I might mention that I had quite a reputation for the quality of my needlework in sewing up the body). Even in a dedicated mortuary with porcelain or stainless steel tables it would usually take an hour or more to clean up afterwards, so I can't begin to imagine what it was like on board a ship, and with dozens of bodies to deal with.

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