Birmingham: Leading the Way

Birmingham Archives Kynoch Factory, WW1 images 

In 1914, Birmingham’s reputation as a centre of medical specialisms came into it’s own. The rapid set up of the First Southern General Hospital at Birmingham University on 15th August, just 11 days after war was declared, following months of preparation, set the template for Military Hospitals across the country serving the wounded in the coming years. A mere cursory look at the Mills’ Munitions Factory photos at Birmingham Archives and Heritage gives an indication of the numbers and severity of the injuries to come.

Professor Jonathon Reinarz’ talk at Birmingham University on 11th February 2016 to launch People’s Heritage Co-operative Untold Stories Project provided a great start to a project which has at it’s heart the uncovering of the stories of those wounded soldiers, the medical professionals they came into contact with and the development of medical practice and provision for injured and disabled soldiers.

The glimpses given us by Reinarz of little known medics such as William Billington (surgeon), Harold Round and Arthur Parrottt (dentists),  working together as a team to reconstruct shell shattered jaw bones tell us there is much to be uncovered in our City’s history.  How much had Birmingham’s industrial history led to a plethora of specialist hospitals: skin; nerve; eye; dental; children’s; women’s?  Had the industrial practices that were being used in the Jewellery quarter been copied by surgeons in their reconstruction techniques?



As Professor Reinarz demonstrated, the uncovering of stories requires careful looking.  In summarising the legacy of the war on invention and development, Reinarz referenced the Air Cushion patent (used as the air bag in cars for injury prevention) registered in the US on 17th February 1920.  A closer look at this patent registration reveals a Parrott and Round innovation, registered in Great Charles Street, Birmingham.

Birmingham’s strapline as ‘second city’ can sometimes seem a bit self depreciating, comparing the city unfavourably with London.  As a centre for medical specialisms, developing treatments for war wounded veterans, Birmingham did, and still does, lead the way.

Untold Stories next lecture is on at Cadbury Research Library. Martin Killeen, Senior Librarian, will talk about the CRL’s collection of archive material relating to hospitals in Birmingham during WW1.