Local BBC Sites

Neighbouring Sites

Page last updated at 13:48 GMT, Wednesday, 27 January 2010
Frederick Selwood's blood cooler for WWII transfusions
A History of the World
By Jon Wright
BBC Suffolk

Steph Wiles with the transfusion device
This is Steph's only example of her father's handy work

This small metal object saved lives at a West African field hospital during World War II, and it shows the amazing skill of a British engineer.

Steph Wiles of Ipswich told BBC Suffolk that she first found the 'cooler' in her father's shed when she was 10.

"It didn't mean that much to me at the time, I just threw it back in the box."

It was made from old aircraft pieces and fitted inside a glass tube, allowing the blood to be cooled as it flowed round the threads.

"He obviously brought this home with him, but other things he made would still be possibly in the patients, because he made pins to help knit bones back together," said Steph.

"And there were other bits which he did for the American aircraft which took off and presumably went back to America.

"But this one thing that I have - it lay in his shed until I found it and asked what on earth it was for?"

Determined to join up

Frederick Selwood in his army uniform
This is one of the few pictures Steph has of her father when he enlisted

Before the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Steph's father, Frederick Selwood, worked as an engineer. It was a profession which counted as a 'reserved occupation' meaning he couldn't join the forces like his two brothers.

However, he eventually enlisted anonymously and ended up in West Africa as a staff sergeant at a base where US planes stopped over for refuelling and repairs.

Steph said he soon became known for coming up with handy engineering solutions and it wasn't long before his reputation reached the nearby field hospital.

"One morning a visitation arrived, and he was approached by a harassed and overworked senior surgeon who wondered if there was anything that could be done to keep blood at the right temperature during operations. It was over heating in the simmering desert temperatures," said Steph.

"This is just one of the many bits he made for either the field hospital and it works thus - the length diameter, the sliding top valve and 25 turns on the bolt were precision made to attach compatibly to the existing hospital equipment.

"Made from bits of left over plane, it sat inside a glass tube and allowed only the exact measure of blood to trickle down during transfusion.

"The outer glass was cooled manually by someone holding cooled cloths against it. Crude, but it worked."

An improvised blood cooler
The cooler has 25 turns with a sliding valve on the top

Steph said her father went on to have a distinguished engineering career after the war, working on projects such as the Thames barrier.

The cooler he brought back as an example of his handiwork remained in his shed after Steph first discovered it.

"There it lay until he died in the 1980s, and it was when were clearing out the shed that I came across this thing that I said 'Oh my goodness, I remember that when when I was a child, I ought to keep it'."

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific