Serbian barrels in WW1 East Africa

Working on the Pike Report (WO 31/141) I came across reference to ‘Serbian barrels’ (para 138) under the topic of disinfection. What are Serbian barrels and what are they doing in East Africa?

Serbian barrels were designed by William Hunter who was working as a doctor in Serbia during World War 1. The barrel, quite a complex but simple system, was used to eradicate lice to control typhus (more incl WW1).

So how did they get to Africa? It would appear that when the Serbian army moved into Greece and joined in supporting France and Britain on the Salonika front that information was transferred. I’m hoping that Dr Aimée Fox-Godden (@DrAEFox will be able to provide a little more detail on who took the idea and first barrels to East Africa.
All this within two years (October 1915 to November 1917).

2 thoughts on “Serbian barrels in WW1 East Africa

  1. Serbian Barrels had been developed by the British Military Misson in the Balkans to provide a simple disinfection system and had proved successful in minimising the epidemic of typhus in 1914/15. Based on this success, Serbian Barrels were soon adopted by the sanitary and laundry units across the British Army. Although not as effective as the much larger Thresh Disinfectors, they remained in use for the duration of the war as part of the standard disinfection toolkit. An American report of 1919 on the Sanitary Section of the United States Forces in Europe states the Serbian barrel was far from satisfactory, but the report indicates that their use was widespread across allied forces. Evidence also exists thst they were used by the Australians. So to answer your question as to how they ended up in East Africa, it seems that the use of Serbian Barrels was widespread across the British army in all of the countries that tye operated. SOme more information on their use can be found on the attached link

    • Thanks for your comment. It makes sense for those involved in the war on the Western Front, ie Americans, Australians, the proximity to the Balkans and even Egypt as a transport hub makes sense. However, my question remains in relation to the East Africa campaign which was seen as a ‘side show’ by those in Europe. Material and reinforcements were scarce. It could take 6 months for letters and news to get through to the theatre. One of the issues Pike was complaining about was the poor response in getting medical equipment to the theatre. And he only records seeing one of these barrels in a hospital. I’m sure we’ll eventually get to the bottom of the trail – it will likely entail seeing which doctors who had served in Europe, Balkans or even Egypt were sent to East Africa from 1916 onwards and then tracing whether they had connection with the Serbian barrel. The other route is to see what write-ups there were in medical journals which made it through to the EA theatre within the time frame, but my gut feel is that this knowledge transfer was more likely to be personal experience.
      The link you included some potentially other helpful info to other aspects of the war – thanks for sharing.

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