Whilst women contributed to the war effort in a wide variety of ways, the support offered by the women of the Surgical Requisites Association was of a more literal nature, in the design and manufacture of appliances, such as splints, to physically support injured soldiers. Two pioneers in this field were Elinor Hallé and Anne Acheson of the Surgical Requisites Depot at No. 17 Mulberry Walk, Chelsea. Both sculptresses, Hallé and Acheson turned their creative talents and knowledge of the human form towards wartime nursing, notably in their innovative use of papier-mâché.
With wartime demand being high, a more economical alternative was sought to replace the relatively expensive traditional arm cradles made of cloth, which were designed to support a broken limb splinted with wood and bandages. It was Elinor Hallé who first employed papier-mâché as a comfortable, light weight and cost-effective substitute material for arm cradles, with Anne Acheson going on to develop these into splints. The best paper for producing the papier-mâché was discovered to be old sugar bags, which were collected direct from grocers and members of the public, with the help of boy scouts, as well as from appeals in the press. The use of recycled material and free scout labour in this way also kept down the cost, which Hallé estimated at an impressive less than one tenth of that required for the traditional arm cradles made from cloth.
Originally set up as part of Queen Mary's Needlework Guild for the supply of surgical dressings, the Surgical Requisites Depot was to become the central orthopaedic branch of the Guild, with both Hallé and Acheson later receiving CBEs for their war work. From being a rather underestimated material, papier-mâché appliances proved to be resilient, versatile and eminently suitable for the pressures of wartime nursing: rather like the women who invented, manufactured and fitted them.