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History of the Military Lyster Bag
Purification of drinking water by the use of liquid chlorine was developed in 1910 by Major Carl Rogers Darnell, Professor of Chemistry at the Army Medical School. In the same time period, Major (later Col.) William J. L. Lyster (1869-1947) of the Army Medical Dept. used a solution of calcium hypochlorite in a linen bag to treat water. Lyster's method became the standard for U.S. ground forces in the field and in camps, implemented in the form of the Lyster Bag (also spelled Lister Bag).
The Lister Bag was in common use from before World War I through the Vietnam War. Lyster Bags would be found wherever there was an encampment. In addition to its role in providing drinking water, the Lyster Bag was a general water resource for cooking, showers, medical use and many other requirements. The Lyster Bag has been replaced by modern methods such as reverse osmosis systems and by the increasing availability of packaged water in plastic bags and bottles for ground troops.
Description of the Lyster / Lister Bag
Although commonly called the Lyster Bag (or Lister Bag) the correct modern nomenclature is "Bag, Water, Sterilizing" with NSN 4610-00-268-9890. The Lyster Bag was a component of Field Feeding Equipment, such as the Mobile Kitchen Trailer, with one or two Lister Bags supplied according to the unit size of the kitchen, issued approximately one per 100 persons. The newer Containerized Kitchen does not include the Lister Bag.
The 36 gallon capacity Lyster Bag was approximately 36 inches tall by 22 inches in diameter. The bag included a rope for hanging, a lid/cover, and had six water faucets around the base. In use, it was hung from an improvised tripod of tent poles or locally cut material, hung away from anything that could cause potential contamination, such as a tree. A trained technician would fill the bag, then put chlorine ampoules into the water to sterilize it. After testing the water for potability, it was available for filling canteens, cooking, or any purpose.
Lister bags are constructed of a canvas fabric that weeps, providing some degree of evaporative cooling at the bag surface. The bags tend to lose 5 percent to 30 percent of their contents through weeping, and are not highly effective at cooling due to the low surface area to volwne ratio.
Instructions for Use of the Lyster / Lister Bag
For small groups, the 36-gallon canvas Lyster bag was used as a container for disinfecting raw water. The bag was filled to the mark with the cleanest raw water available, using muslin cloth for straining out solids. This procedure was followed to ensure safe drinking water:
An alternate method consists of adding 1 tablespoonful of liquid household bleach to the Lyster bag and proceeding to check for chlorine residual. If the fabric material has been repaired, patches or temporary plugs must be secure. The check-valve adapter must be undamaged and open easily. Dust caps must be attached to couplers when not in use.
The USMC Small Wars Manual, Chapter VI (1940), states:
Testing the Lyster / Lister Bag Water
Chlorination test kits were used, consisting of color comparison tubes and chlorine test tablets. Instructions accompanying the particular kit gave a detauked procedure, but when a chlorine test kit was not available, the water was deemed acceptable if it had a slight chlorine taste.
After 30 minutes of calcium hypochlorite treatment, a test was given to a cupful of water from the Lyster Bag by adding 10 drops of a solution containing 10 per cent potassium iodide and 1 per cent soluble starch (supplied in the test kit). The appearance of a blue color was the indication that sufficient chlorine had been added to the water. If no color appeared, the water was highly polluted and was immediately reported to the medical officer having water supplies under his supervision.
See also this Olive-Drab.com page: Military Canteen Water Purification Tablets.
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