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Lister Bag

Lyster Bag suspended from a tent pole tripod with second bag nearby
Lyster Bag suspended from a tent pole tripod with second bag nearby.

Today in WW II: 24 Oct 1944 US 7th Fleet units block southern approaches to Leyte while 3rd Fleet aircraft attack Japanese task forces in the Sibuyan Sea [Center Force] and Sulu Sea [Southern Force].  More 
24 Oct 1944 Battle of Surigao Strait: last battleship vs battleship action in history; Japanese Navy Southern Force ambushed by US Navy 7th Fleet; heavy Japanese losses [Leyte, 24-25 Oct].
24 Oct 1945 United Nations organization officially comes into existence.
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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).

Lyster Bag at encampment of HQ Co., 1st Bn., 326 Glider Infantry Regiment, 13th Airborne Division, 1944
Lyster Bag at encampment of HQ Co., 1st Bn., 326 Glider Infantry Regiment, 13th Airborne Division, 1944. Photo: Courtesy Family of Jack Chriss, veteran of Co. B, 129th Airborne Engineer Bn., 13th Airborne Div.

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 The Lyster Bag has been replaced by modern methods such as reverse osmosis systems and by the increasing availability of packaged water in plastic bags and bottles for ground troops.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:

  • Before it is filled with water, clean the Lyster Bag with a solution made with one ampoule of calcium hypochlorite dissolved in one gallon of water;
  • Fill the cleaned bag to the mark (4 in. from the top);
  • Mix a stock solution of chlorine by adding 3 ampoules of calcium hypochlorite to a one-half canteen cup of water;
  • When dissolved, pour the solution into the Lyster bag and stir with a clean stick;
  • Wait 30 minutes. Flush the faucets with a small quantity of water;
  • After 10 minutes, flush the faucets again, and check for chlorine residual as described below;
  • If the residual test is unsatisfactory, add one more ampoule and repeat the procedure until the desired residual is achieved.

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:

Sufficient ampoules should be cnrried for chlorination of water for the duration of the patrol. The Lyster bag, if carried, should be carefully inspected for leaks, particularly at the taps, and should be cleaned and dried. Four to six yards of muslin for straining trash from the water should be provided. The bag should be rolled and stowed so that it will not chafe in carrying.

Testing the Lyster / Lister Bag Water

Testing drinking water for its chlorine residual, 26th Infantry Division, Luxembourg, January 1945
Testing drinking water for its chlorine residual, 26th Infantry Division, Luxembourg, January 1945.

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.

Find More Information on the Internet

There are many fine websites that have additional information on this topic, too many to list here and too many to keep up with as they come and go. Use this Google web search form to get an up to date report of what's out there.

For good results, try entering this: bag lister or lyster. Then click the Search button.

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