‘Shell shock’ cases

Probably over 250,000 men suffered from ‘shell shock’ as result of the First World War. The term was coined in 1917 by medical officer Charles Myers. At the time it was believed to result from a physical injury to the nervous system during a heavy bombardment or shell attack, later it became evident that men who had not been exposed directly to such fire were just as traumatised. This was a new illness that had never been seen before on this scale. The condition was poorly understood medically and psychologically. Take a look at the War Committee Report (WO 32/4748) on the condition to find out more about attitudes towards it just after the war. Today, the condition is known as post-traumatic stress disorder and the treatment and attitude to it are very different.

Extract of a medical case sheet for a soldier suffering from ‘shell shock’. This man was finally invalided out of the army by decision of the Medical Board, 23 July 1916, (Catalogue ref: MH106/2102)

Transcript

Medical Case Sheet                                                     Army Form I 1237
No, in Admission and Discharge Book

1139

Regimental

 

56947

Rank

 

 

Surname

 

Milner

Christian Name

 

J

Year Unit Age Service
1916 14th Reserve Battalion R.F.A 25 6 yrs
Station & Date

East Leeds War Hospital Harehills Road Leeds

June 1/16

 

 

 

Disease   Shell shock Coarse tremor

 

Patient went to France Aug 1914 with the original Expeditionary Force- attached to R.F.A. – [Royal Field Artillery]-a large howitzer. During the retreat from Mons, at Cambrai, on Aug. 27th they were nearly captured- German infantry surrounded them & were only 300 yards away. They retreated stealthily, travelled sometimes all day & night. It is evident that the mental strain was considerable. At Ypres on April 1915 the explosion of a high-explosive shell lifted him from his feet & dashed him against the wheel of the howitzer. He was dazed & semi-conscious for a short time- on attempting to exhort his comrades to seek shelter (they were lying in the ditch) he found he could not speak. Weakness of the limbs supervened later & he was sent from hospital to hospital until 3 months later he reached Le Touquet near Boulogne. There ether was administered & as he regained consciousness he spoke & has retained speech ever since. He was sent to Leicester, England May 24/15 and on the crossing he developed tremor & that has with variations grown worse. Since then up to 2 months ago, when he improved to such an extent that he could shave. He has lost weight, his legs are wasted & he cannot now stand. He has difficulty in eating and drinking-the tremor varies, on the days when it is bad he has difficulty in passing urine, so that he will remain unrelieved for as long as 24 hours. At these times his tongue becomes foul & thickly coated. His pupils react normally to light & accommodation- his difficulty in reading arises simply from lack of confidence between the tremor of his hands & that of his head- there is blurring of the type. His memory & intelligence are good. His organs are sound.

Urine: – Acid, Sp. Gr. 10126, Phosphates present, no Albumin or Sugar.

The tremor ceases during sleep & grows worse under observation. The head movements are coarse, lateral & no doubt involve the facial muscles. The arms & legs remain quiet until inspection occurs-whilst the right hand or foot is being observed. The head movements are aggravated, the head being violently jerked to the right side- the inspection of the left side produces similar symptoms. Ankle clonus is present, [abnormal reflex movements of the foot] worse on the left side. K.J. [knee jerks] increased. Other reflexes normal There is no loss of sensation.

 

H.H. Greenwood Capt. R.A.M.C.


Extract of a medical case sheet for ‘shell shock’. This soldier later returned to duty in April 1916, (Catalogue ref: MH106/2102)

Transcript

Medical Case Sheet                                                                        Army Form I.1237

No, in Admission and Discharge Book

T1937

Regimental

 

8900

Rank

 

Private

Surname

 

Spink

Christian Name

 

H

Year Unit Age Service
1915 3rd R. Warwicks 32 13 years
Station & Date

East Leeds War Hospital Harehills Road Leeds

Dec.30/15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jan.5/16

 

 

 

 

 

11/16

 

 

Jan 11/16

 

 

 

 

Jan 19/16

Disease:   Shell shock, Tachycardia., Right facial palsy

 

On Oct 4/14 patient went to France & was fighting in the trenches until March 10.15 when, at Neuve Chapelle, a shell burst very near to him. He suffered from shell-shock & was off duty for 7 weeks. Eyesight was found depreciated & he was fitted with glasses- some deafness of the Right ear also resulted & this persists. He was sent to England finally on August 15/15, temporarily unfit, said to have gastritis & stayed in the Isle of Wight until Dec 4/15. When he came home on leave. He contracted pneumonia (he says) and was in bed until Dec. 27/15. He was admitted here Dec 30/15 suffering from pain over the heart. He now complains of that pain & pain across the epigastrium [middle of abdomen]. The heart beats violently, rapidly (100 bpm) but regularly. He has no cough & no organic lesion of heart or lungs can be found. Ordered rest in bed and …Digitalis [heart drug]……

 

The right side of the face is smooth & flaccid-the mouth drawn to the left, nose deflected to the left slightly. He grins markedly to the left, right side moves less freely. From Mar. 10/15 the face has been thus. From a photograph taken in Sept 1914 the change is clearly seen. Watch on Right side heard at 1 foot…

 

Tongue coated, breath bad, teeth defective & carious [decayed]. Will the dentist kindly report

 

This man has several carious teeth which should be removed. This I will do (under anesthetic) on Friday. Subsequently fillings and dentures will be necessary.

C. Holland Child C.D.O

….

He is still rather ill from shock- several sockets have bled very freely H.H.G.

 

 

 

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