An American nurse sits with a shell-shocked American soldier in a hospital in France, 1918. Public Domain / mediadrumworld.com

By Tom Dare

A SERIES OF COMPELLING PHOTOS of shell-shocked World War One soldiers recovering in hospital after being sent home from the Western front have resurfaced this week, nearly a century after first being taken.

Haunting images show one unidentified soldier sitting alone in a special treatment room for those suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, then referred to as shell-shock, while another sees a group of soldiers suffering from PTSD sat fishing at the edge of a river.

Further pictures show a nurse giving one young boy open-air treatment in an attempt to ease the symptoms of PTSD, with another showing a soldier being trained on how to safely evacuate a comrade who is suffering from PTSD.

Patients of the A.R.C. Hospital near Paris, at Dinner time (Jan 1919). Public Domain / mediadrumworld.com

 

The series of images were taken from allied hospitals across Europe, from Britain to France to Hungary, with each photo showing a different person suffering with the symptoms of PTSD (shell-shock).

Coined in 1915, the phrase ‘shell-shock’ referred to the series of symptoms many soldiers were reporting after returning home from the Western front. This included hypersensitivity to noise, panic, being scared and the inability to sleep, reason, walk or talk.

The so-called ‘shock unit’, made up of shell-shock suffererers. From left to right, standing: E.H. Baker, Jr. of Greenwich, Conn.; L.T. Barnett, Chicago, Ill.; Author Meyer of Chicago, Ill. (Decorated War Cross of Merit); Wilfred H. Wolfe, Newark, N.J. (Decorated War Cross of Merit?); Theo B. Brumback, Kansas City, Mo.; Robert W. Lindsey. Hampton, N.H. (War Cross); G. Blakely, Bethlehem, Pa.; Robert Cory, Newark, N.J. (Silver Medal for Valor, 2nd Highest Italian Award); Warren H. Pease, Minneapolis, Minn.; Scott Russell, Chicago, Ill. (War Cross); Augustus W. Green, Chicago, Ill. (War Cross); J.K. Flaherty-Chicago, Ill. Seated: Capt. R.W. Bates, Cambridge, Mass., H.J. Comegys, Asbury Park, N.J.; G.W. Harris, Yakima, Washington; Richard Hawes, St. Louis, Mo. Seated center: C.R. Scudder, St. Louis, Mo., L.K. Porritt, Hartford, Conn. (War Cross) (August 1918). Public Domain / mediadrumworld.com

 

However, doctors were unable to ascribe a physical cause for the symptoms, as the men reporting them had all faced differing situations in the war. Debate raged as to what it was that causing the men to act differently and, in some cases, desert their posts all together.

The name shell-shock was given to the condition as it was assumed that the symptoms came as a result of exposure to artillery fire, with some doctors suggesting that the vibration from the explosions had caused a brain lesion. As such, those suffering from shell-shock who had not been exposed to artillery fire were often not deemed unwell, and in some extreme cases were court-martialled for desertion.

This soldier was hit in the head by a piece of eclat which destroyed his ear drum, leaving him shell-shocked. He was put in the Sunshine Room installed by the American Red Cross at a Hospital where there is absolute quiet, harmonious colors and cheerful surroundings, thought of as the necessary medicine in cases of that kind (June 1918). Public Domain / mediadrumworld.com

 

Shell-shock was so prevalent during the First World War that over 15 specialist hospitals were set up by the British to deal with individual cases. Some battles proved far harder on the men than others, too, with approximately 40 per cent of the survivors of the Battle of the Somme suffering from some form of shell-shock.

After the First World War doctors and scientists began to develop a much deeper understanding of the condition, eventually labelling it posttraumatic stress disorder, which is what it continues to be called today. Treatments include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), anti-depressants and interpersonal psychotherapy, with varying levels of success depending on the individual case.

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