Effects of shell fire

http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article80436113

http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article80436113

On 23 March 1915, The Northern Miner (Charters Towers) reported the findings of renowned British physician and psychiatrist Dr. Frederick Mott, one of the pioneers of biochemistry noted for his work in neuropathology and endocrine glands in relation to mental disorder.

Dr. Frederick Mott

Dr. Frederick Mott

During the First World War, Dr. Mott was consultant neurologist to the Fourth London General Hospital, King’s College, and to the Maudsley Hospital, the psychiatric facility attached to it. The Northern Miner article outlined a paper published in the British Medical Journal, one of several papers published by Dr. Mott on the subject of shell shock. The article summarised Dr. Mott’s findings - the ‘weird effects of violent shell-fire’, based on a number of his patients:

Shell shock patients, officers and nursing staff, No. 3 Australian Auxiliary Hospital in Kent, c1916, Australian War Memorial, C02309.

Shell shock patients, officers and nursing staff, No. 3 Australian Auxiliary Hospital in Kent, c1916, Australian War Memorial, C02309.

Many men suffering from shell-shock showed no visible signs of injury. While they had lost their speech, they were quite able to write lucid accounts of their experiences. Dr. Mott determined that their mutism was in fact an exaggerated form of hysteria.

Sufferers occasionally showed bodily signs of extreme terror and could not voluntarily whisper or produce any audible sound, but in their dreams would call out, using expressions they had used in battle or in the trenches. Unfortunately, only sometimes were these instances followed by return of speech.

In some cases, men suddenly recovered their speech by crying out when unexpectedly feeling physical or mental pain, or receiving an unexpected surprise. Occasionally, the stimulus of a well-known song broke down their condition, and they surprised themselves and others by finding themselves singing.

The British Pathé War Archives YouTube channel contains some historical footage of the effects of shell shock, and Maudsley Hospital features on the BBC website World War One at Home.

Robyn Hamilton - QANZAC100 Content Curator, State Library of Queensland

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