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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read, 16 April 2013
This review is from: Broken Men: Shell Shock, Treatment and Recovery in Britain 1914-1930 (Paperback)
This interesting book deal with the subject of how those with shell shock were treated after the First World War. It deals with the definitions of shell shock, potential reasons, the politics of shell shock and in particular the setting up and action of the Ex- Servicemens' Welfare Society(ESWS).
The author gives several prospective to the whole atmosphere at the time which I had never considered, although fairly well read on the psychological aspects of warfare. At the time there was definitely it was a very much masculine led society and as such males always had to be the strongest aspect and shell shock could be seen to be a failing of that attribute.
Shell shock victims were initially almost always viewed as "poor boys" who had suffered a trauma, whether it be physical or mental, however as time went on this viewpoint lost its meaning as it was realised that it was not only the young soldiers who suffered (the average age of a shell shock victim was 26) but also that as the sufferers aged, still requiring treatment years after the war had ended.
The different theories on treatment were explored, from trying to get to forget their troubles to more realistic beliefs that whilst it was impossible to banish some memories, patients should learn how to make them tolerable companions.
The differences in how Officers and Other ranks were treated is discussed at some length, Officers often receiving more preferential treatment, single rooms instead of dormitories, better food and better surrounding being amongst a few of the differences. Other Ranks were also far more likely to end up in lunatic asylums as there was just not enough facilities to treat them.
The RAMC get mixed reviews as you would expect, it is often said that they the best with what they knew at the time, but it appear that they were no better informed on shell shock than civilian doctors and is often the case in medicine, there were a number of different theories as to the causes and possible treatments. The difficulties of the interaction between the RAMC and the likes of High Command and the Adjutant-General became a major stumbling block for diagnosis.
I had thought that the World War Courts Martial and shell shock sufferers was a fairly recent discussion but it would appear to have been ongoing since even before the war ended. The treatment of those with shellshock, both during and after the war was used by opposition parties to criticise successive Governments over several years.
The book's later stages concentrate on the setting up and work of the ESWS, at the time, the only charity dealing exclusively with those with Shellshock. The politics of the ESWS are often at odds with the Government and leading figures of the day, although eventually it did become less controversial and more settled. The contrasting ways that the ESWS and the Government dealt with sufferers was highlighted, although the ESWS were dealing with far fewer and only in select areas, people having to travel to them.
The parallels between the recognition and treatment of shellshock in the 1920's and the recent debates over PSTD are remarkedly similar and shows once again our inability to learn from the past. The ESWS changed its name, it was the Ex Services Mental Welfare Society for a while but in the 1980's changed to Combat Stress, an organisation known to us all.
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Broken Men: Shell Shock, Treatment and Recovery in Britain 1914-1930
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