In the 1980s I interviewed more than 350 Great War veterans. Then it was seventy years since events on the Somme, at Arras or Ypres and the veterans were old men but fit and most lived in their own homes. Some I got to know very well and gradually I began to recognise the signs of men who had seen things most could never even imagine. One I used to visit regularly opened the door to me with the phrase ‘I fought the Battle of the Somme in my bed again last night’. Another had regular flashbacks while we spoke, would pause and seeing the face of a young man before him, mirroring his own young face seven decades before, would ask me ‘what mob did you fight with chum?’ As so the question of how war service affects people at the time and in later life has always interested me. There have been titles before but this new work by Suzie Grogan takes a fresh and most welcome approach to the subject.
The book takes us on a fascinating journey from the background to shell shock through to how the ideals of what a man should be often contributed to how men broke down under battle fatigue, afraid they would ‘let the side down’. For me of greater interest were the chapters looking at the influence of shell shock on British society beyond the Great War. It exposes just how many broke down in the same that veterans of modern wars have done in recent decades but now the recognition of PTSD has made this more acceptable and less hidden. The work also looks at spiritualism and the rise and popularity of this both during and especially after the war: so the book clearly identifies that ‘shell shock’ was not just about men who served at the front but the psychological effects of loss and trauma manifested itself among civilians though practices like this.
Suzie Grogan’s book is a truly fascinating and most welcome addition to our knowledge of the subject of war neurasthenia and indeed WW1; it is well written, superbly argued and easy to understand. Thoroughly recommended and a most welcome publication casting light on yet another little known or understood aspect of the Great War.
The book is available from the Pen & Sword website.