Shell Shock not only caused horrific volumes of casualties in European troops, but had a massive effect on soldiers of colour too. Some in the army would explain it away as ‘black irrationality’, others would note that combat stress was more likely to recur, simply because of the race and difference which separated the British West India Regiment from those fighting from Britain and France.
Unfortunately, this perceived difference would indeed have an effect on the treatment and reception of injured and psychologically drained soldiers, with some undergoing none of the assistance which white British soldiers received, instead their treatment was to discharge them from the army and return them to the Caribbean.
Below are some case studies from those who were treated for Shell Shock at No.2 General Hospital, Le Havre, France. The notes are verbatim from the medical sheets and they are all taken from the National Archives MH series:
Private 5744 J. Bell 4BWIR
Dementia Praecox [catatonia]
He is dull and depressed. He is nervous, agitated and apprehensive. His memory is defective. He has auditory hallucinations. He hears voices speaking to him when he is in bed. He fears that some harm is going to be done to him. He should be regarded as possibly suicidal.
Private 6922 E. Brown 6BWIR
Medical Case Sheet 8.5.1917
‘He has alternating attacks of extra excitement or profound exhaustion. At times he is excited, restless, restive hostile and violent, at others he lies in a stuporous condition. At present his memory is faulty, he is slow in reply to questions, frequently after repeating the question and a subsequent long pause says “I don’t understand” Recognition and perception apparently normal. His education is not of a high standard. Can read and write and do simple “sums” with difficulty. He has no hallucinations or delusions. Complains at times of pain in his head. Evidence of gastric disturbance. Bowels constipated. Sleeps indifferently.
Private 4878 L. Jones 4BWIR
Medical Case Sheet 10.10.17
‘Talking continuously and incoherently and the general trend of his talk was partly religious and partly voicing his delusions of persecution. He is under the delusion that the French people are enemies of his and are following him about.
Medical Transfer certificate
Sgt. on the ward states he has family history of mental illness.
Medical Case Sheet 9.10.1917
NYD [Not Yet Diagnosed] Mental
First admitted on 6.10.17 and diagnosed with gastritis. Has vomitted since admission. On previous evening had become violent and threatened to kill orderly. Jones put on a special order and administered with a ‘sleeping draught’. Became violent again at 4. ‘Alternating insanity’ ‘At present he is dull and depressed. He is unduly emotional and he readily weeps. He is confused mentally and he can give practically no account of himself. He states that he is at present in a University for Transport men and that he came from Amsterdam. He is rambling and inconsequent in his conversation in a childish and simple minded way. He has delusions of persecution, which probably account for both his attacks of depression and excitement. He states that a lot of different people are trying to rob him. They have tried to put an end to his life. Some of them came and put poisonous gas on him and stick needles into his face’.
Private 6835 A. Richardson 4BWIR
Medical Case Sheet 28.8.1917
‘On admission he was dull and confused. He did not seem to appear to understand what was being said, although questions were repeated several times. Only a few muttered monosyllabic replies could be obtained. The day after admission he was extremely violent and noisy and was reported to have had two fits. Today after an interval of four days he is much quieter. He understands what is said to him and he replies in fairly good English. His memory is poor and he can give only a poor account of himself’
Private 11573 H. Robins 8BWIR
Medical Case Sheet 18.10.1917
‘He is very dull and depressed. He is lacking in intelligence and knowledge. He is childish and simple minded. He is unduly emotional. He states that he is at present in Dominica and that he is 14 years old. He can give no rational account of himself, and is abnormal in his behaviour. He is apparently very deaf and his sense deprivation will exaggerate his condition. Such replies as one obtained to questions are muttered and the questions have to be written in block letters before any replies at all are forthcoming. He is quite unfit
With great thanks to Richard Smith for providing the above extracts