Morden Hall had around 100 beds for soldiers of below officer rank, and around 20 nursing staff under the supervision of a matron. Hospitalised servicemen wore ‘hospital blues’ – a dark blue uniform with a red tie to ‘deter the wearer from indulging in drunken behaviour or unauthorised absence during breaks from the hospital’. Commonly, auxiliary hospitals were used as convalescent homes for soldiers who did not have life-threatening illnesses. Morden Hall, which was connected to the Maudsley, a mental health hospital, was the home to which several men suffering from loss of the power of speech following trauma on the front line were sent. There, they experienced the pioneering treatment of shellshock by Dr Frederick Mott.
Frederick Mott, a neurologist working at the Maudsley Hospital and Morden Hall Park, was engaged in pioneering research which allowed men suffering from shell shock to return to normal life. Mott was assisted from 1915 by Dr Cicely May Peake. Mott and Peake initially believed that some of the traditional treatments, primarily electrotherapy, could assist in the treatment of psychological injury. But with the increasing incidence of shell shock providing more patients to observe, Mott came to believe in an ‘atmosphere of cure’ – a quiet recuperative environment in which to forget traumatic experiences. He suggested a period of distracted convalescence – ‘comfort, welfare and amusement’ – ‘simple games, knitting or wool work, beadwork, basketwork and net making’ in an appropriately therapeutic environment. He prescribed continuous warm baths to relax muscles and thus induce sleep. Mott did not believe in hypnosis or psychotherapy – he thought it was better to divert the mind from terrifying experiences.
Mott suggested that soldiers be discouraged from dwelling on their experiences. He believed in the restorative powers of discipline, practicality, positivity and distraction. Soldiers under his regime were never left alone to dwell. He disapproved of malingering but found that it helped to suggest to soldiers suffering from shell shock that they wouldn’t be sent back to the front line. Mott’s techniques were sometimes extreme – he lied to patients and gave false medical explanations in order to harness the power of suggestion. Many men nursed at Morden Hall had been struck dumb by the horror of their experiences in the trenches. Mott would whisper loudly to a nurse near a patient’s bed that the solider was to stay on Number 1 diet, but that if he could ask for himself loudly enough, he could have a mutton chop and a bottle of stout. Many recovered their voices this way!
By January 1916, Mott had developed the belief that shell shock had an organic basis. He noted, for example, that 10 per cent of cases suffered from hyperthyroidism and sought to link that condition to the patient’s psychological condition.
From Mott’s clinical notes, it appears that either he visited patients at Morden Hall Park or they saw him by appointment at the Maudsley. He had some considerable success with his methods. From those patients suffering psychological injury whom Mott saw at the Maudsley, 40 per cent returned to light military duty.