1915 Shell Shock

In World War One, the executions of 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers took place. Executions, for crimes such as desertion and cowardice, remain a source of controversy with many people believing that those executed should be pardoned as it is now thought that these soldiers were suffering from an illness known as shell shock or what is now commonly known as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).When we embarked on our search for our GGGuncle Robbie at The Somme, we came across the The Lochnagar mine crater which has information boards all around and one in particular broke my heart.

One of an 18yr old boy who was executed by his own side for cowering in the trench with trauma and was seen to be refusing to go 'over the top'. He was shot at dawn for what we now know as having PTSD, stress and anxiety.


Servicemen in Scotland’s Asylums, August 1918

Now released after 100 years, asylum admission records shed light on the treatment of civilians and soldiers suffering from mental health conditions.

Shell shock – a contemporary term used to describe the psychological trauma experienced by soldiers who fought on the battlefields of the First World War – is familiar from documentaries, movies and novels.

Shell shock may call to mind stately homes and poets recuperating in the leafy surroundings of Craiglockhart War Hospital, a former hydropathic institute requisitioned in 1916 to serve as a war hospital for officers. One set of records in the NRS archives however shows that many rank and file soldiers exhibiting signs of poor mental health were sent to a very different type of institution.

The Notices of Admissions – admissions papers from both Scotland’s royal and district asylums, which were then commonly known as “lunatic asylums” – contain the details of every patient received at a Scottish psychiatric institution during a particular month.

many servicemen who suffered from debilitating mental health conditions were detained in asylums under the provisions of Army Form B. 263 – “An order for the reception of a dangerous lunatic soldier”.

Scotland’s Lunatic AsylumsIn the era before the establishment of the Welfare State, provision for poor people who fell ill or suffered serious injuries included charitable and voluntary dispensaries and hospitals. It could be patchy, basic and might vary markedly from one area to the next.

Most of Scotland’s lunatic asylums were established in the years following the 1857 Lunacy (Scotland) Act. They cared for patients with a variety of physical and psychiatric conditions that were generally bracketed together as varied forms of “insanity” – consisting of symptoms such as depression, anxiety and delusions, but also covered conditions such as epilepsy, alcoholism and syphilis.

Many of the symptoms displayed by servicemen and civilians in the August 1918 volume appear to have been superficially similar. Some resemble those that could have been attributed to shell shock under the general terms “Melancholia” and “Apathy” – including depression, trembling, confusion and extreme anxiety.

Some servicemen are also recorded as suffering from more severe symptoms, including paranoia and extreme hallucinations. One soldier of the Northumberland Fusiliers, for example, is described as suffering from “delusional insanity”.

“He thinks he is Jesus Christ”, his file notes, and he “hears voices telling him he is King of England”.

Terms such as “shell-shock” and “neurasthenia” do not appear at all. The strongest reference is a suggestion that one soldier’s existing condition may have been “aggravated” by the stress of the war.

“General paralysis of the insane”: A polite term used by a doctor at Glasgow Royal Asylum, Gartnavel, to indicate that a patient suffers from syphilis. “Wasserman reaction” refers to the blood serum test for syphilis.