The Face of Madness

Not all damage in war is physical. It can be mental and it can last a lifetime.

Defence of the Realm

Shell shocked soldier in the trenches 1916

The First World War was a breeding ground for psychological trauma. Standing in what were effectively holes in the ground with artillery barrages raining down around them, even the toughest men could break under the strain.

This haunting image was taken in September 1916 at the Battle of Courcelette. The unidentified soldier has lost all perception of reality having retreated in to his own mind hence the maddened smile. Called “Shell shock” at the time, today it would be labelled as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and while it does gain wider recognition today it is still a major factor affecting forces personnel returning from combat duty.

The man in this image represents a very extreme case although “Shell shock” manifested itself in many ways.

(Image sourced from Historicalphotos.com)

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “The Face of Madness

  1. The American Civil War spawned psychological trauma but it was not recognized as such at the time. Psychology and psychiatry had not yet appeared upon the scene as they did pre-WW I.

    • Thanks very much for that. Over here in Europe the American Civil War tends to be rather forgotten but I know there were huge numbers of casualties. One PBS programme I watched called it “twenty Battles of Waterloo”.

      • The number of military casualties during the American Civil War is estimated to have been in excess of 750,000 men, including total combat deaths of around 235,00. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_casualties_of_war#cite_note-Gugliotta-27. Combat casualties have to be considered with regard to the overall population. In 1860, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 35.7% of the population fell between the ages of 20 and 44. The 1860 U.S. population was 31,443,321. Of that number, 11,225,266 were between the ages of 20 and 44, with roughly 50% male for a total of 5,612,633 men. Working with that number and the estimated casualties of 750,000 during the course of the war, one quickly realizes that over 13% of the U.S. male population between ages 20 and 44 were casualties. I realize that percentage number is only a rough approximation, but it does suggest the magnitude of suffering that must have existed. PTSD, as we now know it, had to have been an enormous problem among the returning military. I can’t imagine the sorrow and heartbreak felt among families who lost fathers, sons and brothers and among those who cared for those who returned physically and mentally maimed.

  2. As an after-effect of WWI, shell-shock is gruesome to study, to see, and teach. A haunting picture and interesting post, John.

  3. That is a very powerful image John.

  4. If you google Le Touquet cemetery and look for images, some of the photographs contain more graves than you can count. They came from that hospital.

  5. One thing that I don’t think has been made clear enough, is that this blogost is not my work but is a re-blog from “Defence of the Realm”. You can reach this excellent blog by clicking on the link just above the photograph. I had not fully understood that the automatic computer wizardry would not make it 100% clear that this was not my work but a re-blog. I do apologise for that.

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