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Arthur Hurst on Percy Meek's Shell Shock


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Film footage is here

Some time ago I found in the Devon Record Office amongst miscellaneous papers (ref. 1262M/OLD/113/68) a 1000 word description of a soldier's shell shock. Written by a Col. Hurst R.A.M.C. in 1918. The soldier was identified only as Percy Meek.

I now know that Hurst is none other than Col. Arthur Hurst who wrote Medical Diseases of the War. Due to copyright agreements I have to reproduce a transcription of Hurst's description below.

Having delved a little I'm sure that Percy Meek is 3/7495 Percy Albert Meek, Norfolk Regt. His MIC shows Victory, BWM, 14 Star with Clasp. Enlisted 14/1/1913 and discharged with SWB 13/6/1916. He was born June 2nd 1892 in Docking, Norfolk. On the 1901 census the family are in Snettisham and are basket makers, it appears he had two brothers Charles & Harold, the latter 13014 H. Meek 3rd Bn. Norfolks Died at sea 30/12/17.

I then spotted a post by skipman giving a link to Netley film footage of shell shock victims and first man in the film is Percy Meek!!! So I thought it was an unusual resource to have film footage plus a description by Arthur Hurst. The film must have been shot over two years and edited. Hurst first saw him at Netley in Dec '16 and Percy didn't recover much until moving to Seale Hayne (Devon) in April 1918 so the film must cover that time frame.

It seems that Percy lived to 75,  and died in Kings Lynn 1968.

 
 

From Col. Hurst RAMC 1918

Pte. Percy Meek, aged 23 basket maker from Snettisham.

 

Pte. Meek joined the Army in 1913. He was slightly wounded in the thigh in May 1915, after serving from the beginning of the war. He returned to the front in October 1915. He was quite fit until February 19th 1916, when he had to be forcibly prevented from going over the parapet to attack some German mortars which were firing at his trench. He then became dazed, and on reaching the aid post he could not answer questions, but he obeyed simple commands such as to put out his tongue. He believed he was still in the trenches which were being heavily shelled; his eyes were fixed on imaginary trench-mortar shells coming towards him, his pupils were widely dilated, and he sweated profusely. His pulse was 140. Convulsive tremors of the head, trunk and limbs constantly occurred. When he reached a hospital in England on March 2nd, his expression was apprehensive, he saw the ghosts of Germans he had bayoneted come to take revenge on him and he heard them fire at him. He was still unable to speak, but he answered questions by nods and signs and in writing. He was able to walk with assistance. He was treated by hypnotism, but his condition steadily deteriorated, except that the hallucinations disappeared.

I saw him first at Netley in December 1916, eleven months after the onset. He was still unable to speak; all four limbs were now completely paralysed, except that he was able with a great effort to make slight movements at his left elbow joint. An extreme degree of contracture was present; the legs were rigidly extended; the arms were extended and the fingers tightly clenched. It was almost impossible to produce any passive movements, but the contractures were entirely hysterical, as they relaxed completely under an anaesthetic and during sleep. Total loss of sensation to touch and pain over the whole body, including the eyes was present, except that passive movements at the elbow were painful, and he occasionally suffered from toothache.

On December 15th 1916, vigorous suggestion with the aid of an intralaryngeal electrode during light etherisation restored the power of whispering. It was then found that he had total loss of memory; he had no idea who or what he was, he did not realise that his anaesthetic legs belonged to him, and he had no knowledge of the meaning of words. During the following months he learnt to talk a kind of pidgin English, but the meaning of every word had to be taught, and he used each word in his limited vocabulary for a variety of meanings. All forms of drink were 'tea' and when petrol as poured into the tank of a motor-car he was in, he called out 'table has tea', table being for some obscure reason the generic name he applied to all vehicles. 'Hand' represented a hand and a glove, and 'to hand' was to hit; a word taught by other patients in fun would never be given up, so that all forms of meat, chicken and fish were called 'Puss'. His only numbers were 'one' and 'six', which represented anything more than one, except a very large number which was 'sixty-six' or a still larger number 'six-sixty-six'. All attempts to teach ideas of time, space and colour failed, and he did not recognise any of his relations, even when his father was brought to him in the middle of the night in the hope that he might know him at the moment of waking. He remembered recent events and called people by names, which he often invented; a bald patient was 'no-haired chick', two men who limped badly were 'no-legged chick' and 'six-legged chick'; all officers in uniform were 'Major' and civilians 'Mr' or, if friends, 'Mr Chick'. In spite of treatment no improvement in the condition of his limbs had occurred by October 1917, though he was able to sit up in a chair and enjoyed being taken out of doors. He delighted in childish toys, and in a general way his mind was that of a year-old child. He was quite happy, but was becoming very emaciated as it was difficult to persuade him to eat.

On November 22nd 1917 for no obvious reason he had a headache and became excited in the evening. His memory began to return during the night and he talked incessantly. The next day he realised the deficiencies in his speech and wished to have them corrected. When told a word he now repeated it correctly and remembered it and began to form proper sentences. On November 24th I cured a man suffering from hysterical whispering with a laryngeal sound, in his presence. Though this had failed on many occasions since he learnt to whisper nearly a year before, it now cured him instantaneously to his intense delight. He lost his voice once more on the 27th but it returned on passing the sound again. This time he felt something snap in his head and immediately afterwards he talked quite normally and his memory of his home and his past life flowed back. His father came the next day and he knew him at once. He soon remembered his experiences in France but his life in the hospital was almost a blank as it seemed to him that he was in France only a few days instead of 21 months ago. He had a vague recollection of very recent events and he knew the men in the ward but did not remember friends who had gone out only a week before. He remembered 'feeling funny with a buzzing head', then 'something in his head was suddenly relieved' and the buzzing stopped when his memory returned. His mental condition was now perfectly normal but for some time very little improvement occurred in the condition of his limbs. With re-education and passive movements the left arm slowly improved but it was not until he was transferred with the neurological section from Netley to the Seale Hayne Hospital in April 1918 that any marked improvement occurred. At the end of a fortnight his right arm, which had hitherto remained rigid and paralysed had improved so much that he could write long letters, brush his hair and feed himself but all movements were stiff, shaky and slow. The left arm improved At the same time but there was still no recovery of voluntary power in the legs. On May 1st an attempt was made to overcome the rigidity of the legs. This was so far successful that slight voluntary power returned in the feet. Steady improvement followed until all movements became possible. By May 31st he could stand with very little assistance and could perform all ordinary movements with his arms, though some rigidity was still present. On June 2nd, his 25th birthday, he stood without help and after being helped for a few minutes he walked without assistance round the quadrangle after being paralysed for 28 months. His physical condition now steadily improved and by June 20th he was able to take charge of the basket-making shop at the hospital.

Edited by TEW
Correction
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Given the account of his recovery one wonders if he were suffering from some physical trauma in the brain (rather than/as well as PTS) brought on by concussion from the mortars shelling his trench. Today of course they'd do a brain scan. Impossible then.

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Read a good few reports in an e book of a similar nature very interesting also saw the films you mention thanks for posting this.john

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This post seems to be closly related to a thread, in this forum, last post in October, by Robert Dunlop. Perhaps it should be cross referenced or moved.

Old Tom

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If you're referring to Neurasthenia and Shell Shock I mentioned this document in that thread. That seems to be the only relevant one I can see among Robert's posts from October last year.

As no one has added to that thread since Oct 4th and there are 176 posts I think this may get lost within another thread. If the mods wish to move it I'm sure they will.

TEW

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Oops! I remembered that thread and made the conection, but I did not read all the posts there and hence did not see your input.

Old Tom

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