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Remembered Today:

'Shellshock' as a cause of death


Guest Third_Light
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Guest Third_Light

Hello to all, my first post here.

I'm researching kinsmen who served in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Highland Light Infantry, Anson Bttn, Royal Naval Division, and water company, Royal Engineers.

I was very curious to learn that my grandmother's elder brother died on the Somme (at Mesnil Martinsart, where he's buried) and his death was attributed to 'shellshock'.

While I'm no expert, I find that an unusual way to report a death. Has anyone else encountered this and can perhaps explain what it meant, given our conventional understanding of shellshock?

Thank you.

Al

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Hello Al, Welcome to the forum

Maybe there was an associated injury such as concussion from a shell blast which may also have demonstrated symptoms associated with 'shellshock'

khaki

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I was very curious to learn that my grandmother's elder brother died on the Somme (at Mesnil Martinsart, where he's buried) and his death was attributed to 'shellshock'.

While I'm no expert, I find that an unusual way to report a death. Has anyone else encountered this and can perhaps explain what it meant, given our conventional understanding of shellshock?

My Gt.Uncle died in a military hospital in Perth, Scotland allegedly of 'shell shock' in 1916. The reality of this particular case appears to be that he actually died of multiple internal injuries (haemorrhage, organ damage/failure, etc.) caused by (as mentioned by Khaki) the concussion of the shell explosion that hospitalised him. There was no mention of any actual physically visible injury.

Dave

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Whilst I hate to hold up "Downton Abbey" as an accurate depiction of the war, I believe the footman died in the same way (no external injuries but fatal internal injuries).

In any case, my understanding (to double echo the above) was that Shellshock as reported as "wounding" was usually concussion injuries rather than the later definition that eventually became "Post Traumatic Stress".

Steve.

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In any case, my understanding ......... was that Shellshock as reported as "wounding" was usually concussion injuries rather than the later definition that eventually became "Post Traumatic Stress".

Steve.

My grandfather, then a 2nd Lieut (seen in avatar) was buried alive by a 5.9 inch howitzer shell on 18th July 1916 on Bazentin Ridge; his sergeant got his men digging, and after a while they dug him up, unconscious but still alive. He was described as "Severely wounded" with "shell-shock and concussion", and went by stretcher, then train, then boat, back to England where he spent a few weeks in a neurological hospital in London, and then back to a hospital in Glasgow. His service history reveals that It was weeks before he stopped shaking and wetting himself (in medical speak "problems with micturition"), and he clearly had bad internal injuries and bruising etc.

So in his case it is as you say: "shellshock" is used to mean physical injuries caused by being in close proximity to an exploding shell, rather than post traumatic stress (although I rather think that he had his share of that as well).

William

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When was 'shell shock' first used to descibe PTS, was it during or after the war?

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When was 'shell shock' first used to descibe PTS, was it during or after the war?

It was a term used during the war-- The term was first published in 1915 in an article in the medical journal The Lancet, written by Charles Myers. But, it was a nebulous concept, and seemed to include many clinical entities beyond that which we now call Post Traumatic Syndrome.

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As far as physical injury is concerned, it may be relevant that the explosion of a shell involves the absorption of a considerable amout of air, and it is possible that if a man was close enough, the air in his lungs might be physically drawn out, effectively forcing the man to try to breathe as if he was in a vacuum. Something similar can happen in a major fire, which also draws out oxygen from the surrounding air.

Ron

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Guest Third_Light

Thank you everyone here for kicking that door open. I hope that at some point I'll be able to return the kindness.

The picture of a fatality caused by a physical force/shock makes sense. I read a little about the history of where he's buried - Mesnil Martinsart Communal Military Extension - and it seems to have been a place where those who died at a nearby dressing station were buried. I fear his suffering might have been 'slow and obscene', to quote a song.

Al

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I fear his suffering might have been 'slow and obscene', to quote a song.

Not necessarily. According to reports, my Gt.Uncle was never fully conscious (if conscious at all) in the weeks between his wounding and his death. He'd probably have never even known anything about it.

Dave.

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always hope...

here is a movie about shell shock during ww1 and a succesful treatment, may god bless those heroes..

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In many cases death from concussion of the body absorbing the shock was instantaneous. I have read two instances of cases where two men were found grappling in mortal combat with hands around each others throat etc. It is also alleged that two soldiers were found together shortly after an explosion; one on his knees reading his bible (I think) and the other close to him with his arms outstretched as through reaching upwards. Whether this last example could possibly happen I don't know but it is the subject of a painting I recently saw at IWM North.

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Slightly off topic, but what is the medical term for someone who suffered from gassing, [survived]?

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Hello johnboy,

An excellent question, as far as I can tell the modern description tends to be something like toxic poisoning, however during the war 14/18 it seems to be just 'gassed' followed by or preceeded by type, probably more to do with types of treatment, remember gassed can also mean burns, blindness. lung issues etc caused by gas.

khaki

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Concerning the original question about death from shell-shock. I thought this might be of interest from journalist Philip Gibbs: '...They were a frightful sight, (German dead) as many of them were quite naked, all their clothes having been stripped off by the blasting force of high explosives. Some men, untouched by fragments of shell, were killed by the enormous concussion of air or by heart-shock, and there was one dead man kneeling, and still grasping his rifle with fixed bayonet.' (The Battles of the Somme)

David

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So the painting I referred to in post 13 allegedly based on an actual incident and which I was sceptical about, could well be true.

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So the painting I referred to in post 13 allegedly based on an actual incident and which I was sceptical about, could well be true.

Absolutely.

David

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