Jump to content
Free downloads from TNA ×
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Suicide On Active Service


hooge1

Recommended Posts

Hi Forum Members,

I'm interested to know what the procedures were for officers and other ranks who committed suicide whilst overseas on active service during the Great War.

Were the relatives informed? Did it effect medal entitlement or pensions? Were officers and men treated differently in this respect?

My reason behind these questions is the mention of an officer who committed suicide in a soldiers diary. The officer is mentioned by rank and the first letter of his surname only. However with the battalion details and internet it wasn't hard to work out who it was.

This got me thinking as to how the Army dealt with this difficult situation. It would be straight forward to mark the man as KIA to save extra distress to the family, but then is that how the Army operated in those days?

Regards

Nick

Link to comment
Share on other sites

They were generally just listed as 'Died'

You should be able to check on CWGC.

I came across the suicide of a man while still in uk. I think he was buried in a military cemetery with a military headstone. The suicide is recorded in his service record.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the army were fairly sensitive to relatives in this respect. In addition, inquest verdicts or courts of inquiry often included "while the balance of his mind was disturbed" to allow for burial in consecrated ground.

I'm not sure about pensions but the above Verdict should have safeguarded them. I think medal entitlements were unaffected.

Ron

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have researched two individuals. It depends on the verdict given by the inquiry afterwards regarding pension (if any was due) and medals. If a verdict of suicide because of temporary insanity was recorded then medals and pension would be forthcoming. If it was recorded as suicide - self inflicted (which was the case in one of these individuals), the outcome, I suspect, was not the same. Both are listed with CWGC as died.

Edit: to include further information.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nick,

One of 7th Liverpool's committed suicide in 1916 while in France he is listed in Soldiers Died as having "died of wounds" and is buried in a civilian cemetery with a C.W.G.C. headstone.

The man in question was 36 on enlistment so would have been 38 when he died and had previously served 6 years in the regulars.

Paul.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The latter of my two men I suspect also died of wounds as the battalion were in the line at the time but he is buried with a CWGC headstone quite some way away and on the casualty evacuation route. However he is not listed in Officers Died in the Great War. He has a medal card but is not in the medal roll index, possibly because his medals were not claimed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maybe it is an Irish thing but when soldiers suicides occurred here in Ireland during the war years the gorey details were published in the Irish newspapers.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's interesting Tom, I hadn't thought of checking the newspapers because I had assumed that the sensitivity of the issue would have kept it out of the papers - for the sake of the family. I also thought it might have been kept out of the press because it wouldn't look good for the Army if their officers were seen to be committing suicide in the front line. In one of these cases, it wasn't cut and dried as to whether it was suicide or not and the widow got her pension and his medals.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maybe it is an Irish thing but when soldiers suicides occurred here in Ireland during the war years the gorey details were published in the Irish newspapers.

I've seen them reported in local papers here - usually by virtue of the coroners hearing.

Craig

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maybe it is an Irish thing but when soldiers suicides occurred here in Ireland during the war years the gorey details were published in the Irish newspapers.

I've seen them reported in local papers here - usually by virtue of the coroners hearing.

Craig

Perhaps I am reading Tom's post in the wrong way. When he says 'here in Ireland' I am assuming that the men committed suicide at the front but it was still reported in the papers in Ireland. If they committed suicide at the front there wouldn't be a coroner's inquest here. That was my point, I hadn't checked the papers because I had assumed that there wouldn't be anything here. Unless Tom means that 'here in Ireland' means they committed suicide in Ireland, in which case, there would be a coroner's inquest. Perhaps Tom can clarify whether they committed suicide at the front or in Ireland?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

They committed suicide in Ireland.


The most common was throat cutting,

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks Tom. The men I was researching were overseas and that is why I doubted anything would have made it to the papers at home.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

They committed suicide in Ireland.

The most common was throat cutting,

Tom the point about throat cutting being the most common method is also interesting. I don't know how one of these men died but I doubt he cut his throat as it was in one diary as accidental and in another diary as self inflicted. Later it was deemed to be self inflicted however the other allegedly cut his own throat.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

All seem to have been done by a razor.


One particular lad took his wife with him.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

All seem to have been done by a razor.

One particular lad took his wife with him.

Yes, the man concerned had a safety razor and borrowed an open razor from another officer, he was in captivity at the time which is why exact details are sketchy and, why firearms would not have been an option for him. I suspect the the other chap used a firearm of some sort if it was initially deemed as an accident. There are some suicides mentioned in Peter Barham's book 'Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War' but there doesn't seem to be a favoured method in fact if anything, I think firearms are mentioned more often which is why your post is so interesting.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If a firearm was used then the 'verdict' of accident would be more acceptable unless there was a witness.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have a medal to a chap who "died of gunshots". The family were told as such but the mother would not leave it alone and in the end was told pretty bluntly that he killed himself. His service records survive which contain the sorry story .

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If a firearm was used then the 'verdict' of accident would be more acceptable unless there was a witness.

I don't know if there was a witness or whether it was the fact that he survived long enough to be evacuated and so he may have told them before he died that it was intentional. Unfortunately, we will probably never know because his service record was heavily weeded and anything from the enquiry has not survived.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Two of the Royal Artillery officers I have researched committed suicide while in France. One in a hospital and one at the battery position. In both cases there was a court of enquiry into the suicides.

In the case of the officer in the hospital the court of enquiry found that he 'met his death by a revolver wound, self-inflicted, while temporarily of unsound mind due to the delirium of pneumonia" and there is a letter in his file that indicates that he parents were so notified.

The second officer shot himself with his revolver near the entrance of the officer's mess after returning from leave in a nearby town. The court of enquiry found that he had committed suicide, possibly due to the stress he was under due to criticism he had received from his battery commander. His parents were notified that he had committed suicide and his file contains a number of rather viscous letters written by his mother to the division commander and to Field Marshal Haig declaring that her son had been 'deprived of life through the ignorant, jealous, dishonourable and unmanly conduct of his three 'temporary' so-called 'officers.' The local newspaper indicated that he had been 'accidentally killed'.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is fortunate that the board findings have survived the weeding process. All there is in my chaps record is a history of physical ill health. He seemed to be suffering with his ears and had done so as a child but the problem had not re-occurred until he went into action with the BEF. He then had numerous trips home and spent a lot of time at home as sick because of the problems. Each time they sent him back he would only be there for a few months and he would be home again. The problems seemed to occur in the winter months he would be sent home and be sent back again and would last the summer months and into autumn. However, when he died, he had just been sent back again and it was July. I do wonder if the physical illness was a mask for him being mentally ill/unstable and under stress. He wasn't conscripted, he came back from overseas to volunteer for enlistment.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"while the balance of his mind was disturbed" to allow for burial in consecrated ground.

Ron

Without wishing to cause offence, the burial in 'consecrated ground' being withheld seems in wartime to be redundant, with hundreds of thousands in no known graves or just vaporized or lost at sea.

To me, any battlefield is automatically 'consecrated ground' due to that most important of virtues, 'sacrifice'.

khaki

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would tend to agree. One of the men is buried in a war cemetery despite his suicide being termed as self inflicted so he didn't seem to be accorded of the unbalanced and disturbed mind, nor temporary insanity. He was buried in consecrated ground nonetheless. It might also be said that any poor soul who committed suicide had disturbances of the mind and was unbalanced by today's standards anyway but I suppose it would be viewed very differently at a time when they would draw conclusions on a person's character and intelligence based solely on their appearance.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

They committed suicide in Ireland.

The most common was throat cutting,

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...