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edwin astill

The Great War and Certified Lunatics

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edwin astill

I've been reading "The Workhouse" by Norman Longmate (Temple Smith, London, 1974). This footnote in Chapter 23 caught my eye:

"Another unexpected effect of the war was a sharp reduction in the number of certified lunatics, from 140,000 on 1 January 1915 to 117,000 in 1919, after which the former upward trend was resumed, to 141,000 in 1929. Only a small proportion of these were, of course, detained in workhouses."

I can't imagine that war made people less likely to be "lunatics', and can only assume that there was a change in diagnosing and certifying the condition. I know also that at one time simply being unmarried and pregnant could be enough to get you certified.

Any explanations? The book does not elaborate.

Thanks

Edwin

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Moonraker
Wiltshire County Lunatic Asylum was at Roundway Hospital, Devizes, whose medical supervisor, Dr Sydney Cole, reported that in 1915 the war did not "to have led to any increase of lunacy in Wiltshire … there appears to have been a decrease, in spite of the apparent increase of population by influx of soldiers, labourers, etc from other parts of the kingdom to the great camps of Salisbury Plain". In 1916, six soldiers were admitted, four with wounds of stress: "the cases in which Mental Stress is entered as a factor include seven men reported to have suffered from war anxiety, either from the prospect of military service, or on account of sons in the army, or in other circumstances arising out of the war, and no less than 15 women who were stated to have worried about loved ones absent on military service."



Of the 4,000 hospital admissions during the First Canadian Contingent's 14 weeks on Salisbury Plain, 23 were cases of insanity, some of which were transferred to the Asylum at Devizes. Possibly one of these 'lunatics' was the man who startled Richard Grant of the 1st Field Artillery Brigade, who had been injured when unloading a gun at Plymouth and had spent six weeks in that city's hospital before moving to a hospital tent on Salisbury Plain: "where I reclined with forty other patients, and directly opposite our tent was another in which were confined under guard a number of patients who were subject to fits, some of a very serious nature … one night, when just dozing off, I was frightened into wakefulness by a scream. A man, who turned out to be an escaped epileptic, was standing in the doorway screaming, his eyes bulging out of his head. He had escaped by striking the sentry over the head with the fire brazier, used to keep the sentry warm. Staring wildly about the room for a couple of seconds, he made a leap for the nearest man and bit him in the arm; he then jumped at the next patient, biting him; I was the following recipient of his devotions, getting a bite on the wrist … By way of diversion he then took hold of the beds and started upsetting them, rolling the patients out on to the floor, causing a tremendous amount of pain and suffering to the men upset who, some of them, like myself, had casts on their limbs. In the midst of his mad capers the guest and orderlies rushed in, but before he was subdued he managed to fasten his molars in the arm of the guard." (Richard Grant, S.O.S Stand To, 1918)


Moonraker


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David Filsell

I believe a similar reduction in mental illness was recorded during WW2.

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alf mcm

Edwin,

The book, 'Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War', by Peter Barham {2007}, may provide an answer.

Regards,

Alf McM

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headgardener

I think that it was at least in part a consequence of the Asylums War Hospital Scheme which effectively took various asylums out of the civil system and turned them into war hospitals. As you note, the quoted statistic indicates simply that there was an alteration in the certfication process rather than an actually reduction in psychiatric illness (arguably, the war almost inevitably led to an increase).

The asylum system at the outbreak of war was very much a hangover from Victorian times, and was still subject to many of the least progressive attitudes towards psychiatric illness. The notion of the 'pauper lunatic' was still prevalent - the appearance that someone was unable to care for themselves in a socially responsible way was sufficient to enable them to be certified. The changes in attitude brought about by the outbreak of war were probably more of a reaction to circumstance than the result of an outbreak of enlightened thinking on the part of the authorities.

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edwin astill

Thanks to all for their contributions so far. Just goes to show what an absorbing area of history we all follow.

Edwin

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Magnumbellum

It needs to be remembered that at the time of the Great War psychiatric assessment was in its infancy, and there was no requirement for professional psychiatric involvement in certification of lunacy. At the request of the family, a magistrate and a GP could jointly certify, upon their observation of the patient at a particular time, together whatever history, verified or unverified, was supplied by the family.

Mental health was always the poor relation of physical health, and effectively was left out of the great social reforms of 1945-48; it was not until the Mental Health Act 1959 that professional evaluation and care began properly to enter into the system.

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headgardener

Further to Magnumbellum's post, I'd add that Britain lagged behind many of the 'great powers' (notably Germany and France) in its approach to psychiatric and psychological medicine. Much of the pioneering work on hysteria and anxiety neuroses originated in Germany, and British medical culture was slow to adapt to the latest thinking in this field. This was of relevance to the understanding and treatment of neuraesthenia/war neurosis/shell-shock - it left the British medical system poorly equipped to manage the inevitable rise in such cases.

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seaforths

Edwin,

The book, 'Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War', by Peter Barham {2007}, may provide an answer.

Regards,

Alf McM

Second that.

One that always tickles me in the contents of the Foreign Office files from 1915:

'Sir John (double-barrelled surname) confined in an asylum in Belgium and described as a "homicidal maniac", request for release...' He might have just been eccentric. As has been pointed out, many were confined for incidents totally unrelated to mental health. My uncle has been in an institution since the age of 14 because of severe epilepsy that left him brain damaged, with severe communication and learning difficulties but the place he was in first, was previously an asylum. Now, he's learning to use an iPad!

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edwin astill

Will try and get hold of the Barham book mentioned. Although I accept the rudimentary state of mental health knowledge, the fact that the numbers rose after the war is interesting. But I'll say no more until I've read the book!

Again, thanks for your insights.

Edwin

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CarylW

Came across this case a while ago in the book about Conwy Workhouse N Wales, called 'Paupers, ******** and Lunatics', written by Christopher Draper (ISBN 0-86381-879-X) (forum censor software has edited out a word in the title. It begins with b and ends in s. All terms used at the time, not my wording)

Extracts from the book posted here with the author and publishers permission.

'Arthur James Smith was a Llandudno volunteer who served as a Private with the 15th Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers (reg. number 26579) Driven mad by the stresses of combat in April 1915 he was clearly unsuitable for the house and was accepted as an in-patient at Denbigh Asylum, supported by relief payments from Conwy Union..............'

The Conwy Union Poor Law records are available from local archives here:

http://www.archiveswales.org.uk/anw/search_index.php?id=1648&acc_type=3

Anyone wanting to look into this subject in depth could consult local archives Poor Law records for other cases, if the records survived.

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topsey1234

I have been looking at the case of a distant relative of mine Private James Richard Hitchcock, Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He was born in 1892 in Coventry and was a printer by trade.



The documented story starts in 1916 when he was admitted into the workhouse infirmary on London Rd in Coventry. It had at the time facilities for both general and psychiatric patients and was used for wounded WW1 soldiers. I know this as on 8th November 1916 he was admitted from London Rd to Hatton Hospital in Warwickshire with a clear mental illness. (It was an asylum from London Rd which is where the paper trail starts. I have obtained a number of records from the Warwickshire Records Office but one in particular shows that he was classed as a service patient by the War Office from 1916. It says he was a private in the Warwicks.



Sadly he remained there for the rest of his life and died in November 1967 and seems to have been buried in a paupers grave at Warwick cemetery.



The admission records to Hatton Hospital seem to document quite disturbed behaviour. There is even a photo of him!



I have found no service record or any other document about his service. I see mention of the WFA and pension records, are they available yet?- any suggestions on new information about him



I did have an uncle who visited him who talked about "shell shock" but that would imply service abroad. However as I can find no mention of him on a medal roll it which does make me wonder if there was any overseas service.



Checking Ancestry.com on their military records has drawn a blank so I am none the wiser to what service he had in the Warwicks, only his rank and regiment is known and some of the records record him as "late" , but if he was discharged why did the War Office class him as a service patient?



Any help or advice on what else to search would be appreciated.


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edwin astill

Any help or advice on what else to search would be appreciated.

If you get no responses it might be worth having a separate thread. I'm half way through the Barham book.

Edwin

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