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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Did Soldiers maim themselves to get sent home?


GaryS

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Did soldiers ever shoot themselves in the hand/foot to escape the horrors of war?

My grandfather had lost the index finger of his right hand. My father (who never got on with his dad) claimed he shot it off himself because he was a coward.

Is this something that could have happened? If it did, wouldn't the soldier get field punishment or even a court martial?

TIA :)

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Gary,yes without doubt this happened...

and if proven then serious consequences was the result..

Ivan

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I did read somewhere once that soldiers actually raised their hands above the trenches so that they would get a 'Blighty' and be sent away from the line.

Don't know if there is any truth in it though.

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I read somewhere (possibly "Hells Bells and Madamoiselles") of an NCO coming round a corner to find one of his men doing a handstand on the firestep ! with the hope of getting a "Blighty" in his leg. Im sorry but to picture that and the NCOs face allways makes me smile :)

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We all have a breaking point, it would be nice to think we could all be brave young heros, but in reality I think i'd be one of the "cowards" with a hole in his foot, better to be a live coward than a dead hero.

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believe this did happen have a look at the film a very long engagement some examples of this kind of thing happening and yes before some one points out it only a film :rolleyes:

tafski

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I have several examples of CG men who got shot in the foot in September 1914 - not sure how so many got that wound unless self inflicted

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This was viewed as a serious problem and was dealt with very severely. " Self inflicted injury" was a court martial offence. Medical Officers also were very suspicious of men claiming to be ill. ' Malingerers ' were treated with " medicine and duties ". Generally a violent purgative and sent back to their unit.

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Thanks for the replies chaps. Is it likely though that someone could get such an injury (self inflicted) and it not be mentioned anywhere?

I mean if my grandad did shoot himself, then would he still be liable for medals? Maybe they just believed him?

This is all supposition, I have no evidence either way. What did concern me about this family myth though is that even if he lost an index finger of his right hand, couldn't he still fire a gun with his middle finger? I've heard of people with worse injuries going back into the theatre, so why not a bloke without a finger?

My logic is either that he lost his finger at the end of the conflict or that he just got fixed up and they sent him to the Labour Corps because he wouldn't be a sufficient soldier.

One of the things about this military history lark is that one answer always gives you more questions :D

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The penalty for a soldier 'wilfully maiming himself with intent to render himself unfit for service' was imprisonment.

Regards

Mel

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I have just come across a reference to a "self inflicted" injury in the War Diary of the 13th bttn KRRC and the writer made it very clear that it was "accidental" presumably to avoid very serious consequences for the soldier concerned.

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I have just come across a reference to a "self inflicted" injury in the War Diary of the 13th bttn KRRC and the writer made it very clear that it was "accidental" presumably to avoid very serious consequences for the soldier concerned.

Thanks Keith, did it name the soldier in the diary?

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Yes I think it did - but I've got to find it again - give me a day or two

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I did read somewhere once that soldiers actually raised their hands above the trenches so that they would get a 'Blighty' and be sent away from the line.

Don't know if there is any truth in it though.

#This is True,My Grandad said this Happened in His unit at Gallipoli,other methods including EatingSoap to make themselves Ill,or chewing Cordite to make the Heart Beat erratically.Self Inflicted Gun Shot Wounds..the Man Would place a Sandbag ocer the Hand or Foot to hide Powder Burns from the Weapon used at close Range.Suicides were not unheard of

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Yes I think it did - but I've got to find it again - give me a day or two

Hi Keith, don't worry too much, my grandad was in the Poplars anyway. I was just wondering if there was any chance of him being named because I'll keep going through the diary for the 1/17th and see if he gets a mention. Mind you, if it's just down as 'accidental' then he might not get a mention.

Thanks :)

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It is reportedly rare for OR's to be mentioned in War Diaries yet the KRRC seem to do it quite a lot - I will come across the name again I am sure.

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Just wanted to add my two cents in here and say that for someone to call these guys "cowards" for shooting themselves in the foot, hand, etc. to deliberately get out of combat is a gross misunderstanding. In so many of these cases there were some psychological factors that led men to do this, for no one in a normal, rational frame of mind could do this to themselves. We are ALL capable of doing this, so there is no need to put labels on people (such as cowards) because it's extremely unfair to do so.

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Some time ago I started a thread about Indian soldiers getting themselves wounded in the hand in order to get out of the trenches:

 

 

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In Joseph Murray's book 'Gallipoli 1915' [originally published 1965, but republished by Cerebus in 2004] he gives a description of his pal Tubby who shot off his thumb (Sat. June 5th)

Tubby made a mess of the job and Joe had to tidy up the thumb's remains with his jack-knife, before bandaging the lad's hand and sending him back

They agreed on a story to cover the powder marks on the remains of the thumb, "someone fired a rifle as Tubby was climbing out of the trench"

The lad who was not yet 19 was sent back to England and discharged

It seems that by November the number of such cases had caught the attention of HQ. In his magazine 'RND' issue No.15, Dec. 2000, Len Sellers gives the foll details takem from WO95/4290

"The Commander-in-Chief has under consideration the large increase in cases of self-maiming by soldiers with the object of escaping duty at the front.

He directs that in future no soldier:-

[a] who has been convicted of self-maiming, or

who is under arrest on a charge of self-maiming, shall not be evacuated sick from the peninsula but shall be medically treated there until fit to return to duty.

If in an extreme case it becomes imperative to remove such a soldier from the peninsula he will not in any case be evacuated beyond Mudros.

These orders are to be made known to everyone under your command.

G.H.Q.

1.11.15

A. Cavendish,

Colonel, For D.A.G."

Like Gary, we have a similar incident in our family history

My great uncle joined the FFL at some stage, but found the going too tough, so he shot the end off his trigger finger to get out.

Back in England he wrote some books about his time with the Legion

then left his wife and family, for his secretary.

My grandfather served 1914-19 and was wounded at Gallipoli. The last time he saw his brother he did not invite him into the house but kept him on the door step for however long it took to get rid of him.

Regards

Michael

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My business recently completed research on a very sad but interesting case of a soldier of the 10th West Yorks. I will not reveal the name. His service record exists.

This man was among the earliest war time volunteers and was a family man. He cut his own throat while in the trenches, shortly after living through fighting at the Bluff. God knows what mental torment he must have gone through. He did not die but was severely injured. He was evacuated to England, spent a few days at Netley hospital and was then sent to a psychiatric unit. After several months he was discharged from the army, whereupon he went into an asylum where he eventually died (I do not know the cause but obviously he will have a death certificate).

The army appear to have treated him with admirable sensitivity. He was not "crimed" and no blemish appears on his record.

It is somewhat ironic that he outlived many of his comrades, for he left France before his unit moved to the Somme and died after his battalion was all but wiped out at Fricourt on 1 July 1916.

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As you say Chris sad but interesting, But I think this also goes to illustrate that The Army took all types.And all the problems that came with them . I reckon that man had "problems" before he went in ? Cutting your own throat is not a common form of injury (I would have thought) Whilst doing the family tree thing , I found out about my Gt Grandmothers uncle. He also cut his his throat after the loss of his 10 year old only son. I dont wish this to sound callous but whilst doing the tree thing I have often been told that side of the family were "nuts" Mental illness is a strange thing , But obviously the doctors who handled your soldiers case knew this . hence his clean record "MO"

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As you say Chris sad but interesting, But I think this also goes to illustrate that The Army took all types.And all the problems that came with them . I reckon that man had "problems" before he went in ? Cutting your own throat is not a common form of injury (I would have thought) Whilst doing the family tree thing ! I found out about my Gt Grandmothers uncle. He also cut his his throat after the loss of his 10 year old only son. I dont wish this to sound callous but whilst doing the tree "thing" I have often been told that side of the family were "nuts" Mental illness is a strange thing , But obviously the doctors who handled your soldiers case knew this . hence his clean record "MO"

I read of the case of a WW1 Conscientious Objector who gave in to the bullying he faced after being "fetched" by the army, and agreed to serve as a soldier.

He later cut his own throat in a fit of remorse.

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My grandad told me of a man in his unit in Normandy during WW2 who tried to shoot himself in the foot. He had his leg raised , pistol aimed, and did the thing that I suppose we would all do...he shut his eyes and pulled the trigger. He missed his foot and hit one of his comrades in the thigh. The injured soldier can't have been too hacked off because when he was being evacuated he had a grin like a Cheshire cat and was handing his fags out. The lad who had tried to shoot himself obviously got his act together because in October 1944 he was evacuated back to UK after suffering a collapsed lung when a mortar round landed nearby.

Andy

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My grandad told me of a man in his unit in Normandy during WW2 who tried to shoot himself in the foot. He had his leg raised , pistol aimed, and did the thing that I suppose we would all do...he shut his eyes and pulled the trigger. He missed his foot and hit one of his comrades in the thigh. The injured soldier can't have been too hacked off because when he was being evacuated he had a grin like a Cheshire cat and was handing his fags out. The lad who had tried to shoot himself obviously got his act together because in October 1944 he was evacuated back to UK after suffering a collapsed lung when a mortar round landed nearby.

Andy

If you are talking WW2, there is an instance of a member of the 1st Middlesex, who told everyone he would not serve oversea's, who didn't. He broke a leg rather than go.

He drove his motorbike into the dock instead of up the gangplank when the unit was embarking for Normandy.

This story is told on a tape about the battalion in NW Europe that was sold to raise money for St Dunstan's.

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