As the First World War progressed, it became increasingly evident that large numbers of soldiers were unable to cope with the strain of warfare. They manifested a variety of symptoms ranging from confusion, memory loss, facial tics, panic attacks and terrifying nightmares to sheer mental and physical paralysis which left sufferers unable to walk, talk or reason. Initially, victims were believed to be suffering from physical damage to the brain as a consequence of shock waves from bursting shells, which led to the coining of the term ‘shell shock’. However, by 1916 authorities had realized that many of the patients had been nowhere near exploding shells and were instead suffering from a form of psychological injury. Inevitably, this was quickly interpreted as evidence of a lack of moral fibre, and sympathy for sufferers was rarely forthcoming. Some were executed for cowardice, others committed suicide, yet others were treated with electric shocks, or spent a lifetime under the shadow of a deep sense of shame while fighting imaginary battles in recurring nightmares and daytime hallucinations.
I ought to feel ashamed of myself for keeping you wanting for a letter but I am not, because I know you know & understand how little time one has when the Bde is in the line. Thank God we are out for wee rest, they have done splendid & Pat will be so pleased. We were the first Bde to firmly establish posts across the river, one Btt made six & the other 4 strong posts the latter also captured a farm but were driven out of it by Fritz1 who was also chased out a few hours later, we now hold it & intend to keep it too. Each Rgt had a very strenuous time & the four days cost the Bde 9 officers & nearly 300 other ranks. The gunners were magnificent but in this little show the people who deserve greatest praise are the Sappers, almost in a twinkling after the Infty had crossed, carrying parties appeared as it were from the ground & the RE2 began to build bridges, of course only to be shelled by the Boche but they were soon repaired again.
I have just added the last sentence after a wait of two days & I am now writing this in Bed in Hospital, I got a crank on my head 6 days ago but managed to keep out until the 13th when Gen de Lisle saw me at work & made me leave it all for a few days rest. I know he is right & it is for my good but it is hard to leave the Bde just as I might be useful especially as the General will be getting a new Bde Major at the same time. I do feel sorry for him because he will now have to worry after the A & G [?] work & I always tried to relieve of that as much as possible. Beyond the pains in my head & getting into a dripping perspiration when anyone spoke I was quite fit but now I am here & have two days in Bed & feel as weak as a kitten, don’t even want to argue with the Doctor but it is so nice lying in Bed, clean sheets & pillow slips. The Doctor & orderlies keep telling me what a lovely place this is & I can have this that & other things in fact is [sic] would appear to be a virtually Fairy palace but I am just hopping [?] between the sheets. I must get better quickly or I shall miss the next show. Many thanks for your letters, I intended writing to Jessie but will wait a bit. I have such lovely times with Pat we just go over everything together & he did laugh so much over my crank, it is lovely being quiet with just my thoughts & they are full with Lassie & Pat. After the last tour in Gen Jelf was completely done up & after a meal we talked things over & he said “If only that darling Boy Pat were here what a help he would be, I miss him more & more each time”. I am afraid this is a rambly letter but it will be better next time, I had such a lot of Divisional news to tell you but now it has gone. If you are not too busy write to the old address as I shall be back in a few days. How I did laugh over Pat & the cabbages is [sic] Tommy & Ione well. I envy you the fish for they are unattainable out here. Now I must close but before going to sleep I shall have a few minutes with Dear Pat. I know you won’t mind will you.
Tuesday 14 August
Muz & I went out & picked flowers for the cross, & Ione came out & took them in to dry, & then Muz made the cross, & we packed it up, & Flanagan took it in to the post. Tom & Heppie went in to the town this morning. After lunch Muz & I went down to Mrs Gleeson, & we moved her bed. Then we went to the oats field, on the way back. The Reaper & Binder arrived today, & they were oiling it, & using it for the first time. We stayed there till tea time. Afterwards & went out with Muz, & Ione went down to Mrs Gleeson, & then Poppy & I went out, & we met Ione & went to get mushrooms before dinner. I read after dinner & Muz knitted. Then Muz suddenly fainted, & was rather bad, then Ione came down, & we put her to bed, & I creepied [?] her, when we were in bed. Finished reading “Quicksands” by B. M. Croker.3
The reaper and binder at work
Thursday 16 August
Ione stayed in bed all day. I picked flowers to send to Mrs Thurburn, & did the flowers in the drawing room, & then went out with Poppy. After lunch Muz, Heppie & Tom went for a drive, & went to see Mrs Gleeson. After tea Muz & I went down again, but didn’t stay long. It rained a bit in the afternoon. They finished cutting one field of oats. Cut papers in the afternoon, & again after dinner, & went to bed at about 10-30.
Saturday 18 August
Ione was in bed all morning, we were up in her room, & I did photographs. Then Muz & I went up to see Mrs Brogan. After lunch Ione, Heppie & Tom drove into Thurles, & we went a bit of the way with them. We went to see Mrs Ryan, & then Mrs Nugent, & the McGlinns, & then walked home by the fields, & went to see Mrs Hunt. It rained a good bit. The others didn’t get back till rather late. Muz & I went down to see Mrs Gleeson, & stayed there for a good long time. Then talked to Maggie Keefe, & then went to say good-bye to the Leahys. After dinner I started putting the ribbon on the wee hood for Kittie’swee Pat. We went to bed at about eleven. Poppy went up early.
Last time I wrote and told you I had been to see Pat’s grave you asked me why I did not take some flowers. The answer is that there were no flowers where we were. But I do well understand you craving to have flowers put there and yesterday I went to Arras and took over, & placed on the grave from you, not from me, a very pretty cross of mauve phlox with one white aster in the centre. The flowers were picked that morning so were lovely and fresh – Since I was there last, some one has planted a nasturtium, some violas, London Pride, a plant I can’t remember name of but it has a large velvet grey leaf, and some tall plant I don’t know. As regards the photoes [sic] I am sure they will come in time, but they take long. Last one I got done took 7 months but I did not ask for it till October when — was getting bad. These ought to be quicker. Then I saw the Town Commandant a Colonel Trotter , who seemed a nice sort of chap. I think probably he was in the Yeomanry, a man of about 55. I told him my story and he said that at any time you sent flowers addressed to him he would have them put on the grave. His address is Colonel C. Trotter Town Commandant Arras B.E.F. I think he is in the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry but I am not sure. The home appointment is still in the air and I don’t know that it will come to anything. The northern push went all right I believe but it’s a slow job pushing back the Boche.
T. d’O. S.
Why don’t you send me a label with what you like written on it and I would tie it onto a cross or wreath and take it over one day, if I have not left. By the bye they never shell that part of Arras where the Cemetery is.
Euphemism for German soldiers in a way similar to Tommy used for British soldiers ⇑
Quicksand (1915) was written by the Irish-born novelist Bithia Mary Croker née Sheppard (1848-1920), whose books frequently depicted life in British India. She is best known for her novel The Road to Mandalay (1917).⇑