WWI’s Secret Shame: Shell Shocked

This programme, broadcast on BBC2 on 12th November 2018, features footage and materials from Queen Square Archives. Dan Snow discovers how the shell shock of WW1 has evolved into the cases of PTSD that modern soldiers suffer with today. Delving into previously unseen archives he reveals the difficult history of how Britain has reacted to the psychological consequences of warfare.

Box of Broadcasts (from 7mins) (UCL (or other institutional) password required for access)

shellshock book cover

They called it Shell Shock by Stefanie Linden

Dan interviewed Stefanie Linden, author of “They Called it Shell Shock” as part of the above programme.

“They called it Shell Shock” provides a new perspective on the psychological reactions to the traumatic experiences of combat. Stefanie Linden analysed over 660 original medical case records from shell-shocked soldiers who were treated at the world-leading neurological/psychiatric institutions of the time: the National Hospital at Queen Square in London, the Charité Psychiatric Department in Berlin and the Jena Military Hospital at Jena/Germany.

This is thus the first shell shock book to be based on original case records from both sides of the battle, and also one of the first books to tackle often neglected topics of war history, including desertion, suicide and soldiers’ mental illness. Based on her expertise in psychiatry and history of medicine, Stefanie argues that many modern trauma therapies had their root in the medicine of the First World War and that the experience of the shell shock patients and their doctors is still very relevant for the understanding of present-day traumatic diseases.

Linden, Stefanie. They called it Shell Shock: Combat Stress in the First World War
Helion and Company July 2018 (Reprint); 232 pages, 75 b/w ills (mainly photos), 1 colour ill

D for Diagnosis series on Radio 4

Friday 12th July 2019: What’s in a Name? Neurasthenia and homosexuality were both once classified as mental illness. Claudia Hammond reports on ever-changing labels and considers how today’s diagnoses will be seen in the future.

From the library of the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology, Professor Sir Simon Wessely, former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, revisits original case notes of British soldiers in World War One who had been diagnosed with the newly emerged condition of shellshock. Shellshock affected hundreds of thousands of troops across Europe and Claudia discusses with Simon why this novel diagnosis became the predominant explanation for traumatic suffering at that particular time.

Available on BBC iPlayer(15-21mins)

IMPACT! Brain Injuries and WWI

The Headway Cambridgeshire Research Group have been investigating the types of brain injuries sustained by soldiers in World War One, the treatments they received, the doctors who treated them, and the hospitals where they received treatments, including visiting Queen Square Archives. Visit the Headway Cambridgeshire website for further information.