Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War

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Overview

Although the shell-shocked British soldier of World War I has been a favored subject in both fiction and nonfiction, focus has been on the stories of officers, and the history of the rank-and-file servicemen who were psychiatric casualties has never been told. This profoundly moving book recounts the poignant, sometimes ribald histories of this neglected group for the first time.

Peter Barham draws on reports from the front lines, case histories, personal letters, and war pensions files to trace the lives and fortunes of a large cast of ex-servicemen who suffered mental breakdowns. He describes their confinements to asylums, the reactions of families to their relatives’ plight, the turmoil of the soldiers when they returned home—and the uphill struggle they faced trying to secure justice from the bureaucratic labyrinth that was the Ministry of Pensions. His book gives a new perspective to the impact of the Great War and to current controversies about disputed postwar maladies.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
During World War I, thousands of British servicemen were diagnosed with mental illness brought on, according to military doctors, by such non-combat related causes as hereditary "imbecility." While these men were being shunted off to insane asylums as incurables, many officers with similar symptoms were diagnosed with "neurasthenia," which was assumed to be treatable. Barham postulates that the contradictory diagnoses were the result of class bias and the association of insanity with the ideology of the Poor Law, which treated indigents as guilty of moral failings. The war changed attitudes as the citizen army, and the public, demanded respect for veterans. Barham skillfully navigates a labyrinth of medical establishments, governmental bureaucracies, and civil-military relations in recounting the transformation of attitudes and social services related to the treatment of lunatics. Barham ends his provocative book by asserting that it took the Great War to demonstrate that there was "something seriously awry" with psychiatry. Recommended for all libraries.-Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300125115
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2007
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Barham is a psychologist and social historian of mental health. He has published widely on mental health issues.

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Table of Contents

Prologue : the hosier and the imbecile go to war 11
Ch. 1 The new lunacy protest 31
Ch. 2 'D ward (imbecile)' 47
Ch. 3 The Napsbury cast 55
Ch. 4 'Greetings from Napsbury' 76
Coda : Albert goes to war again 94
Ch. 5 'Insane through fighting for their country' 99
Ch. 6 Justice for the citizen soldier 112
Coda : Albert gets a war psychosis pension 134
Ch. 7 How the weak progress 139
Ch. 8 Psychosis and life 150
Ch. 9 Family fortunes 167
Ch. 10 Officialdom and the pensioner 181
Ch. 11 'A very public madness' 199
Ch. 12 Demobbed to the asylum 211
Coda : a disappointed homecoming 222
Ch. 13 'Any man in any street' 231
Ch. 14 Lunatic officers 253
Ch. 15 'Hardening' 267
Ch. 16 The service patients between the wars 286
Coda : Connie and Alex 309
Ch. 17 Independent lives 313
Ch. 18 War psychosis pentathlons 327
Ch. 19 Caring : families and doctors 340
Ch. 20 Futures 355
Coda : the captain's valedictory letter 359
Afterword : remembering the forgotten lunatics 364
App. I The map of service lunacy 371
App. II The burden of costs 374
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