"Shell Shock"

in the trenches

Diverse Symptoms and Unclear Treatment

In the trenches, “shell shock” could take different forms, from tremors, confusion, or nightmares to sight and hearing difficulty, or paralysis. Many soldiers experienced mild symptoms such as headaches or insomnia, but chose not to report them for various reasons, including the fear of being seen as cowardly.

Private Eric Bradford

From Black’s Harbour New Brunswick, Bradford served with the 26th Battalion. One of four brothers to serve with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), he was wounded at the Battle of Hill 70 in 1917. He experienced flashbacks, nightmares and other “shell shock” symptoms from the head injury he sustained, and died from his wounds on May 24, 1919.

Crayon enlargement of Pte. Eric A. Bradford (#743041)
Date unknown
Provincial Archives of New Brunswick
Item P638-4

It was a nerve-wracking place, you were always looking for something to happen. I've seen some of the boys shaking here, they could not stop it."

Divisional Rest Stations were established in early 1915 to give soldiers experiencing mild symptoms of "shell shock" a chance to spend a few days recuperating behind the lines without being formally evacuated or reassigned from front-line duty. This allowed exhausted and nervous men to rest without the added stigma of diagnosis.

Managing "Shell Shock" at the Front

Many front-line soldiers experienced symptoms of "shell shock", but continued with their duties. Those who experienced debilitating symptoms were usually evacuated for medical treatment. Frequently, these men were perceived as cowards by the military authorities, who believed their symptoms were a physical expression of their weak mind or character, rather than a medical condition. Fellow soldiers were often more understanding, especially those who had spent many months in the trenches and had experienced firsthand the horrors of the conflict.

Resting in Reserve Trenches, 2nd Canadian Field Ambulance. June 1916
Department of National Defence
Library and Archives Canada
Item 3194769