Trauma and the First World War: Public Engagement Update

In June 2018, Professor Nigel Hunt and Dr Larissa Allwork launched a project exploring narratives of trauma from the First World War. The project was promoted by the First World War Engagement Centres (Living LegaciesEveryday Lives in War, Voices of War and Peace, Gateways) and it also received coverage on the genealogical websites of Family Tree and Who Do You Think You Are Magazine? Here are some of the responses to Nigel and Larissa’s call for interest in their project.

‘Colour Cure Ward’, 1918 (Mary Evans Picture Library).

Lucinda Moore, Picture Researcher at London’s Mary Evans Picture Library contacted the project team to inform us about this fascinating advert for Lewis Berger and Sons paint that appeared in the British periodical Colour (March 1918). The advert is an illustrated representation of the Kemp-Prosser ‘colour cure’ ward at McCaul Hospital, Welbeck Street, London. Mr Kemp-Prosser believed that colours could affect people’s mental health and developed coloured environments that he believed could assist in the recovery of shell shock and nerve cases. Here the ceiling is ‘firmament blue’, the walls ‘sunlight yellow’, the woodwork ‘spring green’ and the floor and furniture ‘sunlight primrose’.  To read Lucinda’s full blog about the often forgotten story of Kemp-Prosser, please follow this link.

M.A. from Tasmania in Australia got in touch with the project team to tell us about her great grandfather, W.J. He served during the First World War in France. One of the tasks that he was given was collecting the dead and war wounded from the battlefield. His legs were badly affected from his time serving in the military. When he returned home to Wales after the war, he suffered with mental illness. He turned to alcohol and became violent towards his family. He was subsequently put into a private asylum in Pontypridd and is thought to have died in 1928. M.A.’s grandfather, grandmother and uncle emigrated to Australia in November 1947. M.A feels that it is important to draw attention to these often hidden histories of mental distress. If you know anything about the history of Pontypridd asylum, get in touch with Professor Nigel Hunt and he will pass on M.A.’s contact details to you.

Headway Cambridgeshire, a charity committed to supporting people with brain injuries has also contacted the team to tell us about their project, ‘Impact! Brain Injuries and World War I’.  Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, this project explores and interprets the history of people with brain injuries in Cambridgeshire as a result of the First World War. It is being led by a group of people with brain injuries that currently attend Headway Cambridgeshire. The work is part of their rehabilitation and also aims to improve public awareness of brain injury and its effects. The group are researching the untold history of the people in the Cambridgeshire Regiment who received brain injuries, the hospitals in Cambridge where they were treated and, where appropriate, their own families’ involvement in the First World War. They will use the information they unearth to commission a drama performance by a group of students from a local school. Illustration and Creative writing students from Anglia Ruskin University will develop a set of four posters that will be displayed on the back and interior of the Stagecoach buses in Cambridge. Radio station Cambridge 105 is running a regular podcast that will provide project progress updates. The Centre for Hidden Histories looks forward to hearing more.

Finally, the project team have heard from a number of researchers working on issues related to trauma and the First World War. Nancy Connors, who is an alumni of the University of Pennsylvania and has completed an MA in Social Work, is currently using the tools of social work in order to explore the development of individual social histories and community social capital in relation to specific female Belgian refugees and narratives of dislocation. Meanwhile, Michael Robinson (The University of Liverpool) has researched the postwar treatment of shell shocked veterans. He has explored how the British and Irish state responded to mentally ill veterans and what socio-economic and political factors influenced their treatment and recovery. Primary sources used by Michael include medical registers/data, individual pension files, state records, lunatic asylum records, medical journals and charities records. Read this fascinating blog by Michael which advocates for a four nations and global approach to the study of the First World War and shell shock.  Look out for his forthcoming book which has recently been contracted by Manchester University Press.

Trauma, shell shock & the centenary: resources currently available for community researchers

Professor Nigel Hunt and Dr Larissa Allwork at the Centre for Hidden Histories are currently investigating community engagement with traumatic histories of the First World War such as shell shock. For Nigel, ‘trauma’ is defined as, “the way a person may respond to an environmental event that is life-threatening, either to oneself or to others. It may involve deaths and serious injury, but the key point is that by using the term ‘trauma’ we are referring to a sense of the mind being broken.” As part of their project, Larissa has surveyed activities commissioned as part of the centenary, including exhibitions, community projects, plays, artworks and films which have addressed this important theme. These projects have created a range of resources that may be useful to assist or inspire community researchers in this area. Listed below are some of the most engaging examples that have been discovered.

Postcard of Stockholm with Swedish newspaper cutting featuring photograph of John Hay, Sir Arthur Hurst, J.C.Bramwell, Donald Hunter and A.G.Gibson (Wellcome. Archives and manuscripts: Ms7439/2. Photo: L0037303).

Basketry as a Therapeutic Activity. This film was commissioned as part of the Basketry: Then and Now project run by the First World War Engagement Centre, Everyday Lives in War. ‘Basketry as Therapy’ explores the role of basket-making as a form of rehabilitation for shell shocked soldiers. This form of therapy was pioneered by Sir Arthur Hurst at Seale-Hayne Military Hospital.

The BBC and the British Council: Britain and the Psychology of War. Listen back to this round-table discussion held at the Imperial War Museum, London (4 August 2014) on trauma and the First World War. It was convened by Professor Amanda Vickery (Queen Mary, University of London) and featured First World War historians Dr Dan Todman (Queen Mary, University of London) and Professor Michael Roper (The University of Essex) as well as Director of the Birkbeck Trauma Project, Professor Joanna Bourke (Birkbeck, University of London).

The First World War at the National Hospital. Find out more about the treatment of shell shock at the National Hospital in London with this online version of an exhibition held at Queen Square Archives and Museum in autumn 2014.

14-18 Now – WWI Centenary Commissions. As part of their arts commissions, 14-18 Now have supported a number of projects that have explored issues related to trauma and shell shock. These include works which have addressed cowardice, desertion and the death penalty (The National Theatre of Scotland’s play, ‘The 306: Dawn’ and Chloe Dewe Matthews photography project, ‘Shot at Dawn’) and commissions which seek to represent the experience of trauma articulated in letters home by Indian army personnel (RAQS Media Collective, ‘Not Yet at Ease’).

‘Not Yet at Ease’ will be on display at First Site Colchester between 28 September 2018 and 20 January 2019.

Nurse Mellors Autograph Books App. This free app was created as part of National Museums Scotland’s ‘Next of Kin’ touring project. The app allows you to view 86 pages of Nurse Mellor’s three autograph books which she kept during her time at Craiglockhart and Fife hospitals in the First World War. They include pictures, messages and verse by patients in her care.

Siegfried Sassoon photographed by George Charles Beresford in May 1915 (Wikimedia Commons).

Meeting in ‘No Man’s Land’. A collaboration between UK charity Age Exchange, Caritas in Rosenheim, Germany, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Everyday Lives in War and Professor Michael Roper. ‘Meeting in No Man’s Land’ brought together British and German descendants to discuss their family histories of war and the impact of this traumatic event across generations.

Shropshire Remembers. Wilfred Owen was born in Oswestry, Shropshire and as part of the centenary the town and county are commemorating his life with various projects and events. For specific information on events to be held between August and November 2018, including a statue unveiling on 20 November, see Wilfred Owen festival in Oswestry.

Siegfried Sassoon’s War Diaries. In 2014, Cambridge University’s Digital Library made Siegfried Sassoon’s war journals freely accessible online. If you are interested in Sassoon, this is a fantastic resource.

‘Wounded: Conflict, Casualties and Care’, The Science Museum. See a short video and photographs of objects from the ‘Wounded’ exhibition which was held at the Science Museum (26 June 2016 – 3 June 2018). Drawing parallels with the experience of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by veterans in the present, ‘Wounded’ featured a display by six Afghanistan veterans. To find out more, see this blog post by Combat Stress CEO, Sue Freeth.

 

Shell Shock Stories & Beyond: Are you a Community Researcher Engaging with Trauma Narratives as part of your First World War Centenary Project?

‘Shell Shock’: image from ‘The Fourth’: the magazine of the 4th London General Hospital, RAMC (T.F.), January 1917 (Wellcome Images available on Wikimedia Commons).

Professor Nigel Hunt and Dr Larissa Allwork at the University of Nottingham have been awarded AHRC funding to explore the extent to which the psychological condition of trauma has been integrated into community engagement with the First World War centenary. Trauma here is being incorporated broadly to encompass a range of responses to the 1914-1918 conflict. From shell shocked soldiers recovering in specialist hospitals to cases of ‘barbed wire disease’ in ‘enemy alien’ internment camps; and from post-1918 literary and poetic representations of trauma to the contemporary family historian dealing with issues of transferential trauma in the archive. As part of their project, Nigel and Larissa want to get in touch with any Heritage Lottery Funded and/or AHRC First World War Engagement Centre community history projects that are engaging with narratives of trauma as part of their research.

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