“Shock from Loss”: The Reality of Grief in the First World War


Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps tending to graves British soldiers in Abbeville, France

From Nursing Clio by Brigdet Keown:

On October 24, 1918, fifty-eight-year-old Elizabeth was admitted to the City of London Mental Hospital by her husband.1 He stated that she had been suffering for the past fourteen months with “shock from loss of her two sons in the War.”2 He further explained that her younger son had been killed in action, and her eldest son was now preparing to depart with his battalion. According to notes made at the time of her admission, Elizabeth was “noisy and incoherent in her conversation, she has auditory hallucinations and the voice says, ‘don’t you believe it’. She is also deluded. For instance, she talks to the Kaiser and has promised him not to strike back.”3

According to her husband, she had been exhibiting signs of depression since hearing about her son’s death in combat and had “been unmanageable for two days and refuses food and medicine.”4 Although she was frequently described as being “frail” or in “poor health,” Elizabeth survived in the City of London Mental Hospital until well after 1930. She never left the asylum, however, and it doesn’t appear from her case notes that she ever recovered. Doctors continue to describe her as “depressed” and “emotional” decades after her admission.5

The First World War thoroughly and permanently disrupted the traditional mourning rituals that western societies typically performed in the wake of a death. With the massive numbers of war deaths reported every week, the public spectacles associated with Victorian mourning, including black wardrobes and limited social activities, were simply no longer tenable.

Read the rest of the article at Nursing Clio


Categories: European History, United States History, World War One

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