Shell Shocked Britain: the mental health legacy of WW1


20 November 2014
imports_FTRE_shell-shocked-britain2_05290.jpg Shell Shocked Britain
Karen Clare delves into a fascinating new book exploring the impact of shell shock on our First World War relatives – and t

Karen Clare delves into a fascinating new book exploring the impact of shell shock on our First World War relatives – and the legacy of a nation traumatised by conflict.

In recent weeks, as the spectacle that was the Tower Hill poppies captured the hearts and minds of millions, thoughts turned to acts of remembrance and the sombre 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. As family historians we are more used to tracing the dead than the living and the Great War centenary has provided a focus for many researchers, and the catalyst for others to learn about the lives of relatives lost in the conflict.

But what about those combatants who survived and returned home, traumatised by their experiences? What happened to them, how did the authorities respond and their families cope?

This hidden history has been revealed by writer Suzie Grogan in her fascinating new book, Shell Shocked Britain: The First World War’s Legacy for Britain’s Mental Health (Pen & Sword History, 2014). The book was inspired by a violent incident that Suzie discovered while researching her own family history, in which her grandmother witnessed her brother attack and kill his ex-girlfriend before committing suicide. This horrific event happened in 1922 but was, perhaps understandably, hushed up by the family. However, a pattern of anxiety and depression has run down the generations, a possible legacy of the ‘air raid shock’ her great-uncle had suffered - and the lasting impact of his final, tragic, actions.

Some 80,000 men had been diagnosed with shell shock, or ‘war neurosis’, by the end of the war, better known nowadays as post-traumatic or combat stress, but millions more may have suffered in silence. The term shell shock was coined, we learn, by Charles Myers, a professor of anthropology who was sent to France in 1915 ‘to support the men suffering from this mysterious condition’. But, reveals the author, it’s now recognised that men have suffered from ‘mind wounds’ caused by conflict throughout human history; from the ancient Greeks to the Napoleonic Wars and American Civil War.

In Shell Shocked Britain, Suzie has used extensive archival research to provide a thought-provoking new insight into the war trauma experienced by so many of our ancestors, which cast a dark shadow over the past century. With many of our modern soldiers returning from active service suffering from combat stress, it is still relevant today.

Read Suzie Grogan’s brilliant article on shell shocked Britain only in the December issue of Family Tree, on sale now.

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And enter our draw to win a copy of Shell Shocked Britain: The First World War’s Legacy for Britain’s Mental Health (ISBN: 9781781592656. Hardback, RRP £19.99) by signing up for our newsletter below.

Sorry, this competition is now closed. Congratulations to our winner Richard Randall, Peterlee, Co Durham.

You can follow Suzie Grogan on twitter @shellshockedGB and @keatsbabe and find her website at


  • To enter the competition, you must agree to sign up for our newsletter and complete the form. If you have already signed up to our newsletter you can still enter the draw and you will not receive the newsletter twice.
  • Closing date of the draw is 11.59pm on 16.12.14.
  • There will be one winner, receiving one copy of Shell Shocked Britain by Suzie Grogan.
  • The winner of the draw will be informed by email and announced via the website
  • Only one entry is permitted per person.
  • No purchase is necessary to enter.
  • There will be no cash or alternative prize available.
  • Automated entries are not permitted and will be disqualified.
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  • Promoters reserve the right to amend or withdraw the competition without notice due to circumstances beyond their reasonable control.


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