On a personal note, remembering the Armistice is important to me. I’m from a military family on both sides, after all. On a professional note, given that I’m devoting my thesis to exploring the untold stories of mentally disordered people – civilians and soldiers alike- from wartime through the interwar years, I felt a post today was fitting.
The lead up to days such as this are the main reason I’ve come to love twitter. I’ve seen some excellent articles on those forgotten soldiers who contributed to the war. Others have been memorialising memorials, celebrating the construction of the cenotaphs and other Armistice services.
I could go on, but take to twitter today and have a look yourself.
And I just wanted to add to that a little today. In my last post you’ll have seen how soldiers were put before civilians; that the military was allowed to take what it needed from civilian mental healthcare. This wasn’t confined to the use of buildings either – but to those who worked the mental hospitals and kept the wards running day to day. Forgotten Lunatics is a great book, and Peter Barham had the right of it when he said that the war was
…luring away the choicest specimens to sate its appetite, and handing back its mutilated discards.
Mutilated discards. See, when a soldier had entered the public asylum, he’d been rejected from military care. At that moment in time, he was of no use to the war effort, and was taking too long to recover. And so to the civilian doctors he would go, whilst being discharged from the Army.
So were these men prioritised above the very civilians with whom they shared an asylum ward, as those under military care?
In Bangour, Edinburgh, sat the Edinburgh War Hospital (previously Edinburgh district asylum). As a hospital for military cases it received a lot of support. There was a War Hospital Supply Depot., of course, that helped with resources, but this was only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Both the British and American Red Cross Societies provided donations. But the largest supporter came from local communities…
The ladies of a community would treat the soldiers under treatment, inviting them to their homes or taking them on drives and afternoon trips into Edinburgh. Work parties, voluntary guilds, business firms, public works, churches, schools and private individuals gave whatever they could:
|Fruits and vegetables||newspapers||Spinal carriages|
|poultry||Writing pads and stationary||A horse and 2 ponies|
|wine||Playing cards||Pony carriage and harness|
|Tobacco and pipes||Bagatelle boards||bed-socks|
|Musical boxes||bed jackets|
|surgical dressings and appliances.|
And in the district asylum?
[I]n many Asylums there is little or no vacant accommodation, …the staffs of various Asylums have been depleted by the war, and…there is universal difficulty in obtaining the services of medical officers and suitable attendants.
Such was the acknowledgement of the General Board of Control for Scotland, yet they nevertheless demanded all asylum doctors to take on more and more patients throughout the war.
Reduce the floorspace allowed to patients across the country, they said. But you can’t make a profit from those patient removed from the new War Hospitals of Bangour, Dykebar and Murthly. We won’t be able to give all of you able-bodied patients to help with the work in your asylum, but the Pensions Issue Office with begin to provide money for former servicemen under your care from 1917…
This is obviously an over-simplification but you get the idea. Asylum doctors had to balance a rising patient population and decreasing resources. Local parishes and councils couldn’t offer more support, and any increases in their assessment contributions (the money the provided for the care of local asylum inpatients) into the interwar years was short-lived.
Financial stability was rare in the asylum and this affected all residents: staff, civilian and ex-serviceman.
And of the treatment they enjoyed?
Medicine and food were high commodities. In mental health care, there was little medicine could do. Hypnotics and sedatives were still the primary ‘treatments’ given to asylum patients.With more patients and no money to compensate, asylums were also struggling to buy in more food. They had farms to supplement, of course, with vegetables and grain. Livestock however was often sold, and not eaten. By 1917, food shortages had worsened enough for the normally very patriotic General Board to get critical. Scottish asylums, they said, had been treated unfairly in the rationing scheme. And when the Ministry of Food eventually increased the rations, did these extra allowances go to the servicemen atop the patient hierarchy?
No. It was the sick and infirm in the hospital wards – as they now counted as medical institutions – who benefited.
You see, not much is known of soldiers in public asylums, but being a soldier, or once being a soldier, actually meant very little in practice in these places. There may have been some distinctions erected between servicemen and civilians later in the war, but ultimately struggled through the asylum together. They may not have liked it. They could very well have resented each other. But their stories have to be told together.