Saturday 22 December 2018

Pause for thought: PTSD - then and now

This blog was sparked by a report on the UK ITV news relating that in 2018 71 UK veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan had committed suicide as they struggled with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  The next day a post on The Anglo-Boer War Facebook page showed a letter home written by a British soldier days after he had been in intense combat against the Boers. He related to his mother, "had it not been for my horse...I would certainly have been killed or badly wounded", "an officer close by me had his left eye clean shot out", and then "My chum who was with me was shot and it upset me very much".  His reaction was stoic, "never mind Mother, I shall have to make the best of it".

It seems that in 2018 military veterans are still having "to make the best of it". PTSD did not exist in 1900, it was first termed as shell-shock during WW1 but not understood as a mental health issue that required treatment (apart from crude attempts with electric shock therapy). It was not until the 1970's and 1980's in the wake of the Vietnam war that PTSD was recognised as a mental ill health issue that required proper treatment and support. Thirty years on it appears our veterans are still not receiving the support they need, and deserve.

PTSD is as old as combat, and we who research and collect medals and ephemera to the men and women of campaigns in centuries gone by should spare a thought for what happened to them when the guns fell silent and peace was declared.

A researcher on the site frequently posts newspaper reports, a number of these relate to suicides of British Boer War veterans. What caused them to commit suicide? We shall never know, enteric is frequently mentioned, could that disease drive someone to suicide or had they witnessed scenes like our correspondent did? This is an area worthy of sustained research.

We, who research and collect, get immense enjoyment from the tales we uncover, and some even make money through buying and selling.

We cannot do anything for those men and women of past conflicts whose history we enjoy so much, perhaps then we should do something for today's veterans so they don't become a tragic suicide story.

Please consider donating to a charity that supports PTSD sufferers. There are many in the UK, here is a simple Google search. For those that live outside the UK, please search in your country.

Thank you.


  1. An interesting article, thank you. My grandfather was in the 91st Company Imperial Yeomanry (Sharpshooters). I am told that there is a regimental history, but until it is safe after the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, I shall have to wait to read through it.

    My grandfather did not complete his time in South Africa, since he went down with a severe bout of 'enteric fever'. He was admitted to the General Hospital at Norvals Pont on 31st December 1901 and transferred to the Stationary Hospital at Heilbron on 5th January 1902 to convalesce. More than a month later, on 20th March, we find him in the General Hospital at Shorncliffe, back in England. Then he was discharged from his duties on 19th April "in consequence of his own request from further services in connection with the war in S Africa".

    He was a lighterman on the Thames. What was his reasoning? Had he seen too many comrades killed at Tafel Kop, the main engagement in which his company was involved during his service? Quite a number of IY were killed and injured there and Damant was shot four times. He has been described to me as a kind man, so PTSD as a result of this service with enteric fever as an excuse - could be. That's quite a long convalescence for enteric fever and then to not return to SA (or ZA).

    A cousin told me through a group email enquiry I set up that my grandfather suffered the equivalent of shell shock through working on the Thames in the blitz.

  2. Thank you for sharing your grandfather's story. I've seen a number of discharges "at own request", but never paused to ponder why. The ABW was a war fought by volunteers and perhaps there was more empathy than in WW1 to what we know as PTSD.