Trauma and intimacy

The First World War was the first war in which war neurosis or ‘shellshock’ was officially recognised, with symptoms ranging from nightmares to blindness and paralysis. By the end of 1916, there were ‘mental wards’ in base hospitals and in post-war Britain, there were around 80,000 cases of shellshock. At the same time, mutilation, mortality and shellshock also led to new levels of physical intimacy and intensity among men. They looked after each other when ill or wounded, wrapped blankets round each other and at night their bodies spooned together as they slept. When his close friend Jim Noone died, Lance Corporal DH Fenton wrote to Noone’s mother: ‘I held him in my arms to the end, and when his soul departed I kissed him twice where I knew you would have kissed him – on the brow – once for his mother and once for myself’. In a letter to Siegfried Sassoon just a month before his death in November 1918, Wilfred Owen wrote: ‘My senses are charred’. It is this sensory intensity and devastation of life in the trenches that remains one of the most haunting and powerful legacies of the First World War – See more at: http://www.bl.uk/world-war-one/articles/sensuous-life-in-the-trenches#sthash.u60Ro9Xu.dpuf

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