It was used to describe the psychological trauma suffered by thousands of men as a result of their experiences of the conflict.
The British Army alone dealt with 80,000 cases of shell shock throughout the war, and the ‘condition’ was responsible for one in seven of the men discharged from the military as a result of disability.
Men suffering from shell shock experienced a range of symptoms – from blindness and facial tics to paralysis and vivid nightmares. Yet they couldn’t expect to receive much sympathy, especially early in the war. Many military authorities refused to define shell shock as an injury so that the men could be returned to the front more rapidly.
Sufferers were often subjected to primitive ‘remedies’ like electric shock treatment; others found themselves being accused of cowardice. In fact, the authorities’ attitude to shell shock is perhaps best summed up by the words of one British general: “The frequency of shell shock in any unit is an index of its lack of discipline and loyalty.”