Sunday, 24 February 2019

Diagnosing Dissenters: More case-notes for the 'insane' First World War COs

From WO363 files, the 'Burnt Documents

1, Alexander Robert Cook, 1877-1919, a schoolteacher from Shetland. 
     Service no. 3776 

What was said - 

Lt. Col. RAMC Officer in Charge:
"...  has suffered from hallucinations of hearing, [and] his judgment is most greatly impaired. He is [quite] incapable of understanding his position, and [has] an abnormally high opinion of his own knowledge [and] capacity. He is quite unfit for military service [of] any kind."

[Tran]sferred to Dykebar War Hospital, Paisley.  [6-3-19]

Hospital [signature unclear]:
"[Initially?] he showed mental instability poor reasoning & judgment & rambling conversation. During past [?] days not so well as usual..."
{Brief medical details - ref. to 'pyelitis', a kidney infection, and 'Health [originally] good but slight physical training required' - elsewhere on file.]
"Died rather suddenly 13-6-19."

2. Richard Elsworth, 1889-1956, a Baker and Weaver from Barnoldswick.
    Service no. 1435

From Army record -
Court Martial, Prison, "Certified insane", Asylum, Discharged "no longer fit"
'Sectioned' -

"... to the County Asylum at Leicester under Section 2 of the Criminal Lunatics Acts 1884..."

"A representation from his mother is enclosed" -
 (no copy surviving on the file).

A note from the Medical Superintendent of Leicester Asylum
"He is not dangerous to the public, but he is quiet and well behaved,
and has been under our care."

Home Office to War Office:

"... I am to say that if the sentence passed by Court Martial in this case has been remitted and the man has consequently ceased to be a Criminal Lunatic, his subsequent detention in the Asylum would be illegal and might place the Superintendent in a difficult position. The matter is one of extreme urgency..."

Such (ex-)prisoners could only
be discharged from an asylum 'by order of the Secretary of State'. Since this happened in several cases, they presumably ceased to be 'lunatic' when they ceased to be 'criminal'.

And in another file series -
WO364 Proceedings on discharge (10pp.)
NCC. Military character: Not assessed, no information.
Delusional insanity: Constitutional. Casualty form – Active Service on file.
"When in Leicester prison, he says on one occasion in his cell soot came through grate covering floor of room, thought he was gassed and still thinks so – on other occasions he felt he had some message to deliver & began to harangue an imaginary audience – on 17th May was shouting & violently excited singing & praying …. 23/5 since, has been wildly excited & incoherent – now talks volubly & considers he has a message to deliver. Still thinks he was gassed… " - Medical Board.

3. Bertie French, born 1897, an Upholsterer from Haverhill in Suffolk
Service No. 2696

A letter from Albert C. French
re. Bertie's exemption from combatant service (ECS)
*I hope there will be no Illtreatment as he is a Genuine lad."

"Transferred to Parkside Asylum, Macclesfield, as incapable of managing his own affairs."

(No details of his mental condition are to be found on the file.)

4. Aneurin Morgan, born 1893, a Hosier & Draper from Port Talbot

Service No. 35941

Court Martial, Prison, Certified, Discharged
"Certified insane whilst undergoing sentence of imprisonment at H. M. Prison Liverpool & removed to Rainhill Asylum."

5. Frank Piper, born 1884, a Carpenter and Wheelwright from St.Agnes, Cornwall

Service No. 4054
Disclaimer: Discharged physically unfit -
Disability not to be taken into account for army pension
"Originated July 1917 at Wormwood Scrubs Prison. Not result of and not aggravated by service. Minimum duration 3 mths. Totally prevents [military service] for three months."

Disability: Auditory Hallucinations & Mania
Statement of Case - "States that while in Prison, he felt the unnatural discipline, & he felt nervous. He says that he was put to work at his own work in prison, but that he was quite unable to do it. He then began to hear peculiar, terrifying voices which he says came from home."

A hopeful prognosis
"He is showing signs of improvement. He now states that the voices & sounds from home were imagination, He is however somewhat indifferent to his surroundings.
The Medical Superintendent states that in his opinion, the man will soon make an excellent recovery."

On an optimistic assessment, Frank may just possibly have been lucky enough to hit or chance upon a comparatively painless way of combining principles with survival, and have found some sympathisers in the medical profession.

6. George Hegarty Ramsay, born 1890, an Artist from Chelsea
Service No. 1236

Medical History

Physically unfit. Delusional Insanity.
Origin unknown.
Not caused not aggrav. by service. Permanent Not lessened.
  Eligible for gratuity under RW1917
[Whatever it is it's not our fault.]
Appeared before Standby Medical Board
... & found permanently unfit for all military service.
[Some kind of a result]

"This man suffers from religious mania in an acute degree. Revommended for discharge as permanently unfit."

"Prays. Refuses to reply to questions, Deluded that he is an ambassador of Christ."
He also declined to undergo tests including vision: "States he can read perfectly well but refuses to read the test letters."

George Hegarty Ramsay is remembered elsewhere as one of the 'Men Who Said No'.

7.  Herbert Alfred Shorley, born 1878, a Bricklayer from Kettering
     Service No.39943 

There is plenty relating to charges (of disobedience and non-cooperation) on the file, but a distinct lack of medical detail.
"Insane. Address West Riding Asylum Wakefield.
Chaacter Bad."

Many other bad characters - in the view of the authorities - were to be found in Wakefield, location of one of the more notorious Work Centres for COs. It will be noted that more than one man was transferred from there to the local asylum.

Expanded view of form (on right above), in two overlapping sections.

West Riding Asylum, Wakefield

"No record - refused to be medically examined."

Discharged in consequence of
his having been found unfit for further Military Service...

8.  Alfred Ernest Statton, born 1890, Sewing machinist and Woodworker from Cardiff
     Service No. 62600 
Statement of Case
Disability: From birth - gradually becoming worse
"A man of limited intelligence from birth.  Was admitted to West Riding ASylun Wakefield on March 29th 1917 under certificates, but duration of attack is from March 12th 1917. Not epileptic and not suicidal but has threatened to be dangerous to others."

"Initially imbecile & now becoming demented."
"Origin from birth - gradually becoming worse.Not result of nor aggravated by military service. Permanent. Prevents 10/10."

The impression given by the file does not quite match Statton's record as a CO, which indicates he was affiliated to the NCF (No-Conscription Fellowship), underwent Court Martial implying he was fit to be held responsible and sentenced, and presented a sufficiently convincing case to be judged Class A, Genuine, by the Central Tribunal (CT). The CT did not hesitate to decree that several other COS should be certified insane, but Statton was among those directed to the Home Office Scheme for alternative employment. It took Wakwfield to send him to the Asylum.

He was married with a child and had apparently functioned as a sewing machine operator and woodworker.  Sadly, he never returned to his former life: 
"Died after arrest but not in prison, Hereford County Asylum 1919"
He is remembered as having been mentally competent enought to say 'No.' - 
9.  John Styche, born 1890, a Farm Labourer from Erdington, Birmingham
     Service No.123239

Unusually for this group of COs, John Styche was sent to France, after the customary court martial and prison sentence, as a Driver with the Royal Horse & Field Artillery. Predictably, but to the evident incomprehension of the authorities, he did not take to the role and was not afraid to say so.
His file includes an unusual amount of information about what his mental condition waa said to be.

WO363 Record of Service 40 (Training) + 85 (RFA)                            (Edward - > John on one page)
Notes include:
  • Apr. 1917 Disobeying an order, making an improper reply to NCO (quoted). Impulsive insanity.
  • Not allowed to hold Medical Boards at the front – field ambulance under escort.
  • Congenital mental deficiency, not responsible for actions. – Board 25-6-17.
  • Wimereux 26-6-17. This man will be released from arrest without prejudice, and transferred to England. as “insane”. Transferred 16-7-17.
  • Congenital mental deficiency: incapable of realising what soldiering means, and that an order has to be obeyed. Is and will be of no use. Cannot ride and is incapable of grooming a horse. No amount of punishment would have any effect on him.
  • Feeblemindedness.
Awaiting trial for disobedience and making an improper reply to an NCO:
Recommended for transfer to England
"This man will be released from arrest without prejudice, and transferred to England as "Insane". 
The charges: I. disobeying an order. II making an improper reply to an NCO
Previous History "... Never been in an asylum.No convictions in civil life... No history of insanity in family." 
Probable Cause: Unknown.
Condition since admission.  Patient is restless, childish, and quite irresponsible in his conduct, he dances about, waving his hands about,shouts and sings like a small happy child. When spoken to he seems quite delighted, laughs, fidgets about, and seems to lose control of himself, his  face trembles and he becomes quite excited. His conversation is rambling, he becomes excited and confused.  His reasoning power is very poor; says he came in last Friday - that he has been here a fortnight; and cannot see that he is making a foolilsh remark. Has marked stigmata of degeneration.
Measure of responsibility.   In my opinionpatientisnot responsibleforhis actions,he is an imbecile.
Fitness for Trial.  No.
             for future Military Service.   No.
Patient is insane.

    "Dr. (Driver) J. Styche appears to be mentally deficinet. He is [not], and never will be, of any use as a soldier - he cannot ride, and is incapable of grooming a horse. 
    "I am quite sure that no amount of punishment would have any effect on him. He is absolutely incapable of realising what sold[i]ering means, and that an order has to be obeyed.
    "I would recommend that if it is possible he should be discharged from the Service."

Witness Statements including that remark

[1st Witness]   'and noticed the accused playing the fool. I went up to him, and ordered him to mark time. He did not do so. I repeated the order, and still he did not move. I again gave him this order and he said "They are f---ing me about, so I wil f--- them about.", and started throwing his arms about.
I placed him in the guard room.' - Sergeant.

2nd Witness.   'On the morning of the 23rd inst. I was on marching drill with the accused, under Rdr.(Rider) Growling. The accused started to play the fool. Sgt. Thompson came up and ordered the accused to mark time. Accused did not do so. Sgt. Thompson repeated the order. Accused did not move.  Accused eventually said - "If they f--- me about, I wil f--- them about." or words to that effect.
He was put in the guard room.'

3rd Witness.     'On the morning of the 23rd inst. I was in charge of a party on marching drill. Accused was one of the party, and commenced to behave with considerable levity.  Sgt. Thompson was on the parade ground and I spoke to him about the accused. Sgt. Thompson then went up to the party.  I was some way behind and did not hear what was said.  Sgt. Thompson then ordered me to place the accused in the guard room. I did so.'
Readers may differ as to whether John Stryche's remark indicates 'imbecility', and whether his subsequent reported behaviour suggests feeblemindedness.

In the other cases, too, there are various ways of looking at and interpreting the information available. Possible scenarios might (speculatively) include an element of wilfulness or collusion: COs paradoxically trying to save their sanity by disguising or temporarily undermining it; authorities seeking to get stroppy characters out of their way and weaken collective resistance.
Asylums in general may have seemed to offer a better chance of physical and mental survival than prison or work camps - unfortunately, as we have seen, a few COs did not survive long in them.

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