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The shocks and shells of the Somme

British high command’s fear that shell shock would become an ‘epidemic’ resulted in the barbarous treatment of hundreds of sufferers in the first world war

30 April 2016

9:00 AM

30 April 2016

9:00 AM

Breakdown: The Crisis of Shell Shock on the Somme, 1916 Taylor Downing

Little, Brown, pp.401, £25, ISBN: 9781408706619

In the final months of 1914, medical officers on the Western Front began seeing a new kind of casualty. Soldiers who had no physical injury were displaying a wide range of alarming symptoms. Some appeared to be completely dazed or were shaking uncontrollably, others had lost their sense of taste or smell, or were suffering from blindness, mutism and various kinds of paralysis.

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Available from the Spectator Bookshop, £25 Tel: 08430 600033. Peter Parker is the author of The Last Veteran: Harry Patch and the Legacy of War, as well as biographies of J.R. Ackerley and Christopher Isherwood.

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