first published on March 8, 2019 by Josh
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has had a lot of names in the past. During the American Civil War, Soldiers suffering from the symptoms of PTSD were matched up with similar symptoms of people who had been in terrible railway accidents. As a result, being diagnosed with “Railway Spine” after being involved in an intense battle was not too uncommon. Later, the terms shell shock, war neurosis, and battle fatigue would all come into play at differing points in history as the medical community all tried to figure out how to classify the psychosomatic injuries many Soldiers would return from war with. Out of all of these terms for Post Traumatic Stress, Shell Shock was probably the most common term, and after listening to the video at the bottom of this, you’ll see why.
Ernst Junger, a highly decorated World War 1 Soldier from the German side of the conflict is famous for his war memoir Storm of Steel. In the book, he wrote at length about one of his intense encounters with what was at the time known as a drumfire artillery barrage. The following is a quote from his book.
“In the course of the afternoon the firing increased to such a degree that single explosions were no longer audible. There was nothing but one terrific tornado of noise. From seven onward the square and the houses round were shelled at intervals of half a minute with fifteen-centimeter shells. There were many duds among them, which all the same made the houses rock. We sat all this while in our cellar, round a table, on armchairs covered in silk, with our heads propped on our hands, and counted the seconds between the explosions. Our jests became less frequent, till at last the foolhardiest of us fell silent, and at eight o’clock two direct hits brought down the next house.
From nine to ten the shelling was frantic. The earth rocked and the sky boiled like a gigantic cauldron.
Hundreds of heavy batteries were concentrated on and round Combles. Innumerable shells came howling and hurtling over us. Thick smoke, ominously fit up by Very lights, veiled everything. Head and ears ached violently, and we could only make ourselves understood by shouting a word at a time. The power of logical thought and the force of gravity seemed alike to be suspended. One had the sense of something as unescapable and as unconditionally fated as a catastrophe of nature. An N. C. 0. of No. 3 platoon went mad.
At ten this carnival of hell gradually calmed down and passed into a steady drum fire. It was still certainly impossible to distinguish one shell from another.”
It is impossible to know the total number of artillery shells that were fired during World War 1. For reference, The Iron Harvest is an annual harvest that takes place in both Belgium and France, and is centered only on removing un-exploded ordinance from World War One. In the Ypres Salient area alone, it is estimated that 300 million projectiles that were fired between British and German forces were duds. In 2013 alone, 160 tons of munitions, from bullets to 15 inch naval gun shells, were unearthed from the areas around Ypres.
The following video is an attempt to recreate the sound heard by Soldiers on the ground in World War 1 as they were exposed to what is known as a drumfire barrage. Listening to this makes it clear why Soldiers returning from World War 1 with psychosomatic injuries were referred to as individuals impacted by “Shell Shock.”