They Called It Shell Shock

Combat Stress In The First World War

Stefanie Linden

Date Published :
August 2018
Publisher :
Helion and Company
Series :
Wolverhampton Military Studies
Illustration :
72 b/w photos and illustrations
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781911096351
Pages : 272
Dimensions : 9.25 X 6 inches
Stock Status : Available
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781912390533
Pages : 232
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : Available


They Called it Shell Shock provides a new perspective on the psychological reactions to the traumatic experiences of combat. In the Great War, soldiers were incapacitated by traumatic disorders at an epidemic scale that surpassed anything known from previous armed conflicts. Drawing upon individual histories from British and German servicemen, this book illustrates the universal suffering of soldiers involved in this conflict and its often devastating consequences for their mental health. Dr Stefanie Linden explains how shell shock challenged the fabric of pre-war society, including its beliefs about gender (superiority of the male character), class (superiority of the officer class) and scientific progress. She argues that the shell shock epidemic had enduring consequences for the understanding of the human mind and the power that it can exert over the body. The author has analysed over 660 original medical case records from shell-shocked soldiers who were treated at the world-leading neurological/psychiatric institutions of the time: the National Hospital at Queen Square in London, the Charité Psychiatric Department in Berlin and the Jena Military Hospital at Jena/Germany. This is thus the first shell shock book to be based on original case records from both sides of the battle. It includes a rich collection of hitherto unpublished first-hand accounts of life in the trenches and soldiers’ traumas.

The focal point of the book is the soldier’s experience on the battlefield that triggers his nervous breakdown - and the author links this up with the soldiers’ biographies and provides a perspective on their pre-war civilian life and experience of the war. She then describes the fate of individual soldiers; their psychological and neurological symptoms; their journey through the system of military hospitals and specialist units at home; and the initially ambivalent response of the medical system. She analyses the external factors that influenced clinical presentations of traumatized soldiers and shows how cultural and political factors can shape mental illness and the reactions of doctors and society. The author argues that the challenge posed by tens of thousands of shell-shocked soldiers and the necessity to maintain the fighting strength of the army eventually led to a modernization of medicine - even resulting in the first formal treatment studies in the history of medicine.

"They called it Shell Shock" is also one of the first books to tackle often neglected topics of war history, including desertion, suicide and soldiers’ mental illness. Based on her expertise in psychiatry and history of medicine, the author argues that many modern trauma therapies had their root in the medicine of the First World War and that the experience of the shell shock patients and their doctors is still very relevant for the understanding of present-day traumatic diseases.

About The Author

Dr Stefanie Linden is a psychiatrist, mental health researcher and historian of psychiatry. She is currently a Clinical Research Fellow at Cardiff University and completed a PhD at King’s College London on the Functional Disorders of the Great War. She has also researched the history of psychiatry during the religious revival in North Wales and the history of women’s mental health.


“Stefanie Linden's book is both a fitting tribute to soldiers who were diagnosed with and suffered from shell shock, it also presents a scientific and readable account of what happened, providing both individual and large-scale studies from a clinical point of vew. Thorough and comprehensive.”

- Books Monthly

“This is a must-read for those wishing to understand this terrible Great War phenomenon.”

- Britain at War

"... a readable and fascinating account … Well illustrated and with interesting biographical detail of the many doctors involved, They called it shell shock is at once a solid piece of research with all the academic hallmarks, and something that the layman such as me can grasp. Excellent."

- The Long, Long Trail

“ … Linden’s work is engaging, thought provoking and wonderfully produced ensuring that her book is highly-readable to academics, students and the public alike; the relatively inexpensive cost of the book also ensures that this fine piece of scholarship is better positioned than most academic books to impact on the latter audience and both the author and publisher are to be congratulated on this. Ultimately, They Called It Shell Shock will be of immense interest to shell shock historians, specialists in trauma studies, those interested in the social and cultural effects of the First World War, as well as a broader audience of students interested in the impact the First World War had on servicemen and combatant nations.”

- Reviews in History

“They Called It Shell Shock is an illuminating, fascinating and compelling read and I sense will become a standard work on the subject. It is highly recommended.”

- Bulletin of the Military Historical Society

“The strengths of the book are that it provides powerful evidence for busting some of the contemporary myths that a modern perspective unknowingly provides.”

- Society of Friends of the National Army MuseuM

“ … This is an excellent volume for anyone interested in the psychiatry of combat stress or seeking to understand the nuances of mental and functional disorders experienced in modern warfare.”

- Journal of Military History

“… it does offer an insightful evaluation of the practices and approaches of some of the most prestigious institutions at that time……and useful for undergraduates studying the medical history of the Great War, and for general readers…”

- Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research

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