Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Multiple Dangers of Shell Concussion

The concussion from shell blasts could stop a man's heart or rupture internal organs, so that he died with no obvious external trauma. But, it could also result in a most literal form of shell shock. Autopsies on soldiers who were later killed after receiving treatment for shell shock related to ordnance explosions showed that the earlier shell concussion had caused non-fatal neurological damage from tiny hemorrhages in the brain and central nervous system. Of course, men could exhibit similar symptoms even when they had not been exposed to shell fire. In 1916, a distinction started being made between those who were shell shock wounded (W) and shell shock sick (S). 


  1. The research being done by the NFL and other football related entities related to concussions adds another dimension to this in terms of the long term effects of head trauma. I am in no way comparing football injuries to combat related head trauma in terms of social or moral value. If however the research done for football shows definite long term physical effects of concussions and multiple concussions, one would have to assume that even stronger forces related to artillery or other combat related head trauma would have similar or possible worse long term consequences. I doubt that there is adequate data available to analyze this for WWI casualties but I would certainly hope that the US military is concerned with the issue in current times. I am sure that just as in football where players often walked away from "dings" to the head thinking that they were OK, many combatants in war zones did the same. It might have been many years later that the long term neurological effects became evident and many may not have ever thought about the relationship of such time distant events.

  2. And to think how many poor souls were accused of cowardice or desertion because of it...

  3. In his autobiography, Scarlet Fields, John Lewis Barkley (a Medal of Honor winner) relates how the army would not accept his enlistment, because he stuttered. After several tries, he was accepted and became a scout, working alone and not having to converse with others. At one point, he was knocked unconscious by the shock of a shell, otherwise apparently uninjured, but when he recovered he no longer stuttered!

    I recommend the book as a good read, the war as seen by a man who preferred to be a private. When they would promote him, he's do something to get busted. Apparently several editors adjusted some of the tales to be more acceptable. As originally published, ca. 1930, it was not popular, as the public didn't want a book about a man who enjoyed being a soldier. The book has more recently been published by the University Press of Kansas in association with the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial.