CLIO 7 (1) - page 46

The army has always been a showcase of
strength and power- this was particularly true dur-
ing the FirstWorldWar when there was no thought
for the mental health of the soldiers who fought.
This was to such an extent that those who refused
to fight, or showed any sign of cowardice, faced
harsh punishments. In the army, there was clear
discrimination towards soldiers who supposedly
showed weakness. This stemmed from the idea
that any sign of vulnerability, particularly in men,
meant automatically that he was a coward and
therefore a traitor for not sacrificing himself for
his country. However, what the no-nonsense com-
manders did not know was that some of their sol-
diers may have been experiencing a phenomenon
which was physically preventing them from fight-
ing- it was later identified as Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental health condition
that's triggered by a terrifying event - either expe-
riencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include
flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well
as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Shell
shock consists of the same symptoms, however it is
specifically caused by prolonged exposure to active
warfare. It is clear to see how the hideously violent
sounds and scenes experienced everyday by sol-
diers would have caused PTSD.
During the FirstWorldWar, 307 British and
Commonwealth soldiers were shot by their own
side, condemned by court martial under military
law, for desertion. With what we know now about
shell-shock and its symptoms, it is very likely
that some of these soldiers were affected by the
illness- and therefore were unfairly punished. ‘Shot
at Dawn’ refers to the campaign started up in the
1990s, supported by families and loved ones of
those 307 soldiers, which fights for justice in the
name of their relatives. In 2001, a memorial was
made in memory of the executed soldiers. How-
ever, the campaign’s main aim was to grant the
soldiers a posthumous pardon; they achieved this
in 2006, 90 years after the executions. However,
the issue proved to be controversial as contested
the view that a pardon was appropriate for a case
like this. Although the general opinion is that the
307 defenceless soldiers were long owed a pardon
for the injustice they experienced, some argue that
modern day society cannot judge such acts which
took place so long ago, as in the present day we
cannot truly understand their behaviour within the
historical context. Therefore they believe that valu-
able time and resources should not be used to look
into this case.
Shot at Dawn:
Were the shell-shocked
‘Shot at Dawn’ memorial in Staffordshire, surrounded by 307 wooden stakes, each representing an exe-
cuted soldier. Many of them would not have otherwise been remembered due to the shame they brought
upon their regiment.
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