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Chapter 7 - Those made mad by war

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2015

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Summary

In 1927 Charles Bean sent a copy of the draft of Volume III of his Official History to his British counterpart, Brigadier-General Sir James Edmonds, for his comments. This was the first volume to deal with the AIF in action on the Western Front. One of the passages in the draft that caught Edmond’s attention was Bean’s comment on the effect of the sustained artillery fire at Pozières, which:

ripped away in a few moments all those conventions behind which civilised men shelter their true souls even from the milder breezes of life, and left men facing the storm with no other protection than the naked framework of their character. The strain eventually became so great that what is rightly known as courage – the will to persist – would not suffice, since, however keen his will, the machinery of a man’s self-control might become deranged…The shelling at Pozières did not merely probe character and nerve; it laid them stark naked as no other experience of the AIF ever did.

Edmonds’ indignation was roused by these comments, leading him to assert: ‘This is all imagination as medical returns show. The report of the commission on shell shock found that shell shock did not occur in good units. Both madness and shell shock were unheard of at Ypres 1914 when we had no guns or ammunition to reply with, the appearance or sign of them is due to lack of discipline.’

Bean’s response, inscribed on the letter, was dismissive. ‘This is rather the G[eneral] S[taff] attitude – exactly as it was in the war. It is almost too laughably misconceived to be worth a reply.’ Bean’s passage in Volume III remained unchanged. Bean knew what he was writing about. He had personally experienced the bombardment at Pozières and had witnessed the effect that it had on men who had been through the ordeal. He was also correct in asserting that Edmond’s views replicated those held by the British General Staff, particularly during the first years of the war.

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Chapter
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Pozières
Echoes of a Distant Battle
, pp. 128 - 143
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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