Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gassed in the trenches - 21st March 1918

I referred yesterday, to an interview I'd conducted with Harold Shephard of the 1/5th Leicestershire Regiment, and his doctor's opinion (in the 1980s) about the after-effects of gassing, as it affected Harold.

Today, coincidentally, I came across various medical reports relating to 277632 Lance Corporal Joseph Dykes of the 2/7th Manchester Regiment, who was gassed at Peronne, France on 21st March 1918, the day the German Army launched its offensive against the British. Joseph had worked as a bricklayer in Bunbury, Cheshire before joining up.

I quote from various papers below:

Army Form Z.22
Statement as to Disability

Date: March 1919

Give diagnosis and particulars of each disability claimed or discovered: "Breathlessness and tachycardia"
The present condition thereof: [unclear] tachycardia. Breathlessness on exertion. No murmur detected."

Army Form B179A

Medical Report on a soldier Boarded [ie, who has appeared before a Medical Board] prior to discharge or transfer to [various classes] of the Reserve.

[Transfered to the Reserve on 18/02/1919. Previously awarded pension of 8 shillings and threepence per week for 26 weeks.]

Report dated 8th July 1919.

"No documentary evidence but man states that he was gassed in the trenches and taken prisoner by the Germans, sent to a German Military Hospital; from here sent to work in Germany. Repatriated 22/11/18 had two months leave, sent to rejoin his regiment at Tiley [?] where he was demobilized."

Present condition: "There is no organic disease of the heart present in this case."

Discharge as permanently unfit: "No."

Opinion of the Medical Board: "Gas poisoning and [unclear]. Complains of cough, expectoration and shortness of breath. Chest movement good ... OF and OR good. Percussion note normal. No adventitious sounds heard in chest. Heart not enlarged, maximum impulse in normal position... no cardiac murmurs heard..."

How long is the present degree of disablement likely to last: "twelve months."

What is the degree of disablement?: "Less than twenty per cent."

You can read Joseph Dykes's service record on-line with a FREE 14 day trial to Ancestry.co.uk - Click here!

In fairness to those medical professionals sitting on Boards, many of the cases they were dealing with must have been unknown quantities. And yet, by 1919, one assumes that gas cases had been presenting since 1915 (albeit the type of gas used was different in 1915), and men gassed in that year would still have been suffering the effects of that gassing four years later.

I have rarely seen reports from Medical Boards where pensions continued for many years. Obviously many did of course, and it may be that later awards have been weeded out of files. Nevertheless, it is also true to say that many men received pensions which were well below what they should have been and which, after a few months or years, were often stopped altogether. The one glaring Chailey-related exception I can think of is Charles Sabourin, who was a patient at Hickwells in 1915 and who was severely wounded on 23rd August 1914. Papers in his files (and he has papers in both the WO 363 and WO 364 series) show that he was receiving a pension certainly as late as 1952. Nevertheless, that pension amounted to under nine shillings a week which would not have gone very far in 1952. Then again, Medical Boards were hardly in a position to refute his claims - he'd had his right leg amputated high at the thigh.

Read Charles Sabourin's partial service record on-line with a FREE 14 day trial to Ancestry.co.uk - Click here!

Frank Richards, in Old Soldiers Never Die, has some nice comments about Army Pensions towards the end of his memoir which I quote from below. Frank was a regular soldier who had joined the Royal Welch Fusiliers in 1901, subsequently serving eight years with the colours, seven of these in India and Burma. He rejoined his old battalion in 1914 and served throughout the war, winning the DCM and MM in the process. Demobbed in December 1918 he applied for a Medical Board in August 1921, primarily because he was suffering from haemorrhoids but also rheumatism.

Frank Richards takes up the story:

"I had to go to Newport for my Board and I met a man from my village who was going there for the same purpose. He informed me that he had not served in the War but had been guarding a railway bridge about seven miles from his home and one night while on sentry it had rained and he had got wet. Some days later he had been admitted to hospital where he had spent a week with rheumatism. I sympathized with him and said it was marvellous how he looked so well after what he had been through.

"The doctors who examined me as good as told me that if I didn't agree to have an operation I would not be granted a disability pension... A few weeks later I was notified that the Medical Board had found that I was suffering with haemorrhoids and rheumatism and that the haemorrhoids had been aggravated by my War service: for which I had been awarded a disability pension of eight shillings a week for sixty-five weeks. Before this time expired I would be notified to appear in front of a Medical Board for a further examination. No disability could be awarded for my rheumatism which in their opinion had not been caused or aggravated by War service. If I wished to appeal I could do so.

"I knew it was useless to appeal. I have never been in hospital with rheumatism and the War had now been over two years and nine months. I also knew that Medical Boards went by what hospital service a man had entered on his medical history sheet and not by his front-line service. If a man had only done four weeks' service in England and had been admitted to hospital for a few days he would have a better chance of being awarded a disability pension than a man who had done four years in the firing line and whose medical history sheet was clean...

"I met the man who had got wet guarding the bridge and he informed me that he had been awarded a disability pension of twelve shillings a week for sixty-five weeks and had also been recommended for massage treatment."

Frank had an operation for his haemorrhoids and appeared before another Medical Board where he was "... notified that I had been awarded a final weekly allowance of seven and sixpence for seventy weeks, and the award could not be extended beyond this period."

So much for the "land fit for heroes."

I found the image on this post on a flickr album. It shows Amercian troops in 1917, learning how to use their gas masks.

No comments: