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Pathe film footage reveals secrets of 'miracle' WW1 shell shock treatment at Newton Abbot

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 12, 2012

Seale-Hayne was a pioneering post-war treatment centre for shell-shock victims. Below, from left: Two Privates who had been blown up in 1917One displayed hysterical movements and speech issues. The other imitated him. After treatment by suggestion, they were able to speak without moving their arms. 2 A patient suffering amnesia, word blindness and word deafness except to the word 'Bombs!' emerges from underneath the bed 3 A patient with hyperthyroidism and hyperadrenalism. 4 A patient with facial spasms. Under hypnosis the spasms cease

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Disturbing Pathé footage from the First World War reveals the devastating effects of shell shock on soldiers as they were treated in a pioneering Devon hospital.

Uncontrollable shaking, terrifying nightmares and severe convulsions were among the most devastating symptoms suffered by the many soldiers who suffered shell shock.

By the end of the war, more than 80,000 men who had endured the horrors of battle were struggling to return to normality.

The footage compiled by British Pathé film archivists brings home the terrifying reality that for many the war never really ended.

At the time, most shell shock victims were treated harshly and with little sympathy as their symptoms were not understood and they were seen as a sign of weakness.

But at Newton Abbot's Seale-Hayne in Devon, the approach was very different due to the revolutionary approach of a doctor called Arthur Hurst, an army major, who believed he could cure every shell shock victim.

In several medical establishments instead of receiving proper care, many victims endured more trauma with treatments such as solitary confinement or electric shock therapy.

But at the military hospital, deep in the Devon countryside, Mr Hurst used treatments such as hypnosis, persuasion, massage and dietary treatments to cure his patients. His treatments meant that he was able to cure 90% of shell-shocked soldiers in just one session.

In a video released by British Pathé, a semi-naked solider at Seale-Hayne hospital can be seen falling to the floor in a fit after shaking and staggering around the room.

But after treatment, the man is seen wearing his uniform marching confidently towards the camera.

Mr Hurst encouraged his patients to shoot and also staged a reconstruction of the battlefields of Flanders on Dartmoor to help the men relive their experiences.

On the wards men were encouraged to write and to produce a magazine with a gossip column – Ward Whispers.

"The main work was occupational therapy," Arthur's son Christopher told the BBC. "These solders who had been shell shocked had lost vital faculties like walking and speaking.

"They were given jobs to do and this was interspersed with intensive therapy sessions," said Christopher.

"My father was the guiding genius here and he cured these cases by means of persuasion and hypnotism."

The term shell shock was coined, in 1917, by a medical officer called Charles Myers – it was also known as "war neurosis", "combat stress" and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. At first shell shock was thought to be caused by soldiers being exposed to exploding shells. But doctors couldn't find any physical damage to explain the symptoms and medical staff started to realise that there were deeper causes.

Doctors soon found many men suffering the symptoms of shell shock without having even been in the front lines.

To see the video go to www.britishpathe.com/workspaces/show/BritishPathe/shell-shock/thumb

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