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Shell Shocked is today’s PTSD

1914-1918 Canadian Corps eighteen-pound gun Field Gun Passcendaele PTSD shell shock shrapnel The Battle of Vimy Ridge the final battle of Amiens The Great War The Somme Verdun Vimy 100th anniversary Ypres

The Herbert Laurier “Bert” Irwin Story: by Herbert James Irwin from the Memory Project.

When war was declared in 1914, Herbert Irwin tried to enlist immediately but because he was only 16, his family retrieved him from the recruiting depot. Herbert returned the following year and was accepted into the Artillery.

My name is Herbert James Irwin, the son of Herbert Laurier "Bert" Irwin, who enlisted in the Canadian Field Artillery in 1915 at the age of seventeen, and served overseas until the end of the war. He was engaged in a number of battles: Ypres, Somme, Vimy Ridge, Arras, Passchendaele and Amiens, where he was wounded on August the 8th, 1918, and that would be the end of his army career. He was sent back to England to recuperate, and eventually sent back to Canada, where he arrived just before Christmas, 1918.

He had many adventures while he was there and some of them bad, some of them good. He experienced being buried alive in a dugout by the explosion of a German shell. His companion who was buried with him went mad, and my father had to knock him out and start digging to escape. I can remember him being unable to stay in any building or elevator, or even a barber's chair. These are things I remember as a kid. And of course, all the stories he told about the war, over and over again, I memorized, or at least remember most of them. He taught me 'The Shooting of Dan McGrew' and 'The Cremation of Sam McGee ', because he'd learned them in his dugout in France. By the time I was three or four, I was repeating these poems.

He told us a great deal about Vimy Ridge, and what a 'well-organized battle' it was. He remembers all the guns going off at five thirty in the morning, firing barrages just ahead of the advancing troops.

He survived many dangerous incidents. At one time he was pinned down on a field and had to cut open the belly of a horse and crawl inside to protect himself from the shrapnel and German fire.

My mother tells me that when he came home from the war and they were married that any loud noise would cause him to immediately dive under a bed. His reflexes were pretty finely tuned.

He managed to live to be a ripe old age of eighty-five, and told his grandchildren and great-grandchildren all these stories of his experiences. But the final battle of Amiens, August the 8th, 1918, he was loading a shell into the eighteen-pound gun. A German shell exploded above him, and the shrapnel hit him in the back and knocked him flat. They picked him up later that night and took him to a dressing station later, and then back to England. He recuperated at Lady Astor's estate. And at that time the flu epidemic was severe, and an old soldier in the hospital told him if he chewed tobacco, he wouldn't get the flu. So he chewed tobacco and he didn't get the flu, but his roommate died of it.

(Vimy Ridge note)

Remember, they fought the war in Colour, but we only get see it in Black and White. Some people have told me that their Father or Grand Father never spoke of the war, believe me there is a reason. I have heard stories of wars that I never thought I would hear and after hearing some of them I wish I hadn’t.

One can see why most Soldiers of any war never spoke of the war. Why would you want to re-live that experience? I think that talking about any horrific experience would just re-activate it in the brain. You would have to relive the horrific nightmare of what you are trying to forget over and over again.

I guess this is what happens to PTSD sufferers with the unseen injuries of war; the memory doesn’t fade with time. I would think that anyone that has ever been traumatized would have to re-experience the horrendous event as if it happened only yesterday. It would feel current and be difficult to talk about.

I was told by one Gentleman, who was reiterating a story from Dieppe to me, all he said was “You’ve never seen fire works like that” I asked him how old he was at the time, 19 he replied as he cried as he named all of his friends that died.

I am sure, for Soldiers and their memories, the unseen wounds are hardest to heal.


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