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"Breakdown" is a poignant account of what was a baffling condition at the time. Though instances of shell shock are found throughout war's history, 'soldier's heart' in the Civil War for one, shell shock during WW1 threatened the very state of the armies fighting on the Somme.
This was such a good and brutal account of what went on that I was inspired (nay, driven) to purchase "The Somme" by Peter Hart to learn more. As it is, I learned plenty, though I must say that World War I, though I am fond of military history, hasn't been my main area of interest: I'm more of a WWII, Vietnam kind of gal, so maybe other people might find this to be old hat.
"Breakdown" covers the initial enthusiasm of signing up the Pals Battalions all the way through to the end, and everything in between. It covers the medics first encounters with soldiers who have bulging eyes, the shakes, who possibly can neither see nor hear tho' there's nothing wrong with their eyes or ears, men who act irrationally and with day and night terrors. The medics didn't know what to do for such men and some just recommended a night's sleep (which was a definite boon), and some went as far as to send them away from the front.
There came to be such controversy about what to do for the soldiers: Were they wounded or were they slackers? Authorities tried to get a handle by saying some were wounded, some were sick, and some, if they were elite citizenry in positions of command, had "neurasthenia."
The book goes into great detail about the horrors of existence at the front, the rats, the lice, the constant mud and shelling. The smell of death and decaying corpses, the lack of food and water. Basically a wretched, wretched life lived in a trench that made you pretty much a sitting duck, a trapped rat with no place to run or hide, just stuck. And men who snapped, snapped hard. The book gives accounts of what the army tried to do, but basically it was some pretty hard going and some pretty rough justice. The only army that didn't execute "shirkers" was the Australian army... God love the Aussies, they said it wasn't their war, why should they kill their own men!
Though "Breakdown" can be a bit repetitive, hence what I judge to be a 3.75 star read, it is so emotionally compelling, and Gordon Griffin's narration is so emotionally evocative, I thought it was excellent if you're into the history of suffering. War is brutal...
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