Shell shock on film: myth or reality?

shell shockWhen I began researching and writing Shell Shocked Britain I watched the grainy, black and white film footage of shell shocked soldiers readily found on YouTube. They show a number of British soldiers filmed whilst undergoing treatment at The Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley , near Southampton or at Seale Hayne Hospital in Devon. In one episode of Jeremy Paxman’s documentary series Britain’s Great War a brief extract was used as he spoke, briefly, on the subject outside Craiglockhart Hospital in Scotland (which doesn’t actually feature in any of the footage). Entitled War Neurosis 1917, the film was shot over a period of eight months and is the only surviving footage of the effect of shell shock on British soldiers in the Great War.

Arthur Hurst

Arthur Hurst

The films were directed by Major Arthur Hurst, who had volunteered for service with the Royal Army Medical Corps having established a neurology department at Guy’s Hospital in London. He went to France to see the work doctors there were doing with men diagnosed as suffering from ‘hysteria’ and was able to travel on to witness the horrors at Gallipoli, before coming back to England to put new treatments he had learned into practice.

Pathé cameramen were used to film at both hospitals and the work they highlighted led to Hurst being lauded as a miracle worker in the press. But was he simply a good self-publicist who hid himself away in the Devon countryside to ensure his methods were difficult to verify? As I delved deeper and spoke to 21st century experts in military psychiatry, I began to view the films very differently.

Hurst’s film, whilst supposedly offering itself as a tool for training other clinical staff, is a masterpiece of promotion and marketing. One can watch it as a piece of social history, but as documentary evidence of medical treatment it seems exploitative and disturbing. Among the men filmed was Private Percy Meek, a 23-year-old man from Norfolk, who joined the army in 1913. First wounded in the thigh in May 1915, he was treated and returned to the Front later that year and served without further incident until February 1916. Hurst’s lengthy report on Meek’s case explains that the young man was stationed in a trench subjected to a period of continuous bombardment by German mortars. As the noise and anxiety became overwhelming, Meek’s comrades had to prevent him from going ‘over the top’ in panic, to attack the German position.

We first see Meek sitting, like a baby, in a straight-backed, wooden wheelchair undergoing an examination of his rigid ankles for the benefit of the camera. Yet over a period of months his voice and understanding gradually returned, and, after transferring to Seale Hayne in April 1918, his physical recovery quickened and the film shows a much healthier looking Private Meek, wearing the uniform hospital blues and running up and down the steps in front of the building. The film shows his recovery to be so nearly perfect that by June 1918 we see him supervising fellow patients in a basket weaving shop at the hospital.

Other patients include Private Preston, aged 19, who reacts to the word ‘bombs’ by running for cover under his hospital bed. Private Ross Smith has a facial spasm affecting his ears and head with violent twitches, which disappear under hypnosis, only to return with renewed violence when he wakes. Private Reid, aged 32, was buried by debris from an exploding shell and, though without physical wounds, he has become unable to move; the film shows him returned to full mobility and able to work on the hospital farm.

The simple peace of the rolling Devon countryside offered solace to the damaged men. Unlike some other hospitals, the staff at Seale Hayne refused to bully a patient into submitting to the will of the doctor and the army. Hurst was keen to ensure the dignity of the men was maintained, with no pressure to get them back to the Front at all costs. In some respects his treatments resemble present day treatments for moderate depression and anxiety. But to the frustration of his peers, Hurst would never elaborate on his methods and there were few witnesses to his successful treatment.

hurstbookHurst only detailed his methods as the Second World War entered its final stages, in his book Medical Diseases of War:

Directly the patient is admitted the sister encourages him to believe that he will be cured as soon as the doctor has time to see him…The medical officer …tells him as a matter of course he will be cured the next day. The patient is made to understand that any treatment he has already received has prepared the way, so that nothing now remains but a properly directed effort on his part for a complete recovery to take place.

This now appears to be a deception, a practice widely used as a ‘cure’ for shell shock and it was not considered an unethical practice. Fake operations to cure deafness were staged, going so far as to anaesthetise and cut patients who had been told the procedure would cure them. Frederick Mott at the Maudsley Hospital recognised that, as the war progressed towards a conclusion, the best ‘cure’ was to assure a patient that they would never be sent back to the Front.

It is hard to assess which parts of Hurst’s film are what would now be termed a ‘reconstruction’ and which are genuine. He certainly never tells the viewer. The facts of Private Meek’s trauma are undisputed, but the film, shot in just eight months, documents a recovery that took over two years. It was a similar situation with other patients on screen. Men had been asked to re-enact their symptoms, which, as they were apparently lacking a proper consciousness as they experienced them for real is worrying. Audiences, still unused to seeing ‘moving pictures’ would have taken them at face value. People still do.

Reports in the press, from ‘honest’ witnesses describe how Hurst’s cures could take just a few minutes. The descriptions of a paralysed and dumb man being ‘cured’ within 10 minutes, to the point where, simply by coughing, he can be encouraged to sing the whole of ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’, appear somewhat suspicious. Hurst and his team claimed that in 100 consecutive, successful treatments, they were curing, within days, men who had on average been treated in other hospitals for 11 months prior to admission. Ninety-six per cent were treated and cured in just one sitting, at an average of 54 minutes per patient. Of the four cases that required longer, all took less than four weeks. Despite these claims, it is almost impossible to establish what percentage of the men treated later relapsed.

So was Dr Hurst actually ‘a bit of a fraud’, as he has been described to me by a psychiatrist? Watch the film and see what you think. He was not a man who inflicted unnecessary pain on his patients, as other doctors did, and men responded well to the environment around the hospital. But these films are so often shown as ‘fact’ that his contribution to the study of the subject must be questioned.

Arthur Hurst has offered us a glimpse of the physical symptoms the shell shocked of the Great War experienced. But more than that? How far does the knowledge that he asked men to live through the horrors again affect our views of his work? His work was not miraculous and certainly flawed – but fraudulent? I am still unsure….

Posted in Book, Books, First World War, Mental health, Reading, Shell Shocked Britain, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Who needs Glastonbury? The Keats House Festival 2014

keatshseAs many of those who read my blog regularly will know, I am a Londoner born and bred, not moving away from the city until I was 25 and and retaining my love of my roots even as I live now in Somerset, which I reached via Brighton, sometimes referred to as ‘London by the Sea’. I return to central London regularly for research trips or events, but rarely find myself as far out as the North London suburbs which I remember so well from childhood.

I was not a rebellious teenager, far from it. As I have recently written for The Wordsworth Trust blog, I fell in love with the words of a dead poet when my friends were finding more to identify with in the lyrics of Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet, or Boy George.  John Keats may have been little more than five feet tall, but his personality was as large and vibrant as any new romantic.

So it is with a sense of deep frustration at my inability to attend that I alert you to a wonderful festival that is taking place in Hampstead, London from this Saturday, 7th June, until the 15th. Keats House (which I always think of as Wentworth Place) is celebrating the 200 years since Keats wrote his first poem, as a teenager studying to be an apothecary.

Although the weather does not promise to be kind, for this weekend at least, the House and garden will host a range of events for adults and children to inspire and delight. There will be writing workshops and family fun days and the terrific actors  Simon Russell Beale and Dame Janet Suzman will read a selection of Keats’s poetry (although I do wish they would have younger actors reading his words, to capture something of his own voice).

Daljit Nagra, the latest Keats House poet in residence.

Daljit Nagra, the latest Keats House poet in residence.

Keats House has a poet-in-residence, and the wonderful Jo Shapcott will be handing over the baton to Daljit Nagra and both will take workshops during the week to help you find your own poetic inspiration. It isn’t all about Keats; there is dancing, screenwriting, censorship and ‘Poeticabotanica’. And afternoon tea with Keats. Bliss.

I would have been particularly keen to attend ‘Writing the Frontiers of Life, Death and Sickness’ on the 11th,  where Sam Guglani, Jo Shapcott, and award-winning poet, novelist and playwright Philip Gross ‘explore and celebrate the interactions between poetry and medicine today’. This is a subject that fascinates me. To ignore the influence of Keats’s long study of medicine on his poetry is to miss so much of what was important to him, and what traumatised him and changed his perspective on what it meant to be alive.

So I can’t be there, but if you are in London over the next few days why don’t you take a look at the website The Keats Festival 2014 and see if there are any tickets available? You can doff your cap to the great man for me and learn a little more about his lasting legacy to us all.

 

Posted in Art, Books, History, Keats, London, Music, Poetry, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

‘There are more things in heaven & earth…’a response to my piece on Spiritualism in the Great War

mediumdoyle

Today I welcome a post from Ian Stevenson, who contacted me following my recent post about spiritualism and the First World War, a subject I cover in Shell Shocked Britain.  Ian is a counsellor and a member of the Scientific and Medical Network with expertise in the history of the period and a long standing interest in the subject. He offers the view that some of those offering support to the bereaved could have had a genuine gift. Is he right?  Is it true that ‘there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,/ Than are dreamt of in your philosophy…..’? I would love to hear your views…

I would like to give another side to the idea that people were taken in by frauds which is what links on Wikipedia and other internet sites relating to spiritualism during and after the First World War, suggest.

The Great War of 1914-18 created a number of revolutions; political, technical and social. One of them was the growing interest in non-Christian religions and the decline in church attendance. The huge number of war dead meant many families were in mourning and looking for comfort and answers. Spiritualism attracted a wide range of followers although it is probably true to say that women played a greater part than in most other churches and most members were ‘working class’. The church and the scientific world largely dismissed or ridiculed it. After all, they knew best.

PC3-00bOne of its chief supporters was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, best known for Sherlock Holmes, who wrote a book  ‘
The Land of Mist’ in which a young reporter (who first appeared in the story “The Lost World” ) and his female friend investigate Spiritualism. Doyle included a number of incidents which had a factual basis. In one chapter he has them going to the laboratory of a French investigator who he admits in the notes at the end, is based on Professor Richet, the Nobel Prize winner (he was a physiologist who worked on allergies among other things) who was involved in psychic research for thirty years.

In his book, Doyle has a character that pretends to be a medium and is portrayed as a ‘bad guy’. His brother in the story, a real medium, is sentenced to a term in prison for fortune telling. This is the other side of the coin. A friend recently told me told me that as a little girl she had to watch out for policemen when her mother was having a séance. Those attending a middle class séance had no such worries.

There is little doubt that many people did-and do- attain comfort from the Spiritualist churches which tend to be informal and welcoming. We need to distinguish between them and the ‘sole trader’ medium or clairvoyant who takes money. The years after 1918 were hard for many people and some may have tried to cash in, the ‘frauds’ referred to. However, I have come across many people who go to a medium and are given facts which are correct and often obscure.

Some skeptics might dispute this, claiming that this is cold reading. Dr. Gary Schwartz, a professor of Psychology and Psychiatry in Arizona, arranged a series of experiments where the mediums could not see or hear the sitters (they could hear a yes/no response in some of the early experiments and in a second part  could ask for feedback) The amount of accurate information is impressive. Schwartz invited stage magician ‘cold readers’ to try to duplicate the work of the mediums in the same conditions. None even tried.

Harry Houdini claimed to expose frauds but he seems to have been on a bit of a mission. I saw a few of his ‘exposures’ recreated on TV and was not convinced. He did talk about ‘genuine mediums’ which suggests a belief in an afterlife. His wife certainly did and there is a signed and witnessed document which says Houdini communicated a code word to her after his death.

Spiritualist medium Mrs Osborne Leonard, who worked with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Sir Oliver Lodge

Spiritualist medium Mrs Osborne Leonard, who worked with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Sir Oliver Lodge

The accusation often made is that grieving people or those who would like it to be true, have low standards of investigation or are gullible, at least in this respect. The Rev. Drayton Thomas investigated Mrs Osborne Leonard (who sat with Sir Oliver Lodge and Coonan Doyle)as did Lady Troubridge. They didn’t just turn up for an evening or two; they sat with her for years and made meticulous notes and she was never accused of fraud. Mrs Piper, in the USA with whom she is often compared, was investigated for some years by William James, the founder of the modern discipline of Psychology in that country, before he assented to her genuine ability. Wikipedia accounts tend to be hostile and sceptics (Skeptics in the US) tend to write the pages. Sir Oliver Lodge was a Fellow of the Royal Society and not just an ivory tower theoretician. He probably sent the first radio transmission a year before Marconi.

raymondThe Wiki page says ‘sceptics have analysed the mediumship of Mrs Leonard… and auto suggestion was used.’ Having read Raymond (the book written by Sir Oliver Lodge) I find it an amazing suggestion. Read the third section of the book by Sir Oliver in which he deals with questions of scientific method, theology and philosophy, you will see that a charlatan medium impressing her ideas on him and all his family is hardly worth considering. The assertion ‘Raymond’ could not remember the names of the officers with whom he had served, is refuted by looking in the book.

The astronaut Edgar Mitchell founded the Institute of Noetic (new) Sciences. The chief Scientist is Dean Radin who got so tired of people saying ‘show me the evidence for the spiritual/ supernatural/paranormal and then maybe I’ll believe it,’ that he complied a list of formal experiments, trials and studies. Google ‘Radin /evidence’ and you will find nine pages of mainly recent peer-reviewed studies. If you want to have an informed debate, this might be a place to start.

If one starts from the view there is no afterlife-like Clodd- then there are only two explanations; one is that the medium is misinterpreting what they see, hear or feel (and may have even good motives) or they out to deceive. As it’s impossible, good results MUST be fraud. In most twentieth century science not only acknowledged matter and energy but quantum physics and dark matter and dark energy have shown the limits of what we thought we knew. There is evidence that consciousness may exist beyond the brain e.g. near death experiences. If we are open-minded it may be that there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in some people’s philosophy.

Ian Stevenson

Ian Stevenson

My thanks to Ian, as I am always keen to offer the opportunity to reply to posts I have written. It feels uncomfortable, looking back, to judge whether those drawn to the Spiritualist Church during and after the Great War were duped. After all, for many electricity was still a mystery and radio waves impossible to fathom. Do please comment if you have a view. Ian will be happy to respond.

Posted in Book, Books, First World War, Guest posts, History, Mental health, Reading, Religion, Shell Shocked Britain, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What shapes us ~ nature, nurture or experience? A novelist’s view

square peg

Today on No Wriggling I am lucky enough to host a guest post from author Vivienne Tuffnell. Vivienne, who wrote for (and inspired the title of) my book, Dandelions & Bad Hair Days, talks here of family history in the broadest sense, and of the process of writing via the characters in her latest novel Square Peg, which offers the wonderful line ‘She’d seen faces like that before, but on the television, in films and in the history books. The faces of fanatics, cold and blind to all reason staring back at her….’ 

It’s a great debate, nature or nurture, when it comes to who we think we are. While we may think we are our own person, that person is shaped both by upbringing and genetics and the experiences we go through in life. As a novelist, the shaping of characters is a curious process, half unconscious and half deliberate and I’d like to think that the fusion of the two has meant I’ve created some memorable folks amid the pages of my novels.

I was asked recently (several times) if Chloe’s grandmother in Square Peg is based on my own grandmother. My answer is that she’s not based on anyone(as such) but she’s probably how I’d like to be seen when I am granny-aged. I’ve also been asked how much of Chloe is me (just as I was asked how much of Isobel in Away With The Fairies is me) and I’d answer that question in the same way: a good deal of me is in her.

Yet Chloe’s Gran and her unconventional upbringing shaped her and brought her to the uncomfortable place she’s in at the start of the novel. Gran was one of those free-spirited women who blazed trails through history yet get almost no acknowledgements for the work they did. Trained as a doctor, she chose to spend her working life amid the poor, oppressed and marginalised people around the world, travelling and finding new challenges in a risky life. At some stage, she met and fell in love with someone whose child she came back to England with. She never saw him again, and returning to her home town and parents, people assumed she’d married while abroad but kept her maiden name for professional reasons. A generation before it would have been a massive scandal and a generation later, something fairly unremarkable, yet at the time the birth of a son out of wedlock was something she needed to keep private. As soon as her son was independent, she left to return to the work she loved, only returning when her son lost his wife in an accident.

In the intervening years, she visited her family and sent presents home, usually gifts that reflected the community she was living in. Chloe and her sister are sent a colourful Pendleton blanket, packed with white sage, suggesting that Gran was living among Native Americans, perhaps acting as doctor on a reservation. The battered sandalwood Buddha that sits on the hearth is another such fixture in Chloe’s home.

Like so many women called upon to care for those who need it, Chloe’s grandmother reluctantly returned but never fully settled into a life of a suburban general practitioner and her restlessness was only assuaged by working with the fringe communities, like Romanies and other travellers. Chloe spent enough time as a child among these communities that she grew to identify unconsciously with the marginalised and the outcasts and not with respectable middle class values of those more expected to be her peer group. She also learned a lot of very dubious skills, like how to fight and use a shotgun. Combined with her plain-speaking grandmother’s influence, who taught tolerance for differences of faith, ideology and race but resistance to blind convention and mealy-mouthed maintenance of a status quo of injustice, Chloe arrives in a place where she’ll be tested to her limits simply to survive without going under or losing integrity by acquiescing to the kind of hypocrisy that would make her grandmother spin in her too-recent grave.

It’s not only her grandmother’s influence that has brought her to this turning point in her life. Her childhood and her student days shaped a woman who is combative and uncompromising, yet her choice of husband has also changed her. Clifford has not tamed her, but rather has seen her wildness as something to cherish. He sees her plain speaking as a virtue; not as the college wives do, as rudeness and a lack of community spirit. He’s not the kind of ordinand who wants or expects his wife to be a stereotypical help-meet, organising prayer groups and baking scones; it would bore him senseless and the spark he has with Chloe would gutter and die if she became meek and conventional.

Chloe isn’t someone who needs a horde of friends, but she does need kindred spirits to keep her from sliding into despair, and she’s lucky to find one in her first year of college who keeps her from the darkness of total isolation. But it’s not until their final year when the anarchic Isobel arrived with her ordinand husband Mickey, and a bond is formed between two square pegs that will endure some terrible times. Isobel is someone better able to walk the line between being outrageous and acceptable. She’s had a bit more practise, swapping from a degree chosen to placate her father to a degree in art to please herself, and somehow keeping it secret long enough to produce work her father can see is potentially a career builder. She’s also able to accept some compromise, cutting off her dreadlocks and removing her piercings before she and Mickey start at college. She sees them as peripherals and not really that important to her identity; she can go ‘plain clothes’ for the duration and not see it as infringing on her core identity. She makes the perfect mole.

Authors sometimes talk about back story, of knowing who your characters are, and how vital that is even if little of the background appears directly on the page. It’s about knowing marrow-deep precisely who they are and how they came to be that way. Chloe inherits her grandmother’s not-inconsiderable intelligence, her red hair and her questioning nature, but perhaps not her tough and resilient hide, impervious to the opinions of most other people. Her time growing up with such a role model taught her not to suffer fools gladly but it’s only experience that teaches how to spot rogues and frauds, and only experience that can teach self preservation in impossible situations.

There’s a saying that the secret to a long life is knowing when it’s time to go, and that’s the one secret that Chloe’s Gran really needed to have taught her.

Vivienne Tuffnell

Vivienne Tuffnell

My sincere thanks to Viv for this post. To read more of her wonderful writing, go to her blog, Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking. Square Peg, as well as her other novels The Bet, Away with the Fairies and Strangers & Pilgrims, and short story collections The Moth’s Kiss and The Wild Hunt are available from Amazon by following the link.

Posted in Book, Books, Dandelions and Bad Hair Days, Family, Family History, Guest posts, Mental health, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In which I write a ‘Romantic reading’ of Keats for The Wordsworth Trust…

Screenshot 2014-05-24 17.25.36(2)Just a quick post to show off  let you know that I have been given what I consider to be a huge honour – a place on The Wordsworth Trust Romanticism blog on the fabulous Wordsworth Trust website. As part of the ‘Romantic Readings’ series I write about ‘When I have fears…’, a sonnet that has meant much to me ever since I first discovered my love of John Keats’s writing as twelve year old.

Apparently it has gone down well, and judging by some of the discussions on twitter people have been encouraged to think about their own favourite Keats, and why he still has the power to move us almost 200 years on.

Do go over to the website and if you are interested, read my post and then take a look at the others on the site; I feel really proud to be amongst them.  Over the coming weeks there will be a wide variety of other posts by enthusiasts of the Romantic period, discussing the poets, writers and artists who made the decades of the late 18th and early 19th century ones of sublime creativity. You can also follow the blog via the twitter feed @Wordsworthians.

And I have been invited to write another for later in the year. I can’t wait!

P.S. Do comment with your own favourite Keats, either on the site or on here. I always love to hear from fellow Keats admirers…

Posted in History, Keats, Poetry, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Don’t admit weakness to Marie Stopes: Eugenicist, not Feminist

Marie Stopes

Marie Stopes

I have spent many happy hours researching my book Shell Shocked Britain, and have learned many things that turned my long-held beliefs about the war and inter-war period on their head. Not only has this made BBC Drama The Crimson Field impossible to watch without the desire to throw things at the screen and shout ‘it wasn’t like that!’, but it has required me to reassess my views about certain important 20th century historical figures, some of whom I had previously thought admirable.

The greatest surprise came during my work on post war attitudes to those men who came back from the war with psychiatric, rather than physical, wounds. Eugenics, and the discussions about the impact of the war on the ‘breeding’ of the next generation, threw up incidents in the life of Marie Stopes that have changed my views on the woman I had previously thought of as one of the great pioneers for women’s rights in the 20th century.

I was recommended to read a book called Dear Dr Stopes, edited 170px-Married_Love_Coverby Ruth Hall. It is a collection of letters to, and from, Stopes during the 1920s, when many of the questions referred to her from readers of her book Married Love, published in 1918. It is a fascinating look at attitudes to sex and contraception that is by turns quaint, funny and deeply disturbing.

After the war ended and it was clear that many men had returned from the Front traumatised by their experiences, there was a concern expressed – quite openly in high office – that the British Empire would be placed at risked should the ‘C3′ population be allowed to procreate at a reckless rate. What was described for the first time as the ‘A1′ class of man (the officer class) has been disproportionately devastated by the conflict so what could be done, at a time when contraceptive advice was not to be widely available for another decade?  Stopes was one of a number of intellectuals of the period to support a eugenicist view of the future – Havelock Ellis, John Maynard Keynes, Cyril Burt and George Bernard Shaw were expounding similar views, and army psychiatrists readily discussed the possible, negative, impact of allowing many of the traumatised men in their care to reproduce.

But it was Marie Stopes, as a pioneer of birth control, who adopted a high profile campaign. She supported compulsory sterilisation of parents who were “totally unfit for parenthood” and in 1921 she advocated “Joyful and Deliberate Motherhood, A Safe Light in our Racial Darkness.” and criticized a society that “allows the diseased, the racially negligent, the thriftless, the careless, the feeble-minded, the very lowest and worst members of the community to produce innumerable tens of thousands of stunted, warped and inferior infants”.

Just before the 1922 general election,  Stopes circulated a questionnaire to every parliamentary candidate to be returned to ‘The Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress’, which she founded. The statement candidates were required to sign up to said:

I agree that the present position of breeding chiefly from the C3 populations and burdening and discouraging the A1 is nationally deplorable, and if I am elected to Parliament I will press the Ministry of Health to give such scientific information through the Ante-natal clinics, Welfare centres and other institutions in its control as will curtail the C3 and increase the A1.

Ruth Hall offers some of the replies she received, including those that took issue with the implications of her proposal:

...how any institution is going to tell millions of people that they must not breed, or how you are going to get physical or mental deficients, who are sometimes returned to Parliament, to vote for the extinction of their rights, and to reflect on their parents by passing an Act of Parliament I do not know…’

What is striking in many of the replies – positive and negative – is the acceptance of the term ‘deficients’, amongst whom were included many of the men who had but recently been fighting for their country. Such language had been included in the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 and an awareness of the importance of terminology would be many years coming.

eugenicsMarie Stopes was a woman who fought to get birth control on the political agenda, and wanted it available to women of all classes. She was always happy to answer questions, very warmly, from any woman who wrote to her. But why she was so forceful in her argument is not as altruistic as I had previously thought. She even disapproved of her only son’s choice of partner and tried to dissuade him from marrying her on the basis of her short-sightedness. When her son refused to bow to her pressure, she cut him from her will. She wanted a world where only the physical and mentally perfect survived and at the end of my researches I was not surprised to learn that she had sent a book of poetry to Hitler, and wrote anti-Semititic poems, including the lines “Catholics, Prussians, the Jews and the Russians, all are a curse, or something worse.”

Shell Shocked Britain looks at the legacy of the Great War for Britain’s mental health. With leading figures of the day regularly making eugenicist arguments in the national press, and army psychiatrists giving evidence to committees in terms that were eugenicist in nature, why would anyone feel confident that a plea for support at a time of fragility would be met with a positive response?

Posted in Book, Books, First World War, History, Mental health, Parenting, Reading, Shell Shocked Britain, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Talking Books goes walkabout with The Real Sherlock Holmes…..

A13cI-0avRL._SL1500_Talking Books, my show on 10Radio.org,  went national last week when I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch of Angela Buckley’s great new book ‘The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada‘. The launch took place in the Sherlock Holmes Hotel on Baker Street in the heart of London and Angela was good enough to allow me to wander around the room with my radio mike, John Motson style, putting her many guests on the spot, and grabbing some great interviews.

‘The Real Sherlock Holmes’ is wonderful ride through crime fighting in Victorian Manchester. Jerome Caminada was not the dashing and flawed character of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels but he was a resourceful and committed ‘super sleuth’ in his own right, utilising all manner of disguises and subterfuge to solve the many high-profile cases that made him a national figure in the late 19th century. More recently overshadowed by his fictional contemporary, Angela has brought him to the fore once more in a book that takes you through the poverty-stricken streets of Manchester, and further afield, on Caminada’s coat tails. One can only admire the audacity of his methods; disguises, undercover operations (including the duping and schmoozing of domestic servants) and determined chases that brought some remarkable criminals to justice. He even had his own equivalent of Moriarty, a criminal who threatened to be his nemesis.

mcGHow marvellous it would be to see him on-screen, perhaps interacting with Holmes and Watson. I have been thinking about who might play the role of Jerome, a more solid and less flamboyant man than Holmes but just as dashing. Aiming for big box office – how about George Clooney, Russell Crowe or Hugh Jackman? All look good with a beard after all. If Paddy Consadine hadn’t already played the eponymous Mr Whicher, of Suspicions of fame I would suggest him. But I am nominating Ewen McGregor. About the right age with just the right about of gravitas. Find his agent’s details Angela!

download (1)Anyway, do listen to the recording of the event below. It was great fun and you will hear snippets from writers and historians Emma Jolly and Rosemary Morgan, Essie Fox, Kate Mayfield and Mel Backe Hansen as well as the lovely Rachel Hale, author of the fabulous History Magpie blog and Angela’s writing buddy who came along with her husband Steve who is an accountant and a jolly good sport. I was determined to find out who was the on-screen favourite Sherlock Homes. I think Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch will have to settle for a draw. Angela and I had a good long chat about Jerome and I also got a great interview with Nick Barratt of ‘Who Do You Think You Are’  fame, who, it appears, also has a great-uncle of dubious fame…..

Angela’s children Ella and Ethan were stars. I was quickly reminded by Ethan that the Buckley household never ran out of cornflakes whilst Angela was writing because they ‘only have Shreddies’. One day he will be a challenge for Paxman…….

So grab a copy of Angela’s book and enjoy. It is published by Pen & Sword History (Angela and I share a lovely editor, Jen Newby) and is selling like the proverbial. Many thanks to Angela for allowing me to piggy back her launch to cut my outside broadcast teeth. I had a great time and as you can tell from the recording, so did everyone else there.

angelaThe Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada by Angela Buckley is published by Pen and Sword Books. For more details see her blog, http://victoriansupersleuth.com

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