Sunday, December 28, 2014

Mental States and Discipline in 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, 1942-43

Second World War psychiatric evaluation in the Canadian Army exposes the institution as an modern disciplinary apparatus where the lines between medical evaluation and criminal sentencing are blurred.  A number of medical evaluations in the Army were directly linked to crimes, the most obvious being self-inflicted wounds.  Medical officers were always on the watch for malingering, balancing the age old tension of care for their soldier-patients and supplying the military machine with healthy manpower.  In the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, a number of letters in February 1943 show how personnel testing and medical evaluation could greatly influence a soldiers' disciplinary outcomes.
3rd Canadian Infantry Division Shoulder Patch

Recruit Undergoes Medical Examination,
 Saint John, New Brunswick - 1939-1945
New Brunswick Museum
Louis Merritt Harrison Collection (1989.83.1165)

Large numbers of men were allowed to enter the army that never should have been enlisted in the first place.  Before the 3rd Division left Nova Scotia, it was estimated that around 10% of personnel needed to be medically boarded and downgraded out of fighting units which demanded high grade personnel.  As the division set sail in July 1941, however, it is clear that this process was not complete.  The medical war diary wrote that "All soldiers not showing definite disability will be categorized A." (3rd Canadian Infantry Division, Assistant Director Medical Services, War Diary, Library and Archives Canada, RG24 Vol. 15,660)
More than a year later, men who were not fit for army life remained.  One soldier who had lost his kit and gone away without leave several times was judged in the psychiatric lingo of the day, a "low grade moron".  He was sentenced to serve 21 days detention, but due to the psychiatrist's report, medical officers recommended that he be struck off strength.  The officer commanding a Field Dressing Station wrote, "he seems totally unfit to look after himself."
Maj. TC Gibson, OC 5 Field Dressing station, RCAMC to [...] Cdn Detention Barracks, “F 88716, Pte. Maclean, G.A. – Disciplinary Action”, 3CID ADMS War Diary Appendix, 25 February 1943.

 Other soldiers had mental difficulties and neurological disorders with more grave and violent consequences.  It was not uncommon for epileptics to conceal their symptoms so that they could join the army.  One soldier who appeared to be having a manic episode or seizure had to be forcibly removed from his home.  His wife had called the authorities when the private had been knocking his head on the floor and kitchen sink and pulling handfuls of hair from his head. She had to trick him into believing they were going for a walk, so that provost and ambulance staff could seize him. 

The details of a another tragic case are few, but clearly indicate signs of mental collapse.  Jonathan Scotland has indicated (on the Active History blog) that soldier suicide is an important field hardly explored by historians.  The case of a suicide in the Regina Rifle Regiment in July 1942 shows strong connections between mental instability and suicide in the army.  The verdict of the coroner's report stated, "Death from [Gun Shot Wound] of head by own hand while of temporarily unsound mind."
Capt. RE Ralph, MO, Regina Rifle Regiment to Col. LH Leeson, ADMS 3CID, “REPORT ON FATALITY L28177 Rfn. Gilliland, A.”, 3CID ADMS War Diary, LAC RG24 Vol 15,660, 4 July 1942.

Tapscott, Globe and Mail,
17 December 1941, p. 5

One final case from February 1942 shows a unique example of what today would be called post-traumatic stress disorder.  The soldier in question was serving with the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, but had come to that service through a tragic mishap at sea.  Private Robert G. Tapscott was originally from Bristol, and had served in the merchant marine until August 1940 when his ship was sunk through enemy action.  With six other survivors, he managed to find a life-boat which went adrift for two months in the South Atlantic.  When they were found by a native of the Bahamas, only Tapscott and another man were alive.  Tapscott subsequently was shipped to Halifax and found his way into one of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division's petrol supply companies.

After arriving in England, Tapscott overstayed his leave to visit his family in Cardiff, and racked up a series of away without leave charges along with one for theft of an army truck.  His medical examination suggests that he had not recovered from his harrowing experience after the Atlantic sinking.  "He is a very nervous individual and states that he has been so since his experience at sea.  He states that he is afraid of the dark and, especially when he is left alone, this dates back from the time of the sea incident."  Tapscott had problems with his officer commanding, who insisted on putting him on night sentry duty, despite his lingering phobias. 

2001 edition of Two Survived
Interestingly enough, Tapscott's story was turned into a book by Guy Pearce Jones called Two Survived (Macmillan, 1941).  A review of the work in the Globe and Mail of August 23rd 1941 (p.10) wrote, "Tapscott, a stolid type, was plunged into melancholia after his rescue and took far longer to recover."  The book itself highlights other items regarding mental health.  The Globe columnist notes that in the life raft the "mentally deficient cook had gone insane and finally tumbled overboard. Twice Widdicombe and Tapscott had decided to end it all together, but in them the love of life was strong and each time they lowered themselves into the sea they felt so refreshed that they climbed back aboard to struggle further."  Another newspaper account suggested that two other men in the life raft were, "crazed by the heat and thirst, jumped overboard.  They were left with a companion who finally committed suicide by cutting his throat." (Globe and Mail, 14 January 1941, p. 9)

Mental health and discipline,then, were connected in important ways in Canadian Army administration during the Second World War.  While the army had ramped up its attempts to "weed out" formations of those that were considered too mentally unstable, or unintelligent to soldier, the 1942-43 records of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, and indeed the later reports of psychiatrists from active theatres of war, show that there were still a number of men in the Canadian Army who, for a variety of reasons, could not handle the strains of army life.  Many of these men would not receive a medical diagnosis, and would be simply recorded as disciplinary statistics, and sent to the detention barracks.  Others would be medically down-graded and sent to a pioneer company which sought to harness their labour away from the stresses of combat.

No comments:

Post a Comment