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Mind Matters: neuroscience and psychiatry

Two letters of Sir Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton

The two letters displayed here are from the papers of Sir Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton (1853-1947), Commanding Officer of the Expeditionary Force to Gallipoli in 1915.

The first letter is from Lieutenant General Aylmer Gould Hunter-Weston, General Officer commanding 29th Division and the General Headquarters, Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, regarding the alleged nervous breakdown of Brigadier General Richard William Breeks, commanding 29th Division Artillery. This is dated 1915. The other letter, from Sergeant Doyle, including the reference to ‘the Mentle Asylum state that I were sent from the war Pensions Hospital, Denmark Hill’, is part of a file of correspondence seeking Sir Ian’s help with references, pensions or future employment. This is dated 1933.

The letter from Sergeant Doyle illustrates a desperate case of somebody who had been both mentally and physically wounded by his experience of war and who needed financial assistance. The letter concerning Brigadier General Richard William Breeks is a clear case of mental disorder: physical injuries are not referred to. If the impression is one of double standards in treatment of the two men, this is to a large extent borne out by the evidence of the medical treatment of officers and ordinary soldiers. Whether officers were treated at private hospitals or at state-funded institutions such as Mughall and Craiglockhart, they were given longer to recuperate and the benefit of ‘desexualised’ Freudian analysis, although the aim of such treatment was to render them fit for active service as soon as possible.

It was thought that the responsibility of command and the psychological strain that went with it made them more deserving of privileged treatment. They felt the stigma and opprobrium of having a mental disorder as much as any other class of society. As Peter Leese comments:

Although traumatic neurosis was a threat to discipline and a violation of the established code of military behaviour in the ranks, hysterical officers were in various ways accommodated. They were shielded more than exposed to the taint of dishonour, cowardice and insanity; treated more than disciplined; viewed with sympathy more than with suspicion.

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