You are a fucking coward

At dawn on October 16, 1916 a young solider refuses the offer of a blindfold before he is executed for cowardice. Records show he was suffering from shell shock, already by this early stage of the war a recognised medical condition, one that we might now refer to as post-traumatic stress disorder.

That soldier was Private Harry Farr. Between 1915 and 1916, he reported sick with his nerves four times. The worst time came in May 1915, a few months after combat in the battle of Neuve Chapelle. He remained in hospital five months with an uncontrollable shake so bad nurses had to write his letters home to his wife.

Pte Farr returned to duty in October, but by April 1916, he had reported sick again and spent two weeks at a dressing station. Three months later he was back in hospital with the same symptoms.

By September 1916, he had reached the edge of his endurance and refused to go back to the trenches; he said he could no longer stand the explosions of artillery and was reported as trembling and not in a fit state. His court martial was on October 17, 1916 - one day before he was executed.

In his defence, Pte Farr told the hearing that when he reported sick because he "could not stand it", his sergeant major replied: "You are a fucking coward, and you will go to the trenches ... I give fuck-all for my life, and I give fuck-all for yours; and I'll get you fucking well shot."

As far as I know I'm not directly related to Harry Farr. But stories such as his add another chapter to the catalogue of stupidly that epitomises WW1. It also contributes to the legacy of the First World War. By the end of the War some 80,000 men had been diagnosed with shell shock but there were thousands more affected, to some extent by the trauma of war. In addition, they came home to a nation where almost everyone knew a bereaved family, even if they had been lucky to welcome their own sons home. Many felt guilty; many were themselves scarred by anxiety as they waited for the dreaded telegram, ran for cover as Zeppelins or Gotha aircraft flew over their homes.

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