Friday, March 17, 2006

Trauma - Then and Now

You may have already seen this news item. By all accounts it was a gruesome event. A deeply disturbed inmate attacked and killed his cell mate then proceeded to dismember and mutilate him. He then rang to tell the warders that he had killed his companion. First a single warder went to the cell, he immediately called for help and a further five prison officers arrived on the scene.

Later, because of the trauma they had suffered, all six were awarded over a million pounds in compensation and costs. The Home Office agreed to the compensation after a hearing with a High Court judge. Surprisingly, there is no mention of any compensation being paid to those who had to remove the body and clean the cell; nor of any money being paid to the pathologist who presumably carried out the legally required autopsy; nor is there any mention of compensation being paid to the undertakers who prepared the victim's remains for burial or cremation.

I do not wish in any way to question a high court judge's decision in that case or why they merited such a high amount in compensation. That settled claim should not be discussed here, I merely mention it as a recent example of a widespread and growing trend. But I could not but help compare it with what countless men and women had experienced in WW1 and WW2. In WW1 young men had to endure the screams and calls, growing ever weaker, of men badly injured and dying trapped in no-man's-land with no possibility whatsoever of assisting them or of mercifully finishing them off. Or of seeing limbs and corpses daily. The macabre scenes of WW2 were of a different kind but perhaps worse in horror, with mass executions and public hangings in the occupied countries. Bombing victims blasted beyond recognition; tank crews mangled to a pulp, ... I will not continue with the horrors which sadly became part of everyday experience during those terrible years. In both wars, young nurses had to deal with mangled bodies straight from the battlefield. Many of you will have seen footage or still photographs of the young Royal Engineers Sapper driving a bulldozer to push countless corpses into a mass grave at Belsen concentration camp; was he traumatised? If he was there wouldn't have been the faintest hope of him receiving any compensation.

Why is it that in WW1 if a young man, hitherto courageous, could not take such horrors any longer, was likely to end up with his eyes bound at dawn before a firing squad and executed for 'cowardice', yet now mature men receive vast sums in compensation for just one isolated incident? I am genuinely puzzled about this. A few of my valued friends will immediately recognise this topic, having already tentatively raised the subject with them, and although some of them might find the matter unpalatable, I would still welcome their comments.


Blogger Ron Goldstein said...

I walk in my local park most mornings.

About halfway through my hour's walk, I meet up with an ex-Prison Governor who, in an earlier life, was a Marine Commando and we walk back most of the way home together and usually manage to put the world to rights in the process.

We had both seen the news item in the National Press and I knew he would be interested in the subject so I asked him for his opinion.

He told me was shocked to the core by the attitude of the warders and their advisors and thought that by their signing on for the not most pleasant of jobs they knew and accepted completely what the job might entail. He also raised the obvious question "would future prison staff be on the look out for other such terrible sights with a view to making similar claims for compensation"

Speaking from my own personal standpoint, although most of the articles I posted on the BBC WW2 site were slanted towards the humorous side of life I, like many of my companions, inevitably found myself in some pretty nasty situations during my overseas service and saw things for which my previous life had never trained me. If I was ever offered even so much as a cup of tea after witnessing and being involved in scenes of horror I can't remember it and certainly no one of a higher rank ever asked me if I was 'allright'.

Today, whenever a shocking incident is made public,the first thing that is mentioned is 'trauma counselling' and my wife usually
says to me 'Did you ever get counselling in the Army?, I know that I never did" referring to the time that her home was destroyed over her head.

Friday, 17 March, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

It is my view that all this trauma counselling etc came about when the Beveridge report, so hallowed in the Labour ranks, towards the end of the war when it was made very clear that our health and social needs would be
taken care of from the Cradle to the Grave.
As we recall when it first became law in 1948 that within months the fund was already bankrupt as too amny people were having Spectacles, Teeth and other aids to living- all for free.
This also led to queues outside Doctor's offices to have insignificant cut fingers bandaged whereas before this had been a household task.
At the same time there was an upsurge of Pyschiatric assistance for those who were deprived - this has now grown to mammoth proportions which ultimately leads toward the compensation for many causes.
This merely points out the loss of the traditional "stiff upper lips" of the British nationals as this has been frittered away by "carers" and "trauma counsellors" in their rush to continue to enjoy the benefits of high salaries and platinum plated pensions.
It is interesting to note that only the initial witnesses were offered compensation whereas the cleaners and disposers were not mentioned.... smacks of a smart lawyer somewhere.
There is no solution to this problem as it no doubt will get much worse until we finally run out of money - if that is possible with the present Government borrowing some 14 million to keep their jobs !

Friday, 17 March, 2006  
Blogger Steve Wright said...

"The following report contains scenes, which some viewers may find disturbing", is now a common warning on our TV news. Viewers are given the opportunity to look away. This kind of warning has also been added to movie adverts: "Contains scenes of fantasy violence and one occurrence of swearing." You are given a choice: to view or not to view.

During the War, when the Conscript Army was being formed, there was no warning, no choice and no compensation.

If people choose to enter an occupational area that may bring them into contact with "scenes that may disturb them", then, one assumes, they have accepted that this.

Saturday, 18 March, 2006  
Blogger Peter G said...

Although I said I would not comment on the actual judicial case and merits of the substantial award, I do find it remarkable that six individuals seem to have been affected in exactly the same way, in that all suffered traumas.

I once did experience a scene that haunted me for a while. I was in a small group, one lad fainted, another thought nothing of it, or at least gave that impression, the rest of us were somewhat shaken. The one who fainted possibly had a trauma; my reaction after the initial shock was, I'm sorry to say, one of morbid curiosity.

Perhaps memory fails me, but my recollection is that we didn't all react the same way. Yet here we have six grown men who all seemed to have been identically traumatised and all getting the same financial compensation.

Saturday, 18 March, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

It would appear that all men are not born equal as they usually react in different ways to the same trauma - as Ron and I have experienced on various battlefields. That is until one reaches a court of law when the evidence is being proclaimed by a "trick cyclist" aided and abetted by some shyster Lawyer who is on a percentage of the "winnings" - sometimes as high as 40%. This is when ethics takes a turn for the worse and all men are then equal.
As Steve points out - we seldom volunteered for hazardous duty but still did it knowing full well that one can complain about a duty - only afterwards - when the task has been completed, and your complaint becomes meaningless.

Saturday, 18 March, 2006  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Having listened to many people tell me about their wartime experiences I know there are many horrific things that they have had to live with all their lives. Occasionally I have had people who told me about their worst experiences and they probably had never talked about them since the war. Some of these things did not get recorded for the "People's War".

In fact, I found as I was writing so many grim accounts about 'death and destruction' in WW2 (if I can put it like that) I felt I needed to write about a lot of 'happier' events as well to balance things up. So, in addition to the many WW2 accounts I posted to the "People's War" website about battles and people dying, there were also accounts about camaraderie, weddings, births, singing, dancing etc. It seems to me it was largely through these means people were able to cope with the the bad things that were going on around them in wartime. According to Ron G his own contributions were "slanted towards the humorous side of life" and I think this was also true of many contributors.

Perhaps there was less need for trauma counselling because people had these other outlets of shared happier experiences. You needed to have a good sense of humour to get through what life threw at you. These days I get the feeling we don't seem to have as much humour or as much camaraderie as in the war years. Obviously, this is just a personal reflection and not based on scientific research in case anyone wishes to dispute it!

Monday, 20 March, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Ritson -
I would sgree with you that humour has changed - and unfortunately in some cases it has disppeared altogether - I am reminded of the time when our runaway Tank had flattened a jeep
and the driver then asked if we had a green envelope which was free of censorship - he was the subject of some abuse until we asked why he wanted the envelope - his answer was a classic " he wanted to send the jeep home to his mum " !
In the close environs to a raging battle - that was British Humour at it's best !

Tuesday, 21 March, 2006  
Blogger Peter G said...

Spot on Frank.

Tuesday, 21 March, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Frank - as Peter rightly says - "spot on" knowing your reluctance to engage in this blog - it is good to see how another think does you say most people had their own counsellors wihout knowing it - for example - the Catholics had a weekly confession with their priests - they consequently did'nt need any "trick-cyclists" - to-day the priest has been replaced by "counsellors" - but only when things go wrong - too late was the cry !
prevention was always better than the cure.

Tuesday, 21 March, 2006  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

There wasn't any formal counselling for civilians who were bombed out, or those who lost relatives because of the war either. However, I get the impression that until more recent times people were rather closer, more of a 'community' if I can put it that way, and you could get moral support from others who had been through a similar experience.

I know someone who lost her husband a few years ago and then trained as a counsellor to help others. While society perhaps didn't have this formal counselling years ago, perhaps friends and neighbours were already more experienced in giving the right kind of help and you didn't need the formal training in the same way as today.

Just another thought.

Friday, 24 March, 2006  

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