Canadian Military History Article

Link to my most recent publication in CMH:

“Absolutely Incapable of ‘Carrying On:’”
Shell Shock, Suicide, and the Death of Lieutenant Colonel Sam Sharpe

Sam Sharpe

Abstract

This article examines Canadian social and medical responses to nervous breakdown and suicide in the First World War through the case study of Lieutenant Colonel Sam Sharpe, a Member of Parliament and commander of the 116th Battalion. An historical analysis of Sharpe’s experiences and reaction to war trauma provides wider insights into how shell shock and military suicide represented a potential threat to prewar masculine ideals. Medical and political interpretations of Sharpe’s breakdown initially aimed to preserve social stability and validate the war’s moral justifications but contradictory understandings of shell shock ultimately made for a complicated and unstable process of commemoration.

Barrett, Matthew (2016) ““Absolutely Incapable of ‘Carrying On:’” Shell Shock, Suicide, and the Death of Lieutenant Colonel Sam Sharpe,” Canadian Military History: Vol. 25: Iss. 1, Article 19. Available at: http://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol25/iss1/19

The Farmer

Lieutenant Colonel T. Bart Robson
135th (Middlesex) Battalion
Robson

Experience teaches that a recruiting meeting in the Country has to be of the nature of an entertainment in order to draw the crowd.

(Robson, 14 Feb 1916)

Born in London, Canada West on 24 January 1859, T. Bartholomew Robson was a farmer with thirty years’ experience in the militia. As commanding officer of the 26th Middlesex Light Infantry, he was authorized to raise the 135th Battalion from Middlesex County in November 1915. When the unit arrived in England in August 1916, it was broken up and the troops were divided among the 116th, 125th and 134th Battalions.

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The Fabricator

Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Ryan
6th Canadian Mounted RiflesRyan

Ryan, who was already a nervous wreck as a result of harrowing experience in the trenches, was demoralized completely by the new tragedy. He came to London unmindful of everything, and disregarded the order for his return to the front. The sequel came in the Gazette’s announcement he had been dismissed by court-martial.

(Washington Post, 5 Nov 1915, 6)

It does seem darned shame that a man like this, although he was a good fellow and a good officer should get these ghost stores of himself put into the papers. It makes the whole thing into a screaming farce.

(Gen. John Carson to Sam Hughes, 18 Dec 1915)

Following a court martial for disobeying orders, Robert Holden Ryan was stripped of command of the 6th Canadian Mounted Rifles, cashiered from the CEF and sent home in disgrace. A sympathetic article in the Washington Post called Ryan’s dismissal “one of the most tragic stories of the war.”

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