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.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Drugging Soldiers: Bennies and Battle

Using mind-altering substances to promote combat motivation and performance has been a longstanding feature of warfare.  While the practice of drugging soldiers wasn't widespread until the Second World War, the use of alcohol to boost morale and calm nerves long precedes modern drug use.  Pharmaceutical amphetamines, however, were an innovation of the interwar years.  In 1933, Benzedrine, was first marketed as a nasal decongestant.  The euphoric effects of "Bennies" were quickly seized upon by recreational users, and it did not take long for military forces to consider their use in battle.

Vendel Era Bronze Plate
Precedents certainly exist for  non-pharmaceutical military drug use. If one expands beyond the amphetamine category, lore has it that mind-altering "drugs" go back at least to the middle ages.  The most popular legend of  stoned soldiers tells of blood-crazed Viking beserkers eating dried fly agaric (the hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria) to inspire their savage attacks.  While drugging a medieval warrior and inciting him to behave like a bear might improve his will to fight, one has to wonder about the effects on hand-eye coordination.  Instead, the adrenaline-like effects of therapeutic doses of amphetamine, such as wakefulness, increased muscle strength, improved memory, and cognitive control, made the drug much more useful on the modern battlefield than hallucinogens.

Use of amphetamines by the military, then, began in the Second World War.  Richard Holmes, in Acts of War: The Behaviour of Men in Battle (1985), writes that in that conflict, Benzedrine was commonly administered to soldiers of various nations, noting ten percent of American soldiers used amphetamines in the conflict. 

An excellent treatment of Allied research and use of amphetamines is found Nicolas Rasmussen's 2011 article "Medical Science and the Military: The Allies' Use of Amphetamine during World War II" Journal of Interdisciplinary History 42:2 (Autumn 2011) Rasmussen suggests that despite the popular conception that drugs were prescribed by the Allies as physically performance-enhancing, the reasons behind amphetamine distribution was based on mood-altering effects such as "increased confidence and aggression" and the promotion of morale.  Until very late in the war, research had yet to conclusively prove the physical effects of the drugs.

Amphetamine Molecule
Nazi Germany was the first state to embrace military amphetamine use, to keep soldiers awake.   Rasmussen notes that during the Blitzkrieg of 1940, the German's took the lead in methamphetamine distribution to soldiers, with 35 million tablets distributed in three months from April-June 1940, and a sharp decline in use thereafter.  

As Adam Tooze wrote in  Wages of Destruction (2006), the intense operational tempo during the Fall of France led to the need for stimulating expedients.  With the call for German armoured forces to push constantly for three days and nights, armoured crews needed "uppers" to continue operating.  As Tooze writes, "to ensure that the drivers could go without sleep, the quartermasters of the advanced units stocked up with tens of thousands of doses of Pervitin, the original formulation of the amphetamine now know as 'speed', but more familiar in the 1940s as 'tank chocolate' (Panzerschokolade)."  Amphetamine use was reported in the press which intensified research interest for the Allies.

Rasmussen records that General Bernard Montgomery was an early enthusiast for amphetamine prescription after observing the results of field trials.  A drugged ambulance unit had proven quicker on the march when administered Benzedrine, and an infantry squad had not only won a race against a "sober" squad in a variety of military tasks, but had also proven to have a certain "snap and zest". (Rasmussen, p. 216) For the 1942 Battle of El Alamein, large quantities of amphetamine were authorized.
Benzedrine advertisements, 1943 & 1944.
Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 123, No. 10; Vol. 124, No. 12.

In 1943, the Americans came to the same conclusion on Benzedrine sulphate "pep pills" as a boost to morale and alertness and began to distribute them widely to all services. When Eisenhower learned that 100,000 six-tablet packages of "Bennies" were available for the North African theatre, he immediately requested 500,000. (Rasmussen, p. 226)  Rasmussen suggests that the drugs were widely abused for recreational purposes and may have been the cause of battlefield atrocities in the Pacific theatre.  (Rasmussen, p. 230-32)

Remixed Propaganda by Micah Wright
The use of drugs by the military continues to the current day.  The American practice of popping amphetamines like candy was continued in Korea and Vietnam, where soldiers were administered Dexedrine before action.  More recently, lawyers for two American pilots who bombed Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, argued that errant judgment may have been impaired by amphetamines.

Drugs, then, have a long relationship with the military, especially in years after 1940 as the pharmaceutical industry and pharmacological practice expanded at pace.  Beyond stimulants for combat, medical use has been made of barbiturates, sedatives and pain-killers.  Illicit, recreational drug use extends beyond amphetamines as well, with marijuana and heroin use in Vietnam as the most notorious example.  One need not look too far to find accusations regarding the negative effects of this military narco-love-affair.  

A version of this page was first posted on 28 July 2011.