The Traumascape of the First World War:
Locating a Historical Geography of Trauma.
The First World War has become embedded in British cultural heritage and national identity. The centenary has resulted in an enormous upsurge of academic reappraisal and a wide array of public engagements and commemorative events. However, the aftermath of the conflict through the interwar years has received comparatively little attention. As the centenary commemorations draw to a close, it is important to remember that the consequences of the conflict did not end with the armistice and for many individuals their struggles were just beginning.
My research will track the experiences of combatants and medical personnel who suffered from a range of physical and psychological war traumas through the interwar years. Trauma studies is an interdiscipline encompassing medicine and the humanities. By taking a historical-geographical approach I intend to reveal the impact that trauma has on individuals and wider communities. I will examine a number of ‘traumascapes’ or ‘places of shared human suffering,’ (Tumarkin, 2005, p.12) following casualties through the casualty evacuation chain to Britain and examine their hospitalisation, treatment, rehabilitation and reassimilation into society. I will also examine narratives of return, whereby veterans returned to the battlefields as tourists. During the interwar years, battlefield tourism became increasingly popular, and provided an opportunity for veterans to process their traumatic experiences with the benefits of temporal distance.
Over one million soldiers received pensions for life-altering physical and psychological wounds. Unfortunately, governmental archival records are incomplete, many medical records being deliberately destroyed or irreparably damaged during the Blitz. Those sources that remain at the National Archives have received a great deal of historical attention, and although they will undoubtedly aid my research, I will instead link a multitude of records across disparate archives which have been underrepresented in historical analysis.
My research will take the form of a regional study roughly corresponding to the West Riding of Yorkshire. The county was home to two infantry regiments including the antecedents of my own former regiment, The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and The Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) which incorporated the ‘Pals’ Battalions of Leeds and Bradford. I will explore regimental museum archives and the Liddle collection at the University of Leeds for first-hand accounts of trauma and rehabilitation. The county was also home to key medical institutions such as the East Leeds War Hospital, which now houses Thackray Medical Museum and the 2ndNorthern General Hospital at Beckett Park, both of which, among a host of other auxiliary hospitals, treated the physical wounds of war. Four asylums, at Wakefield, Menston, Huddersfield and Sheffield treated hundreds of service personnel between them which were administered by The Leeds Board of Guardians. Documents from the West Yorkshire Archive Service will allow me to identify and illuminate the experiences of asylum patients throughout the interwar years.
Other than producing a doctoral thesis, I intend to collaborate with artists to produce a web comic, a digitised graphic history. This somewhat abstract concept will be based upon the narratives of traumatised individuals in order to illustrate and give voice to those silenced. By producing a digitised comic the content will not be limited to the standard two-dimensional space of the printed page. This will allow the graphic history to become a learning resource for future historians, by embedding source documents behind the narrative which a user can click through, to view the materials which inspired the visual representation. The three-dimensional space will also allow concurrent and non-linear narratives to be presented within the same space, showing the breadth, correlation and chaos of traumatic experiences, a digital traumascape, which will contrast the coherent logic of the thesis.
Having previously served with 3rd Battalion, The Rifles, I returned to education and gained a first class BA (Hons) in English and History at Leeds Beckett University. I received the Dean’s prize for outstanding student achievement in history, alongside prizes for the highest dissertation grade and highest overall average grade for each consecutive year of study. I received a distinction for the MA in Social History at Leeds Beckett and remain based there for my PhD research.
Dr Shane Ewen, Leeds Beckett University
Professor Barry Doyle, University of Huddersfield