Shell Shock and Its Effect on Soldiers

There are many war stories that are celebrated by people as they celebrate a hard-earned victory or freedom from a particular rule, leadership, or situation. But there are also many untold war-stories which are left abandoned fearing that they would bring sorrow and anguish to those affected by and those listening to it. This essay will focus on both while concentrating on the latter with the aim of analyzing shell shock and the effects it has on soldiers. In order to achieve this, this essay will be based on the moving story of Wendell MacDowell as explained by Laurie Fagan in her article ‘Brockville-area soldier came home from Vimy honoured — but scarred.’ Shell shock is a complex condition which slowly damages a soldier’s ability to function normally mainly due to the horrors and terrifying events which are experienced in the battlefield.


This article helps in defining shell shock and its effects on soldiers. Even though Wendell had the tactics and skills to win significantly in the battlefield, these would not help him overcome shell shock or the post-traumatic effects that came later. Unlike the concussions caused by explosions, which were mainly physical, shell shock is mainly a psychological condition and Wendell could only feel its effect after the battles. One of the significant impacts of shell shock is stress which is very difficult to process. Some of the notable signs of this stress include extreme fatigue, confusion, and sensation defects which deny soldiers their ability to express joyful emotions. As a man and a well-respected soldier, this might have posed more challenges to Wendell since people expect him to be strong denying him the chance to express weakness. This shows that the society also contributes to the negative effects of shell shock as soldiers are forced to keep their feelings and thoughts to themselves as expressing them would only show the weaker side of them.

Secondly, shell shock is associated with other physical conditions such as profuse sweating, increased heart palpitations, persistent insomnia, and tremors. Most times, if the condition is not well diagnosed, a soldier may not receive the treatment he or she deserves and thus may cause the condition to get even worse (The Great War). In Wendell’s case, he was taken to various hospitals and treated for different conditions which included mental collapse, but there were no actual signs of recovery. Even though many people celebrated and praised

his achievements on the battlefield, he still had inner struggles which were expressed by his dull face. As such, without a suitable form of treatment, the symptoms of shell shock can worsen and this further affects the soldier’s ability to continue with his or her normal official duties.

Looking at Wendell’s experience with shell shock, it is evident that the environment has a significant impact on how a solder recovers from the condition. Even after Wendell was sent back home to receive more attention and treatment, his recovery time was extended twice (Fagan). When he went to the home for recovering soldiers in 1919, the symptoms he had experienced earlier returned and he was admitted in a hospital for veterans. Wendell continued to serve in the military although not in the front line. Some of the persistent symptoms included trembling and frequent spells of dizziness which was common among battle-fatigued soldiers. In this context, Wendell is forced to show his manliness and character despite experiencing prolonged shell shock. This can enhance the effect of shell shock since already the soldier is under severe mental pressure to uphold his or her character. In the real sense, this increases mental stress and contributes to difficulties in concentrating and loss of sense of ambition.

Wendell’s success and recovery story is different from thousands of other Canadian soldiers’ stories. This is mainly because by then little was known about shell shock, and instead of being viewed as victims, these soldiers were perceived to be cowards. Some Canadian and British soldiers who were suffering from shell shock were considered to be cowards and were put on trial for cowardice or even executed for war crimes (Moir). Most of those who were affected were young soldiers with an average age of 25. The horrific events and disturbing sights of the war and battles inflicted grave fear and paranoia that deprived these soldiers of their ability to view life with positivity. It is saddening that shell shock was viewed as a weakness and a source of incompetence among soldiers and besides the psychological and emotional harm it even led to the death of very young soldiers through execution (Moir).


Comparing how shell shock was treated during the early years and the present status of the healthcare system, more attention has been put on addressing the emotional and psychological effects. Presently, the term shell shock is no longer used and it has been replaced by post-traumatic stress disorder which is treated by both medications and therapies which target on helping soldiers cope with depression and anxiety caused during the battles. Back to Wendell’s story, his sister’s compassion and empathy brought him around for some time before the earlier symptoms returned. This shows that showing compassion and concern about a soldier’s feelings and thoughts can help in reducing the effects of shell shock.

Article summary

According to Fagan, despite being a well-celebrated soldier, Wendell was a victim of shell shock and this affected his ability to continue serving in the military and to live a normal life. His commitment and bravery in the battlefield was first witnessed in his success in the Battle of Somme and in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. These successes were mainly attributed by his ability to think fast. Even though his bravery in the battlefield helped Wendell survive the battles and save his men, deep inside, slowly, he was being crushed by the horrific experiences he had to endure. This article helps in defining shell shock and its effects on soldiers. Even though Wendell had the tactics and skills to win significantly in the battlefield, these would not help him overcome shell shock or the post-traumatic effects that came later. This article is credible as it is sources from a trusted Canada’s news and information reporter. Additionally, the article is valid since it focuses on how a renowned and decorated soldier was affected by shell shock after the Battle of Vimy Ridge.