Many years ago I worked in a large psychiatric hospital. On one of the wards I encountered a man nicknamed, ‘Gunner Heath’. Gunner was a casualty of the 2nd world war, he had dreadful shell shock, back then it was called, ‘Going bomb happy’. Apparently, (According to his hospital notes) he lost all self-‐control when he boarded the boat to bring him back to England. He was placed on a long stay ward where his life became a living hell till his death some fifty years later.
This poem by Siegfried Sassoon speaks of a death he would have preferred.
Suicide in the Trenches:
I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life with empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark
And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum
With cramps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.
Young smug faced crowds with kindling eye,
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know,
The hell where youth and laughter go.’