Yale University Press, £19.95/£17.95 free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War, by Peter Barham

A cruel legacy of ingratitude and insult

The Great War has inspired one of the great book titles. "You don't have to be mad to fight here, but it helps" should have been the recruiting slogan in 1914. Some recruits actually joined up to escape being locked up. Peter Barham commemorates the mental casualties among the cannon fodder. As opposed to the unforgotten lunatics, whose ranks include literary lions like Siegfried Sassoon, not to mention crazed commanders like Lord Kitchener.

The Great War has inspired one of the great book titles. "You don't have to be mad to fight here, but it helps" should have been the recruiting slogan in 1914. Some recruits actually joined up to escape being locked up. Peter Barham commemorates the mental casualties among the cannon fodder. As opposed to the unforgotten lunatics, whose ranks include literary lions like Siegfried Sassoon, not to mention crazed commanders like Lord Kitchener.

To paraphrase Blackadder, it was not the mark of a totally rational character to march - or tell others to march - slowly across no-man's-land into the sights of enemy machine-gunners. If your body survived but your brain didn't, your best bet was to be officer class.

Barham's substantial volume concentrates on the other ranks. Officers were more likely to receive the respectable diagnosis of "shell shock", while privates were classed as "lunatics" or, worse, "pauper lunatics" under the control of the "head imbecile attendant". Soldiers maddened in the trenches could escape the authorities mucking up the war, only to end up in the hands of authorities mucking up their peace. When the military took over a psychiatric hospital, it must have felt to patients like a case of the inmates running the asylum.

While there would have been no question about a veteran who lost a limb on the Western Front, a chap who lost his marbles gave bureaucrats room to wriggle out of obligations. One widow received her dead husband's belongings, only to discover that six shillings had been appropriated from his cash as a charge for the night he spent in the infirmary. In 1923 another wife, of a wounded and disturbed gunner with a helpful diagnosis of "feeblemindedness", applied for an allowance for his care; it took her 40 years.

In the same year, this sensitive treatment was dished out to a man originally diagnosed as suffering from manic depressive psychosis. The Ministry of Pensions declared that, since he made no particular complaints at his last examination, his compensation was being snatched away. It took him until 1968 - 45 years - to claw it back.

Similar cases, any one of which would provide the germ of an entire Beryl Bainbridge novel, explode out of almost every page. Barham does find some improvements. The "workhouse infirmary" became the less insulting "local infirmary", the "pauper lunatic" the "local patient". Still, when a medical expert can today be wheeled on to assert that victims of Gulf War Syndrome are making it up, we have a little way to go.

I was puzzled by the quotations from Ulysses which grace the chapter headings and by the somewhat elusive captions. Otherwise, this is a powerful offering at the Tomb of the Unknown Lunatic.

Buy any book reviewed on this site at www.independentbooksdirect.co.uk
- postage and packing are free in the UK
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition