Book review

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of David Snell’s new book Sing To Silent Stones: Violet’s War recently after responding to a request for readers on Twitter. It sounded just up my street being sold as “a stunning historical debut from David Snell, based on his own family’s journey through the wars.

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It arrived with quite a thump as the book is over 500 pages long but once I’d started it I found it almost impossible to put down – even the recent successes of TeamGB competitors couldn’t drag my nose from the pages.

The story starts just after the First World War with a little boy playing in the snow, his world is about to be turned upside down as he discovers that the people he’s called mum and dad are just foster parents and that the newly appeared Violet is in fact his mother.

The main book then takes up back in time to just before the war and a sheltered young lady, and only daughter of a wealthy, snobbish business man falls in love with an unsuitable, lower class man.  Their actions on the day before Frank leaves for war reverberate through the rest of the book as Violet falls pregnant…

Whilst a fiction novel the story draws heavily on the family stories from both David and his wife; and I’m glad to know both of these things. The story is so details and well written that it felt real, I was almost convinced I was reading a biography at times but yet, just sometimes the plot becomes just a little too coincidental and I was worried that family stories had been embellished, and taken for real whereas  it was just narrative licence.

If I’m honest I did prefer the part of the book set during the First World War and just after, it felt more real than the bits from the 1930s but once I got to the end I realised that this build up was necessary to create atmosphere for the sequel – Frank’s Story which is published in 2017 and that I can’t wait to read!

 

Many thanks to the publisher for offering the chance to discover a great novel, the book is now published and copies can be reserved from Norfolk’s Libraries.

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Norwich, collecting for the wounded at the Norfolk and Norwich War Hospital

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This image comes from an album of photographic images ‘Nursing the Wounded’ relating to the nursing care of the wounded in Norwich during the First World War. The album is held in the collections of the Norfolk Heritage Centre.

Nursing Men with Psychological Trauma during the First World War

This blog post is based on a recent talk given on 2nd October at the Norfolk Record Office by Dr Claire Chatterton, an Open University lecturer and Chair of the Royal College of Nursing, History of Nursing Society.

The general perception of soldiers suffering from shell shock during the First World War has been coloured by literature, films and TV.  Officers (upper class) were deemed as suffering from shellshock whilst enlisted soldiers (working class) were shot at dawn.

Dr Chatterton’s talk demonstrated that this was not the case, and though 346 soldiers were shot and most of these were suffering from shell shock, it is estimated that 80,000 men suffered shell shock during the First World War, and some effort was made to treat these individuals.

The condition was first described by Dr Charles Myers in 1915, but there is evidence that the condition was experienced by combatants during the Crimean War and earlier conflicts.

There are disturbing films of shell shocked individuals that are available on YouTube. Please note these are disturbinghttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7Jll9_EiyA

During the early years of the First World War, individuals were sent home and usually went through the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley.  However, as the numbers of sufferers increased, more hospitals were required.  Various hospitals and asylums were taken over; and the patients/residents were removed to other institutions, which led to severe overcrowding and death in many cases.  Dr Chatterton described these as the forgotten victims of the First World War.

There was no unified approach to the treatment of the soldiers; it depended on the medical personnel at individual hospitals.  The treatment often followed the Weir Mitchell Cure which advocated isolation, rest, massage and a milk diet. Other psychotherapeutic treatments were based on combinations of baths, massage, drugs, hypnosis, electrical treatments, re-education and occupational treatments.

It proved difficult, however, to treat the large numbers being sent back home.  Therefore a system of Forward Psychiatry was introduced with the acronym PIE

Proximity to battle

Immediacy of Treatment

Expectation of recovery

With the line of evacuation being so long, the increased speed of treatment proved to be efficacious. The principals of this system are still used today for the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in modern warfare.

It seems that there was a class divide evident in the diagnosis of shell shock in that officers were described as suffering from Neurasthenia whilst enlisted soldiers were described as shell shocked.

Dr Chatterton’s talk showed not only the huge numbers of those affected by shell shock but also demonstrated how the treatment of these individuals evolved during the war.

To see other Norfolk Record Office free lunchtime talks, and other events related to the First World War, see our Eventbrite.

Edith Cavell with some canine friends

Edith Cavell and some canine friends

This large format portrait of Nurse Edith Cavell is just one of several hundred newly digitised original photographs, posters and notices connected with the First World War in Norfolk. The material is all held in the collections of the Norfolk Heritage Centre and over the course of the next few years will be posted onhttp://www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk (the online picture archive for Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service)

‘No Hatred or Bitterness’: Edith Cavell and Norfolk Women in the First World War.

‘No Hatred or Bitterness’: Edith Cavell and Norfolk Women in the First World War.

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Edith’s baptism entry. NRO catalogue reference: PD 199/4

Edith Cavell is perhaps Norfolk’s best-known twentieth-century heroine. Born in Swardeston, she was nursing in Brussels when the First World War broke out. After Brussels was occupied, she continued in her post and also helped Allied soldiers to break through enemy lines and escape to Britain. Executed by the Germans on 12 October 1915, her death became an enormous propaganda weapon for the Allies.

Propaganda postcard. From the Norfolk Heritage Centre.

Propaganda postcard. Image courtesy of the Norfolk Heritage Centre.

As this October is the centenary of her death, many heritage organisations are shining a spotlight on Cavell’s life, as well as the role of nurses during World War One. From Monday 5 October The Norfolk Record at the Archive Centre will have a free exhibition entitled ‘No Hatred or Bitterness’: Edith Cavell and Norfolk Women in the First World War.

This exhibition includes original documents that have never been displayed in public before, including letters from both Edith and the soldiers she helped. The exhibition also looks at Edith’s story and how she has been remembered, both at the time and in later years. It delves into the background to her story – the role of other Norfolk nurses, abroad and at home, and at the many roles played by Norfolk women in wartime, even those whose courage took the form of opposing the war. Each, in her own way, was a true Heroine of Norfolk.

Related events will accompany the exhibition. On Thursday 15 October there is a drop in event called ‘Women at War’ at which you can discover the wide range of experience of Norfolk women as nurses during the First World War, from Norfolk to the Mediterranean. Plus, find out how Edith Cavell was portrayed in film. There will also be the opportunity to learn about useful resources for tracing nurse ancestors. There is no need to book for this event, but see our Eventbrite page for more information.

There are also children’s activities taking place in October. On Monday 26 October, during the Autumn half term, children will look at cards and propaganda and choose to either create a propaganda postcard or an embroidered card.

On Tuesday 27 October an activity run jointly with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital will reveal the history of Edith Cavell, and teach children how to use a bandage and create their own letters with invisible ink or in code.

Booking for the children’s activities is essential, for more information see our Eventbrite page. 

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Photograph of nine girls fund-raising for the Red Cross. NRO catalogue reference: MC 84/206, PH10

Recovering soldiers outside the tented wards of the Norfolk War Hospital

This is just one of several hundred newly digitised original photographs, posters and notices connected with the First World War in Norfolk. The material is all held in the collections of the Norfolk Heritage Centre and over the course of the next four years will be posted on http://www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk (the online picture archive for Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service)Nursing The Wounded album- soldiers and a little boy in a uniform

Nurses from the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital taken during WW1 from an album of photographs called ‘Nursing the Wounded’

Group of nurses from the War hospitalThis is just one of several hundred newly digitised original photographs, posters and notices connected with the First World War in Norfolk. The material is all held in the collections of the Norfolk Heritage Centre and over the course of the next four years will be posted on http://www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk (the online picture archive for Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service)