The 1917 War Pensions Amendment Act contained a chilling ‘Third Schedule’ outlining the payment ratio to a full war pension paid for certain kinds of disablement. Loss of two limbs, of both hands, or ‘very serious facial disfigurement‘, for example, qualified for the total pension. Amputation of the right arm at the shoulder joint led to an 85% entitlement while such an amputation of the left arm led to 80% entitlement. A differential entitlement for right and left hand continued throughout the schedule but men who had been certified as left-handed were entitled to the higher amount. Total deafness led to a 70% entitlement while loss of one eye was costed at a 50% entitlement. ‘Lunacy’ qualified for a 100% entitlement, if it could be proven. The Inspector General of Hospitals, Frank Hay, declared in 1919 that ‘a man of sound mind, fighting honestly for a cause, will face dangers and undergo great deprivations without losing his mental balance … It is different with those predisposed to mental disorder.’ Often, he suggested, in line with contemporary hereditarian thinking about mental illness, the latter were ‘feeble-minded persons’.
The First World War did much to break such hereditarian beliefs. The new kind of deskilled warfare – where men just had to wait in trenches before following the order to go ‘over the top’ often to their death – led to many breaking down with a new disorder, popularly known as ‘shell shock’. This manifested itself in numerous ways: various forms of paralysis, amnesia, inability to speak, tics, insomnia and horrific nightmares. Medical authorities at first feared malingering but the sheer numbers of men breaking down led to new treatments in the later years of the war. As early as May 1916, an Auckland osteopath was advertising his services for ‘shell shock’ and suggested he would treat ‘a limited number of returned servicemen’ free of charge. [Read more…]