TWENTY YEARS ON - the human cost in 1938.

The Cost was still Apparent in 1938.

In 1938 which was twenty years after the cessation of hostilities, there were still 442,000 men still alive who were so maimed, gassed, nerve-racked, or otherwise ruined in health, that they could not work at all, or only with diminished efficiency, and were wholly or partly dependent on the State for money to live.

Over one hundred and twenty seven thousand widows still mourned their men that they had last seen in uniform, and two hundred and twenty four thousand parents and other dependants were still suffering through the loss of sons and relatives who were their breadwinners. There were 8,000 with one or both legs missing, 3,600 with one or both arms missing, together with 90,000 with limbs damaged to a marked degree.

Ten thousand men had eyesight injured by poison gas or explosions, with 2,000 of these being completely blind.

Head injuries accounted for 15,000 with many wearing metal plates to protect them, and 15,000 had been deafened by explosions of various kinds. Most soldiers who had served near the front line, or in the artillery suffered from some impairment of their hearing.

There was no such thing as industrial deafness being recognised as a pensionable disease in those days.

Severe exertion due to heavy labour in the trenches produced Hernias in 7,000 men making them unfit for manual work, whilst some 2,000 still suffered the effects of frostbite with in some cases loss of toes and fingers.

Thirty two thousand more suffered from various unclassified wounds causing disability of various kinds. Many of these men (14,000) still had wounds unhealed that required treatment including amputation even at this late stage. Much of this was due to a condition called Latent Sepsis which was very common in the wounded of the Great War especially in France and Flanders. Almost without exception soldiers wounded on the Western Front had wounds which were grossly infected, due to the manured soil in which they occurred. Even after these wounds had healed, many still contained organisms deep within the tissues which were liable to flare up, many years after, to cause amputation and even death.

These are the figures for the wounded, but the legacy of diseases contracted during their service, such as Malaria, Dysentery, and other tropical diseases, still persisted in 1938, the year before the next great conflict began.

One hundred thousand men were afflicted with diseases too numerous to classify, with 41,000 suffering from bronchitis and tuberculosis often as a result of gassing.

Consumption, or pulmonary tuberculosis of the lungs to give it its medical term, was rife in the Royal Navy especially in the submariners. This filled many sanatoriums after the War, with something similar occurring after the Second World War but not on the same scale.

Heart disease in addition to hernia affected 38,000 due to excessive labour at the front, with the terrible conditions of the front line convincing the not too easily convinced Ministry of Pensions doctors that the 28,000 cases of severe Rheumatism deserved a disability pension. Many more who suffered got no pension at all, there being many cases of grave injustice done at this time. These included many of the 25,000 still suffering from shell shock and other neurasthenias, with 3,200 of these still in asylums, their minds broken beyond repair.

The cost to the country was enormous with one shilling in every pound (i.e. 1/20th) of the national budget still going to keep these war victims, which makes it unbelievable that they, mankind, were going to start another one!!

For a direct link to the author of this article, email Jack Cavanagh

Copyright © Jack Cavanagh, December, 1997.

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