Monday, 9 February 2015

John (Jack) Robert Gadsby 1898-1977 "Gassed or Shell Shock?"

When the Gadsby family moved to Australia in 1912 it was to enjoy better weather than that of London. In the back of Selina Gadsby's mind was keeping her boys out of the War in Europe. By 1916 three of her sons were in Theatres of War with third son John Robert (Jack) an 18 year old store man enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 10/1/1916.  His service number was 5691.

He was to be part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). During his service he spent time in Alexandria, England, France and Belgium as part of the 19th Battalion. After leaving Australia for Alexandria in May 1916 he had proceeded to France (Etaples) in Dec 1916 via 4th Training Battalion in Codford England.

Early on he was treated briefly for scabies, a contagious skin infection caused by mites. From France he moved with his Battalion to Belgium. Whilst there, in early October 1917, he was wounded in action and treated for a gunshot wound to the right hand. It became septic and required more treatment.

A gun shot wound but the worst was yet to come
He rejoined his Battalion on 20/11/1917 but a week later was suffering from "debility". Dr Google describes Debility as weakness of the muscles- the body has lost its strength. There are various other symptoms that accompany the condition.  

Then word "neurasthenia" is also added to his record. Various websites describe this as physical and mental exhaustion with the symptoms as fever and physical and psychological manifestations. The vague descriptions makes me think it perhaps describes a combat stress reaction which was known as shell shock resulting from the traumas of war. 

Thomas Gadsby seeking information about Jack.
Living family members recall that Jack was gassed during the war. Perhaps this illness was brought on by gas poisoning where damage to lungs may mean lack of energy. Jack's records don't specifically say that he was gassed and treated as a gas casualty. 

Gas caused a low number of fatalities but there were many, many victims of the use of gas, the use of which progressed throughout the War. The Germans were the heaviest users of gas in the Western Front with the most popular gases being Chlorine, Phosphene and Mustard. The French and British were also users. with poisonous gases inserted into a high percentage of manufactured shells. Because the use of gas was deemed to be horrible and disgusting,  "gas" was officially not spoken about. Therefore casualties may have been disguised on medical records.

 "After the Armistice the use of Gas poison was outlawed in 1925."


A frail Jack and his mother, Selina upon his return in 1918

His records show him being treated for debility and neurasthenia at various war hospitals: Bologna Belgium, Weymouth England, and Brighton England before being sent back to Australia. All up he served a total of 693 days, returning home in September 1918. He was discharged as a consequence of medical unfitness. Upon his return he received the Returned from Active Service Badge.

"He became a very committed communist"

Whatever the injury/illness was that he suffered, it affected him and he didn't work a lot.  Like many gas victims the debilitation made it hard to seek or maintain regular employment.  Having been through the war and as a result of how it affected him, he became a very committed communist. He and his sister Catherine fought for social justice for people who were homeless during the Depression.

He eventually died of old age in 1977 at age 79. 

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