18. Experimentation

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1916

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1916

"I went over the top of our trench with my unit, with them shooting flares up from behind our line." The lad who had introduced himself as James Davis was staring at his teacup, moving it slowly from side-to-side on the saucer as he spoke. The rest of us seated around the table waited patiently in silence for him to continue. 

The soft glow of the lamps and the cosy furnishings in the small parlour would have led me to believe what I was hearing was nothing more than some horror tale, if it hadn't been for the bandages the men were wearing, and the occasion sigh or choked sob.  Outside, the freezing drizzle of February kept man and beast indoors and huddled close to their own kind. Large patches of snow dotted the back lawn like a white archipelago in a choppy black sea. 

"We overran the enemy trench like we were ordered to. I killed two, maybe three, Germans. I don't remember exactly. They. . . we were the same age, I remember thinking. There was a lot of yelling and, and chaos, and of course, it was dark. That made everything rather unreal. Dreamlike. I didn't think much about what I was doing, I was too..." His voice trailed off.

"Every man here was frightened. There's no shame in saying it aloud when it's true for all," I said, quietly. 

James nodded. "I was bloody terrified," he half-laughed.

The other men nodded, and murmured their agreement and encouragement. They all knew exactly what he was talking about, although they, too, shied away from admitting it when it was their turn to speak. 

James had been one of four men brave enough to try an experimental idea I'd read about in one of Father's journals. It was the opinion of some doctors at military hospitals around the country that shell-shocked men were not lazy malingerers or cowards attempting to shirk their duty, as was commonly thought, but were suffering from a type of mental-emotional problem brought on by intensive trauma the average Briton could not imagine. 

These doctors put forward the idea that the way to treat this new condition was a combination of activity and talking. "The Talking Cure" it was called. British men were too conditioned to keep everything inside, went the line of thinking, and that was what was making them ill. They needed to speak, bring their experiences and feelings out of the darkness of their minds and hearts. That would help them recover from their trauma faster and more effectively. The movement of their bodies would encourage this process of release.

That sounded perfectly sensible to me.

With Cloud Hill, I had the perfect setting for just such an experiment as we were in the country with extensive grounds. I also had fifty injured men at my disposal, none of them with terrible shell-shock, granted, but that didn't matter terribly. What worked well with extreme cases might work fantastically well with mild cases. Or so my theory went. 

Could ailing men be cured -- or at least helped -- through such simple, non-chemical means? That was what I wanted to discover.

The military doctor who had been assigned to Cloud Hill, Dr Corriton, had simply shaken his head. "If you want to try it, I can't stop you. But it's nothing more than ridiculous, effeminate mumbo-jumbo, not medicine." 

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