War and Trauma

Soldiers and psychiatrists 1914-2014
01.11.13 - 30.06.14

How were injured soldiers care of at the front taken during World War I? Who did this? How were the victims evacuated? What happened with the soldiers with shellshock? Were they cowards, male hysterics or were they truly traumatised?

On the eve of the major commemorations of World War I, the double exhibition War and trauma clarifies that the focus, also a hundred years on, should be on the fate of the people. The In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres deals with the organisation of general medical care at the front during World War I. The Dr Guislain Museum in Ghent zooms in on several conflicts during the 20th century, but with an emphasis on a specific medical branch, psychiatry.


Soldiers and ambulances 1914-1918

At the beginning of the war not a single European army was ready to relieve the large numbers of victims in a humanitarian way. The fire power of the armies was forced up, the defence reinforced, but the care for victims continued to seriously lag behind. Philanthropy, private initiative and the heroic efforts of many individuals had to deal with failing medical care during the war. The exhibition Soldiers and ambulances 1914-1918 focuses on medical care at the front in the Westhoek. With which types of injuries and illnesses were the physicians in field hospitals confronted? Which treatments were applied? And where can traces of evacuation routes still be found?

As the war progressed, medical care also developed and organisation and relief improved. The greatest breakthrough was, however, the recognition – albeit reluctantly – of mental trauma caused by the war.


Soldiers and psychiatrists 1914-2014

During World War I many soldiers fell victim to bizarre, anxious and disturbed behaviour, which was referred to as ‘shellshock’. The army commanders faced a dilemma: were they really traumatised or were they simply cowards who were trying to stay away from the extremely terrifying front? Should they be evacuated or sent back? And what was the best way to treat shellshock? The exhibition Soldiers and psychiatrists 1914-2014 explores the focus on and dealings with mental suffering during the Great War, but also focuses on more recent conflicts of the past century. How do psychiatrists currently deal with soldiers with posttraumatic stress syndrome? Is there more understanding? And how do reporters and war photographers view acts of war and mental suffering?

Soldiers and psychiatrists portrays the mental consequences of warfare: from the first photos of shellshock and contemporary war photography to drawings of killed psychiatric patients during WWII. But war is sometimes very close: victims of rape and abuse suffer the same symptoms of PTSS. Soldiers and psychiatrists shows the evolution of the concept of trauma: from shellshock to posttraumatic stress syndrome, from 1914 to 2014.

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