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Shell shock: losing your nerve

A full year before the D-Day landings in Normandy, there were the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy. Canada played a major role in the Allies' first breach of Hitler's "Fortress Europe" in 1943 and 1944. Canadian soldiers defeated entrenched German forces but paid a terrible price. Seaside towns and mountain passes became places of horror: Ortona, Cassino, Rimini. But with the events of D-Day and the Allied push across Europe, the Italian Campaign became a forgotten front, a deadly sideshow that cost nearly 6,000 Canadian lives. Sixty years later, their bravery is remembered.

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Most war reports focus on stories that will inspire the war effort, but there are some things that can't be sugar-coated. One of them is "shell shock" -- soldiers suffering a kind of mental breakdown after days of unbearable terror on the front. In a grimly frank report Sgt. Joe Grieves, staff writer for the Canadian service newspaper The Maple Leaf, describes Canadian soldiers breaking down and losing their nerve in Northern Italy.

• "Shell shock" or "battle fatigue" was first diagnosed by British military doctors in 1914. Some thought it was brain damage caused by artillery shells bursting overhead; others thought it was simply cowardice and sent their patients back to the front. Some of these soldiers disobeyed orders, deserted or committed suicide. Today it is called post-traumatic stress disorder: a witness or victim of something terrible is mentally or physically affected by their ordeal.



Photo: Alexander M. Stirton / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / National Archives of Canada PA-144979
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: Dec. 4, 1944
Reporter: Sgt. Joe Grieves, Bill Herbert
Duration: 4:47

Last updated: November 25, 2014

Page consulted on December 10, 2014

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