Reflections on 'Wounded: Conflict Casualties & Care'

As part of the AHRC research project 'Digital Tools in the Service of Difficult Heritage', academics at the University of Leeds have been working with members of the North Leeds Veterans Breakfast Club to explore how we might use Yarn to respond to the Science Museum's exhibition 'Wounded: Conflict, Casualties and Care'. Here are some of our reflections on the exhibition and it's theme...

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The story of the 'Superhumans' is a very common one when we discuss disability. The appeal of this narrative is in overcoming adversity and highlighting people with disabilities who excel despite major challenges. One thing which you can see is just how much this is mediated and influenced by technology. Prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs of various different kinds are very visible in the trailer for the Paralympic Games, although many athletes do not use (or are not permitted to use) these in their sports. The disabilities here are easy to see, but what about disabilities which are just as significant for people's everyday lives but which are hidden? How might they be represented? A very short section of sign language indicates an awareness of the Deaf community, but the dominant narrative is about physical disability and limb loss in particular.
From Objects and Disability by Jamie Stark

Before visiting the exhibition, we had some specific interests and questions, including.....


Shell shock was effectively a new condition, with doctors theorising that the traumatic experience of trench warfare caused severe damage to the nervous system. This caused involuntary movement, psychoses, and other common symptoms such as hearing loss and delirium. This was for many a shameful and hidden disability which could not be alleviated by mass-produced, albeit uncomfortable, prostheses. Even civilians were diagnosed with cases of neuritis, nervous debility and 'war nerves' as anxieties surrounding the conflict began to affect people beyond those immediately engaged in combat. Although we can reflect now on this footage of a shell shock victim, it makes me wonder how individuals who suffered from the condition experienced life when they returned home. What was family life like? How were they supported once they had left medical care? Was shell shock really a 'new' condition at all?
From Objects and Disability by Jamie Stark

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However, some of the exhibits which stood out most were those which presented the human side of war and the emblems of normality which became so precious. For instance, the potentially life-saving provision of comfort and warmth to those risk of going into circulatory shock (a major killer) was recognised. For those at risk of going to shock, the provision of basic yet scarce and highly sought after commodities which reminded soldiers of home, such as tea, Bovril and tobacco, were sometimes just enough to help them pull through. Manufacturers, naturally, seized this opportunity to market products to worried families, as this advert shows...
From The best medicine? by Rosie Wilkinson

Some of the exhibits stood out for us...


The final case in the exhibition contains a number of items added by modern day veterans, though a collaboration between the Science Museum and the charity Combat Stress. The testimony of one soldier describes how this monster toy, bought by his fiancee as a funny gift, became almost a personification of his PTSD symptoms and a way to channel negative feelings during the course of recovery. Although medical approaches to military PTSD have come a long way from early understanding of 'shell shock' and a range of therapies are now available, many soldiers and their families struggle to access the help they need. The toy exhibited here seems to represent a combination of support accessed through Combat Stress, a personal coping mechanism and family support.
From The best medicine? by Rosie Wilkinson

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What is it like for the families of soldiers or veterans, living with someone who is suffering from PTSD?

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Afterwards, we wanted to know more about....

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Where can soldiers and their families access help and treatment for PTSD?

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