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April 05, 2007

Shell Shock


Two veterans of World War I died this past week. Charlotte Winters, age 109, was the last known American woman who served in the Great War. Lloyd Brown, age 105 was the last known Navy veteran. Government records show that there are only 4 surviving veterans from that war in the US. 

As the number of WWI veterans dwindles, so do the memories of one of the most brutal conflicts of all time. One aspect of the war that deserves remembering is that there was no concept of PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. There was the term "shell shock", but those who suffered from shell shock and refused to serve were shot as cowards. Today Dick Gordon talks to the daughter and granddaughter of one such soldier who served with British forces.

In the fall of 1914, Private Harry Farr went off to war, leaving his young wife and infant daughter behind in London. In the next year and a half, he was hospitalized four times for shell shock, once for five months. Each time he was sent back to the front. Finally in September, 1916, during the battle of the Somme, he could take no more. Assigned to take supplies to the front with a ration party, he refused to go. After a twenty-minute court martial, during which Harry was left to defend himself, he was found guilty of cowardice and executed the next morning at six a.m.

For decades, Harry's ashamed wife told no one about his sentence. Harry's father would not allow his son's name to be spoken in the family. Harry's daughter, Gertrude Harris, learned the truth by accident when she was forty years old. She kept the secret to herself. Harry's granddaughter, Janet Booth, only found out when she asked where his grave was located while doing the family tree.

Today Dick speaks with Harry's 92-year-old daughter Gertrude and 63-year-old granddaughter Janet about their battle for pardons for Harry and the other 305 British soldiers executed for cowardice and desertion during World War  I.

  • Read the story about the campaign to pardon the men executed for cowardice and desertion
  • Read Harry Farr's story, Shell Shocked and Shot
  • Learn more about the war
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