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Private First Class E. Daniel Williams' Biography, c. 1919

E. Daniel Williams biography

New York State Archives, NYSA_A0412-78_B14_F04_Williams_bio
Document Description
Short biography of E. Daniel Williams of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion, 27th Division, A.E.F. during World War I.
What is “shell-shock” and what causes it?
What does “shell-shock” affect?
When did Mr. Williams return home from the war?
How long did Williams suffer from his condition?
Historical Challenges
How are modern veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan affected regarding their mental health?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Health: Research and report on a stress-related disorder.
Leese, Peter. ,em>Shell Shock: Traumatic Neurosis and the British Soldiers of the First World War. Hampshire, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. BBC


About this Activity


Lesson Topic:

Historical Context
World War I was a devastating conflict that left millions dead and tens of millions wounded on both sides.  However, injuries and deaths caused by wounds in battle were not the only effects of the war.  As in other conflicts before and since, World War I also took a huge mental toll on those involved.  While all participants and witnesses reacted differently to the stresses and horrors of war, no one who was touched by the conflict was ever the same again.

The term “shell-shock” was used during World War I to label the effects that combat and gruesome realities of everyday life during wartime had upon an individual’s mental health.  The condition was not as well understood at the time as it is today.  Depending on the circumstances that brought about the symptoms, a soldier suffering from “shell-shock” may have been classified as “wounded” or “sick.”

“Shell-shock” is a trauma disorder closely related to post-traumatic stress disorder.  Though it affects the mind, such stress disorders also show both mental and physical symptoms.  Victims of “shell-shock” may, for example, have difficulty concentrating on simple tasks, or conversely pay too much attention to insignificant details of tasks.  In addition, shaking, nightmares, irregular heartbeat, an empty “thousand-yard stare,” and depression are also among possible symptoms.  While sufferers of this condition vary in both the symptoms they show and the severity of their cases, some, like Private First Class E. Daniel Williams, survived the war but never recovered from its aftermath.
Essential Question
How are soldiers affected by war?
Check for Understanding
Summarize E. Daniel Williams' military experience using evidence from the document.