An occassional blog dedicated to further exploring the historical context behind Downton Abbey, as well as encouraging debate over the historical context/interpretation of the programme as a whole. Beware of spoilers. Unless otherwise specified all graphics made are mine, with all screencaps coming from DowntonOnline.
Here is a source for the medically minded detailing the different stages of the eye healing after gas burning and blistering from the 1918 Atlas of Gas Poisoning.
An article from the MJA in 1919 described the most common effects of mustard gas poisoning (Lt Courtenay here undoubtedly had mustard gas poisoning due to the blistering of the skin around his eyes as well as the damage the gas itself could cause to the eye, and is indicative of severe toxicity):
The distinctly local effects of mustard gas have been repeatedly described.. They consist mainly of conjunctivitis and superficial necrosis of the cornea; hyperemia, edema, and later necrosis of the skin, leading to a skin lesion of great chronicity; and congestion. and necrosis of the epithelial lining of the trachea and bronchi.
I think that the best way to “imagine” or recreate the experience of poisoning in the trenches can be seen with Wilfred Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum Est”.
Mustard gas was the most dreaded of the chemical weapons in WWI as even a gas mask afforded little protection. The table below provides figures for both fatal and non-fatal casualties caused by gas in WWI (source)
Country Non-Fatal Deaths Total British Empire inc Australia 180,597 8,109 188,706 France 182,000 8,000 190,000 United States 71,345 1,462 72,807 Italy 55,373 4,627 60,000 Russia 419,340 56,000 475,340 Germany 191,000 9,000 200,000 Austria-Hungary 97,000 3,000 100,000 Others 9,000 1,000 10.000 Total 1,205,655 91,198
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The History Nest
John Singer Sargeant’s “Gassed,” 1919, showing the horrific effects of mustard gas on British soldiers in the First World War. Some 86,000 men (56,000 of them Russian) are thought to have been killed between 1915 and 1918 by gas, and another 1,241,000 wounded.
The Wellcome Gallery, as per usual, has some great online content: the relatively new phenomenon/increased emphasis regarding medical inspection is explored here. Look particularly at the “Gas Fiend” cartoon. Also the cross-section from the lung poisoning from phosgene shell poisoning might be interesting for William Mason fans.
The mental effects of battle is an incredibly interesting section relating to shell shock and more generally to the mental effects of war. Also regarding the kind of makeshift soup kitchen Mrs Bird and Mr Molesley set up, this poster in particular supplies us with relevant context.
If you have a stronger constitution than I there are videos on “War Neuroses” as treated by Netley hospital in 1917.