Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




Vance, Jonathan F.


This thesis explores the question of standardization in the First World War Canadian Army Medical Corps ideologies and procedures through a case study of fifty soldiers discharged for being medically unfit. In analyzing their service records, this thesis demonstrates that there was generalized diagnosis, treatment, and common experiences for Canadian soldiers being treated for mental health afflictions in the First World War. However, because of different medical ideologies, scientific-based beliefs in how humanity was hierarchically organized, the influence of class and rank, the impact of the opposing fields of neurology and psychology, and the need for military efficiency over individual wellness there were not and could not have been standardized practices in the medical field during the First World War.

Summary for Lay Audience

In this research project, the treatment of mental health in First World War Canadian soldiers will be examined to better understand the experience on the ground of being diagnosed with a psychological affliction after the turn of the century. Through the service records of fifty soldiers, this thesis will demonstrate that soldiers with shell shock, neurasthenia, or other mental health affectations were not treated in a standardized system of care, but in a reactive system of care that was focused on maintaining unit strength and returning sick soldiers to the front as soon as possible. Different hospitals with different physicians held opposing beliefs about the cause of shell shock and other mental illnesses, and therefore how to treat them. Neurologists believed it was the result of physical lesions or an injury to the nervous system. Psychologists believed that mental illness was the physical manifestation of a mental weakness and strove to determine the genetic, intellectual, or individual weaknesses that resulted in this mental breakdown.

Rank and class affect how a soldier was diagnosed and treated. Officers were given the opportunity to take more time off the front to recuperate in private convalescent centers run by British elites and offering state-of-the-art treatments like electrotherapy. They were also more likely to be sent back to Canada for extended periods of time without having to be discharged from service. Physicians, who were officers, were noted as feeling more comfortable around fellow officers and could therefore perform better. That soldiers experienced different levels of care based on their class and their rank is indicative of a system of preferential treatment that could not have been standardized medically.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License.