Dad was left scarred and broken by life in the trenches
PUBLISHED: 09:00 22 February 2014
It is a harrowing fact that by the end of the First World War, the British Army had dealt with more than 80,000 cases of “shell shock”, which left many soldiers mentally scarred for life.
Gladys Coleman, 90, of South Darenth, remembers her father as one of those unfortunate men who struggled to come to terms with his horrendous experiences.
Harry Eyles was a member of the King’s Royal Rifles Corp and served in the trenches in France.
“When he came back, he was very badly scarred,” said Gladys.
“He was shot with a sniper’s bullet in the shoulder. It then travelled up to his face and caused terrible damage.
“As a child before the war I can remember thinking what a handsome daddy I have got, I loved him so dearly.”
The terrible scarring that Mr Eyles suffered caused him lasting problems with his confidence.
“As the years passed he became mentally ill and unable to work,” said Gladys.
“I always thought it was down to the horrors he had experienced in that terrible war.
“Eventually he went into a sanatorium and passed away some short time after.”
Gladys was only about 12 at the time but she can remember the attitude to mental illness in those days.
“It’s so sad, in those days there was so much stigma attached to mental illness,” she said.
“My mum used to say to people that my father was retired. That’s dreadful really because he was damaged in the war.
“My mother didn’t say much as I was a child but he died in the sanatorium.”
However, it didn’t stop Gladys signing up for service when the Second World War began.
She enrolled for the Auxiliary Territorial Service, which was the women’s branch of the British Army.
At first she drove around British officers but found this boring and took the first opportunity to change things – ending up driving three-tonne trucks instead.
She was almost sent to France but the Nazis surrendered just before she was about to leave.
Unfortunately Gladys no longer has any mementos of her father as she handed the medal he was awarded for his war service over to her grandson who was studying the First World War as part of a school project.
“He’s grown up with a family of his own now,” she said.
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