Not yet diagnosed nervous

August 4th, 1917

Letter from Effie Browntrout to Major Horace S. Browntrout

Dear Horace,

You did everything in your power to keep Branwell alive. He volunteered for front line duty again and again. He knew the risks. It is not what you or I wanted, but it is what he wanted. The world was still waiting for him to put his mark upon it, for him and so many others. You are to do all that is in your power to stay alive! Do you hear me? Stay alive, come home, and we will mourn him together. Do not leave me alone. I cannot bear the loss of both Sophie and Branwell without having your arm to rest on. Branwell is lost forever. You cannot bring him home. Your sacrifice will do nothing to assuage your guilt or my pain. The only way we can go on is to bear it together. Do not leave me here to fill the empty hours, growing old alone or I will not forgive you.

Your wife,

Effie

August 8th, 1917

Captain Robert Larsen, M.D. Vieux-Berquin, France. Casualty Clearing Station. Medical Officer’s Report.

Patient was brought in three days ago from the front, near Gamma Sector. Apparently, his batman [valet] a Saysquack named Stanley notified the picket that he had wandered into No Man’s Land and was not in his right mind. A squad was sent to retrieve him, under fire. He was found wandering alone, naked. After interrogating him, I do not think he was trying to desert or give himself up to the enemy, but was looking for the body of his recently deceased son, an officer in a BESC (British Expeditionary Saysquack Corps). He has exhibited nervous tendencies with primary melancholy. I believe the case is an acute one. The patient is an officer, has a strong constitution and will be right with another few nights of rest and occupational therapy, whence he can return to full active duty. My diagnosis is NYDN (Not Yet Diagnosed Nervous).

August 7th, 1917

Diary of Major Horace S. Browntrout. Vieux-Berquin, France. Casualty Clearing Station.

Being a doctor myself, I recognize the symptoms of nervous exhaustion. Thank heavens for Stanley. Even though my hirsute, big-footed friend could not prevent me from stripping naked and running amok in No Man’s Land to search for Branwell, he did alert the guard on duty, who in turn informed his commanding officer. I am ashamed that any risked their lives to bring me back, but thankfully Gamma Sector was quiet and miraculously we were not attacked beyond a few scouts taking potshots at us. I’m sad to say that Stanley had to restrain me to bring me back. They gave me a morphine injection to calm me down and kept me sedated and in restraints for a day or two — it’s difficult to gauge time in these circumstances.

When I quit raving and came to my senses the first thing I saw was Stanley; he’d been by my side the whole time, refusing to go even when visiting hours (for Saysquacks) were over. I felt degraded and ashamed of myself. The attending physician was a kind chap who had seen many cases like mine and assured me that the effects of the shock were temporary. As soon as I was in control again, the doctor assigned a “Bluebird” or “Reconstruction Aid” as they are called, to perform “occupational therapy.”

The idea is that if the body stays busy doing something the mind can have time away from ruminating and thereby heal itself. Brilliant concept! My Reconstruction Aid was a Miss Coraline Edwards. She had me making a leather belt for several hours each day. The timing was splendid. By the time my belt was complete, my therapy was at an end and it was time to return to my mission. I stenciled Stanley’s name in it (even though he is mostly illiterate) and gave it to him as a gift for staying beside me during my worst hours. I made it extra-long to fit him, and I made him promise never to “umph” about this entire affair to Effie or to anyone else ever again. The shame would be unbearable, were she to know what became of me during these darkest days.

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Dash Fire Diaries

Dash Fire Diaries

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Envisioning a past that never was. Step through a surreal portal where objective truth, imagined history and satirical fiction coexist.