Shell Shock

Is it research or is it just Googling?

I started off this afternoon thinking seriously about Somerset Maugham’s post-war-loss-of-faith play The Unknown. A stray reference took me to looking up George Robey, and from there I discovered some other music-hall websites.

On one of them I found this monologue from 1920, a light-hearted treatment of the WW1 subject that these days is treated with most solemn reverence. I wonder how it went down at the Holborn Empire. I wonder what Pat Barker would think of it…

Nelson Jackson (1920)

At Victoria Station a soldier I met,
The night it was dark and night it was wet.
His wrist had a sort of a twist and a jerk,
Which seemed as if uncontrolled nerves were at work.
I said, “Dear old bean, could you do with a drink?”
And he answered me kindly, “Well, what do you think?”
“Two beers” was the order, and “Cheero,” said I,
“Cheero” he answered, and drained his glass dry.
“Could you do with another?”
“Why, search me,” said he
And his wrist still was twitching, ’twas painful to see.
“Cheero,” again said he,
“Cheero,” said I,
And he set down his glass, and again it was dry.
“Couldn’t manage another I s’pose?” I beguiled
And “It’s only a rumour!” he said, and he smiled.
We filled up again and got on with the work
With his wrist all the time on the twitch and the jerk.
“Now tell me,” I said, “Just before I depart,
What’s the matter, old son, is it shell-shock, or heart?”
And the poor fellow answered, his language was free
“My gal has presented a wrist watch to me;
And if I don’t jerk it and twitch it just so,
I’ll be blanked if I can get the dam’ thing to go.”



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