World War I was something unlike anything the world had ever seen – and in the aftermath of that war, soldiers suffered from an intense form of PTSD known then as shell shock, called such due to the relentless bombardment of artillery shells in the trenches. Shell shocked photos of soldiers from the Great War and beyond attest to the eerie, disconcerting wildness it gave to a soldier's visage during battle – as well as the long-term effects it had on a soldier's psychology and corporeality.
Shell shock has evolved into more a modern and nuanced understanding of post-traumatic stress from battle, and the term has gone out of fashion, medically speaking, as a diagnostic. Nowadays, the expression is evocative of distressing photos of dirty and tired soldiers with manic eyes, blank faces, or even strained smiles – men who, in the midst of the flurry of battle – seem somewhere else entirely.
These photos of soldiers with shell shock are some of the most disturbing pictures of war, for they show a side of war not often discussed – the mental toll it takes on soldiers after it is all said and done.
Australian Dressing Station, Ypres, 1917. The soldier in the bottom left exhibits a typical sign of shell shock – "the thousand-yard stare."