Rivers: F.A.Q.

Q. How can I find out more about Rivers? Lists or details of his work is easier to find but not information on the man himself.

That’s not easy! Rivers was a private man on the whole, particularly before the War and was not one to leave many sources of information about himself. If you can obtain a reading ticket you could try the collections (particularly that of A.C. Haddon) at the University Library, Cambridge or the city’s Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology. Their websites will give you information upon how to go about this. The Imperial War Museum in London holds some family papers too – It is perhaps best to contact them to arrange an appointment or viewing before you arrive. Many of the doctor’s papers were burnt, at his request, after his death –  assumedly so that any which might contain confidential information related to his patients and friends might not be read.

Other bits and pieces seem to be in the collections of various Universities in the U.S.A. (McMaster University )and Canada (Montreal) – indeed it appears that the Doctor’s legacy is better acknowledged there than in his own country although Edinburgh does now own a Rivers Centre for sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress , of which ‘Shell-shock’ is an example.

As far as literature goes, there are, of course Rivers’ own books, a biography by Richard Slobodin which concentrates largely upon his anthropological work and the ‘Regeneration’ trilogy by Pat Barker. Her fictional representation of Rivers, and events at Craiglockhart, London and in Melanesia seem very close to reality and one can gain much insight into the Doctor’s personality from these works – another source for this is the work of Arthur Hocart who accompanied Rivers on an expedition to the Solomons in 1902.

Other than that, it seems to be a case of scanning the internet and picking up little pieces of information, odd things that give you a clue as to Rivers’ character – the way he did things, the things he said to colleagues, students or patients or the manner in which he writes/ subjects that come into his work all give us tiny pieces of the jigsaw.

Q. What did Rivers look like?

From contemporary accounts, portraits and photos, it appears that Rivers was a fairly tall man, well but not heavily built, with broad shoulders. He is often described as ‘Lantern Jawed’ and seems to have sported either a moustache or beard (the latter mainly during expeditions) for most if not all of his adult life. We can tell from photos of him that he was dark-haired (brown rather than black?) but it is not known for definite what colour his eyes were though mid-brown or green appears to be the usual suggestion.

In his later years, particularly during and after his War service, his hair became greyer and apparently he became slightly more portly but was still very active (especially in face of recollections concerning his health) – Sassoon, in his semi-fictional-semi-autobiographical ‘Memoirs of George Sherston’ mentions his being a fast walker whilst Bartlett, a student and later friend of the Doctor, recalls his quick efficient movements and his dashing about when he was working and producing a new theory or the means to discover one.

The photos most often seen are with him portrayed in formal wear as befits the era and his profession, or in a Captain of the RAMC’s (Royal Army Medical Corp) uniform during the war he looks relaxed in neither though reasonably more so in the latter than the former. It is in the clothes he used during his anthropological work that he appears most comfortable: an open neck shirt and ordinary trousers – and a beard. It is very like the comparing between Indiana Jones in his work attire of three-piece suit and tie compared to his appearance in the field in the Indiana Jones films by Speilberg (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indiana_Jones )

Q. Why Were Rivers Methods So Successful?

It is known now that the attitude and character of the therapist can be vital to the success of any treatment but in Rivers’ time this type of work was in its infancy. He seems to have had a God-given instinct and ‘habit of getting into others lives as if they were his own’ as a friend once said, to restore these soldiers faith in themselves and others. Of great importance is, of course, trust – that the therapist will not laugh or condemn a person for their actions and will consider each case on its own merit. Rivers was amongst the first to insist that as each man’s experience made him unique, he would need unique treatment.

Sassoon, however, amongst others points to a perhaps even more significant detail, one that possibly gave rise to the other qualities: Rivers could heal others because he was impaired himself and did not try to hide the fact. He knew what it was like to be looked upon as different or to be seen at fault for something that is really not ones’ own doing.

His quietly unjudgemental character told people they could confide in him and that he would believe in them no matter what they wanted to confer; that he would do his utmost to aid their recovery so long as they themselves tried too. He did not impose unrealistic targets or time limits .

Lastly, Rivers never talked down to his students or patients and, very importantly for the soldiers sought to educate the men about their condition rather than assume they were unable to comprehend it. The unknown is, of course, the scariest thing and once they knew more about what had happened to them and why, they began to recognise ways of dealing with it for themselves, with his support. We now call this technique Cognitive or Cognitive-behavioural therapy

Many paid Rivers the compliment of regarding him as a kind of ideal father figure whilst Sassoon called the doctor his ‘Father Confessor’ and attributes his development into a more mature man to him.

Q. Was he really a follower of Freud?

Rivers did believe some of Freud’s theories but was not scared to divert from them when he thought them to be in error: for instance, he did not agree that sex or sexual repression was the cause of breakdowns or neurosis in general. His dream analyses also differ in that he found many nightmares originated from conflicts in the sleeper’s mind, not from wish fulfilment.

Q. Can you give me any kind of figures to show how widespread ‘Shell-shock ‘ was?

It can be said that around 8 or 9 % of Officers are acknowledged to have suffered the condition during the Great War, and about 4% of ‘Other Ranks’: this equates to at least 200,000 hospital admissions and 20,000 army discharges. According to author Lyn MacDonald, in ‘The Roses of No Man’s Land”, in 1938, 27,000 men were still being paid war disablement pension for the condition plus 3,200 were still in ‘mental asylums’ having still never recovered their memory or similar. It is irrelevant but sad to note that some men listed on the memorials could the missing could have actually been the men in these homes who’d not recalled their own identity since whatever stage of the War they became so ill. A example is that of a patient of Colney Hatch Hospital , remembered only as ‘John G’. According to Peter Barham in ‘Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War’, John G, who had been wounded in Cambrai in 1918 and was admitted to Friern Psychiatric Hospital in 1920 when it was still Colney Hatch . He never left and died in December 1987 aged 92 after spending almost 70 years in the asylum there. In the early 1970s the War Pensions Agency asked whether John was fit to be deemed a ‘capable’ psychiatric pensioner who could have his own bank account and attend to his own financial affairs with minimal assistance, but this was refused. At almost eighty years old his mind was still deemed to damaged by what had happened to him in the Great War for this to be possible .

It must also be taken into account that the above figures only represent the number of men ill enough for the Government not only to recognise their condition but that it was severe enough in each case to cause the man problems with gaining to maintaining employment – Others were not usually given financial help. In addition, the figure, of course does not count the men whose conditions went unreported or undiagnosed, or who died during the conflict but had some degree of ‘Shell-Shock’

Other official statistics for pensions still being given in 1938 include:–
Men with –

One or both legs missing 8,000
” ” ” ” arms “- 3,600
” ” ” more limbs withered or disabled due to War service 90,000
Total blindness 2,000
Partial blindness 8,000
Permanent deafness 11,000
Severe head injury 15,000
Inoperable hernia 20,000
Bronchitis or T.B. due to gas 41,000
Incapacitation by severe frostbite 2,200
Heart disease due to War service 38,000
Crippled by rheumatism due to War service 28,000
Incapacitated by other due to War service 32,000
Epileptic due to War service 2,800

One must assume that ‘Incapacitated by other due to War Service’ refers to men with Shell-shock.

Q. What happened to the natives of the islands Rivers and his colleagues visited, and the Todas?

It would be very interesting to know but sadly difficult to say for certain – No doubt the descendants live on, if in a more modernised society as some are shown in a documentary called ‘Everything is Relatives that focuses on Rivers anthropological work. I can say that the Solomons were largely over-taken by the Japanese forces of the Second World War and that, of course, they are quite a popular holiday destination these days!
Wiki states that :
Japanese forces occupied the Solomon Islands in January 1942. The counter-attack was led by the United States; the 1st Division of the US Marine Corps landed on Guadalcanal and Tulagi in August 1942. Some of the bitterest fighting of World War II took place on the islands for almost three years.
Tulagi, the seat of the British administration on the island of Nggela Sule in Central Province was destroyed in the heavy fighting following landings by the US Marines. Then the tough battle for Guadalcanal, which was centred on the capture of the airfield, Henderson field, led to the development of the adjacent town of Honiara as the United States logistics centre.
Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana[edit]
Islanders Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana were Allied scouts during the war. They became famous when they were noted by National Geographic for being the first men to find the shipwrecked John F. Kennedy and his crew of the PT-109 using a traditional dugout canoe. They suggested the idea of using a coconut which was later kept on the desk of the president to write a rescue message for delivery. Their names had not been credited in most movie and historical accounts, and they were turned back before they could visit President Kennedy’s inauguration, though the Australian coast-watcher would also meet the president. They were visited by a member of the Kennedy family in 2002, where they still lived in traditional huts without electricity.
War consequences[edit]
The impact of the war on islanders was profound. The destruction caused by the fighting and the longer-term consequences of the introduction of modern materials, machinery and western cultural artefacts, transformed traditional isolated island ways of life. The reconstruction was slow in the absence of war reparations and with the destruction of the pre-war plantations, formerly the mainstay of the economy. Significantly, the Solomon Islanders’ experience as labourers with the Allies led some to a new appreciation of the importance of economic organisation and trade as the basis for material advancement. Some of these ideas were put into practice in the early post-war political movement “Maasina Ruru”—often redacted to “Marching Rul
The area became under ownership of Queensland, Australia but since the 1960’s successful campaigns have been made by the populace, using Rivers’ records as evidence of their heritage and ancestry, to claim the territories back
And as for the Todas:
. During the last quarter of the 20th century, some Toda pasture land was lost due to agriculture by outsiders[2] or afforestation by the State Government of Tamil Nadu. This has threatened to undermine Toda culture by greatly diminishing the buffalo herds; however during the last decade both Toda society and culture have also become the focus of an international effort at culturally sensitive environmental restoration.[3] The Toda lands are now a part of The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO-designated International Biosphere Reserve and is declared UNESCO World Heritage Site.[4]
But until the 1970s at least, their numbers were well in keeping with earlier times:
According to M. B. Emeneau, the successive decennial Census of India figures for the Toda are: 1871 (693), 1881 (675), 1891 (739), 1901 (807), 1911 (676) (corrected from 748), 1951 (879), 1961 (759), 1971 (812). These in his judgment, “justifies concluding that a figure between 700 and 800 is likely to be near the norm, and that variation in either direction is due on the one hand to epidemic disaster and slow recovery thereafter (1921 (640), 1931 (597), 1941 (630)) or on the other hand to an excess of double enumeration (suggested already by census officers for 1901 and 1911, and possibly for 1951). Another factor in the uncertainty in the figures is the declared or undeclared inclusion or exclusion of Christian Todas by the various enumerators … Giving a figure between 700 and 800 is highly impressionistic, and may for the immediate present and future be pessimistic, since public health efforts applied to the community seem to be resulting in an increased birth rate and consequently, one would expect, in an increased population figure. However, earlier predictions that the community was declining were overly pessimistic and probably never well-founded.”[1]

If anyone has information, I would be pleased to put it on site (acknowledging the sender)

If you have any information or questions relevant to the site, please email anonlog@yahoo.co.uk, including ‘Rivers’ in your subject line/bar. Thank you.

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