7,600 NZ Men Returned From WW2 with Diagnosed PTSD

Even those who remained married after their husbands returned from war found there were changes to absorb. Other families endured long-term consequences of the conflict. Of the men who came home, 15,000 returned with physical injuries. And there were also those less visibly damaged. In the 1940s the term used to describe psychological and psychiatric war wounds was ‘anxiety neurosis’. Today, some of the men labelled in this way would be said to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The symptoms of PTSD can include nightmares and flashbacks, irritability and outbursts of anger, emotional withdrawal and depression. By December 1949 the War Pensions Branch had a total of nearly 7600 ‘neurosis’ cases, placing, ‘a great strain … on the shoulders of the doctors’.


Among Mae’s patients were men who had served in the New Zealand forces over the previous six years. Mae enjoyed socialising with the men, and one of the returned navy men she spent time with was Bill Carson from Kaitangata in South Otago. In the war, Bill had served in the Royal Navy and sailed in the Arctic convoys. His ship, HMS Trinidad, was struck with one of its own faulty torpedoes, killing 32 of Bill’s shipmates. Three months later, after being repaired, the Trinidad was attacked by German bomber aircraft, killing a further 63 men. Bill later told one of his sons he could not forget watching doomed men in the sea, choking on oil. Four years later, in Hanmer, he was diagnosed as having ‘anxiety depression’.

Despite warnings from his doctor at Hanmer that he was ‘a very bad case’, in 1948 Mae married Bill in Wellington. They remained married for 37 years, until Bill died in 1985.

Many men who experienced the horror of war suffered for the rest of their lives from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Symptoms of PTSD include irritability, mood swings and depression. In this extract Mae talks about seeing another side to Bill after they married:


Mae Carson: Up till the time I got married I hadn’t ever seen any other side of Bill except his gentle side. And not long after we were married he got cross because he couldn’t find an item of clothing and he started throwing things out of the drawer and tossing them everywhere in a rage. Then I was so upset, I was terribly upset.

Interviewer: Were you? Were you scared?

Mae Carson: No, I wasn’t scared, but I was surprised that there was this side to him. I hadn’t seen it. We were engaged for about two years.

Interviewer: But until you were actually living with him. Cos you didn’t live with him before you were married I assume?

Mae Carson: No, no

Interviewer: So you didn’t see it until you were living with him?

Mae Carson: No

Interviewer: And did that make you wonder?

Mae Carson: I suppose it did. I suppose it did. But then I thought well, this is it, we’re married and there’s good sides to him. Rationalising things.

Interviewer: Did you ever regret it, Mae? Did you ever regret marrying him?

Mae Carson: No, never, no, no.

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