21-year-old George Marsden woke up on October 22, 1914 in Windsor, Ontario and enlisted in the 18th Battalion and was assigned the regimental number 53264. Also on that day and location a Frank Marsden was to enlists under the regimental number 53263.[i] One of these soldiers had a secret which would affect their military service.[ii]
Both men were medically examined on that day and George passed his medical exam performed by Major D.H. Hogg and received his anti-typhoid injections and his medical records indicates no issues that would preclude him from military service.
But he did. Private George Marsden had epilepsy.
Private Marsden was aware of his condition, as his medical records bear out and it is interesting to note that virtually all the triggers of an epileptic seizure would have been present if Private Marsden had seen service on the Continent. Even during his military training the triggers would have been present:
- “Specific time of day or night
- Sleep deprivation – overtired, not sleeping well, not getting enough sleep
- At times of fevers or other illnesses
- Flashing bright lights or patterns
- Alcohol or drug use
- Associated with menstrual cycle (women) or other hormonal changes
- Not eating well, low blood sugar
- Specific foods, excess caffeine or other products that may aggravate seizures
- Use of certain medications”[iii]
His service record makes no notation as to how his condition presented itself and was discovered by higher authority. What is evident is Private Marsden enlisted on October 1914 and trained in London, Ontario until the 18th Battalion was shipped to England in April 1915. His condition was to be undiscovered, even though he had seizures before it was, on Dominion Day, 1915.
On July 1, 1915, Private Marsden had an epileptic seizure that was witnessed by the Medical Officer of the 18th Battalion, Major Hale. The following report does not even allude to the circumstances of the seizure but it is concise and virtually immediate in its result. Private George Marsden, reg. no. 53264 was to released from service from His Majesty’s Canadian Expeditionary Force due to this condition.
The military bureaucracy needed to follow its process first.
On July 2, 1915, a “Medical Report on an Invalid” was made and it is quoted in part:
“Patient had first epileptic convulsion when about fifteen years of age, and had had them since at intervals of a few months. He had one shortly after enlistment, and another two weeks ago, neither of which was witnessed or reported, and one on July 1st., which was seen by the M.O., 18th Battalion, and considered a typical epileptic convulsion.”
The Medical Board showed some empathy to Private Marsden by later stating in item 13. What is his present condition?:
“Between attacks patient is normal and a good soldier. Lack of sleep or presence of exciting events is liable to bring on an attack which is preceded by an aura of dizziness and followed by a somewhat dazed condition.”
Only July 9, 1915 the “Opinion of the Medical Board” was rendered. Private Marsden was to be released from military service and indicated that he would take up munitions work and his intended place of residence was to be 122 Drummond Street, London, N.W..
There was a “Medical Case Sheet” completed by Major Hale on that date:
“Epilepsy. Had first attach when 17 years old. Next attack 3.5 years afterwards. 9 months afterwards – 7 months afterwards last Jan. Fits brought on by excitement and loss of sleep. Mother has had epileptic fits. 2 brothers have had fits. All stopped at the ages of 22 years. Has no premonition of fits coming on. Last 2 times has hurt himself falling. Has never passed urine or faeces when when [sic] attacks come on. Feels as well as anybody 15 mins. after attack.
Patient says he does not want to leave army.”
One can only feel for Private Marsden. He wants to serve his country and this report seems to outline some mitigation of his condition, particularly the information indicating his brother’s epilepsy “stopped” at 22 years of age. Private Marsden was 22 years of age. Perhaps this was a last grasp at hoping that the Opinion of the Medical Board would not go against him. This was not to be.
July 15, 1915 marked the date of Private Marsden’s formal discharge and was signed at Shorncliffe, Kent, England by Lieutenant-Colonel E.S. Wigle personally. The discharge noted that his military character was “good” and the discharge awarded him, according to King’s Regulations, a good conduct designation.
That day was “cloudy with showers”[iv] One can imagine Private Marsden, perhaps in the uniform of a Canadian soldier of “A” Company, 18th Battalion, 4 Canadian Infantry Brigade accepting his discharge, saluting his Commanding Officer for the last time and leaving to pursue a vocation to help the war effort.
One statement rings out from this story: “Patient says he does not want to leave army.”
[i] The relationship of these two soldiers has yet to be ascertained. The attestation papers for both soldiers show them both being born in London, England but their next of kin list different names and addresses. They both enlisted on the same date and given that the regimental numbers are sequential may have gone to the recruiting office together.
[ii] Please note that the service records for both soldiers have records of other soldiers with the surname Marsden. During research Frank Marsden, 53263, was researched first as he was killed in action and inside his service record is a handwritten medical report by Major Hale.
[iii] @epilepsyfdn. “Triggers of Seizures.” Epilepsy Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2016.