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Were British Soldiers Secretly Drugged During World War Two?

Updated on December 27, 2009

Since Greek athletes first started to achieve a competitive edge with the use of an opiate known to the Dutch as “doop”, giving rise to the modern term dope, armies have been trying to improve their fighting capability using performance enhancing drugs.

For centuries the British navy has calmed the nerves of sailors going into battle with rum, hence the order to “splice the main brace”. A practise also adopted in the First World War trenches for men about to “go over the top”.

As early as 1937 meth amphetamine, a psycho-stimulant, was widely available on prescription for rare sleeping disorders connected to narcolepsy. It had the effect of keeping the patent awake and alert, though given to a healthy person would enable them to survive for several days without food or sleep.

The military soon saw the potential of this new drug and it was readily adopted for use in World War Two by the German, Japanese and Allied Forces. In fact, it is well documented that Adolf Hitler was dependent on regular injections of amphetamine from his personal physician and that, he frequently displayed the classic symptoms of depression, irrational behaviour and serious mood swings connected to amphetamine abuse.

Although in the American armed forces the use of “go pills” was not officially endorsed until 1960, it was rumoured amongst pilots that not taking them on long missions was “harmful to promotion prospects”. The Germans were far less candid about the use of drugs, ordering 35 million Pervitin pills during the war and even the Kamikaze pilots, relied on more than just a last cup of Saki to fuel their divine wind.

In all these cases the members of the various armed forces were fully aware of the drugs they were taking, though I have heard a disturbing account of how things were far more clandestine in the British army of World War Two. A former member of the Eighth Army and veteran of the Sicily, Italy and the Africa campaigns expressed his concerns to me about the pills he was ordered to take before battle.

In Sicily and Italy he was issued with a bitter tasting “anti-tetanus pill” and later in the Western Desert, an identical “anti-malarial pill”. He said that after taking either of these pills that he would feel stronger, faster, more confident and that time would pass very quickly. As the war progressed he would get very restless, bored, depressed and agitated between engagements. Also that a general heightened level of aggression was common amongst the men around him, resulting in some very unfortunate incidents off the battlefield, when men were either off duty or involved in local policing activity.

His feelings of depression, anger and paranoia lasted with him long after the war and to use his own words, “I don’t know what was in those pills but they didn’t do what they were supposed to. I came back with lock-jaw, malaria and yellow as a banana, though I never saw one of those until about 1950.” He also admitted that he suffered from a short and violent temper, which affected both his relationship with his children and made him feared amongst his work colleagues.

There are many compatible testimonies to the disillusionment of soldiers returning from both world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Falkland’s and Gulf Wars and these have been attributed to stress or brutalisation. But with the recent claims of soldiers and their families concerning the effects of drugs given to troops during the Gulf War, resulting in the now infamous gulf war syndrome, can we be sure that the harm done to so many lives is the responsibility of the enemy.

If a man joins the army he is knows that he has committed himself to following orders and that he must forgo the right to free will, though where is it written that he is considered so dispensable that he could be given drugs that will destroy the rest of his life?


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    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 6 years ago from London

      I remember reading something about British troops after the D-Day landings. Unlike the First World War, where there were regular periods away from the trenches in reserve or at rest, the soldiers were in the thick of it for weeks and then months.

      It said something like, "After a couple of months, 98% of the soldiers had gone mad. The other 2% were psychopaths to start with".

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      I'm with London Girl. Two pills would have such serious, long-lasting effects? Don't think so. It's my understanding from reading several histories of both World Wars that simply being in a theatre of operations where one had to be constantly ready to do battle kept the adrenaline pumping, even when no battle was taking place. Which would account for some of the behavior you describe during WWII and PTSD would account for an ex-soldier's behavior once back home.

      "Gulf War Syndrome" is an entirely different kettle of fish. I've no doubt men who served in it WERE used as unwitting guinea pigs for all sorts of drugs.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 6 years ago from London

      I wouldn't build too much on what one bloke remembers about taking 2 pills many decades ago, to be honest.

    • platinumOwl4 profile image

      platinumOwl4 6 years ago

      This could not be consider the tip of the iceberg. How much hidden information is unavailable to the unsuspecting public?

    • The Old Firm profile image

      The Old Firm 7 years ago from Waikato/Bay Of Plenty, New Zealand

      Interesting. - But unsurprising.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Wow! I had never even considered this possibility of reasons for post traumatic stress disorder and the like. Very interesting hub.