Suicide during the Second World War

Discussion in 'General' started by von Poop, Sep 30, 2006.

  1. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Does anyone know anything about the rate of suicide during the Second World War both at home and in service?

    This arose from a conversation with a friend today and we can't find much on the internet other than recent statistics, reference to Kamikaze and the more politically motivated suicides of the time. Obviously there seems a high rate when the fighting reaches civilian areas such as occured in Silesia etc. but we were more interested in the affect on 'quieter' zones, (the above being almost classifiable as deaths in action). We didn't want to discount areas at the mercy of bombers either which also, for us, didn't seem to quite fit in the above category.

    I feel sure they must have risen not from just giving very young men the readily available means but also from the general trauma spread by the war but am having difficulty finding anything that proves or disproves that.

  2. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Can't find any statistics.
    Just reading about ex-BEF men who commited suicide because they were so ashamed of their actions on the beaches at Dunkirk trying to save their own skins.
  3. lancesergeant

    lancesergeant Senior Member

    You have mentioned the obvious ones like the Kamikaze. Also Japanese troops disembowelling themselves in seppuku rather than surrender. No doubt some elements of the Allied forces committed suicide, but this would more than likely be hushed up in the event of possible effects on moral.

    I was told of a RAF pilot at Cranwell who on the day/night of the flight was taken ill and couldn't fly. The rest of the crew went on the sortie and never returned. Apparently he was guilt stricken and took a plane up and crashed it into the tower at Cranwell. A part of the roof space is blocked off. Workmen in recent times working on the modernisation of the block wouldn't work there due to a hostile presence.

    Pressure loss of colleagues, going on potential suicidal mission must have played on the minds of some if not all. I personally heard of suicides in barracks due to the stresses of the life, this would occur even more so in a war-time footing. Guilt over a colleague or section copping it and themselves surviving affecting a lot of troops, loss of family in bombings, loss of brothers, sisters fighting elsewhere. It affect everybody different. Everybody has their breaking point.

    There was some story going about that more troops have self harmed or committed suicide since the Falklands, than died in the war itself. One only has to look at America and Vietnam. In the forties and fifties folk put a brave face on it and kept their grief to theirselves. Others all around were in the same boat and it was the accepted thing to grin and bear it and soldier on.

    In an environment where others are in the same position and the only option is bottle it up and keep going and no one to talk to - because others have or are going through it, might cause a person to feel that though important to him was not to the outside, leading to a sense of dispair leading to the only release they believed available to them.
  4. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Christmas 1943
    "That evening there were fifteen suicides in the division, hearts broken from the strain of so many months of separation and suffering."

    Feldgrau :: Kriegsweihnachten: Reflections on Christmas during WWII

    Posted this on Christmas thread too.

    Just thoght when you get peed off with the rellies and Xmas TV, just be thankful you're not on the Russian Front.
  5. Kyt

    Kyt Very Senior Member

    In fact suicide rates during both world wars fell:

    Suicide rates per million 1901–1998 England and Wales
    1901–1905 101
    1906–1910 102
    1911–1915 96
    1916–1920 85
    1921–1925 101
    1926–1930 123
    1931–1935 135
    1936–1940 124
    1941–1945 92
    1946–1950 106
    1951–1955 107
    1956–1960 116
    1961–1965 137
    1966–1970 118
    1971–1975 101
    1976–1980 112
    1981–1985 121
    1986–1990 118
    [FONT=&quot]1991–1995 110

    A similar trend seems to be apparent in studies on the US, Australia, and Norway.

    From a study of suicide rates during WW2 in Scotland:

    [/FONT] "Suicide rates are thought to fall during wartime. Durkheim [1] suggested this was due to increased social cohesion, while others have suggested that competing outcomes may be important, with individuals who might otherwise have died by suicide being more likely to die of other causes [2]. Neeleman [3] cites this as an example of contextual effect modification, with suicide risk modified by the likelihood of dying of other causes.

    Examples of reductions in suicide rates in times of war have been described for several time periods and cultures [4-9]. Marshall [10] argued that the reduction in suicide rates reflected a reduction in unemployment, a recognised risk factor for suicide [11], rather than a direct effect of war, an argument offered some support by Lester and Yang [12]. Stack [13] suggested that the suicide rate decreased as the proportion of the population employed in military roles increased.
    Work on recent conflicts has suggested a more complex effect. The war in Serbia and Croatia has been studied in some detail. Grubisic-Ilic et al [14] reported a decrease in suicide rates in parts of Croatia affected by war, while Bosnar et al [15] describe an increase in suicide rates in southern part of Croatia during wartime, with a particular increase in people aged under 40 years [16]. Grubisis-Ilic et al [14] and Bosnar et al [15,16] both report an increase in firearms deaths.
    The last war with major involvement of the UK population was World War II."

    • · Durkheim, E. Le suicide. Paris; 1897.
    • · Deshaies, G. Psychologie du suicide. Paris: Press Universitaires de France; 1947.
    • · Neeleman J. Beyond risk theory: suicidal behavior in its social and epidemiological context. Crisis. 2002;23:114–120. doi: 10.1027//0227-5910.23.3.114. [PubMed]
    • · Frenay, AD. The suicide problem in the United States. Badger: Oxford; 1927.
    • · Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Suicide and War. Statistical Bulletin. 1942;23:1–2.
    • · O'Malley P. Suicide and war: a case study and theoretical appraisal. British Journal of Criminology. 1975;15:348–359.
    • · Lester D. The effect of war on suicide rates. A study of France from 1826 to 1913. European Archives of Psychiatry & Clinical Neuroscience. 1993;242:248–9. doi: 10.1007/BF02189971. [PubMed]
    • · Lester D. Suicide rates before, during and after the world wars. European Psychiatry. 1994;9:262–264.
    • · Somasundaraam DJ, Rajadurai S. War and suicide in northern Sri Lanka. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. 1995;91:1–4. [PubMed]
    • · Marshall JR. Political integration and the role of war in suicide. Social Forces. 1981;59:771–785. doi: 10.2307/2578193.
    • · Platt S. Unemployment and suicidal behaviour: a review of the literature. Social Science and Medicine. 1984;19:93–115. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(84)90276-4. [PubMed]
    • · Lester D, Yang B. The influence of war on suicide rates. The Journal of Social Psychology. 2001;132:135–137. [PubMed]
    • · Stack S. The effect of the decline of institutionalized religion on suicide 1954–1978. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 1983;22:239–252. doi: 10.2307/1385968. [PubMed]
    • · Grubisic-Ilic M, Kozaric-Kovacic D, Grubisic F, Kovacic Z. Epidemiological study of suicide in the Republic of Croatia – comparison of war and post-war periods and areas directly and indirectly affected by war. European Psychiatry: the Journal of the Association of European Psychiatrists. 2002;17:259–64. [PubMed]
    • · Bosnar A, Stemberga V, Cuculic D, Zamolo G, Stifter S, Coklo M. Suicide rate after the 1991–1995 War in Southwestern Croatia. Archives of Medical Research. 2004;35:344–7. doi: 10.1016/j.arcmed.2004.03.001. [PubMed]
    16.[FONT=&quot] [/FONT]· Bosnar A, Stemberg V, Zamolo G, Stifter S. Increased suicide rate before and during the war in southwestern Croatia. Archives of Medical Research. 2002;33:301–4. doi: 10.1016/S0188-4409(02)00364-8. [PubMed]
    [FONT=&quot] [/FONT]
  6. adrian roberts

    adrian roberts Senior Member

    As a Psychiatric Nurse, I'm interested that these figures are on the whole fairly constant over the century.
    The peaks seem to be 1931-35 (the Depression?) and 1961-65 ( time of great social change). The drop after 1970 could be due to the phasing out of coal gas and replacement by North Sea gas, which will suffocate but is not poisonous as such.
    I like to think the drop after 1990 was due to better Community Mental Health care, though that may be wishful thinking. Any idea of the figures since 1995?
    Sorry to get off WW2...

  7. Kyt

    Kyt Very Senior Member

    Hi Adrian,

    I'm a bit rusty on this subject (it's been a few years since I studied it at uni). Yes they do seem fairly constant, but they are an amalgamation. If broken down by age and gender, the rates look very different. As we the figures progress towards the end of the century the proportion of females, and young men increase.

    You're right about the fluctuations but if you plotted against finacial depressions, then you'd see a marked correlation - 1930-35, 1956-60 (suez crisis, and the first oil crisis), 1976-80 (the second oil crisis). However, the 1961-65 does seem like an anomoly, and you may be right that it was due to social changes. As to the means of suicide, the old gas was actually most post popular with women, and if I remember correctly, men tended to hang themselves (but I'd need to check that).

    For the latest figures, the ONS is very good. Here's a summary:

    Rate in UK men continues to fall

    United Kingdom suicide rates
    Suicide rates in men showed a downward trend during the 1990s until a sharp increase in 1998. Since this peak, the rate has again fallen and the rate in 2004 was the lowest throughout the period 1991 to 2004, at 18.1 suicides per 100,000 population. Suicide rates for women in the UK were lower than those seen in men throughout 1991 to 2004, and a slight downward trend was observed up to 2003.

    In 2004, there were 5,906 suicides in adults aged 15 and over, which represented 1 per cent of the total of all UK deaths. Almost three-quarters of these suicides were among men and this division between the sexes was broadly similar from 1991 onwards.


    Suicide rates by Government Office Region of England and country of UK, 2002/04

    There were large differences in suicide rates for both men and women across the countries of the UK. The lowest suicide rates for 2002/2004 combined were in England for both men and women. In both sexes, the highest suicide rates were in Scotland (30.0 and 10.0 per 100,000 for men and women respectively) where rates were almost double the rates in England (16.7 and 5.4 per 100,000, respectively). Men in Wales had a suicide rate a third higher than the rate in England.

    Within England, the highest suicide rates were in the North East and North West in both men and women (21.1 and 17.8, and 5.9 and 5.8 per 100,000 population, respectively). The suicide rate in men in the North East was 15 per cent higher than the overall UK rate, although the rates in women for all of the regions in England were below the UK rate. The lowest suicide rates were seen in London for men (15.5 per 100,000) and the West Midlands for women (4.9 per 100,000).

    Of the twenty ‘local areas’ with the highest suicide rates in men for 1998-2004, 17 were in Scotland. The highest rate for men was in the Shetland Islands. At 47.5 suicides per 100,000 population this was more than double the overall UK rate of 19.5. In women, 12 out of the twenty ‘local areas’ with the highest suicide rates were in Scotland. The highest rate for women was in Glasgow City and the second highest rate was in Camden (15.8 and 15.2 per 100,000 population, respectively). The suicide rates for these areas were over two and half times the overall UK rate of 6.0 per 100,000 population.
  8. spidge


  9. adrian roberts

    adrian roberts Senior Member

    Thanks for those figures - I'll hang onto those!

    And thanks Spidge, though of course in my job/studies, its the UK figures I need most.

  10. spidge


    Thanks for those figures - I'll hang onto those!

    And thanks Spidge, though of course in my job/studies, its the UK figures I need most.


    Thought it may give you some trend relationships.
  11. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Just pottered onto Wiki's list of 'Notable' Suicides (having only just discovered that George Eastman (Kodak) killed himself).
    List of suicides - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    I'm expecting a few inaccuracies and outright misconceptions, and obviously it's no exhaustive list, but I thought I'd pick out the WW2 related ones, (and other cause célèbre from the period) as some are interesting stories.
    Listed by Wiki under 'forced':
    • Ludwig Beck (1944), German Chief of the General Staff of the OKH, forced to commit suicide after the failed 20th of July plot.
    • Erwin Rommel (1944), German Field Marshal, took part in a plot against Hitler; forced to take poison in exchange for his family being protected from reprisals.
    Hope that's not too gloomy for anyone.

  12. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Reading 2 Wilts war diary for March 1940.

    12/3/1940-Linselles , France
    2210: No 5567469 Pte Phillips RA of 'A' Coy shot himself in 'A' Coy billets.

    13/3/1940-Linselles , France.
    1100: Court Of Enquiry on the death of Pte PHILLIPS

    14/3/1940-Linselles , France
    1430: Funeral of Pte Phillips at ARMENTIERS.

    CWGC :: Casualty Details

    Initials:R A
    Nationality:United Kingdom
    Regiment/Service:Wiltshire Regiment
    Unit Text:2nd Bn.
    Date of Death:12/03/1940
    Service No:5567469
    Additional information:Son of Sidney and Sarah Phillips, of Steeple Ashton, Wiltshire.
    Casualty Type:Commonwealth War Dead
    Grave/Memorial Reference:Plot 11. Row A. Grave 14.
  13. englandphil

    englandphil Very Senior Member

    I have suicide details for 2 of the names on my South Lancs Roll of honour, both taking place in the UK, whilst on active service
  14. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Never heard of a case in my active service time.
  15. militarycross

    militarycross Very Senior Member

    Oddly enough, when I was visiting with a chap years ago, he told me about being at Boundary Bay in British Columbia taking his OTU. I knew that my Father-in-law had been there as well and mused how we might determine if Dad and Bill had been there at the same time. Says Bill, "Ask him if he remembers the day the fellow put the Lib into the ground after getting a Dear John letter." I did in a round about way ask Dad if anything interesting happened while he was taking his OTU. "Not really," says he, "other than the day we watched a fellow fly around the field for a while and then crash his Lib straight into the ground. I was told he had received a Dear John letter."

    Seems a bit strange to date yourself as being on base in that way, but Dad said there were about 400 guys watching this "silly buggar" flying around and around for what seemed to be a long time -- an hour or more is what my memory tells me I was told about the event.

    So, suicide in this case was also by means at hand when you are a pilot.

  16. spidge


    I have come across two suicides out of the 11,091 Aussies who died in the RAAF/RAF. One was in France in 1940 and the BoB and another I am unable to find too much about especially where he was buried.

    One was on leave in Australia when his wife died and was so devastated that he took his own life.

    In the RAF in 145 Squadron during the Battle of Britain at Tangmere/Westhamnett.

    CO 452 Spitfires at Kirton in Lindsey and Kenley ? dates

    Nov 7th 1940 as F/Lt, Hurricane V6889 on Patrol, shot down by Me109 off Isle of Wight, baled out at 14.30. wounded.

    Was allowed home to re-couperate and to be with his family. His wife died and he killed himself [ 1943]
    The other was informed that he could no longer fly:
    He served at flying training schools at Reading and Shawbury before joining 224 Squadron RAF in August 1939. He flew a great variety of aircraft, including the Spitfire, Beaufighter, Hurricane, Oxford and Wellington, mainly patrolling and conducting aircraft engine and technical tests. He committed suicide in 1943 after being invalided out of the RAF.
  17. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    Have a look at this earlier thread on suicides:

    Suicide during the Second World War

    I made the following point then:

    In my own Regiment's Diaries there is the following entry:

    Trooper xxxxxxxxxxxx died whilst on guard duty. Cause of death was 3 GSW in head.

    GSW is shorthand for Gunshot wound.
    Nothing more in the record and, in all honesty, I do not remember the incident, although I was clearly still serving with the unit at the time in question.

    Other than that single episode, just like Brian, I cannot recall a single other death by suicide in the whole of my service career.
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2017
  18. Gerard

    Gerard Seelow/Prora

    Seems that April and May 1945 were not good months if you happened to have served as a Gauleiter in the Third Reich. Suicided appears to have been quite the fashion at the time:

    Josef Terboven: Josef Terboven - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Joachiom Eggeling: Joachim Albrecht Eggeling - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Jakob Sprenger: Jakob Sprenger - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Otto Telschow: Otto Telschow - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Gauleiter Wilhelm Murr: Wilhelm Murr - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Paul Giesler: Paul Giesler - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Alfred Meyer: Alfred Meyer - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Bernhard Rust: Bernhard Rust - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  19. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron


    Don't leave out Herr Globocnik (courtesy of Wikipedia)

    According to some accounts, Globocnik was tracked down and captured by British troops at the Möslacher Alm, overlooking the Weissensee Lake on May 31 1945, and may have committed suicide the same day in Paternion by biting on his capsule of cyanide. To corroborate this, there are at least two contemporary photographs showing Globocnik's body shortly after his death. Furthermore, there are several reliable reports, including the Regimental Diary and Field Reports of the 4th Queen's Own Hussars, detailing the circumstances of his capture and suicide.

  20. V4Victory

    V4Victory Junior Member

    Forced suicide seems really grim

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