Psychiatric stigma of British forces during WW11 | Sunday Observer

Psychiatric stigma of British forces during WW11

28 February, 2021

Edgar Jones, a professor in the history of medicine and psychiatry at the Institute of King’s College, London said Lack of Moral Fibre (LMF) which is considered as an administrative term rather than a psychiatric diagnosis was befittingly introduced in April 1940, as a mode of response to an escalating number of psychiatric causalities in the early operations of the British coastal and bomber commands during the Second World War.

Prof. Jones said that some high ranking Royal Air Force (RAF) officers decided to impose intense penalties on the parties concerned which lost the trust and confidence of their operational commanders especially at a time when there was a threat of invasion and a dearth of aircrew.

As a common deterrent upheld by the notion of anxiety being contagious, those who were suspected to have contracted LMF were directed to assessment centres where they faced shame due to the loss of their ranks and official privileges.

Thereafter, vindicating themselves was impossible for the aircrew which was adjudicated to have demonstrated LMF; and a considerable number of British servicemen were discharged from service. The differentiation of cases from psychiatric diagnoses in the form of flying stress, aviator’s neurasthenia or aeroneurosis was done with the designing of the label ‘LMF’. During this period those affected by the these disorders were similar to the shell shock experienced by soldiers during the First World War and thus paved the way for the affected parties to attract an enormous degree of public sympathy whereby they were even made eligible for the entitlement of a war pension in which the British authorities were not interested. The common reasons for LMF and shell shock were the same.

Royal Navy

The Royal Navy (RN) was considered the strongest navy in the world at the onset of the Second World War and their naval bases were available around the world. The pilots in the RN Fleet air arm who shunned flying were unofficially labelled LMF, unless there was a defensible and logical medical reason.

A high degree of flexibility in their management was made available by the non-availability of a formal procedure, whereas some were given transfers to base jobs where they continued wearing their flying badges.

Although the British Army (BA) stood as a small volunteer and professional army during early 1939, it was reported that towards the latter part of the Second World War it comprised nearly three million troopers.

In contrast it was reported that the BA eliminated the LMF system despite the fact that it experienced a large number of psychiatric battle casualties. Also the dearth of manpower in the BA compelled them to receive treatment and return to duty. But during the initial stage of the Western Desert campaign, ‘Eighth Army’ doctors had unofficially accepted the LMF label.


To avoid humiliating the then British government, historians John McCarthy and Allen D. English made a suggestion not to take the LMF label into consideration in 1945.

Although such a suggestion may have been considered a formal policy, the term LMF had already found its roots within the RAF culture.

The term ‘LMF’ had been used even during peace time until the 1960s as a form of clarification, describing the reasons for the failure of the training of the aircrew. Eventually, with the introduction of new psychiatric terms, the term LMF became obsolete.

Britain had to experience the threat of being invaded as the LMF policy was introduced in March 1940.

Also the danger of ‘fifth column activities’ was exaggerated while it was reported that there was a shortage of aircrew and aircraft. LMF could be considered as the Second World War’s antithesis to the First World War’s shell shock.

LMF is an operational term introduced by senior commanders whose basic concern was the efficacious conduct of the war, whereas shell shock is a form of diagnosis taken into account by the doctors to classify a novel post combat syndrome. Timidity was associated with LMF, and the right to financial reimbursement denied. Following the First World War, it was difficult for Britain to afford a so-called epidemic pension which was brought out by shell shock. Sometimes the heroic men who were fatigued by the stress of combat were defamed and discredited by LMF.

British senior military officers recommended during the First World War that shell shock should be “eliminated from official nomenclature”. Similarly, during the Second World War, the extent and dominance of LMF was moderately undermined.

Prof. Jones said the unloved system of LMF could be legitimised only at a war, staged for national survival as and when the trained aircrew were classy enough.