After being discharged in October 1919, Lieutenant Gaskin began his post war struggles with mental illness. Gaskin served four years in the First World War in both France and England, beginning his service with the 106th Battalion as a Corporal and concluding as a Lieutenant in the 78th battalion. This particular soldier’s file is of interest because not only does it give insight into many individuals’ post-war struggles with mental illness, but also demonstrating the thoroughness of the Board of Pension Commissioners when determining who is eligible for pensions.
Shortly after returning home, Gaskin was examined by several doctors, and one noted that he was a “rather peculiar case.” Though he was showing many signs of mental illness, doctors were wary of sending him to a mental asylum in fears that his condition was not serious enough. While in Rena McLean Hospital, he was deemed insane and it was recommended he be transferred to a hospital with better care. He would be transferred to two other hospitals before his condition improved enough to be discharged in 1925. Gaskin was able to find employment in Montreal as a dispenser in a clinic.
Due to a rapid decline in his health, Gaskin died on May 30, 1928 at the age of 44. Initial reports of his death indicated that causes of death were related to jaundice, gall bladder inflammation, and heart failure. There were also some who believed that suicide could be a possibility. It was possible that these illnesses stemmed from Gaskin’s battle with what doctors termed “neurasthenia.” A few months prior to his death, Gaskin’s anxiety had resurfaced, resulting in a loss of appetite, lack of sleep, and head pains. Though he feared he would be eventually admitted into a mental asylum permanently, Gaskin had even decided he would go back to St. Anne’s hospital where he would be treated for his mental illness for a month.
Gaskin’s wife, Amelia, assumed that she was entitled to a widow’s pension because she believed that her husband’s death was directly attributed to his mental sufferings. The Board of Pension Commissioners would not grant her this request. It had to be proved that her husband’s death was in fact caused by the “neurasthenia” and not natural causes. This would mean that she would have to agree to have her husband’s body exhumed and reexamined. Amelia Gaskin then applied to the Provincial Secretary of the Health Laws of the Province seeking permission to have the body exhumed, but they would not allow this action, as only bodies suspected to have been victims of crime or criminal negligence could be autopsied. Amelia Gaskin then tried her luck with the Superior Court, in which she was once again unsatisfied with the results. The verdict was that it could not be proved that Hugh Gaskin died from complications of his mental illness, opposed to natural causes. She appealed the verdict, under the circumstance that “the Tribunal erred in finding death due to Manic Depressive Insanity related to military service.” In this appeal, based on testimonies from Doctors McKay and Brannen, it was believed that Gaskin’s cause of death was “in connection with manic depressive insanity” in connection with his service and was “therefore, pensionable.”
Though it appears that Amelia Gaskin was finally successful in her attempts to secure a widow’s pension for her husband’s death, this did not come without great determination and patience. This file also demonstrates the difficulties with mental illness that many veterans and their loved ones had after the First World War.
CLICK HERE to access Hugh Gaskin’s Military Service File at Library and Archives Canada