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Sholto, Lord Douglas of Kirtleside, was a Royal Air Force fighter pilot in WWI. He also served as the senior British officer in WWII in Fighter Command, the Middle East, in Coastal Command, and as military governor and Commander in Chief of the British Zone in occupied Germany. Lord Douglas had to pass judgement on the fate not only of the Nuremberg war criminals but also of others sentenced to death by military government courts in the British Zone.

Dr. Katharine Campbell writes about her childhood observations of the operational- and command-related mental illness suffered by her father:

A few years ago, my grandmother suggested that I should have a light on at night so that I would not be frightened. Up to that point I had not been afraid of the dark, but from the moment I saw her rather creepy silhouette in the doorway, I have been scared of it. Now the brightness is hurting my eyes, and I am listening to banging and thumping coming from my father’s bedroom, which is directly below mine. I jump out of bed, cross to the door, and run barefoot down the back staircase next to my bedroom to the ground floor.

There I find my father, wearing only his pyjama top, pushing the tea trolley that we keep outside his bedroom for his medicines down the corridor towards the kitchen. I guess that he has had a nightmare. ‘Poppa, what are you doing?’. ‘I have to go to a meeting about the Sentences’. I am not sure whether he is asleep or awake; he seems to be in some kind of no mans land between the two. In the daytime he is in his wheelchair, but during these night-time wanderings he is able to walk while holding on to something.

I help him back to bed, and he seems so worried and far away from me, from now. But at other times he is still ‘Poppa’, and there is left behind something of the hero that I knew. When I was younger, despite his large size, he used to chase me down our long garden as I squealed with excitement, and tell me the most wonderful stories from his extraordinary life, which went farther back than I could imagine, while I sat at the end of his bed on a Saturday morning, his time of rest after a hard week’s work.

I fetch my mother from the other end of the house, and as we tuck Poppa up again, she says to me: ‘I had hoped you wouldn’t have to see this.’ But I am puzzled because how could I not see it? My bedroom is above his, and on the nights when we cannot get nurses, I can see that something like this is bound to happen because I am the one who is closest to it.

My mother has explained to me already that the place to which Poppa returns most often in his frequent bad dreams and sleep-walking episodes is where he passed the unhappiest period of his entire working life, post-war Germany. He is remembering the final judgments that he had to pass on the Nuremberg war criminals and the numerous death warrants that he had to sign as Military Governor from proceedings in the Military Courts of the British Zone. Although there are other painful memories from the two World Wars that trouble him, his guilt over those death warrants has tormented him ever since he put his name to them. As a child I do not understand that he has left part of himself in that apocalyptic place and it is now, when he is at his most vulnerable, that it has surfaced like an accusing spectre to haunt him.

Even nowadays it is rare to come across a senior military commander who will readily admit to suffering from any mental health problem related to their operational experiences. When they finally attend veterans’ clinics, they usually present with a long history of mental illness, rigidly and secretly managed and contained with fallout affecting those around them. Usually, they have had to consult in an ongoing crisis; usually it is their wife or child who has pressganged them to seek help. Those who suffer most, stoically and in silence, are often family members. 

In this rare biography, exposure to combat trauma, PTSD, depression and other mental illnesses are described in the context of the moral and ethical dilemmas that high-level command and operational leadership brings. Moral Injury has been referred to as an emerging field yet has a very long history which generations of clinicians (and family members) have been aware of.

About the Author

Dr. Walter Busuttil is a consultant psychiatrist and director of research and training at Combat Stress in the United Kingdom. He served in the Royal Air Force for 16 years where he was part of the psychiatric team that rehabilitated the returned British Beirut Hostages and serving personnel from Gulf War 1 in 1991. On leaving the RAF, he led services for complex PTSD, treating adult survivors of sexual abuse for 10 years and, in 2007, was appointed medical director at the national charity Combat Stress, the largest veterans’ bespoke mental health provider outside the UK National Health Service. He stepped into his current role as director of research and training in 2020.   


Campell, K. (2021). Behold the Dark Gray Man: Triumphs and Trauma: The Controversial Life of Sholto Douglas. Foreword by Professor Alexander C. McFarlane AO, MB BS (Hons) MD, FRANZCP, Dip Psychther. London: Biteback Publishing Limited. ISBN 978-1-78590-597-1.