Thomas Calder, a lieutenant in the 1st Surreys, was sent back to England in autumn 1917 after being injured during the Battle of the Somme. He spent a week or so in a conventional military hospital in France, but his wounds were primarily psychic rather than physical, so he was sent back to England, and to Sandilands.
Sandilands had by that time come under the directorship of Dr. K. J. Ravichandra. Ravichandra was marked out by his universally acknowledged skill, and by his advanced and humane ideas. Before his advent, Sandilands had effectively been a torture chamber for men who were considered weak and cowardly, in need of being shocked or bullied back to obedience. Whatever our modern opinion of Ravichandra’s approach, there can be little doubt that his informal and conversational style represented an improvement on treatment through freezing cold water, or electric shock, or cigarette burn. The men who came under Ravichandra’s care at Sandilands – an Elizabethan manor in East Anglia, bought by the government and converted for use as an Army psychiatric hospital – generally showed great improvement. Calder turned out to be something of an exception.
One of the things Ravichandra insisted upon was that all patients should have single rooms, or at least share with only one other person. Accordingly, the old system of shared bunks (officers excepted, naturally) was abolished, and the large rooms of the old house were converted into a great number of small but pleasant single and double cubicles. This not only increased the comfort of the patients but also expanded the hospital’s capacity, so the Army were inclined to be pleased despite the expense. Ravichandra had made a rod for his own back in that he immediately found that the Army were sending him a great many more patients.
Not only did Ravichandra find his staff and budget severely stretched, he soon found that space was running out. Calder was literally the last man to be sent to Sandilands before Ravichandra was forced to tell the Army that he could not possibly accept any more patients. Consequently, Calder was not put into a cubicle like the vast majority of the patients, but was billeted in a small attic room. It was the last remaining scrap of space usable for habitation.
By the account of Lumsden, the orderly who showed Calder up to his room via a narrow, cramped, and creaking old spiral staircase, the new arrival was pleased when he saw the room. He seemed to like its privacy and remoteness – though he certainly remarked upon its peculiarities, as nobody could help doing.
Its walls, floor, and angled ceiling were of dark, old wood. Even the loam between the tarred black beams was dark. At some point, probably during the early nineteenth century, the room had been refurbished with new panelling and floorboards. but even then the dark colour scheme had been retained. The wood of the panels and floorboards was stained so dark as to be almost black.…