Louise Bell ‘New Limbs For Old’

‘…when the country was crying for men and I left a good job to join the soldiers, but now when I am a maimed and not fit for manual labour, this country has no further use for us.’

These are the words of disgruntled ex-serviceman, Thomas Kelly, a private in the Gordon Highlanders; a man who returned from the First World War in receipt of a 100% disability pension, after having both of his legs amputated above the knee. Kelly’s situation was not unique, but one that was shared by nearly 6 million British and German men, disabled by injury or disease in this period. The discovery of this letter is a refreshing one, allowing for further exploration of the feelings of uselessness, and anger, like in this case, which surrounded such men; as well as a further analysis of the opportunities available to them. This talk will use Kelly’s letter as a springboard into the wider story of what training and employment options were available to these men. It will also explore the prostheses which were made for these men and how rehabilitation also helped with these. With 41, 000 men returning to Britain from the war missing one or more limbs, this is an often under-explored part of history from this period.