Next week, the 2012 Paralympic Games will open in London. The Paralympics are based on the pioneering work of Dr Ludwig Guttman, who began using sport as a means of rehabilitating men with spinal injuries shortly after World War Two. But you may be surprised to learn that sport was used for a similar purpose in the Royal Pavilion as far back as 1916.
The Royal Pavilion’s use as a hospital for wounded Indian soldiers is well known, and now marked by a permanent gallery. Its use as a hospital for limbless men is less famous, yet it is perhaps an equally fascinating story. It opened in the summer of 1916, and retained many of the same medical personnel who had run the Indian hospital. It continued to care for men who had lost arms and legs in World War One until 1920, when the Pavilion was returned to the Brighton Corporation.
The contrast with the earlier hospital is striking: the primary focus of the Indian hospital was to make the men fit enough to either return to the front or be invalided back to India. Although the men were celebrated for their bravery in combat, little official concern seems to have been given to what happened to those men who returned home. By contrast, the hospital for limbless men was established with the aim of equipping its patients with new skills with which to rebuild their lives. This is made clear in the speech which opened the hospital:
‘I know that when you come here many of you have sad feelings. You think that life is not going to be much good to you any longer; but when you come on to Roehampton and see the fellows walking about with their artificial legs and using their artificial arms, and when you know what good work they are able to do in the workshops – many have become skilled workers instead of unskilled, as they were before the war… You will be filled with hope… For hope welcomes all who enter here!’Viscountess Falmouth, quoted in Brighton and Hove Herald, 26 August 1916
Much of what we know about life in the hospital for limbless men comes from the Pavilion ‘Blues’, a newspaper produced by the patients. Copies of this are available to view at the Brighton History Centre.
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