Lecture: 'Immaterial Welfare: Disabled veterans and the emotional economy in the First and Second World Wars'

Professor Julie Anderson (University of Kent) presents a keynote lecture to which all are welcome.

Employing a range of sources from sympathetic narratives about overcoming disability, pride in sporting achievements, to tears and fury at the state’s lack of material support, this paper explores the complex nature of the emotional economy of disabled veterans in the two World Wars in Britain.

About the lecture

An advertisement in The Times in 1918 requested that the public ‘spare their tears but not their doles.’ Requests to limit their emotions reminded the public that an investment in the emotional economy of those disabled in war was of less value than the material reality of fiscal support for disabled veterans. 

From Dreadnoughts to machine gun bullets, materiality is essential to conducting modern warfare. For those disabled in Britain in its two major conflicts – the First and Second World Wars – spaces for rehabilitation, pensions and aids such as artificial limbs supported the material nature of those who sacrificed parts of their bodies and minds in these wars. Across much of the nature of wars and their aftermath, the material reality was prefaced over the immaterial fantasy – the idea that emotional engagement, awareness and consciousness presented little of value to disabled ex-servicemen. 

This paper argues that the immaterial – the ephemeral, emotional, conscious awareness of disabled veterans was fundamental to understanding the complex emotional economy of the war disabled in the first half of the twentieth century. Class and gender influenced the nature of emotion, public figures such as King George V, Queen Mary, George VI and Queen Elizabeth balanced shows of emotion such as sadness and stoicism alongside appeals for material benefits for disabled ex-servicemen. Emotion were commodities that could be exploited, although the very nature of emotion meant that it was changeable and unpredictable. It is important to note the emotional economy was not limited by sympathy and sadness; anger, outrage and pride were as important to the emotional economy and kept disabled veterans in the public’s mind.

About the speaker

Professor Julie Anderson is Professor of Modern History and Faculty Director of Medical Humanities at the University of Kent. Her research interests cover the history of medicine in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. She is particularly interested in the cultural and social history of physical disabilities and blindness, and is currently completing a monograph on a medical history of blindness 1900-1950.

Julie also researches war and medicine. War, Disability and Rehabilitation: Soul of a Nation was published by Manchester University Press in 2011 and ‘Homes away from home and happy prisoners: Disabled veterans, space, and masculinity in Britain, 1944-1950’ appeared in the Journal of Social History in 2020.

Julie has worked with a number of partners to promote awareness of the history of disability, including the Royal College of Physicians. She is Chair of the Disability History Group and also co-editor of a series on the history of disability with Manchester University Press. 

How to attend

This keynote is part of the Military Welfare History Network Conference, taking place at the University of Leeds on 21 June 2024. This keynote lecture is open to all, without requiring registration for the full conference.

If you wish to register for Professor Anderson's keynote lecture only, please register here.

Image credit

King George V conversing with officers at a Casualty Clearing Station at Remy, 14th August 1916 © IWM (Q 978) Imperial War Museum, used under Non-Commercial License.