Research Seminar: Louise Bell

Louise Bell presents a seminar entitled '"The leg I had was a ton weight": Exploring Artificial Limb Provision and the Two World Wars'.

This seminar is part of the Health Histories series in the School of History.

About the talk

Around 41,000 men returned to Britain after the First World War missing one or more limbs. The figure for the Second World War, however, was significantly lower at 12,000. This was something that the British state had to attempt to deal with and limb fitting centres were set up nationally in order to help these men with the fitting of new prostheses and the rehabilitation involved with life as an amputee.

One of the major roles that these centres played was the provision of artificial limbs to these ex-servicemen. Manufacturers were housed on site and ranged from local shipbuilders to firms from America. Initially made primarily from wood, more experimentation with materials began to be undertaken as the interwar period began, and makers started to move towards limbs made from light metals instead.

This paper will explore the changes in materials and design in the period from 1914-1945. Using different sources from oral histories to material culture it will also aim to highlight some of my research into the lived experience of using this technology and highlight, amongst other aspects, how some men had the skills and prior knowledge to tinker with the limbs that the State provided for them and adapt them to their own needs.

About the speaker

Louise Bell is a final-year AHRC CDP funded PhD researcher working between the University of Leeds and The National Archives. Her thesis focuses on “British State Provision of Prosthetic Limbs and the Two World Wars.” She is also one of the PGR reps for the Social History Society and a co-founder of the UK Disability History and Heritage Hub.

Image acknowledgement

Disabled British soldiers at the workshops of J E Hanger at Roehampton, Surrey, learn to walk again using their newly fitted artificial legs, ca.1917. Imperial War Museum, non-commercial license © IWM Q 33693