1939 - 1959
Another World War and a healthcare revolution
Adapting and evolving
Into a brave new world
World War Two fighter pilots were superstars. The most famous of all was charismatic, athletic and fiercely independent double amputee Douglas Bader. Treated at Roehampton, Sir Douglas gives his name to Queen Mary’s amputee rehabilitation centre.
Sir Douglas Bader
CBE DSO DFC FRAeS DL
Bader grew up in awe of the flying aces of World War One. Aged 20 he joined the RAF, learning so quickly he was selected for the acrobatic equivalent of today’s Red Arrows in 1931.
Laughing in the face of danger (and orders) he performed ever more daring stunts. Attempting a slow roll at just 30ft his wing tip hit the ground. He crashed, and at just 21 years old, he’d lost one leg below the knee and the other above. His log book entry for the flight read: ‘Crashed slow-rolling near ground. Bad show.’
Bader was treated at Roehampton, where with characteristic guts, determination and expert support he learned how to walk again. Almost a decade later he re-joined the RAF to fly Spitfires in World War Two. Remarkable combat and leadership skills saw him quickly promoted to lead 242 Squadron, and he became a household name during the 1940 Battle of Britain.
In 1941 his plane was shot down over France. Plummeting out of the sky his foot became trapped under a pedal. He quickly unbuckled his trapped artificial leg and parachuted to safety.
He made so many escape attempts from German prison camps that he was moved to super secure Colditz, where he saw out the rest of his war in the prison that had more guards than prisoners. The book and film Reach for the Sky tell his remarkable story.
His post-war life saw him playing wonderful golf, working for Shell Aviation, and promoting and fund-raising for disabled charities. He was knighted in 1976.
Sir Douglas died in 1982, wearing the legs on display at Queen Mary’s Bader Rehabilitation Centre, made and fitted at Roehampton.
At the end of World War Two, British soldiers who had been taken prisoner by the Japanese began arriving home in the UK.
The majority had suffered appaling treatment, particularly those forced to work on the construction of the Thailand-Burma ‘Death Railway’.
The Far East Prisoners of War
In cruel and unsanitary conditions many contracted tropical diseases (particularly cholera), many died and very few had anything like enough to eat.
A specialist tropical diseases unit opened at Roehampton. Among treatments devised there was a ten day plan that brought immediate and very effective help to the many emaciated patients who arrived suffering from Amoebic Dysentry.
The unit grew to 150 beds by 1950, with intensive treatment delivered by skilled nurses headed by much loved and respected Sister ‘Scarlet’ O’Hara.
Roehampton’s specialist Certificate of Tropical Nursing could be earned after six month’s training on the ward. The unit became a clinical teaching centre and the certificate course was adopted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
These interviews were recorded by members of the QMH Archive Group between 2005 and 2009. By the nature of the subject matter, some people may find some of the content of these interviews upsetting.
John Baxter – treatment for hookworm
Fergus Anckorn – captivity and eventual treatment at Roehampton
The hospital at war
A huge crater marked a near miss by a German bomb. A group of lower limb amputees are looking into it.
Roehampton House and the workshops were seriously damaged by air raids and flying bombs in 1940 and 1944.
T Bryant Smith, manager of the Hanger & Co. limb factory was killed.
The march of the car
Roehampton Lane was widened in 1956 to cope with ever-increasing traffic.
The lodges at the front of the house today were built in 1956 to a design by the Greater London Council.