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Object: William Gemmell and eight unidentified WWI soldiers posing with sheep fleece at Oatlands Park, Surrey, England

This image has No Known Copyright Restrictions.

Title William Gemmell and eight unidentified WWI soldiers posing with sheep fleece at Oatlands Park, Surrey, England
Production Unknown (photographer), 1918, England
Medium summary black and white photography, gelatin silver print on cardboard mount
Materials silver, photographic gelatin, photographic paper, mounting board
Classification black-and-white prints, gelatin silver prints, documentary photographs
Technique photography, black-and-white photography
Dimensions Image: 630mm (Height) x 908mm (Width)
Support: 630mm (Height) x 908mm (Width)
Secondary Support: 661mm (Height) x 950mm (Width)
Credit line Acquisition history unknown
Registration number O.031485

The identity of all but one of the limbless servicemen featured in this photograph are unknown; so are the circumstances behind its production. However, we can assume that it was taken at Oatlands Park in Surrey, England, during the latter part of World War I.

Oatlands Park
At this time, Oatlands Park, a hotel, was being used as a hospital by the New Zealand Expeditionary Force for medical and tuberculosis cases and limbless men (informally known as 'limbies'). Oatlands Park was a few miles south-west of No. 2 New Zealand General Hospital at Walton-on-Thames. It was also near the Queen Mary Convalescent Hospital at Roehampton where the amputees could be fitted with artificial limbs.

World War I and limbless veterans
Thousands of Allied soldiers ended up maimed and limbless as a result of the conflict of 1914-1918. While a relatively small number of New Zealand soldiers suffered amputations (just over 1000 were listed as limbless war pensioners in 1924), over 41,000 British servicemen required the amputation of a limb.

Gas gangrene
The impact of shellfire and a condition known as 'gas gangrene' necessitated this phenomenal number of amputations. Without penicillin or surgical intervention, gas gangrene could be fatal. It occurred as infected wounds ballooned up with gas from bacteria found in the muddy quagmires of the trenches and battlefields.

The Red Cross set up vocational workshops at Oatlands Park, where men learnt new occupational skills. In May 1918, the work of New Zealand limbies was displayed in London to coincide with a conference on the 'After Care of Disabled Soldiers'. Delegates reported that the New Zealanders' work was the 'best and most practical display in the whole exhibition'.

William Gemmell, from Oamaru, is on the extreme left of the back row (standing). He had his right leg amputated after he received a gunshot wound to his right thigh during the during the Third Battle of Ypres at Passchendaele in October 1917.

The man standing third from the left is a member of the New Zealand Medical Corps, while the man standing third from the right is a member of the 12th (Nelson) Infantry Regiment.


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Disclaimer: This information was created from historic documentation, and may not necessarily reflect the best available knowledge about the item. Some collection images are created for identification purposes only and may not be of reproduction quality. Some images are not available due to copyright restrictions. If you have information or questions about objects in the collection, contact us using our enquiry form. You can also find out more about Collections Online.