Title / object name
Untitled [rows of men seated at desks, left side of the room]
|Maker ||Role ||Date |
|Unknown ||photographer ||1917-1919? |
black and white photography, gelatin silver printMaterials
silver, photographic gelatin, photographic paper, mounting board
|Image ||632 (Height) x 920 (Width) mm|
|Support ||632 (Height) x 920 (Width) mm|
|Secondary support ||660 (Height) x 950 (Width) mm|
black-and-white prints, gelatin silver prints, documentary photographs
photography, black-and-white photography
The details 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.
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.
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'.