World War I saw the mutilation of men’s bodies on an unprecedented scale: around 1,000 New Zealand servicemen had limbs amputated due to the horrendous effects of shellfire and ‘gas gangrene’.
Special rehabilitation facilities, such as Oatlands Park in Weybridge, England, were set up for the after-care of disabled New Zealand servicemen. This included limbless soldiers, who were known colloquially as ‘limbies’. Oatlands Park was an auxiliary of nearby No. 2 New Zealand General Hospital in Walton-on-Thames. The facility was also near the Queen Mary Convalescent Hospital in Roehampton, where artificial limbs were fitted.
At Oatlands Park, the army provided workshops and classes for amputees. Some of these men also worked in firms around England. Through these initiatives, limbies gained new vocational skills. The ultimate aim was to prepare the men for a productive role in civilian life.
Te Papa has a collection of 28 exhibition prints showing limbless men attending the workshops and other facilities at Oatlands Park. The original use of these prints is unknown, but they may have been displayed in exhibitions demonstrating the New Zealand Army’s successful efforts to rehabilitate soldiers.