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Maimed and not fit for manual labour? – The question of employment opportunities for those disabled in the war.

The National Archives

Louise Bell currently works as First World War Diverse Histories Researcher at The National Archives. Research areas include everything from women to war artists to Indian Labour Corps. Her main interests lie within the field of medicine and the First World War, with a particular interest in disability.

"‘…when the country was crying for men and I left a good job to join the soldiers, but now when I am a maimed and not fit for manual labour, this country has no further use for us.’ 

These are the words of disgruntled ex-serviceman, Thomas Kelly, a private in the Gordon Highlanders; a man who returned from the First World War in receipt of a 100% disability pension, after having both of his legs amputated above the knee. Kelly’s situation was not unique, but one that was shared by nearly 6 million British and German men, disabled by injury or disease in this period. The discovery of this letter, at The National Archives, by Kelly is a refreshing one, allowing for further exploration of the feelings of uselessness, and anger, like in this case, which surrounded such men; as well as a further analysis of the opportunities available to them. 

This paper will use Kelly’s letter as a springboard into the wider story of what training and employment options were available to these men. The story of Kelly and his desire to return to employment will be examined and compared to what other men in this situation experienced. Also, the theme of feeling useful will be explored. Where did this desire to be useful once more come from? – the men themselves? Or was it from society and the government?"