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Wounded Scotland: interwar disabled veterans

July 22, 2010

By Emily Rootham

Wounded Scots Guards. By Fortunino Matania, 1916. Wellcome Library

Scotland lost approximately 74 000 men in the Great War, but over 167 000 came back wounded. The extent of the injuries and disease suffered was great, and the effect was both physical and emotional – on the individuals and society.

Scotland contributed to the War as a part of Britain and therefore it and its people have been referred to sparsely in the British histories of the Great War. As Scottish history is a relatively new historiography, the interwar period appears limited in terms of literature on the effects of the War on Scottish culture and people. The disabled veteran is a neglected and forgotten figure in scholarly work, and so my study draws these two historical gaps together to investigate how attitudes changed towards disabled veterans in interwar Scotland.

My full-time doctoral research, funded by Glasgow Caledonian University, will first track the journey of the physically wounded soldier from the field to the rehabilitation hospitals in Scotland to understand where the British journey ended and the Scottish experience began during the War. However, the crux of my research will investigate interwar attitudes to disabled veterans from different classes and geographical locations in Scotland, as well as the changing opinions within this disjointed group.

Therefore my choice of sources will address the different angles of society from which the chapters of my thesis will be carved. First, the press will be analysed – particularly the Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald, as well as local newspapers – to follow the changing representation of the disabled veteran from the hero, a worthy charitable object, to a potential political and physical threat to society. Secondly, the responses from the organisations and institutions that were directly involved with the rehabilitation of the disabled veteran in Scotland will be analysed through archival research on local charities, hospitals and rehabilitation centres, the poor law and the religious response.

One of the main aims of the thesis, however, is to add to the evolving historiography of disability history and find the voice or many voices of the Scottish disabled veteran. The starting-point for this search will be the local political arena that some disabled veterans greatly contributed to in Scotland. A further aim of the project is to challenge the definition of disabled veterans as a group: the label covers people with a vast array of ailments, injuries and disabilities – some temporary, others permanent – whose recovery and rehabilitation differed owing to their hospital, charitable and home experiences. Therefore to argue that they were connected to each other as a unified group simply because they were all victims of the War does not represent the complexity of the social and medical situation that disabled veterans found themselves in upon their return to Scotland.

My thesis is filling a significant gap in Scottish social history, about how attitudes towards individuals with disabilities have a nature of changing quite dramatically owing to social concerns and fears.

Emily Rootham is a postgraduate student in her first year of study at Glasgow Caledonian University.

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