Disabled century two BBC films about C20th


War – long associated with giving an impetus to the feminist movement – also played a major part in transforming people’s views of disability.

Not only have this century’s two world wars created a large number of disabled people, but a shortage of workers in the Second World War prompted many companies to hire staff with disabilities.

The first part of BBC Two’s series The Disabled Century examines the change in attitudes towards disability between 1914 and 1944.

Before the First World War, disabled people tended to be isolated and seen as the “deserving poor”.

During the war, 1.5m people lost limbs, were blinded, became deaf or suffered severe mental trauma or brain damage.

People who suffered shell shock were classed as mentally ill. If they were badly affected, they were sent to a mental home.

Lost limbs

Horace Blackburn was disabled from childhood. During the First World War, he fitted limbs to people wounded in the war.

“I told my mother and she said that is what happens in war. No-one wants them. They have done their bit and are fobbed off with a bit of pension,” he said.

War veterans say they got four shillings for a lost arm and five or six shillings for a lost leg.

The war brought physical disability out into the open. But the government was still locking away people with learning difficulties under the 1913 Mental Defectives Act.

Bill Surrey was locked up at the age of seven and spent 70 years in an institution.

Leave a Reply