All eyes are on Rio as Paralympians pit their skills and strength against each other to win the coveted gold medal. Today these Paralympians are heroes but the attitude to disability was very different in 1916.
One hundred years ago The Royal Star & Garter Home in Richmond opened its doors to the wounded soldiers returning from the battlefields of the First World War. Usually, these shattered men were pensioned off to live without purpose, but at the Richmond Home, the Commandant, Major Dickie, refused to accept a bed-ridden future for these men, explaining that:
“All those who come to the Star & Garter have been discharged from the services … as ‘totally disabled’… The Star & Garter, with some perversity and some disregard for authority, does not accept this grave sentence. Every patient on the contrary is regarded as a hopeful case and is submitted to persistent and continuous treatment. If nothing more can be done it is at least possible to keep alive the spark of hope.”
This pioneering approach to disability was furthered by the work of Dr Guttmann in the 1940s. Guttmann, whose work at Stoke Mandeville Hospital was renowned, established a paraplegic ward at the Richmond Home. He was convinced that sport was vital to the physical and the mental well-being of the disabled residents in his care. He introduced archery, ball games and other sports that could be played from a wheelchair. In 1948, to coincide with the Olympic Games being held in London, Dr Guttmann launched the ‘Stoke Mandeville Games’ with an archery competition between teams from The Royal Star & Garter Homes and Stoke Mandeville. The Star & Garter team won that year, and again in 1949.
These Games were the vision of men who believed that there was ‘no such thing as a hopeless case’ and the forerunner to what is now the Paralympic Games. Their legacy continues in the care offered at The Royal Star & Garter Homes today.