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Pioneering (guinea-pig) surgery


    • When Granddad Fleming came out of hospital in 1919, his right arm was paralysed, and his left hand had only three fingers and a thumb. It had been three freezing-cold days before a Burial Party lifted him from the mud of Passchendaele onto their horse-drawn cart. When they discerned signs of life, he was quickly rushed to Kings College Hospital in London. His must have been an interesting case, for pioneering (guinea-pig) surgery was undertaken to remove dangerously positioned shrapnel from his shoulder. This no doubt saved his life. However, nerves had been severed in the process and the use of his right arm sacrificed. The frost-bitten second finger of his left-hand was reduced to a short stump. He had physio- or occupational therapy to teach him to use his left arm and hand, and part of that therapy was to sew, learning fine stitches gave him the dexterity to enable him to substitute the left-hand for the right. The attached photo shows an embroidered picture of a faun which is almost complete. Whether he worked on it in hospital (where, judging from post-card dates, he spent at least six months), in a convalescent home or back home with his family, I cannot be sure. It is not surprising that he had to contend with suicidal feelings, after his “near death” experience, but having learnt control of his fingers by sewing, he went on to teach himself to write and do all the familiar tasks using his left hand. He managed a shop in Fulham, and later on another in Chelsea with the family living above the shop, and then moved into the License trade, where he could pull a pint with the best of ‘em. My admiration of his refusal to let disability ruin his life is matched only by my admiration for the doctors and nurses of Kings College Hospital who worked patiently to ensure their damaged charges could resume normal living again. I didn’t know my maternal grandfather, Tom Fleming, Royal Fusiliers, London Regiment, very well, but I remember him as a gentle and quiet man and - like so many, totally unsuited to warfare. Pam Slade 7.08.2014





  • Temporal:

    • 2014-08-07 19:17:24 UTC
  • Place/Time:

    • Western Front


  • Source:

    • User contributed content
  • Identifier:

    • 17205
  • Institution:

  • Provider:

  • Providing country:

  • First published in Europeana:

    • 2014-08-12
  • Last updated in Europeana:

    • 2016-07-27

References and relations


  • Location:

    • Passchendaele, London
  • Place/Time:

    • Western Front
  • Subjects, resource types, genres and forms (Concepts)