Negotiating Networks of Care

Posted by Eilis Boyle

In my first ever post for the Men, Women and Care blog I briefly touched on the role played by individual agents (primarily doctors) in lobbying for financial support for facially-wounded ex-servicemen. Three months later, analysing the ways in which different agencies interacted and negotiated the responsibilities of care for facially-wounded and war-neurotic veterans has become one of the key themes of my project. Within the pension files I have photographed to date, I have been struck by the number of individuals whose voices appear, or to whom reference is made in these records – serving as primary caregivers, acting on behalf of claimants, verifying the existence and impact of wounds or conditions, or else generally providing some form of support to sick and disabled ex-servicemen.

As Deborah Cohen demonstrates, official responsibilities of care were divided amongst state and charitable institutions in interwar Britain.[1] The National Archive pension files reveal that a number of different actors played a role in the provision of care at a local and domestic level as well. Family doctors, MPs and ex-politicians, parents, siblings, friends, employers, and charities have all made appearances within the pension records that I have examined thus far. In some cases the role of these individuals is clearly visible, and in fact their voices can emerge more strongly than those of the ex-servicemen whose claims they hoped to influence. In the case of a twenty-one year old veteran with lupus erythematosus, for example, ex-Conservative politician Fred Milner wrote to the Minister of Pensions on the young man’s behalf, appealing for an increase in his pension.[2] Milner’s success in securing increased financial aid demonstrates the important role played by non-familial individuals in mediating between pensioners and the Ministry.

In cases such as this the role which individuals played in supporting veterans is clearly visible. Other acts of care, however, are hidden amongst numerous doctor’s reports and pages of minutes, in seemingly unremarkable comments which in fact reveal something of the support networks which helped ex-servicemen to deal with their wounds in interwar Britain. For example, one doctor, summarising the attendance needs of a severely shell-shocked veteran (whose wife was his primary carer), mentioned that the ex-serviceman’s sister-in-law resided in his home and that another sister-in-law lived nearby.[3] A ‘nurse friend’ is also said to have visited the home twice a week to assist in his care. Whilst not explicitly named as caregivers, these women operated in a caring capacity in order to ameliorate the responsibilities of care undertaken by this man’s wife. Although we can only speculate, the close proximity and assistance of her sisters and friend presumably also lent emotional support to this pensioner’s wife.

For another pensioner, who found it ‘utterly impossible to get employment’ in Ireland after the war, an extended family member of no direct blood-relation offered assistance through the promise of work in America.[4] As these files show, therefore, not only were doctors, philanthropists, and often wives, called upon to care for disabled ex-servicemen, but many members of the civilian population acted to support pensioners, their claims, and their primary caregivers in some capacity. The array of individuals featured in the National Archive’s pension files attests to the enormous demands of care which emerged in the post-war era, and which could often overwhelm the resources of primary caregivers.

These files indicate the large number of individuals and agencies (both men and women) who became part of post-war networks of care at a domestic and local level. They further serve as a reminder of the wide reaching impact of war-related disabilities, disfigurements and conditions, which affected not only ex-servicemen (and women) and their immediate relatives, but extended families, friends, and the communities in which they lived and worked.

[1] Deborah Cohen, The War Come Home: Disabled Veterans in Britain and Germany, 1914–1940 (California: University of California Press, 2001).

[2] PIN 15/1527.

[3] PIN 26/16844.

[4] PIN 26/75.