Writing about Arnold Loosemore, V.C.

Posted by Jessica Meyer

I have been writing about Arnold Loosemore, V.C., on and off for the past six months.  I first encountered his story at a community event at Birley School, Sheffield where I had been contributing some workshops on post-war disability and men’s return from the war as part of a project being run by Whitworks Adventures in Theatre.  Graham White spoke about local hero Loosemore, telling his story and describing the work that had been done by local groups to recover and commemorate his memory.

At the time, I was particularly interested in a short clip that Graham showed from the Channel 4’s 2014 programme, WWI’s Forgotten Heroes as part of their Secret History series, which examined Loosemore’s pension file at the National Archives.  The story it purported to tell, of a widow denied financial support by the Ministry of Pensions because she married him after he acquired his disability and therefore ‘knew what she was getting herself into’, seemed highly relevant to the questions I was asking about the support that wives of disabled ex-servicemen received from the State in acknowledgement of the practical care they provided to their husbands.  The number of Loosemore’s pension file wasn’t given, but I filed the name away in the hope that I might eventually encounter it during the creation of the project database.

It was with no little surprise and pleasure, therefore, that I turned up Loosemore’s file, PIN 26/18 on my very first trip to the archive after the project got of the ground.  Unlike other files I turned up that day, and indeed since, it is fairly slim, containing primarily medical details of Loosemore’s treatment for TB and the brief correspondence between an advocate for Amy Loosemore, his widow, and the Ministry about her retrospective claim for a widow’s pension.  Given this relative brevity, why has this particular story become the focus of my analysis for some many months?

There are two key reasons.  The first is that the story told by the correspondence about Amy’s widow’s pension isn’t quite the one implied by the Channel 4 documentary.  Amy didn’t apply for this pension immediately following her husband’s death in 1924, but in 1946, when the Ministry changed its regulations to allow widows of war disabled men to claim pensions even when they had married them after their injury.  This date is significant, because the changes only applied to widows of men disabled in the Second World War, with only marriages occurring after 1939 being taken into account.  Amy and Arnold’s marriage came under earlier regulations, which Amy appears to have been aware of, which did not allow for the award of widow’s pensions to women whose husbands died after the war, even where the cause was deemed attributable to the war, as Arnold’s TB, the cause of his death, was.  Thus while the Minstry’s representative wrote ‘The position is that Mrs. Loosemore, when her husband died in 1924, was ineligible to be consider for a war widow’s penison on the ground of post-injury marriage’ [my emphasis] he goes on ‘As her husband died prior to 3rd September, 1939, she is still excluded from consideration under Cmd. 6714.’ [my emphasis] [1]  It is also worth noting that during Arnold’s life, Amy was in receipt of a dependent’s allowance as his wife, and also received an allowance for their son after his birth in 1921.  While the Minstry may not have appeared generous to her after her husband’s death, she did receive financial benefit during his lifetime, although probably not enough to compenstate for the difficulties of caring for a severely disabled and ill man over a number of years.

Sergeant Arnold Loosemore, V.C., http://www.loosemore.group.shef.ac.uk/

The second reason that this story has become the focus of my analysis is the level of visibility that Arnold.  As a V.C., Loosemore was photographed, complete with crutches, and regularly took part in public events, including a march from Wellington Barracks to Buckingham Palace by V.C.s of the war, and the public award of medals by the King in Sheffield.  He and his family were the object of local charitable focus, with the Rotary Club raising money to build a ground floor extention to their house. His experiences are, to a certain extent, visible in his pension records, which include regular details of his medical condition and treatment.  Yet his day-to-day life, and that of the woman who married and cared for him, remains, by comparison, hidden.  This silence fascinates me, and is the primary motivation behind the Men, Women and Care project which seeks to make men and women whose experience can otherwise seem invisible visible once again.

In the coming months I will be going back to Birley School and to Rainbow Forge, another Sheffield School that has been exploring Loosemore’s story, to tell pupils about my journey of exploration and analysis in understanding why Amy didn’t receive a widow’s pension.  I will also be analysing Arnold’s medical records in conjunction with those of an officer, JM1, which are primarily made up of receipts for the specialist medical equipment necessary to enable to live at home despite being paralysed by a bullet wound to his spine.  In doing so, I hope to start to work out a  methodology for using diffuse and sometimes eliptical archival records to tell the stories of the disabled men who literally returned to their homes, the adaptations that this required, and, eventually, of the women who, I theorise, did the bulk of the adapting.

[1] Memo to H. Godfrey, Esq., Parliamentary Secretary, 15th August, 1946, PIN 26/18, The National Archives, London.