Anglicanism and The British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association: A Local Case Study

Posted by Bethany Rowley

The 1937 Manchester deputation has been remembered amongst the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association as a great success story in aiding the unemployed limbless in addition to what was offered by The King’s Roll. In February 1937, just five years after the constitution of the charity was published, the Hon General Secretary, George Chandley, accompanied by Alderman Dame Mary Kingsmill Jones and Canon Paton Williams went to the then Lord Mayor of Manchester, regarding one thousand and three hundred unemployed war limbless in the city. The Ministry of Labour were called in and the Lord Mayor sent a letter to every employer in the city. As a result, one thousand of the men were found jobs in a short space of time.

However, it was no accident that a woman and a clergy-man were chosen to head this campaign: BLESMA wanted to show that this was a concern across the social, cultural and gender divide. Mary Jones was the first female Lord Mayor of Manchester. She served as a Governor of Manchester Grammar, Manchester High School for Girls, John Rylands Library and the University of Manchester and was a President of the Red Cross Society. Additionally, Canon Paton Williams had strong ties with medical professions as he believed that psychologists undertook very similar work to church welfare work and that prolonged unemployment coupled with war disability would leave men with psychological damage. Supported by leading Anglican clergy-men, his position was published in The British Medical Journal, where he argued that. ‘ the practice of psychotherapy involves action to which the principles of the Christian religion and ethics are directly relevant; if these are neglected great harm may result’. (1)

The Bishops of Manchester and Bradford; Dr J. R. Rees, director of the Institute of Medical Psychology and Dr H.P Newsholme, Ministry of Health Birmingham supported this analysis. Medical advancements favoured by the church related to welfare rather than a physical injury such as medicine/prosthetics to help with a loss of a limb. Whilst this was not an unusual approach for the church to take, it is perhaps surprising when it is considered that BLESMA focused on a specific physical war injury. This line of thought, that religion had the potential to heal people just like medicine did, had existed in Anglican communities for many years. For example, ‘The Scientific Background of Religion In Light of Modern Psychology’, was Read Before the Leeds Clergy Chapter Church Institute, on June 12th, 1922, by W. H Maxwell Telling, on the same issues as was later raised by Canon Paton Williams. Maxwell Telling was a Lecturer on Pharmacology and Therapeutics and Clinical Lecturer in Medicine in the University of Leeds, and, Honorary physician to Leeds General Infirmary and the Leeds Hospital for Women and Children. He stated:

‘It is apparent that the general aims of our professions have much in common; indeed, in essentials are identical. We are out to help, to cure, to save; to mitigate distress and to lessen evil. In the old days the two professions were one and have only become separated by the enormous demands made by materialistic knowledge. In my opinion the two professions are still one. The physician must realise that the spiritual; must lift his vision above the physical and beyond the material; and the priest must regard creed as a convenience and not as a compulsion. The practice of the physician merges into that of the priest, from whom he should reverently learn all that is possible of the gentle art of ministration to the bruised and stricken souls of humanity, to whom he can truly say, that death is the most glorious experience of what we so mistakenly call life’. (2)

Hence within Anglican circles, medicine, religion and unemployment were closely connected. This impacted on the decisions made by BLESMA, such as the 1937 deputation in Manchester (which in turn inspired similar rally’s in Preston and Blackpool in the late 1930’s) which is an example of a priest and a doctor working together. BLESMA collaborated with individuals such as Paton Williams and Jones because of their social prestige, philanthropic interest and their ability and potential, because of these two qualities, to create social change for the First World War limbless veterans.

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2457253/pdf/brmedj06849-0041c.pdf

(2)West Yorkshire Archives: RDP68/120/26. ‘The Scientific Background of Religion In Light of Modern Psychology’, Read Before the Leeds Clergy Chapter Church Institute, June 12th, 1922, by W. H Maxwell Telling, pp3-4