Sasha Callaghan: Film casts light on war wounded

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Disability History Month (November 21 to December 21) will see the premiere of an exciting and thought-provoking animation film on Saturday, December 6 at Edinburgh City Chambers.

The visually-striking short animation, made in collaboration by Disability History Scotland and Mucklehen Productions, begins by looking at the often-neglected stories of impaired combatants returning from the First World War and their uphill struggle for recognition in a Scotland that fell far short of being a land “fit for heroes”.

The impact of the First World War on Scottish society should not be underestimated. Scotland was faced with unprecedented numbers of 
casualties, including combatants, nurses and civilian munitions workers and this presented a huge challenge.

As many politicians were ill-prepared to address this crisis, the Scottish people responded by fundraising on a grand scale in order to aid those who had been injured on behalf of ‘King and Country’. Whilst the First World War was the impetus for advances in medicine and psychiatric treatment in Scotland, it has to be remembered that many of those maimed due to the conflict were left with very little or even no help.

In some ways the notion of who was “deserving” or “undeserving” was reinforced as soon as the armistice was declared. It was not enough to have been impaired because of the war, disabled people were expected to be suitably grateful and have the “right attitude” in order to qualify for a 
pension or an accessible place to live. 
Some were abandoned and left to beg on the streets whilst others returned to families that did not have the means or experience to adequately care for them.

The animation tells the story of how many disabled Scots refused to accept this situation and became campaigners for social change, rather than passive victims. Their determination proved to be the catalyst for new generations of disabled people to fight for a more inclusive and equal Scotland.

The animation film forms part of Disability History Scotland’s “All Together Now” project, which has received backing from the Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland. All Together Now explores the changes in society that began with the aftermath of the Great War over the last 100 years and the impact of the conflict on disabled people. It also celebrates the hard-won achievements of disabled people over the last century.

With support from the Leith-based Living Memory Association, Disability History Scotland has put together a memory chest, filled with disability related artefacts, dating from just before the outbreak of the First World War to the present day.

The memory chest will be permanently housed in Edinburgh City Art Gallery and will be available on loan to educational institutions and 
community groups.

Sasha Callaghan is coordinator of Disability History Scotland.