BLESMA charity helps dozens of war veterans in Huddersfield
The number of British servicemen who have lost limbs after being wounded in conflict is rising sharply.
So it’s now becoming more important than ever that we help to support their recovery when they come back home.
As part of the Examiner’s Remembrance Day coverage, Katie Grant spoke to local people about the invaluable work of the British Limbless Ex-Service Men’s Association (BLESMA).
IT is a charity that has been quietly supporting servicemen and their spouses since 1931.
But the work of the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association (Blesma) is as vital as ever as conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan create a new generation of wounded troops.
About 24 ex-servicemen and women are helped by the charity in the Huddersfield area.
Local Blesma member Selwyn Rose, from Clifton in Brighouse, was just 19 when he lost his forearm in the Yangtse River Incident of 1949.
Mr Rose was on board the HMS Consort which was fired on by Chinese Communists as it went to the aid of another British ship, the HMS Amethyst.
The young sailor was in an action station compartment with two comrades who were killed instantly in a blast.
The 82-year-old told the Examiner: “I was just left standing – one of the other men shielded [me from] most of the blast.
“At first I hadn’t realised I had lost my arm because of the adrenalin.
“I couldn’t feel it at the time, I just looked down and saw it and had to hold it at the end to stop the flow of blood.”
Mr Rose counts himself among the lucky ones. After returning from the war, he began a successful career in sales at Readymix Huddersfield.
He was still a young man when he became secretary of the Huddersfield branch of Blesma.
Mr Rose, who lives with his wife Dorothy, said: “A lot of other people are more badly injured than me and the charity raises funds to help the less fortunate.
“When I was in hospital the first person I came across was a Polish man who had lost both legs and both arms and was blinded.
“I thought to myself ‘well there’s nothing wrong with me’.”
Blesma assistant general secretary, Ernie Stables, said the number of servicemen returning from conflict after losing a limb is sharply increasing.
As well as amputees, the charity also supports troops who lose the use of a limb and those who lose their eyesight.
Mr Stables said: “With the onset of Iraq and Afghanistan we now have 270 new members.
“The vast majority of them are from Afghanistan and some 90% of those have been injured by improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
“There’s also an increase in people with multiple limb loss.
“We currently have 16 triple amputees and 70 double leg amputees.
“Years ago a lot of these people would not have survived but now the medical assistance is so much better they do.”
Mr Stables said Blesma’s work is about proving that there is life after amputation and helping veterans to rebuild their lives and cope with the trauma of losing a limb.
The focus is on amputees helping amputees through shared experience.
Members take part in group activities such as skiing, sailing and luncheon clubs.
The charity also provides hardship grants, grants for redecoration, gardening and car adaptation.
Veterans are offered therapy and counselling services as well as advice on war pensions, compensation claims and disability allowances.
Blesma also has two award-winning permanent residential care and respite convalescence at its homes in Blackpool and Crieff in Scotland.
Veterans’ widows are also supported by the charity.
Glenys Cockroft’s husband Ronnie, from Rawthorpe, lost a leg in The Korean War when he served with the Royal North British Fusiliers.
Mrs Cockroft said it was a hand-grenade that struck Mr Cockroft, who was in his early 20s when he was injured.
After he died in 1990 the charity has supported Mrs Cockroft, who is entitled to apply for a grant every five years to help with gardening and decoration.
Mrs Cockroft said: “The charity is brilliant! They really do what they can to help.
“When my husband was alive he got involved with Blesma and it took up so much of his time.
“I think a lot of the young men that come back from war these days should join but I don’t think everyone knows about the work they do.”
Grandmother-of-six Hilda Hirst, from Birkby, is supported by the charity following the death of her husband Frank Hirst, aged 85.
Mr Hirst – also known as Douglas – was a marine commando who had to have his leg amputated after being hit by enemy fire in The Battle of Crete.
It was his 20th birthday when he was injured, and after being helped into hiding by the Greeks, he was eventually captured by the Germans and held in a prisoner of war camp for some three years.
Mrs Hirst, who was a nurse at the former St Luke’s hospital, said: “Douglas was very proud and nobody knew he had an artificial leg when they first met him: he had a cast iron leg and he walked without a stick.
“He never complained about the war and he never, ever complained about his leg. He never grumbled and everybody knew him by his smile – he used to laugh just like Muttley the dog.”
Mrs Hirst said Arnold Pickup – who runs the Huddersfield branch of Blesma – calls at the houses of all the limbless veterans and widows in the area to see if they and their families are okay.
Mr Pickup, 80, from Dalton is ex-merchant navy and has raised thousands of pounds for the charity by running marathons.
Mrs Hirst said: “The charity helps veterans and their wives in many different ways and they are helping the younger ones too who are coming back from Afghanistan – as well as their wives.
“It’s so sad seeing the young boys’ pictures on TV these days.
“When you see their pictures they are so handsome.
“The weapons just keep getting bigger and bigger and doing more damage and wounding more soldiers.
“They have these road-side bombs now that are causing more injuries.”
It is easy to help Blesma.
If you wish to donate directly online visit www.bmycharity.com/blesma
For more information visit www.blesma.org