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‘Limbie’, World War I

Untitled [portrait of an unidentified WWI soldier with amputated feet posing in the grounds of Oatlands Park, Surrey, England]

Artificial limbs were manufactured for 'limbies', as World War I amputees were known. The main causes of lost limbs were shrapnel, machine-gun fire, and gas gangrene – a deadly form of gangrene, in this case caused by bacteria in the soil.

Limbies were offered a government programme to help rehabilitate them. Ironically, some employment opportunities were in factories making artificial limbs.

Psychological effects

Many servicemen returned home mentally scarred as much as physically damaged.

Psychological conditions like shell shock and depression were less obvious than missing limbs but equally debilitating. Many former servicemen struggled to adjust to post-war life, and some were unable to resume their occupations. Often, they were prematurely aged by their experiences, and a significant number died early.

© Copyright Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand.