Callous military and discharged men

Bute Hospital, Luton

  • Bute Hospital, Luton.

Scathing things were said about the treatment by the authorities of discharged men, at a meeting of Luton War Pensions Committee at the Town Hall on Friday night [September 28th, 1917].

Mr William Phillips cited the case of a Dunstable sergeant who went through all the early stages of the war, and since discharge has served in the Corps Commissionaire at Kent's in Luton. He has had his right arm amputated from the shoulder and has a wound in the right side and groin from an explosive bullet and goes into hospital at intervals to have the wound seen to and occasionally an operation performed.

For 11 weeks he has been in the Bute Hospital, and some weeks ago the Medical Board at Bedford wrote inquiring if he was fit to attend for medical re-examination. The Matron twice informed them he was not fit, and the matter was left until September 17th, when the man was sent a summons to appear at the military hospital at Kempston Barracks for examination within 24 hours of "otherwise his pension might be stopped".

Dr Bone said the man was not fit to go, but he was in such a state about his pension that he was allowed to go. As it happened, it did not hurt the man, but it seemed to Mr Phillips that instead of making all this fuss the Medical Board should have written to the hospital again and asked for a certificate from the doctor attending him and have either accepted the medical certificate or sent a travelling medical board to see him.

The Deputy Mayor (Councillor Primett) gave the history of another case. This man was put into the W Reserve and, having been an engineer, was sent to do munition work. After about a month his health broke down and he was sent into a London institution, where he had undergone four serious operations. He had still an open wound that was not healed, and yet to got a calling-up notice to join the Colours within so many hours at Chelmsford.

There was something worse. The wife of this man had never had a penny separation allowance since he had been in hospital. She had had to struggle along and work to keep herself and four children, and all the help she had was a sovereign from the Mayor's Fund.

Mr W. J. Mabley remarked that these men had apparently been fighting for democracy and it appeared they were getting it in a different way from what they expected. His contention was that no medical officer in the service should have anything to do with a man discharged medically unfit as regards reassessing his pension. It should be done by civil practitioners in the district where the man had been living.

The Mayor [Alderman John Staddon] said he had one of the most peculiar experiences. While his son was lying in Cambridge Hospital a letter was sent to him at Luton, with a railway warrant, to appear before the Medical Board at Cambridge within 48 hours, and was sent from not five yards from his bed.

"It's an absolute disgrace," commented Mr Mabley.

Reference was also made to the new duties placed on the local committee in connection with the work of the Appeals Tribunal set up by the Ministry of Pensions to hear appeals from men given or refused gratuities on the ground that their disability was not attributable to military service.

If a man feels he has a legitimate he can go to the local committee and state his case, and the medical history papers relating to him will be laid before a special sub-committee which it was decided to constitute of Alderman H. O. Williams, Messrs W. J. Mair, W. Saunders, F. W. Smith and J. H. Saint.

The man will have to appear before the sub-committee and produce evidence from his ordinary medical attendant as to the state of his health before enlistment, and evidence will also have to be obtained from his approved society and employer bearing on the matter. It will not be for the sub-committee to adjudicate upon a man's appeal, but the committee's opinion may be sent up with the papers to the Appeals Tribunal.

Mr Mabley entirely disagreed with the requirement as to the state of a man's health before the war, contending that if the Government accepted a man for service they were responsible for the position he was in medically when discharged, and the Mayor said he quite agreed.

He thought there was no tribunal in the country which had fought this question more than the Luton Tribunal, and still the military were persisting in the same thing. He thought they were worse now than they were months back, and the Government must make themselves responsible for these men. It was one of the crying evils of compulsory military service that the medical boards of the country, with few exceptions, could not be trusted in their examinations to do their duty to the men as well as to the Army.

As a result of further consideration of the question of the treatment of discharged sailors and soldiers at Wardown V.A.D. Hospital the opinion was expressed that it would be unreasonable to expect the medical staff of local hospitals to undertake the treatment without remuneration, and the Secretary was directed to inquire of the Ministry of Pensions what fees the local committee may offer for the services of the doctors, in addition to the payment allowed to the institutions.

The Deputy Mayor said the attempt to get these men treated free was on all fours with what they had to contend with in the early stages of the committee's existence, the proposal to get voluntary subscriptions to supplement pensions. Luton had something to do with the killing of that, and he hoped this resolution would have the same result.

[The Luton Reporter: Wednesday, October 3rd, 1917]