Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Local hero's Fairlynch exhibition will benefit Help for Heroes

Antarctic explorer and former Budleigh Salterton resident George Murray Levick as he emerged from his six-month refuge in an ice cave on 24 September 1912
Photo credit: Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

People seem keen to know more about the life of former Budleigh Salterton resident Surgeon Commander Murray Levick, judging by the capacity audience who gathered to hear author Katherine Lambert's excellent talk about her book Hell with a capital H in the Peter Hall last Monday. And it wasn't just Friends of Fairlynch Museum who came flocking in until it was almost standing room only.

I'd like to think that they'd clicked on

And my post at about the Commander's contribution to the early days of Chailey Heritage School and his sympathy for the plight of crippled children also attracted attention. "I found your revelations about Levick and his work remarkably poignant and heart-warming," wrote one of my correspondents.

So you might also like to know about the Commander's pioneering work to help disabled veterans in the aftermath of World War One.

A case of trench feet suffered by unidentified soldier in 1917
Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada/PA-149311 /

Murray Levick saw service himself in the Great War, taking part in the Gallipoli campaign. Fortunately for him he survived unscathed but thousands of servicemen had not been so lucky. Even if they had avoided injury through enemy action, many were left suffering from the effects of ailments such as trench feet. It's been estimated that as many as 20,000 soldiers in the British Army alone during 1914 fell victim to the disease.

Evidently this was an ailment in which Levick took a particular interest judging by the article which he wrote on the electrical treatment of muscles in 'Trench Feet', published in the British Medical Journal in March 1918.

British 55th (West Lancashire) Division troops blinded by tear gas await treatment at an Advanced Dressing Station near Bethune during the Battle of Estaires, 10 April 1918, part of the German offensive in Flanders.
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The case of ex-servicemen blinded in action was one where Levick became deeply involved.

As early as 1914 many had returned to Britain having permanently lost their sight because of gas attacks. A notable campaigner on their behalf was the newspaper magnate Sir Arthur Pearson, founder of the Daily Express among other publications, and a victim of blindness himself due to glaucoma. As president of the National Association for the Blind, in 1915 he founded St Dunstan's for soldiers blinded by gas attack or trauma with the aim of providing vocational training for these ex-servicemen.

Boot and shoe repairing, basket and mat making, shorthand typing, carpentry, poultry farming and telephone operating were among the many courses that St Dunstaners chose to be trained in. But it was through careers in massage and physiotherapy that Murray Levick believed that many blinded ex-servicemen could be rehabilitated.

In 1919 he was approached by the Royal National Institute for the Blind with a view to the possibility of teaching blind students techniques of massage with electrical treatment. He became a leading voice in the campaign to convince sceptics in the medical profession that blinded people could lead useful and fulfilling lives.

Pagani's Restaurant in Great Portland Street, the fashionable London venue where the Association of Blind Masseurs met in 1921
Photo credit: City of Westminster Archives Centre

Eventually blind students were admitted to the examinations of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. By November 1921, reported the British Medical Journal, the Association of Blind Masseurs had held its third annual dinner amidst the prestigious surroundings of Pagani's Restaurant in London. Dr Murray Levick was one of four Vice-Presidents who attended the proceedings, which were chaired by the President, Sir Arthur Pearson. Members present included soldiers blinded in the war and trained in massage at St. Dunstan's, as well as civilian masseurs and masseuses trained under the auspices of the National Institute for the Blind.

And that is why donation boxes for the charity Help for Heroes will be on display at Fairlynch Museum this year. Survival! the exhibition based on Commander Levick's achievements will remind us that not only did he survive his own harrowing Antarctic adventure but devoted much of his life to helping others to overcome personal misfortune.

The exhibition will open on Sunday 10 April 2011 and will run until October. Opening hours are 2.00 - 4.30 pm each day except Saturdays. The admission charge will be £2 (concessions £1.50). Serving military personnel are admitted free of charge.

No comments:

Post a Comment