Blesma, The Limbless Veterans
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|Purpose||Supporting wounded and limbless British Armed Forces servicemen and women|
Chief Executive Officer
|Barry Le Grys, MBE|
Blesma, The Limbless Veterans (formerly known as the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association), helps all serving and ex-Service men and women who have lost limbs, or lost the use of limbs or eyes, to rebuild their lives by providing rehabilitation activities and welfare support. It operates throughout the United Kingdom and is registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales (number 1084189).
In the immediate aftermath of the World War I, veterans who had lost limbs came together in groups, determined to help themselves, if society would not help them.
The first such group was in Glasgow, and in 1921 they created the first branch of the Limbless Ex-Service Men’s Association. Soon groups formed in Edinburgh, Dundee, Hamilton and Aberdeen. Officers of the Scottish LESMA established contact with limbless ex-Servicemen in the North of England, and in 1929, branches were formed in Manchester, Leeds, Hull, Burnley, Accrington, Southport, Oldham, Bradford, Halifax and Wigan.
The English branches, however, became dissatisfied with Scottish control and asked for a proper constitution to provide for the democratic election of officers and an executive council. The English branches convened a round table meeting in Leeds in 1931 where it was decided to form the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association, with the first Annual Conference being held in Manchester in 1932.
It was not until the commencement of World War II that branches formed in the South of England but by the end of the war there were 43 groups.
The number of branches reached their peak in the mid-1950s when there were a total of 124. As the number of surviving veterans from the World War I declined, so did the number of branches. This trend continued with the passing of the World War II generation, and today only 13 branches remain.
Blesma was granted armorial bearings in 1958 by the College of Arms. They consist of a shield with a blue ground (representing peace), on which is a sun, for the ‘place in the sun’ the Association seeks to secure for its members. On the sun is a cross potent – an ancient heraldic form associated with the Crusades, particularly with the Crusaders’ Kingdom of Jerusalem. This is composed of four crutch-heads in the colours of the services – blue for the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, and red for the Army and the Royal Marines. These are joined together to represent limbless service personnel from the four services united in the Association. The Motto is ‘Service and Fortitude’.
To become a Blesma Member the individual must have served in the British Armed Forces and have lost a limb(s), or lost the use of limbs or eyes. Blesma also helps veterans who have suffered their injury out of service. Once a Member, the organisation provides lifetime support for the veteran and their family.
The benefits of membership
An important feature of the nonprofit charity is to support its members by providing counseling to help members deal with the negative affects of a trauma injury, rehabilitation/recuperation, and eventual stability. The goal is to help members regain a sense of normality, such as finding fulfilling employment.
Although Blesma does not pay for members' prosthetics, they assist members apply for entitlements like a war pension and the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS), and help the members and widows at subsequent war pen tribunals and AFCS hearings. Blesma also works with NHS to convert advances in the relevant medical fields into practical solutions that can benefit all Members. There is a Facebook page dedicated to raising funds through community-supported activities (such as marathons). There are also grants that are made available through the organizationn, to help with additional costs of a disability such as wheelchairs and stair lifts, so that members can remain as mobile and independent as possible.
In 1949, the Elizabeth Frankland Moore Home opened its doors as a care facility for Blesma members. It is located on Lytham Road, in a suburb of South Blackpool.
The Home provides residential care for 20 residents with 24-hour nursing for members who are unable to live at home. Residents have their own en-suite rooms and twin en-suite rooms are available for members with partners seeking respite care. The Home has its own bar, The Legless Arms, which is open every day.
The Blackpool Home has received excellent reports from the Care Quality Commission and the Blackpool Council Environmental Health for Food Hygiene, and has twice been awarded the Gold Investors in People and Beacon status award from the Gold Standards Framework.
In October 2016, the Blesma Home was officially closed. The 12 remaining residents were moved to different nursing homes across the North West, where Blesma chief executive Barry Le Grys said they would continue to be supported by the charity.
1932 – Blesma formed as a national charity, first annual conference held in Manchester.
1945 – Blesmag started (October).
1946 – Blesma Advisory Council formed.
1947 – Charles Dunham appointed Employment and Welfare Officer.
1948 – Blesma National Appeal Committee formed.
Duchess of Gloucester becomes Patron of Blesma.
1949 – Cyril Stephens appointed National President in succession to Arthur Baxter.
Blesma Headquarters Welfare Committee formed.
Official opening of the Blackpool Home.
1951 – Blesma All-Party Committee of MPs formed.
1954 – Opening of Blesma Portsmouth Home.
1958 – Transfer of Blesma HQ from Manchester to Cannon Street, London.
Charles Dunham appointed National General Secretary.
Grant of Armorial Bearings to Blesma.
1959 – Number of First World War limbless drops below 20,000.
1963 – Opening of Blesma Crieff Home.
Blesma joins World Veterans Federation.
1965 – Blesma HQ moved to Chadwell Heath, Essex.
1966 – Amputees Advisory Service for hospital visiting introduced by Blesma.
Recommendations of McCorquodale Committee accepted.
1970 – Funds raised by Blesma National Appeal Committee passes £1million mark.
1975 – Philip Dixon appointed National Chairman in succession to Ernie Law.
Portsmouth Home closed.
First World War limbless drops below 4,000.
1976 – Members ascend Mount Snowdon with HRH Prince Charles.
1977 – Blesma welfare grants annually exceed £50,000.
1978 – Blesma film ‘So Much To Offer’ released, with commentary by Kenneth More.
Blesma float joins the Lord Mayor's Show in central London.
1979 – Hrubec/Ryder report on amputations and cardio-vascular disorder published and accepted by the Government.
1980 – Mr Ted Lawrence takes over as National Welfare Officer.
1981 – Mr Brian Fox takes over as National General Secretary.
Limbless ex-servicemen down to about 10,000.
Himalayan peak of Nun Kun (23,410 ft) climbed by Ealing Member, Norman Croucher.
1982 – Blesma Golden Jubilee.
1983 – Sir Austin ‘Tiny’ Bunch CBE takes over as National President.
1989 – Ray Holland takes over as National General Secretary.
1992 – HRH Duke of Westminster takes over as National President.
2000 – Jerome Church OBE takes over as National General Secretary.
2013 – General Secretary role changes to Chief Executive.
2013- Race2recovery become the first and only motorsport team with combat injured members to twice enter and complete the Dakar Rally
2014 – A team of adventurers, including Blesma member Nick Beighton, become the first ever team to travel from Land's End to John o'Groats in a straight line.
2014- On 21 January 2014 a Row2Recovery crew of two amputee soldiers, alongside two able-bodied companions, successfully rowed the 3,000 miles across the Atlantic unsupported. Two years before, another Row2Recovery crew with four injured servicemen, alongside two able-bodied colleagues, rowed the Atlantic, raising over £1million for military charities
2014 – Barry Le Grys MBE takes over as Chief Executive.
Blesma rebrand. Re-branding of charity from BLESMA (British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association) to Blesma, The Limbless Veterans.
2014 – A team of four Blesma Members become the first all amputee team to swim the English Channel.
1932-1938 Sam Doubleday
1938-1949 Arthur Baxter OBE
1949-1956 Cyril Stephens OBE
1956-1983 Earl of Ancaster KCVO
1983-1992 Sir Austin ‘Tiny’ Bunch CBE
1992–2016 Gerald Grosvenor, 6th Duke of Westminster
National general secretaries
1934-1937 J V Bell
1937-1958 George Chandley OBE MM
1958-1980 Charles Dunham MBE
1981-1989 Brian Fox
1989-2000 Ray Holland MBE
2000-2014 Jerome Church OBE
Title changed to Chief Executive from 2013
2014–present Barry Le Grys MBE