John and Marion Corless were married in England during the Second World War. John was recovering from a gunshot wound in the hospital where Marion worked with the Canadian Army as an occupational therapist.

John and Marion Corless were married in England during the Second World War. John was recovering from a gunshot wound in the hospital where Marion worked with the Canadian Army as an occupational therapist.

Helping amputees relearn skills

A hospital in England built by the Red Cross, was home for Marion Corless for several years during the Second World War.

A hospital in England built by the Red Cross, was home for Marion Corless for several years during the Second World War.

She says the 1,200 bed hospital at Smallfield was built with many free-standing brick buildings, housing about 40 patients each, that were connected by covered walkways.

That way if one building was bombed in a raid others would continue to be operational.

“It had central heating which was quite wonderful and not common then,” Corless said. And after weeks of sleeping on trains and on hard floors, she finally had a small room and bed to herself in one o the hospital staff wings.

She worked in a special building with three other occupational therapists who helped wounded recruits relearn everyday skills after losing limbs or other bodily functions.

Secrecy at the hospital was paramount.

“I wrote my parents all the time but we weren’t able to say where we were or what we were doing,” Corless said. “Our letters were censored.”

In the early days, before the wounded recruits arrived, Corless said she would read tea cups for people to keep them entertained, making things up as she went.

One day she saw what looked like a map of Italy in one of the matron’s tea-cups and told her that she would be going to Italy.

“Within half an hour she got notice that she would be going to Italy the next day,” Corless said. “That’s how fast you had to be prepared to go.”

Corless said that tea-leaf reading spooked her so much that she didn’t read tea leaves again, but it wouldn’t be long before all her time was taken up with work.

At one point she says there were 50 ambulances lined up with patients for the hospital.

“It was just horrendous,” Corless said. “We were told that we might have to get out of our beds to accommodate them all.”

That didn’t happen, but treating and helping the recruits to recover was a huge job for everyone in the hospital, she said.

“It was almost like a small village in itself.”

She said a mother cat had her kittens in one of the wards, so she would take a basket of kittens with her on her rounds letting the most seriously wounded hold and cuddle them.

“It would encourage their spirits,” Corless said. “My aim in visiting the wards was to see who might benefit from occupational therapy.”

Some of her patients were in hospital for two years working to recover from and learn how to live with their injuries.

The physiotherapists worked to help people recover physically.

The occupational therapists worked to help wounded recruits re-learn new ways to cope with everyday tasks after losing a limb or enduring other serious injury.

“Even losing a finger can make a tremendous difference in a person’s life,” Marion said.

Those who lost limbs had to learn new ways to dress themselves, use eating utensils, hold a glass, manage on crutches and if they were able, relearn skills for work.

Soldiers who lost limbs were not fitted with artificial limbs until they returned to Canada and equipment was scarce. She said they had to do a lot of improvising to help people learn new ways of doing things.

She said one of the hospital staff had some flower seeds which they planted in summer so they could encouraged patients who were able to help in the garden as part of their therapy.

In another instance she had a machine made that patients could use to learn skills for cutting wood.

Corless met her future husband, John Corless, on one of the wards. He was on crutches recovering from three surgeries  after being shot. Later he served as an Army trainer.

They were married in England on a leave.Returning to Canada they raised their family Prince George and retired to Williams Lake. John passed away two years ago.


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