Of the thousands of Canadian soldiers who were wounded while serving in the First and Second World Wars, many returned home missing limbs. United by a common bond of amputation, these veterans not only served their country during wartime, but they made a difference in the lives of generations of amputees that continues today.
In 1916, on the battlefields at Ypres in Northern Belgium, Sidney Lambert (1887 – 1971) – a Lieutenant Colonel and Army Padre – lost his left leg above the knee.
While recovering at a hospital in Toronto, Lambert conceived of the idea of a national association to bring together, support and fight the battles for amputee veterans, today known as The War Amps. In 1920, he became the first Dominion President of the Association and worked tirelessly to bring veterans issues before the government.
It was these First World War amputee veterans, like Lambert, who welcomed the new contingent of amputee veterans following the Second World War, helping them adapt to their new reality and sharing all that they had learned.
One of these was Neil Conner (1918 – 2012) who served as a navigator with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was injured when his plane was shot down near Bremen, Germany, resulting in the loss of his right leg below the knee.
Another was Bert Coulson (1921 – 1979) who served with the Canadian Army and lost both of his legs below the knee due to injuries sustained while serving in Emmerich, Germany.
Along with their fellow War Amps members, these veterans went on to provide support to civilian amputees. Coulson said the best way to help was to “roll up my pant leg and show them we can dance, bowl, hold down a normal job. It’s what you have left that counts.”
The War Amps veteran members established the Key Tag Service, which is still going strong today, to fund the Association’s many vital programs for amputees across Canada.
Rob Larman, a director at The War Amps and a leg amputee himself, said Lambert, Conner and Coulson proved that they would not let their amputation hold them back in all aspects of life.
“Though they considered themselves to be ‘ordinary guys,’ our founding veteran members have left a legacy for generations of amputees that has gone on for 100 years and counting,” said Larman. “On Remembrance Day especially, but also throughout the year, we pay tribute to their sacrifice and service.”