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Sidney Williams

(1885-1955) – Wounded soldier’s occupational therapy

While recovering from wounds in hospital in France in 1915, Sidney Williams of Godolphin Cross made two needlepoint belts and a bag woven from shoelaces. One of the belts has images of farm animals, perhaps a reminder of the life he left behind.

Credit: Helston Folk Museum

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Sidney Williams was born in September 1885.  His father was a farmer at Godolphin Moors in Breage parish and Sidney was the fourth child after three girls. By the time of the 1901 census Sidney was described as an ‘ordinary agricultural labourer’ and, by 1911, was working as a stone mason.  All that is known of his army service is that he was wounded and spent some time convalescing in a French hospital.  Here he made two colourful needlepoint belts and a bag intriguingly woven from shoelaces.  One of the belts has images of farm animals, perhaps a reminder of the life he left behind. 

After the war Sidney lived at Godolphin Cross in Breage parish where, in 1939, he was recorded as a small-holder suggesting that he made a reasonable recovery from his wounds.  He died aged 70 in 1955 and his belts and the shoelace bag were given to Helston museum by his great-nephew.

Wounded and disabled servicemen returning from the front faced many challenges. Although society viewed them with admiration and as heroes, the physical disabilities of amputees and paraplegics prevented them from resuming their pre-war occupations.  In addition to patchy state provision, Queen Mary’s Star and Garter Home was established to take care of paraplegics and the multiple amputees who were trained in light work such as knitting. 

Other homes and hospitals provided training for ex-servicemen, including the Polytechnic at Westminster which trained ex-servicemen in tailoring, photography, electrical and motor repairs, commerce and architecture. By January 1919, 1,282 men had been trained there and 826 were back in employment.  Roehampton and Brighton hospitals provided training in carpentry, shoemaking and electrical work. Kitchener house clubs for wounded sailors and soldiers were open every day from 10am to 6pm with classes on a wide range of subjects, including languages, carpentry and music, in the afternoons. Free dinner and tea were given to those attending the classes. 

Credit: Helston Folk Museum