Sports, leisure and the Arts Somme 100 - Heaton Park in World War One

Healing at Heaton Hall

During the First World War, Heaton Hall was used as a convalescent home for injured soldiers returning from battle.

When these soldiers had left for the front they were replaced by hundreds of the wounded. The rehabilitation at the Hall was managed by Major Robert Tait McKenzie (1867 to 1938), a Canadian physician, of Scottish extraction.

McKenzie was Director of the Physical education department at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia when the war broke out. He joined the royal army medical corps as a surgeon and concentrated his activities on rehabilitating the injured. Mckenzie quickly became a pioneer in the rebuilding of shattered bodies and minds.

He insisted on the importance of physical exercise in the open air and devised a series of special gymnastic manoeuvers for the men. His real contribution though, was in the development of new ways of treating the kind of injuries suffered in wartime. He put his interest in human anatomy to work sculpting and molding copper mask for soldiers injured beyond repair.

He personally designed and built whirlpool and hydrotherapy baths to reinvigorate the injured raising money from his well-connected friends. The rooms at the hall were set up as a series of treatment rooms concentrating on specific types of injury. McKenzie also trained soldiers who had been blinded by gas in the trenches as masseurs, believing that their blindness increased their other senses and that they had a useful role to play in relieving the suffering of their comrades.

While his time at the hall was relatively brief (about 18 months) the methods developed there formed the basis of much of modern physiotherapy and rehabilitative medicine.

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