FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES — WE SHALL REMEMBER THEM
November is traditionally a miserable and sometimes rather sad month. It heralds the onset of dark nights, which makes an evening by a log fire very inviting.
It is also the month of remembrance, and in our house we try to mark the various acts of remembrance in an appropriate way. This year, as in previous years, we watched the televised Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance, from the Royal Albert Hall. It is such a poignant occasion, which brings together so much of what is good about our armed forces.
Anyone who has seen this Festival, cannot fail to be moved by the sight of the combination of youth and age, coming together to honour those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the preservation of peace.
The following day, up and down the country many hundreds of people gathered at war memorials in towns and villages, to pay their respects on Remembrance Sunday.
There are many memorials marking specific occasions and events – some historic, some tragic and some representing good works. What all these memorials have in common, is a special significance for those who take comfort from their existence.
With this in mind I, together with my husband Stephen and our good friend Eddie Freeman, resolved that the memory of those people, whose lives have been affected by the Thalidomide tragedy, should be recognised with a fitting memorial.
In my book Four Fingers and Thirteen Toes, I tell how there has never been a Public Enquiry into the Thalidomide scandal, and how, in 2002, attempts to secure a lasting memorial, to this important piece of British medical and legal history, floundered – perhaps because such recognition, would have been tantamount to the Government accepting responsibility, for its part in the events, that led to the worst medical disaster ever to beset the United Kingdom.
Often good comes from tragedy. For example, roads may become less dangerous, awareness of illnesses or disability may increase. With the case of the Thalidomide tragedy, the good brought about changes in legislation, to allow the media to report on contentious issues; changes to help make medicines safer; and made the process of litigation, on behalf of children born with congenital disabilities, easier and less fraught than it was before we were born.
The Thalidomide group has much that it can be proud of. Our parents were at the forefront of campaigning for greater access to mainstream education for disabled children. Countless disabled people are now able to drive, thanks to the pioneering work carried out by the motor industry when confronted with people having severe impairments, who wanted to drive. Changes in disabled parking badge regulations were introduced, to allow persons with limited arm movement, to be eligible for parking permits. In so many ways, we have confounded the establishment with our persistence and determination. Above all, we have helped break down so many of the barriers that, in the 1960’s, prevented disabled people from being active and valued members of their local communities.
Under Eddie’s name, you will find a petition on the Downing Street website at http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/ThalMemorial through which we are seeking to urge the Prime Minister to “Establish a lasting memorial to honour those persons and their families who have been, and continue to be affected by the Thalidomide tragedy.”
If you have not already done so, please take time to paste/click the link above, and sign the Petition. Then send a message to everyone in your email address book, asking them to also add their names to the Petition.
I believe that in the last months of this current Government, it was would be fitting if our Prime Minister, who is himself a disabled person, could promote the establishment of such a lasting memorial.
Particularly during this month, I have remembered three special Thalidomide friends, whose passing was connected to their Thalidomide impairments. That is not to say I, and many others who are Thalidomide impaired, do not constantly remember our friends and parents who are no longer with us. These are people who have died without their unsung contribution being honoured.
Sadness, anxiety and hardship has marked the lives of so many of these special people, and Eddie, Steve and I consider the least that Government can do, as many of us enter our fifth decade, is to establish this much needed memorial.
During the Festival of Remembrance, our house fell silent as the event drew to a close, and the words attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds (1875 -1958) “… tell them of us…” echoed around the packed auditorium.
Our contribution to history is a small but important contribution. In years to come there will be a need for future generations to be told of us, and to know of the Thalidomide story. It should stand as a reminder that, commercial gain can have devastating consequences which affect many people.
In acceding to a memorial request, it will allow us to say “We shall remember them” in a way that permits the nation to join, we who are left, in remembering those who are no longer here, in a heartfelt and tangible manner.
Please sign the electronic petition on the Downing Street website, for a Thalidomide Memorial at — http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/ThalMemorial