A philosophy of “amputees helping amputees” has been the hallmark of The War Amps since 1918, when the organization was founded by amputee war veterans returning home from the First World War. Chartered in 1920 as The Amputations Association of The Great War, a fraternal society was envisioned that would be able to provide direction for its members while also seeing to their needs. Counselling, self-help and practical assistance are common threads that have been retained in the modern-day organization that developed from their efforts.
The Association’s first President was Lieutenant Colonel Sidney Lambert, an Army Padre who had lost his leg in action in France during the First World War. He saw the need for an organization that would assist amputees. During his tenure, he laid the groundwork for each ensuing generation of amputees and shaped the philosophy that, with courage and determination, amputees could succeed in life.
It was during his stay in Toronto’s old College Street Veteran’s Hospital that he first conceived of the idea of a national association to help solve the problems of all “men and women who have lost a limb or limbs whilst giving their service to Canada, the British Empire, and the Allies in the Great War.”
He helped galvanize his comrades in the early years. The name of the Association was changed to The War Amputations of Canada, and as disabled veterans returned from the Second World War, the organization provided information and fellowship to all of its members.
In 1946 the Key Tag Service was launched as a sheltered workshop where war amputees could not only work for competitive wages, but also provide a service to Canadians that would generate funds for the Association. To date, the Key Tag Service has returned more than 1.5 million sets of lost keys to their owners. The Address Label Service was introduced in 1972 to provide year-round employment for the disabled staff at the Key Tag Service. The sheltered workshop, where key tags and address labels are made, continues to employ Canadian amputees and other people with disabilities.
The Civilian Liaison Program began in 1953 in order that war amputees could share their knowledge with others who are missing limbs from causes other than war. Later, the program was divided into two – one for adults and a separate program for children.
H. Clifford Chadderton, who lost his right leg during the Second World War, became the Chief Executive Officer of the organization in 1965. The War Amps had been there to assist him in rebuilding his life as an amputee, and, in return, he put his efforts toward tirelessly serving the needs of Canadian amputees, both young and old.
The War Amps grew dramatically and became known around the world as a centre of excellence in the amputee community. Realizing that war amputees were being well-served by existing programs, the Association turned its attention to child amputees and in 1975 started the Child Amputee (CHAMP) Program. CHAMP is built on the Winner’s Circle philosophy, which encourages child amputees (Champs) to accept their amputations and develop a positive approach to challenges. CHAMP offers comprehensive services to Canadian child amputees and their families, such as financial assistance for artificial limbs, regional seminars and peer support.
The War Amps has many other programs. PLAYSAFE™, started in 1978, is a unique “kids-to-kids” approach to child safety. The purpose? To make children more aware of the dangers in their play environment. The organization’s SAFETY WALK™ Program, started in 1986, encourages parents to take their children on a walk to inspect potentially dangerous sites in their neighbourhood. DRIVESAFE™ was developed in 1987 to promote safe driving and to prevent serious injuries due to accidents. Matching Mothers, initiated in 1984, matches parents whose children have similar amputations from similar causes for support, counselling and information. JUMPSTART, created in 1991, focuses on the benefits of computers and early computer training, with the ultimate goal being future employment and independence for children missing multiple limbs.
The documentaries and productions in The War Amps internationally award-winning Military Heritage Series bring to life the experiences of Canadian volunteers who served, and honour those who gave their lives. Through Operation Legacy, developed in 1991, members of CHAMP pass the message of remembrance to future generations.
The National Amputee Centre (NAC), formed in 1999, educates amputees and their families about all aspects of living with amputation. Through the NAC, information from all over the world is shared with amputees and the prosthetic industry in Canada.
The lifelong work of The War Amps veteran members, and the creation of the CHAMP Program, has resulted in thousands of child amputees across Canada receiving financial assistance for their artificial limbs and emotional support as they face the challenges of amputation. Through CHAMP, The War Amps tradition of “amputees helping amputees” will continue long into the future.