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The story of Kathy and Charlie: how the Second World War changed the lives of two disabled people

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posted on 2024-06-05, 18:11 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

Charlie Bradford was born in Edmonton, North London in 1906; the second youngest of six children, and he contracted polio when he was three. The disease paralysed both his legs and his left arm and he had a severe curvature of the spine. He was less than five feet tall. He walked with crutches, leg irons and had to wear a leather and steel spinal corset that weighed nearly twenty pounds.

When he left school at fourteen he was of course unemployable, so at various times in the 1920s and 1930s he peddled sweets from a hand-propelled wheelchair outside the local grammar school, made sandwiches that he sold to the men building the new A10 road, and bought second-hand wheelchairs and reconditioned them to sell on to others.

Kathleen Lines was born in Wandsworth, South-West London in 1912. She was the eldest of six children; her youngest brother was only eight years younger than her. She caught the polio virus when she was ten months old, and it left her disabled in both legs. She was a talented needlewoman; she too left school at fourteen and worked as tailoress until 1945.

At the start of World War II Charlie was living with his brother Jack and his family in Chiswick Road, Edmonton. My cousin Kath (born in 1930) recalled: "We had an outside Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden. When there was an air-raid, no matter what time of day or night, Jack used to put Charlie on his back and take him to the shelter."

After a few months of war, adults with disabilities were evacuated from London. Both Charlie and Kathy were sent to a 'cripple camp' at Dovercourt, Essex. That is where they met and fell in love. But neither Kathy nor Charlie stayed at Dovercourt for more than a few weeks. They found the atmosphere patronising and condescending. They were being treated as if they had learning disabilities as well as physical disabilities. They weren't used to that. Not only that, but Charlie had had a letter from the Ministry of Labour. He had been conscripted into the labour force to work in a munitions factory. For the first time in his life, society wanted him and needed him to play a part. He made bomber parts for the next five years. When she left Dovercourt, Kathy went to work as a seamstress at Hurst Lea, a residential school for disabled boys in Sevenoaks, Kent. She lived in, and made and repaired clothes for the boys.

Kathy and Charlie married in Wandsworth in 1945 and lived in Edmonton for the rest of their lives. I am their only child; I was born in 1948. For them and many other people with disabilities, the war gave them opportunities that they could only have dreamed of. The welfare state, itself a product of the war years, provided them with affordable and accessible social housing and comprehensive medical care. Because of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act of 1944, Charlie enjoyed positive discrimination in the workplace. On a personal level, had there been no war, they would never have met.


Item list and details

Kathy and Charlie's Wedding Photo. Wandsworth, London, 1945

Person the story/items relate to

Charles Henry Bradford, 1906-1979; Kathleen Ethel Bradford (nee Lines) 1912-1995

Person who shared the story/items

Andrew Bradford

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

They are my parents

Type of submission

Shared online via the Their Finest Hour project website.

Record ID