The British Empire Library

Polio and Me: In Nigeria and Malawi, Belgium, England and Other Places, 1955-1998

by Kenneth James Barnes

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Michael Mann (Colonial Administrative Service, Nigeria 1946-55 Christ Church, and The Missions to Seamen, Port Harcourt, Nigeria 1962-69)
I first met Ken and Lesley Barnes when he arrived as a brand new Cadet to be my colleague at one of the stations in Calabar Province of Eastern Nigeria. A few months later he was stricken with a terrible attack of polio, and this is the story of a determined and courageous couple who refused to be beaten by misfortune. I say ‘couple’ advisedly, for Lesley, Ken’s wife, was a remarkable woman; she came from a sheltered background, and when faced with this appalling calamity she became Ken’s inspiration and right hand.

It must have seemed as if their whole world had collapsed around them, but they were determined to overcome all the obstacles in order to live as normal a life as possible. And, of course, a normal life was not possible; Ken makes it very clear that he is in a state of constant vulnerability, and that there are many things taken for granted by an able bodied person that he will never be able to do. But this is a story of courage and determination, where a hurdle is to be got around if it cannot be jumped, and where obstacles are a challenge for ingenuity.

But at what a cost has this determination been purchased! There have been constant falls, some with broken limbs, periods of enforced immobility whilst broken callipers have been mended, and throughout constant pain and ill health. And that is not all the suffering Ken had to endure; his wife’s death from cancer was a grievous blow, whilst Ken is typically generous about the failure of his second marriage. Ken faces a future of an old age with likely deteriorating health.

This is not only a story of immense courage against all the odds, it is an education to those of us who are comparatively healthy in helping us to understand the difficulties which the disabled have to overcome. This is compulsory reading.

British Empire Book
Kenneth James Barnes


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe