On Friday 23rd November 2012, the first UK memorial to the thalidomide scandal was unveiled in the bustling heart of Harrogate. It is a fine copper beech tree and a plaque with the words: “This tree was planted to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Thalidomide Disaster 2012.”
Its’ existence came about from Guy Tweedy’s personal determination to improve on Grunenthal’s hideous armless statue in Stolberg, which thalidomiders around the world have found so insulting. In contrast, Guy’s memorial in Harrogate came from the heart, and it is now truly ‘ours’. One of the Yorkshire-based thalidomiders who was there on Friday, has already promised to visit the tree regularly to keep our memories alive and make sure the tree stays healthy.
Guy achieved support locally in his home town for this memorial, and it was lovely to see so many of his family and local supporters on the day – including his own MP Andrew Jones, and Alec Shelbrooke MP – who has given all of us his rock-solid support on the current health grant campaign in his role as chair of the APPG in Parliament.
Dr Martin Johnson spoke about what the tree represents – the thousand babies who died in the UK, and the 50 or so thalidomiders who have passed away during the last few decades. Guy, in his speech, recognised the pain and suffering of our families, which was reflected in many of the thoughts and feelings shared amongst us afterwards – “I was thinking about my mum and what she went through”, “My parents are no longer with us, they would have loved this. They had such a hard time although they never complained”.
And looking forward?
The speakers and the thalidomide survivors present were keen to point out that the event marks the increased determination of thalidomiders in the UK to seek justice from Grunenthal, the inventors of the drug, who have never shown a shred of decency towards the hundreds of UK-based thalidomiders. We, who suffer increasingly poor health as a result of their negligence.
Much of the discussion afterwards was about our limbs and fingers which no longer function, the pain in ankles, backs and hands, and our distress at the rate at which we seem to be losing our independence and mobility.
We shared our concerns about the future costs of this, which are of an order of magnitude as yet unaddressed.
If this event marks the start of a shared determination to bring Grunenthal to account, and for them to make proper recompense to all thalidomiders – then let’s look forward to gathering again around the Harrogate tree, to recognise that achievement too!
Thalidomide Memorial Campaign
Meanwhile, the work of the Thalidomide Memorial Campaign (spearheaded by Rosie Moriarty-Simmonds) continues to progress towards a memorial which will be designed to remember all those who have, and continue to be, associated with the thalidomide story. News and information on this campaign can be found on the Thalidomide Memorial Campaign Facebook page, which is updated with information as and when it becomes available.