Trailblazing physiotherapist who helped set up the Paralympic Games dies

PUBLISHED: 14:41 17 September 2018 | UPDATED: 14:56 17 September 2018

Beryl Graveling, pictured in 2012.

Beryl Graveling, pictured in 2012. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY


A trailblazing physiotherapist who turned around the a hospital department she admitted was “worse than average” has died.

Beryl Graveling, October 1986. Picture: Archant LibraryBeryl Graveling, October 1986. Picture: Archant Library

Beryl Graveling died on September 5 at Glendon House, Overstrand, aged 91.

Miss Graveling was born in Cromer and attended North Walsham High School.

Miss Graveling’s brother, John Graveling, said she left at 17, in 1944.

“There was a shortage of medical staff nurses,” he said. “There were a lot of injured people coming out of the war, they were crying out for nurses.”

Beryl Graveling, October 1986. Picture: Archant LibraryBeryl Graveling, October 1986. Picture: Archant Library

Miss Graveling trained in North Wales, but Mr Graveling said “there was an outbreak of typhoid there and at that time they did not really have a decent treatment for it. A lot of the nurses she trained with died.”

Miss Graveling herself was taken into isolation in a hospital in Little Bromwich, where she stayed for six weeks. Her parents were able to visit but could only see her through a pane of glass.

She managed to get over the illness and finished her training before returning to Norfolk as a district nurse, before undertaking teaching in physiotherapy in Birmingham.

“She went to Stoke Mandeville Hospital which was the national spinal unit hospital,” Mr Graveling said. “And she was under Dr Ludwig Guttmann, who was a remarkable man in that he actually started of the Paralympic Games.”

Beryl Graveling, pictured in 2012.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYBeryl Graveling, pictured in 2012. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Dr Guttmann, who was later knighted in 1966, was a neurosurgeon at the hospital who revolutionised the treatment and life chances for those with spinal injuries and organised the first Stoke Mandeville Games to coincide with the start of the London Olympics in 1948.

This was the forerunner to what today are Paralympic Games.

Mr Graveling said: “She was quite involved from the early days.”

In 1965 Miss Graveling moved back to Norfolk to work at the old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

Mr Graveling said the physiotherapy department at the time was “run down” and in a cutting from this newspaper on Miss Graveling’s retirement she admitted it had a “bad reputation” before she arrived and was one of the worst in the country.

The newspaper cutting said: “The hospital had only a handful of physiotherapists, there was a very thin scattering of physios in a few other units in the district, and there were no community staff at all.

Doctors tended to prescribe therapy which lasted four weeks, Miss Graveling said, “whether a patient was better or not”.

By the time she retired in 1986, the department was one of the best in country.

Mr Graveling said she was a “formidable” woman, and recalled an anecdote from when she first arrived at the hospital.

“It was her first day and someone came about 10am with breakfast for her,” he said. “She said ‘put it away I’m here to work not eat breakfast’.”

Mr Graveling said his sister was also instrumental in setting up the physiotherapy school at the hospital.

She was awarded an honourary masters degree by the University of East Anglia for her work and became honourary president of the Norfolk branch of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

Mr Graveling said: “She never married but she had a great life. But I think one of the big points of her life was in 1960 she became a Christian.”

Miss Graveling was a member of the Holy Trinity Church in Norwich.

Mr Graveling added: “She was a very loving person and thought the world of her staff.”

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