The story of Dawn McFarlane is a bittersweet tale. The sassy lassie from Portsmouth, England, was stricken with polio when she was just a baby and suffered immensely from the dreaded disease that plagued so many at that time. In 1952, when she was just fourteen, Dawn fell headfirst for a young private in the Royal Army named Gerald Wright and they quickly became a couple. As their relationship progressed Dawn was often reminded of her physical limitations due to the condition. You see, her left leg was much shorter than her right, forcing her to wear a heavy built up shoe to compensate. The weight of the shoe prevented Dawn from running, dancing and biking, presumably some of Gerald’s favorite pastimes.
When Gerald was shipped off to the Malay Peninsula, Dawn was left with plenty of free time to lament her perceived shortcomings. That’s when she came up with a plan – she would have her leg amputated. Dawn was confident a prosthesis would allow her to have a more fulfilling life with Gerald and amputation of her leg was the first step. With her intentions set forth Dawn went to the local hospital and convinced doctors to amputate. The surgery was a success and she was soon fitted with a prosthetic. Upon recovery she penned a letter to Gerald who was still stationed offshore and told him the news. His reply was a positive one saying in his letter to her, “we will be married as soon as I get home.” Dawn was ecstatic as everything was finally coming together but her excitement was short-lived as over time her letters to Gerald went unanswered. They had corresponded daily for years but now it seemed Gerald had cut off all communication.
Dawn’s story of devotion made headlines across the UK and Europe but there was no mention of wedded bliss, as in the end it seems the pair never made it to the altar. Dawn was quoted in one paper saying she would always be grateful to Gerald for providing her with the courage to undergo the operation. Which is an interesting conclusion as it appears she did it by herself all along. I searched the England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index and found that in October of 1959 Dawn McFarlane married a man by the name of Christopher Pike. So here’s to hoping in the end Dawn was able to stand squarely on her own two feet, metaphorically speaking.
Girl Who Thrilled the World Sits and Waits. Portsmouth Evening News. Friday January 14, 1955. Page: 14
Had Leg Amputated in Order to Dance. Portsmouth Evening News. Wednesday December 7, 1955. Hampshire, England. Page: 1, 2