Since 1985 Rotary International has been at the forefront of the global campaign to eliminate polio, helping to immunise 2.5 billion children.

President of Ross Rotary Andy Inkpen has more reasons than most to support the campaign.

His mother, Irene, contracted the disease when she was eight and spent a lengthy spell in hospital, sealed below the neck in an ‘iron lung’ to help her breathe.

You need to be of a certain age to remember these medical devices or seeing young polio victims confined to wheelchairs or struggling to walk with their withered limbs supported by leg irons.

Rotary Monmouth marked World Polio Day at the weekend by putting a replica iron lung on display to the public in Monnow Street.

Irene’s life, like that of countless other children, was saved by such a device but she was left with a pronounced limp for the rest of her life – and, not surprisingly, an aversion to hospitals.

After leaving school at 14 she worked at Garrards of Swindon, makers of record turntables, then on the Spitfire assembly line at South Marston air base towards the end of the war. It was actually her 12th birthday the day war was declared.

“She was quite a pretty girl and the story goes that a Hollywood film director visiting Swindon saw her sitting on a wall and invited her for a screen test. But when she got up and walked towards him he changed his mind,” said Andy.

“Years later, when she was a patient in hospital, her consultant challenged a group of junior doctors to talk to her about the symptoms she had experienced as a child and work out what had caused her withered leg. Most of them had no idea.”

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